Whatever Happened to...? [Seven Days]
(Seven Days Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Seven Days writers revisit some of the big stories from 2012
News has a short shelf life - especially in the digital age. One minute a story is the talk of the town, and the next it's in the ash heap of history. Remember Wanda Hines
But our stories don't end when the paper gets tossed in the recycling bin, nor do the people in them disappear. They go on, sometimes taking turns that are more interesting than what made us pursue them in the first place.
While 2012 didn't have an all-consuming story like Tropical Storm Irene, the year was memorable for the many ways that Vermont changed. Democrats took control of Burlington City Hall for the first time in three decades. The emergence of super PACs like Vermonters First confirmed that big-money politics are here to stay. A diversifying Burlington High School began a long, hard conversation about racial equity. And wind turbines became a permanent part of Vermont's landscape.
That's one reason we asked our reporters to update some of the stories they wrote this year - to write the next chapters, if not the conclusions, of Vermont's ongoing history.
DMV Computer Debacle Ends, But State Still Out Millions
In January, Seven Days broke the bad news that a Department of Motor Vehicles computer project was millions over budget and years behind schedule. Development of the DMVs new VT DRIVES system had been plagued by what Commissioner Robert Ide called catastrophic code problems; only 10 percent of the system was functional. The state had spent $18 million to upgrade its 40-year-old database with one that updates driver data in real time. But after six years, the DMV had almost nothing to show for it.
Ide said the state's only recourse might be to sue the company building the system, Hewlett-Packard, which inherited the job after acquiring Electronic Data Systems - the tech company founded by Texas billionaire Ross Perot that bid on and got the Vermont contract.
UPDATE: Two weeks ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced the state had terminated its contract with HP as a result of the failed system. The settlement agreement stipulates that HP will refund the state $8.37 million, and the state will return to the company physical and virtual rights to all software and documents created by HP. While the $8.37 million reimburses the state for everything it paid to HP, state taxpayers are still out $5 million for DMV staff time and expenses plus $2.3 million paid to other vendors who worked on the system. The remaining $2.7 million represents the amount spent on HP components that are usable.
"There comes a point in time where you realize you're out a lot of money and the project is going nowhere," says Ide, adding that getting some money back was "better than going forward and losing 100 percent"
Meanwhile, the DMV has reverted to using its decades-old "legacy" computer system while the agency evaluates its options, according to Ide. Maybe the DMV should hire Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling to design a modern system. He did it for die Queen City. Word has it he's a programming whiz.
After Sitting Out the Election, Bruce Lisman Reboots His Campaign for Vermont
Retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman raised eyebrows in Montpelier when he started blanketing the airwaves with ads for Campaign for Vermont, the fiscally conservative "policy campaign" that he founded in late 2011. Lisman said the group was nonpartisan and would focus on common-sense solutions to spread economic prosperity to all Vermonters.
But many Democrats had their doubts, wondering aloud whether Lisman was laying the groundwork to run for statewide office as a Republican. Lisman repeatedly said he was not and that his nonprofit group wouldn't take sides in political campaigns, even as he criticized the Democratic governor and legislature. In February, Vermont Democratic Party chair Jake Perkinson asked the attorney general to investigate Lisman's group for campaign finance law violations over an ad that mentioned Gov. Peter Shumlin by name, but the Democratic AG rejected the charge.
Shumlin's reelection campaign, meanwhile, called radio stations to find out how much Lisman's group was spending on ads. No matter how many times Lisman insisted otherwise, some Dems couldn't shake the feeling that he would emerge as another Rich Tarrant, the wealthy Vermont businessman who used his personal fortune to run for Senate against Bernie Sanders. Or that he would become the Green Mountain State's Sheldon Adelson, a conservative sugar daddy who has spent millions to influence elections.
UPDATE: As promised, Campaign for Vermont went dormant during election season - a deliberate move, Lisman says, to avoid being dragged into partisan battles. Lisman himself stayed on the sidelines; neither he nor Campaign for Vermont publicly endorsed any candidates.
