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January 24, 2014

Fired Planning Chief Considering Challenge to Montpelier Mayor

HallsmithTwo months after her firing as the City of Montpelier's planning and community development director, Gwendolyn Hallsmith says she's seriously considering running for mayor of Vermont's capital city. 

"My motivation for running is to continue to give citizens a voice in their future and to make sure their voice is not forgotten," she says.

Hallsmith (pictured at right) says she is collecting signatures to put her name on the ballot and is "tentatively" planning to announce her bid on February 5, though she says she may still reconsider. 

Hallsmith would face off against Mayor John Hollar, with whom she publicly tangled throughout the fall. After she was put on paid leave in November, Hallsmith accused the mayor of orchestrating her ouster because of her outspoken advocacy for public banking. Hollar is a contract lobbyist whose clients include Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

Continue reading "Fired Planning Chief Considering Challenge to Montpelier Mayor" »

Progressives Poised to Take Over Ward 1 Seat in Burlington City Council Race

600819_10150872857517031_1721988787_n(2)Progressive Selene Colburn (pictured at right) has all but secured a seat on the Burlington City Council. Her Democratic opponent for the open Ward 1 seat, Molly Loomis, has dropped out of the race.

Loomis’ exit likely clears the way for Progressives to at least retain their four seats on the 14-member council. They could claim a fifth, depending on what happens in Ward 2, where former Vermont Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Emerson is challenging Progressive Councilor Max Tracy.

Tracy is one of four Progressives currently serving on the council.  Democrats occupy seven seats, while independents hold two and Republicans one. Independent Councilor Sharon Bushor often votes alongside the Progressive caucus. 

Continue reading "Progressives Poised to Take Over Ward 1 Seat in Burlington City Council Race" »

Media Note: Preliminary Review Finds that VPT Board Held Closed-Door Meetings

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Left to right: VPT board members Patricia Sabalis, Tom Pelletier and Lorilee Lawton

As we reported in this week's Fair Game, Vermont Public Television is facing a Corporation for Public Broadcasting investigation into whether the station's board of directors violated federal open meetings law. 

On Friday, the chairman of the VPT board's audit committee, Tom Pelletier, said that a preliminary review conducted by his panel found that the board has, indeed, held closed-door meetings. Pelletier announced the findings at an audit committee meeting held at the station's Colchester headquarters.

"VPT's preliminary review indicates that the VPT board has, from time to time, held conference calls or committee meetings that were not open to the public, in order to address various personnel matters," said Pelletier, who is president and CEO of Northfield Bank. "These meetings were conducted internally because VPT, like many organizations, does not publicly discuss personnel matters."

While such closed-door meetings are permissible if properly warned and documented, Pelletier acknowledged that VPT's board did not always follow proper procedure. 

Continue reading "Media Note: Preliminary Review Finds that VPT Board Held Closed-Door Meetings" »

January 23, 2014

Shumlin (Quietly) Signs Campaign Finance Bill into Law

Just a BillRemember that campaign finance bill? The one that increases the amount of money statewide politicians, parties and political action committees can raise? (We wrote about it here, here, here and here.)

Whelp, a bill it is no longer. Asked Thursday afternoon when it would be signed into law, Gov. Peter Shumlin's spokeswoman Sue Allen said the deed's already been done.

"The Governor signed the campaign finance bill earlier today," she said in an email.

If you were waiting for a public signing with a crowd of supporters and plenty of pens to give away, you apparently didn't miss anything. The gov signed the bill into law without any public notice, nor — as of this writing — any public statement. (Updated below with a statement from Shumlin's office)

Continue reading "Shumlin (Quietly) Signs Campaign Finance Bill into Law" »

A Lobbyist in the Legislature? How Sirotkin Would Segue to the Senate

SirotkinThere's no shortage of teachers, lawyers and retirees serving in the Vermont legislature. But just what would happen if one of Montpelier's top lobbyists — a co-owner and namesake of one of its most influential firms — were to join the Vermont Senate? 

That's the question many in the Capitol are pondering as Gov. Peter Shumlin appears likely to appoint Michael Sirotkin to a vacant Chittenden County Senate seat.

As the widower of the late Sen. Sally Fox, whose seat he would fill, Sirotkin would, in many ways, be a natural pick. But as a contract lobbyist with a three-decade history of influencing his (potential) peers, his appointment could raise some novel questions.

Recognizing that, Sirotkin says that, if appointed, "I would be resigning from my practice immediately." 

And he wouldn't simply serve out Fox's term in a caretaker role, then return to lobbying. If appointed, he says, "I would most likely run in 2014."

Nor would he remain an owner of Sirotkin & Necrason. "I would not seek to retain an interest in my firm," he says.