In April, CFVs first lobbying disclosure report revealed that Lisman had spent a whopping $212,343 to get his message out; Lisman wouldn't reveal where that figure stands now. And with the election over, Lisman says CFV is gearing up for another policy push. In December, his group unveiled an education reform proposal that will be promoted by the public relations firm run by Jason Gibbs, who was press secretary to former Republican governor Jim Douglas. Lisman says.CFV has signed up 6000 email subscribers and' has 300 "partners" - people who've said they "believe in the direction [we're] taking," he says.
Lisman says the economy is still CFVs primary focus but adds, "We think education· is the way to get there." Lisman says he and CFVs cofounders will be writing op-eds on education, energy and the economy in 2013, but he hasn't decided whether he'll spend more money on paid media. Asked whether he has changed his mind about running for office, Lisman replies, "No. Sorry."
Ironically, a wealthy conservative did make trouble for Vermont Democrats this election season, but it wasn't Lisman. The biggest threat to Democratic candidates came from a different millionaire: a publicityshy Burlington resident named Lenore Broughton
Weinberger Breaks The Curse of the Burlington Democrats; Wright Gets a New Gig
After beating more experienced candidates to clinch the Democratic nomination, political novice Miro Weinberger faced off against two opponents in Burlington's mayoral election in March. He handily defeated Republican Kurt Wright and independent Wanda Hines, winning close to 58 percent of the vote and becoming the first Democrat to run city hall in three decades.
UPDATE: So whatever happened to Wright and Hines The latter did not return several calls and emails from Seven Days, But Peter Owens, director of Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office, confirms that Hines continues to work for the city, directing its Social Equity Investment Project.
As for Wright, he won a seventh term representing the New North End in the Vermont House in November. He also got a new job: Wright became a licensed real estate agent and recently began work at Burlington's Century 21 Advantage.
Wright says he's been out knocking on doors, reintroducing himself in his new role and drumming up business for the firm.
"It's sort of like a political campaign," he says. "One person came to the door saying, 'What are you running for now ' They said, 'Hey, I always vote for you. You don't want me to move!'"
Wright says he's categorically ruled out running for mayor again, but that doesn't mean he's staying away from Queen City politics.
Recently, he's spoken out on several high-profile issues: opposing Weinberger's so-called "fiscal stability bond," which was passed by voters in November; and urging the city council to maintain representation of the New North End as it undergoes redistricting. Earlier this month, he joined two Progressive city councilors at a press conference calling for a referendum to gauge support for retaining the Moran Plant as a city-owned property.
So why is Wright speaking out
"There didn't seem to be anybody even trying to edu- cate the public about making sure they hear both sides of an issue," he says. "I think right now the council is not a strong, independent body. It appears to be becoming an extension of the mayor's office."
That said, Wright's not critical of all things Weinberger.
"I think he's great at the messaging. I think he's great at getting out ahead of the issues," Wright says. "I just don't see as much transparency and openness as I would like."
Meth Labs, Arrests Rise Slightly in Vermont
A March 14 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot column posed the question, "How has Vermont avoided the crystal meth epidemic " At the time, reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration indicated that in 2010 only three labs were found here, compared to 97 in Tennessee and 1624 in Missouri - both states that are as rural as Vermont.
Similarly, a nationwide survey measuring state-level methamphetamlne use ranked Vermont 45th in the nation; only 0.17 percent of Vermont respondents admit they've used the drug. Local police either couldn't explain or were reluctant to theorize about why Vermont's meth market was so meager.
Agent Todd Scott at DEA headquarters in Washington, O.C., suggested it could be attributable to a commonly used method of cooking meth, which requires anhydrous ammonia, a chemical fertilizer found primarily on large farms. Not surprisingly, the meth epidemic grew rapidly in rural states with industrial agriculture, such as Indiana and Kentucky.
Vermont, by contrast, has fewer large farms, and anhydrous ammonia is harder to find. While some western states have been "inundated" with meth produced by Mexican drug cartels, Scott said the East Coast stuff tends to come from "mom-and-pop" labs that produce smaller quantities of the drug.
update: Several high-profile meth lab raids in the last six months, including ones in Hinesburg and Island Pond, reveal that meth production is probably more widespread in Vermont than was previously believed.
Lt. Reg Trayah commands the Clandestine Lab Team for the Vermont State Police. He says that in the last year, he's doubled the size of his team - from six to 12 members - to combat the rising number of illegal labs being discovered in Vermont.