But even if he severed all ties with the lobby shop, would Sirotkin not feel some residual loyalty to his former partners and clients? Would it be difficult to make the transition?

"There would be some challenges. I think not as many as people would think," he says. "Of course, most of the people I've advocated for directly are grassroots kinds of interests, and those are the kinds of interests I'm most interested in."

Continue reading "A Lobbyist in the Legislature? How Sirotkin Would Segue to the Senate" »

January 22, 2014

Chittenden County Dems Recommend Sirotkin, Ingram and Ellis to Fill Fox's Senate Seat

Debbie IngramAfter a day of high drama in Vermont political circles, Chittenden County Democrats on Wednesday evening settled on three names to send Gov. Peter Shumlin as he considers who should fill the county's vacant senate seat.

Among them was the race's most recent entrant — and its heavy favorite: Michael Sirotkin, whose late wife, Sally Fox, held the seat until her death nearly two weeks ago.

Sirotkin's announcement earlier Wednesday that he was interested in succeeding Fox roiled the contest and prompted three leading contenders to withdraw. But two other candidates — Williston Selectboard member Debbie Ingram (pictured at right) and Burlington management consultant Dawn Ellis — kept their names in the running. 

In the end, the county Democrats gathered at Burlington's Fletcher Free Library voted to send all three names to Shumlin. 

With 60 eligible voters casting up to three votes each, Sirotkin won 48 votes, Ingram 33 and Ellis 20.

Continue reading "Chittenden County Dems Recommend Sirotkin, Ingram and Ellis to Fill Fox's Senate Seat" »

This Week's Issue: Aging Prisoners, Woodstoves and Public TV Trouble


A new issue of Seven Days hits the newsstands today. Here's what you'll find inside:

Get all these stories and more in print, online or on the app.

Cover photo by Tom McNeill

Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat

SirotkinUpdated below with news that former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson and Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) have dropped out and endorsed Sirotkin. Rep. Tim Jerman (D-Essex Junction), meanwhile, says he will stay in the race. Gov. Shumlin says he's "thrilled" Sirotkin is interested.

In a move likely to upend the contest to fill a Chittenden County state senate seat opened up by the death of Sally Fox, her husband of 36 years says he's interested in succeeding her.

Michael Sirotkin, a longtime lobbyist and well-known figure in Montpelier, wrote Chittenden County Democratic Party chairman David Scherr late Tuesday to raise the possibility.

"Please accept this letter as an indication of my interest in being appointed to Sally's Senate seat," Sirotkin wrote. "Sally had months ago expressed an interest in my doing so, although clearly our first preference was always that the choice would never present itself. After much soul searching and encouragement from others, I decided I would welcome the opportunity if given such honor by your Committee and the Governor."

Sirotkin's decision comes just hours before an 80-member committee of Chittenden County Democrats is set to winnow the field to three candidates, whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Peter Shumlin. The governor is free to appoint a replacement from that list, or he can select his own candidate. 

Continue reading "Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat" »

January 21, 2014

Donovan Says He Won't Challenge Sorrell for Attorney General in 2014

TJ DonovanAfter months of deliberation, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan has decided he won't challenge Attorney General Bill Sorrell to a rematch this year.

"In the final analysis, I came to the conclusion it's not the right time for me personally and professionally," Donovan said Monday. 

Instead, the two-term county prosecutor said, "It's likely that I'll run again for state's attorney."

In August 2012, Donovan (pictured at right) came within 714 votes of unseating Sorrell, who was first appointed to the post in 1997. The unusual and remarkably bitter primary pitted against one another two Burlington Democrats from interconnected families. Ever since, the 40-year-old Donovan has publicly and privately hinted that he might give the 66-year-old incumbent another run for his money. 

But last week, Donovan said, he finally decided against it.

"I've been struggling with it for quite some time," he said. "Literally my mind would change every morning when I woke up. I'd feel one way one day and the next day I'd feel another way. And, you know, I had to make a decision, so I did."

Continue reading "Donovan Says He Won't Challenge Sorrell for Attorney General in 2014" »

January 20, 2014

Lawmakers Advance 'Solar Standoff' Solution

SolarWhen some Vermont utilities started rejecting proposed home-grown solar installations last year, it looked like a plan to increase solar production in Vermont had been too successful.

Utilities were bumping up against a cap on so-called net-metered projects far faster than the lawmakers who'd designed the rules ever anticipated. Those utilities said it was time to put on the brakes; solar energy advocates argued that doing so would cripple solar development just as the industry was hitting its stride in Vermont. 

Now a plan to breakup that solar standoff is gaining traction in Montpelier. The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee advanced legislation on Friday that would relax the cap on homemade power to better match the demand for residential solar generation. The bill will head to the full House on Thursday. 

Continue reading "Lawmakers Advance 'Solar Standoff' Solution" »

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