"I can't remember us having any more than two labs a year," says Trayah, who's been on the team since 1999 and became its head in 2010. "But since last November, I think we've had six."
Of particular concern, Trayah adds, is the number of labs found to be using the "one-pot" method - mixing chemicals in a single, 20-ounce plastic jug, then waiting until enough pressure builds up to produce crystal meth. The process is so explosive, he says, that when such a lab is found, he deploys the explosive ordnance disposal team to "disarm" it.
The bad news, says Trayah: "I have never spent as much time on the Clandestine Lab Team as I do now."
The good news: Because Vermont is always slightly behind the times on crime trends, the state saw this coming. It made a commitment in the late 1990s to put this team together.
"Now that it's hitting us a little harder," Trayah says, "We don't have to play catch-up."
Vermont Canoe Paddlers Complete 1200-Mile Voyage to Canada's James Bay
On Easter Sunday, 10 summer camp counselors took off from Salisbury's Lake Dunmore on a 1200-mile canoe trip to the shores of James Bay in northern Ontario.
Their goal: to paddle five handcrafted wood-canvas canoes into the northern interior along ancient trade routes. Also, to raise nearly $220,000 for scholarships to Keewaydin Dunmore, a 102-year-old Vermont camp known for its epic canoe trips into the Canadian interior. Many attended Keewaydin as campers before they graduated to counselor status.
When Seven Days caught up with the crew of "Expedition 2012" to canoe alongside them for a few days, the group was 200 miles and 13 days into their spring journey. Having paddled up Lake Champlain and down the Richelieu to the St. Lawrence Seaway, they were working their way west along the Ottawa River. Spirits were high. Many camp songs were sung.
update: It took 67 days, but all 10 members of the Expedition 2012 crew made it to James Bay and back to Keewaydin in time for the summer camp season.
"It was pretty awesome most of the rest of the way through," reports crew member Bill Souser, who's now back at Penn State University, where he's completing a doctorate in history.
The boys encountered bear, moose and countless beaver - and paddled through an eighth of an inch of ice on one northern lake. The hardest stretch, Souser says, was a remote section of Ontario's Whitefish River, which was obstructed by numerous logjams - some six or seven feet high - prompting them eventually to portage to another river entirely.
"We worked and worked and worked that day and only got three miles done," Souser says.
In spite of the occasional hardship, morale held up - particularly as the group reached the larger, open waterways leading to James Bay.
"It became more and more likely that we were going to make it to the Bay and we were going to make it back for camp," Souser says. "Everybody was super stoked about that."
Where are they now Three crew members are traveling the world, five are living and working in New York City and another is teaching in New Jersey. Group videographer Kyle Sauer is culling footage of the trip for a film, and Souser himself is working on a book about the voyage.
Non Nukes: Quebec Shutters Its Only Nuclear Power Plant
Most Vermonters have probably never heard of Gentilly 2, the 675-megawatt nuclear power HEB plant in Bécancour, Quebec. But, as Seven Days reported in May, "G-2" is closer to northern Vermont than any American reactor, including Vermont Yankee. And, like the Vernon plant, G-2 got a new lease on life when its owner, Hydro-Québec, announced plans to refurbish the reactor and keep it operational for another three decades.
Canadian antinuke activists have fought for years to shut down G-2. Since going online in 1983, the plant has experienced problems eerily similar to those at Vermont Yankee - but worse. G-2 releases more radioactive tritium into the air and water each day than the tritium estimated to have leaked from Vermont Yankee in all of 2011.
Yet despite those problems and overwhelming opposition from Québécois - 320 Québec municipalities adopted resolutions calling for G-2's closure - Canadian regulators earlier this year gave the plant approval to continue SDlittine atoms.
update: In October, Hydro-Québec announced it would close G-2 at the end of this year - specifically, on December 28.
Why the change of heart The company cited "increased production costs" - $6.3 billion compared to $1.8 billion to decommission the plant - combined with "falling market prices" for electricity.
Politicians, too, were against the plant. During last summer's election, Quebec's newly elected premier, Pauline Marois, promised to shutter the province's only nuke when its license expires at the end of 2012.
Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, hailed the decision, saying "Quebecers are proud that ours will be the first jurisdiction in North America to phase completely out of nuclear power."
But even after G-2's electricity is long gone, its radiation will linger. HQ plans to leave the facility dormant for 40 years before removing its spent fuel and radioactive equipment, dismantling the facility, and restoring the site. That work won't be completed until 2062.
Source: Goldman Sachs Has Cut Dozens of Jobs at Burlington Investment House
Everyone expected job losses at Dwight Asset Management when Goldman Sachs took over the Burlington-based investment firm earlier this year. One of many unanswered questions that remained after Seven Days broke news of the takeover was: "How many "
Asset-Backed Alert, a newsletter focused on securities transactions, predicted that Goldman would pink-slip about 40 highly paid "structured-product professionals" at Dwight. . A source closely acquainted with the Burlington company offered a darker prognosis. He suggested that Owight's workforce, which peaked at around 100 a couple of years ago, could be slashed to fewer than a dozen employees as Goldman absorbed most of the firm's operations into its Manhattan offices.
Such a hollowing-out of the company founded in 1983 by John K. Dwight of Charlotte would enfeeble one of Vermont's only finance-sector powerhouses. Dwight Asset Management, which specializes in stable-value funds for retirement plans, reported $42 billion worth of assets at the end of 2011. Some of its executives were said to have been making $500,000 a year or more in boom times for bond markets.
A spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs declined in May to estimate how many jobs would remain in place at Dwight; similarly, state and local officials could only guess at the impact.
UPDATE: Dwight's eighth-floor suite at 100 Bank Street was noticeably quiet on a recent Friday afternoon. The reception desk was unstaffed, and only about a dozen workers were seated at keyboards in a large room filled with computer terminals. "Several people are traveling right now," Dwight employee Kelly Currell said before declining to answer any questions.
Currell referred a reporter to a Goldman Sachs PR representative, who did not respond to subsequent messages asking for comment on Dwight's status in Burlington.
The source who warned in May of impending decimation of Dwight's workforce says now that fewer than 50 employees remain in the Burlington office. Goldman has "kept on some of the client-service professionals in order to maintain a consistent face with clients," the source reports. "Continuity is very important to clients."
Many of the Dwight executives who lost their jobs in the past six months have left Vermont, the source says, while others have found work at National Life in Montpelier or Performa Ltd., an asset-management firm with a small office in Burlington that focuses on the captive-insurance industry.
Peter Owens, director of Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office, says he met in July with a Goldman Sachs managing partner who traveled to Burlington from New York. The Goldman official "indicated optimism," Owens recounts. "He said he saw Burlington as a good place to stay and grow" but made no promises about job totals here, Owens adds.
Lawrence Miller, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, says he hasn't spoken with Goldman "in months." But Miller adds, "They seem to have concluded that they want to keep an operation here."
After a Wild Ride, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Regains Its Financial Footing
It was a rocky year for Waterbury-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. After reaching the stock-market stratosphere in September 2011 - the company was briefly worth $17.1 billion - GMCR became a victim of Wall Street's high expectations in 2012. A bleak second-quarter earnings report caused the company's stock to plunge. Shares lost half their value in a single, 24-hour period in May.
One casualty of that precipitous decline was the company's founder and board chairman, Bob Stiller. Having borrowed against his massive holdings of GMCR stock, Stiller was forced by his bank to ditch five million shares, worth $125.5 million. Stiller's fellow board members subsequently stripped him of his chairmanship because the sale came during a period when company insiders were barred from buying and selling stock.
UPDATE: GMCR's stock price bottomed out in July at a three-year low of $17.11, but it's been on an upswing since, topping $40 earlier this month. Investors worried that the company would lose its edge when the factor most responsible for its success - two patents related to its Keurig singleserve coffee brewers - expired in September. But the competition has been slow to respond.
GMCR's fourthquarter earnings report, released last month, was strong. Sales were up 33 percent, and net profits increased 22 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal report. While announcing those results, outgoing CEO Larry Blanford said his company retained an edge over competitors in the K-cup market thanks to the diversity of brands it sells - from Starbucks to Snapple - and its ability to produce and sell K-cups cheaply and efficiently.
Meanwhile, Green Mountain's board last month hired Coca-Cola Refreshments president Brian Kelley to replace Blanford.
As for Stiller, he continues to own 8.4 million GMCR shares and remains on its board, though he has not regained the chairmanship role. Stiller made waves locally in October when he donated $10 million to Champlaiin College for a business school that will bear his name.
Deportation Case Leaves Farm Worker Activist in Limbo
In May, Seven Days profiled Danilo Lopez, the 22-year-old Mexican farmworker who has become a prominent spokesman for migrants laboring on Vermont farms. Lopez began volunteering for the Burlington-based advocacy group Migrant Justice after a fellow farmworker was killed on the job in 2009. He became something of a cause célèbre after he was detained in a traffic stop and handed over to federal Border Patrol officers in 2011.
Even as he faced deportation, the undocumented Lopez publicly lobbied - at Statehouse hearings, press conferences and Occupy Vermont rallies - for state policies that would help his fellow farmworkers. He racked up one victory for migrant workers when Gov. Peter Shumlin revised state police policy to prohibit troopers from asking suspected illegal immigrants about their status unless evidence of another crime is present.
But federal immigration authorities looked less kindly upon Lopez: He faced imminent deportation unless the government decided to extend him a little-used form of leniency called "prosecutorial discretion."
UPDATE: Lopez is still in Vermont - but it's unclear how much longer he can stay here. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied his request for prosecutorial discretion last summer, and a federal immigration judge in Boston denied a motion by Lopez's lawyer to suppress evidence gathered by authorities. That would be his confession to Vermont State Police during the September 2011 traffic stop, admitting he is here illegally.
His lawyer has now appealed the judge's denial, meaning that Lopez is in limbo until that request is decided. It could happen soon or take one to two years, explains Brendan O'Neill of Migrant Justice.
In the meantime, Lopez and his allies scored another policy victory for farm workers: On December 12, a legislative committee in Montpelier cast a preliminary vote in favor of granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants employed on local farms. The full legislature will take up the measure when it convenes in January. If he hasn't been deported, Lopez and his allies will no doubt be there, pushing for its passage.
Burlington Superintendent Weathered Racial Storm But May Be Departing Soon
Complaints of racism within the Burlington School District came to a head last spring, and it looked like superintendent Jeanne Collins might lose her job as a result.
The debate began in the fall of 2011 but heated up in January, when Burlington High School math teacher David Rome refuted aspects of a report that highlighted an achievement gap between white and minority students at Burlington High School. Rome was branded a racist by some angry parents, and students picketed in front of the high school.
In February, Integrated Arts Academy principal Trevor Christopher resigned, hinting that race played a role in his decision to step down. Christopher also alleged the school board refused to reinstate him when he tried to rescind his resignation several months later, because he was African-American. School board member Haik Bedrosian called the racially charged series of events a "perfect storm."
By May, prominent minority community leaders and a parent group called Diversity Now were calling for Collins' ouster, saying she had failed to address institutional racism in one of Vermont's most ethnically diverse districts.
UPDATE: Collins kept her job as Burlington superintendent - and even received a raise, from $123,830 to roughly $129,000 annually - after a divided school board voted in June to extend her contract until 2014. That same month, she unveiled a new plan for tackling race and equity in the schools that included a new bullying and antiharassment policy, better training for teachers on handling racism complaints, improved data collection, and more outreach to parents - particularly those of recently resettled refugee families. Collins also added positions in the district's diversity and equity office: Nikki Fuller was hired to recruit and retain more minority teachers, while Henri Sparks was hired as the new director of equity.
Change won't happen overnight, Collins says, but "it's really important that we bè allowed the time for the seeds that we're, planting to take hold."
Are Collins' former critics satisfied Yes and no. Kyle Dodson, a parent of three biracial students in the district, says he was encouraged that every Burlington student recently visited the ECHO Lake Aquarium on field trips to see an exhibit called "Race: Are We So Different " But Dodson, who heads Champlain College's Center for Service and Civic Engagement remains impatient with the pace of change in Burlington schools and doesn't believe Collins shares his sense of urgency.
Collins made news again this month, when the Burlington Free Press reported that she is one of two finalists in the running to be superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union. Collins told the Free Press she's made no decisions about leaving Burlington.
Miro's Condos Are Now Miro's Apartments
Several homeowners on or near Lakeview Terrace in Burlington were shocked last summer by the sudden leveling of a 16,500-square-foot structure that had stood for decades at the northern end of the scenically situated street. The developer won city approval to convert the former Packard automobile showroom and an adjoining warehouse into 25 condos and a café - twice as many units as are normally allowed under zoning rules - in part by promising an "adaptive reuse' of the partially historic structure. To many neighbors, the project looked more like"wholesale demolition.
Critics also questioned the project because the developer, the Hartland Group, was cofounded by Mayor Miro Weinberger. The then-newly elected mayor said he was no longer active in the company, though he did retain a "passive minority" stake and acknowledged. he could potentially derive financial benefit from the Packard Lofts project.
The Hartland Group never specified how much of the entire structure - the historic showroom plus the architecturally insignificant warehouse - would be left standing, although it implied there would be no radical alterations in the building's appearance. As it turned out, everything except two walls of the showroom was destroyed.
Asked last summer whether the demolition could be seen as an example of "adaptive reuse," former Development Review Board member Ellie Kenworthy said, "It doesn't pass the straight-face test."
UPDATE: Construction is proceeding on schedule on the Packard Lofts, which for now is now a two-story skeleton. One big change in the project: the 25 units will be rented rather than sold - at least initially. Home sales prices in the Burlington market remain soft, notes Justin Dextradeur, project manager for the Hartland Group. Rents for the two- and three-bedroom residences will be set soon, he says, and the apartments will probably be ready for occupancy by July.
Lakeview Terrace resident Ivan Goldstein opposed the project throughout an eight-year review process and still doesn't see it as "a positive contribution." He criticizes Packard Lofts as grossly out of scale with nearby homes and says the building will ultimately resemble "a nicely designed cruise ship."
But the Hartland Group has managed to mollify Goldstein and others who had earlier complained about construction issues. "Initially," Goldstein says, "it really sucked because the concrete people were racing down the street." The builders have since become "more considerate," and do keep neighbors informed via Front Porch Forum, he adds.
For his part, Weinberger says, "I wish it had not been as controversial as it was." He defends the project on the grounds that "this is a city that needs more homes at all income levels and of many types," adding, "I hope that over time people come to see it as a positive contribution to the neighborhood."
State Police Withhold Records in Controversial Taser Death
Last summer, a 39-year-old Thetford man died after a state trooper shot him with an electronic stun gun. Macadam Mason had a lifelong epileptic disorder that occasionally impaired his cognitive abilities, and he suffered a seizure on June 19. The next day, Mason called a mental health crisis line at DartmouthHitchcock Medical Center and told the operator that he planned to kill himself and others.
When police confronted Mason in his front yard, trooper David Shaffer deployed his Taser, striking Mason in the chest. A New Hampshire medical examiner later determined that the Taséis electronic jolt caused Mason's death.
As soon as it happened, there was public outcry over the supposed "less-than-lethal" nature of stun guns and the appropriateness of using them On people with emotional or cognitive disabilities. Disability-rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont called for an immediate moratorium on their use - a measure rejected by Gov. Peter Shumlin, the Vermont State Police and the commissioner of public safety.
UPDATE: On July 24, Theresa Davidonis, Mason's life partner, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Vermont State Police and Shaffer, charging negligence, trespass and deliberate infliction of emotional distress. Neither Davidonis nor her Brattleboro attorney, Thomas Costello, responded to requests for interviews.
However, Costello asserts in court filings that the state police have withheld documents and other materials critical to Davidonis' case. Among them: the audio recording of Shaffer at the scene of the incident, formal statements made by all VSP personnel who were present, documents related to Shaffer's Taser training and Mason's autopsy report.
The Vermont attorney general's office, which is representing the VSP and Shaffer, declined to comment on the suit or on its criminal investigation into Mason's death. The VSP, which is conducting its own internal-affairs review, also declined to comment.
But in court papers filed in October, assistant attorneys general David Cassetty and Jana Brown argued that the requested materials are "entirely irrelevant" to Davidonis' claim, fall "beyond the scope of discovery", or are "confidential" due to a pending criminal investigation. In his legal response, Costello calls VSP's "virtual blanket objection" to produce those and other materials "nonsensical and unsupported by statute or decisional authority." A formal hearing on the requested materials is scheduled for mid- January.
Shaffer, meanwhile, remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the official investigations into the lethal incident Following Mason's death, authorities also revealed that Shaffer never completed the VSP's mental-healthcrisis training because he went through the academy before it was mandatory.
Sanders and Vallee Take Fuel Feud to New Level
Earlier this year, gas-station magnate Skip Vallee purchased a Route 2 filling station in Plainfield at a foreclosure auction. But rather than make the former Red Store another link in his chain of Maplefields minimarts, Vallee put the property up for sale - with a catch. A deed restriction prohibited any new owners from using the property as a gas station.
Vallee already owns a service station in nearby Marshfield.
Plainfield residents accused Vallee of putting his own profits over the town's economic development interests. "It's difficult enough to get businesses to move into a small town," said Sarah Albert, a Plainfield resident who worried the extra restrictions might scare away potential entrepreneurs.
Fueling the Plainfield furor was last summer's slew of headlines about high gas prices in northwestern Vermont. Sen. Bernie Sanders hammered gasoline distributors - including St. Albans-based R.L. Vallee Inc. - claiming they were gouging customers by charging more in the Burlington area than in other parts of the state.
Sanders singled out Vallee for attempting to block Costco's plans to build a self-serve filling station in Colchester, just a stone's throw from a Vallee-owned Maplefields. Vallee said his concern was largely environmental: Costco's gas pumps would be built on sensitive wetlands, he said. The Mobil mogul also complained that increased Costco traffic would negatively affect his own gas-station business.
UPDATE: After a few quiet months, gas prices are back in the news, and Sanders and Vallee have rekindled their feud. On December 10, Sanders unveiled a new website - sanders.senate.gov/ consumers - that allows consumers to track daily gasoline prices throughout the state. Vallee fired back with a campaign-style attack ad that aired on WCAX-TV and online, in which a narrator accuses Sanders of siding with "big business" in the Costco gas-pump dispute. He also gave the '. media surveillance-camera pictures of Sanders and his director, Phil Fiermonte, snapping pictures of gas prices at a Maplefields in Middlebury.
Meanwhile, the former Red Store is still empty - but Vallee reports that he has two potential tenants: a gallery owner and the Twin Valley Senior Center. The senior center has outgrown its current space in Marshfield and is looking for a new home. Albert says that grumblings about the store have died down in Plainfield. "[It's] sad to see these empty buildings in a town that doesn't have many commercial buildings to begin with," Albert says, adding that the senior center would bring "new life" to the building.
Vallee cautions that the space may need work, including accessibility improvements, before the senior center could move in. "If we could make it work, it would be a fabulous use for the space," says Vallee.
- K. F.
Burlington Says Au Revoir to "Queeb Tax"
Burlington made international headlines at the height of the summer tourism season when a few local restaurants 'fessed up to a highly questionable - and possibly illegal - tipping practice: adding automatic gratuities to the checks of diners who appeared to be Québécois.
Steve Hulsey and Anne-Marie Humbert realized they'd been hit with the so-called Queeb tax after a July meal at Splash at the Boathouse. Though the couple resides in Williston, Humbert is originally from France. On this occasion, her French-speaking nephew was visiting, so they were all speaking French at dinner.
When Humbert asked her server about the 18 percent tip on her bill, she said the waitress explained that she heard them speaking French, and the restaurant had "kind of a policy" to tack on the gratuity for parties that appeared to be from Québec or Europe.
Why Because foreign diners have a reputation for being poor tippers.
Humbert also complained of similar treatment at Asiana Noodle House, where the owner, Sandy Kong, acknowledged that she let servers decide whether or not to "auto-grat" the tabs of foreign customers.
UPDATE: After Seven Days broke the story, it went viral in the U.S. and Canadian media. Seven Days received a record number of letters to the editor on global tipping practices as well as the pros and cons of paying workers that way. At least one restaurateur is still smarting from the unwelcome attention. When we called for an update, Splash owner Barbara Bardin told us to "shut up about it" already.
Asiana Noodle House owner Sandy Kong says her Church Street restaurant was flooded by phone calls from Canadians after the story spread. "They would call us and harass us," she says. "We got this one guy - I think he was Canadian - he came into the restaurant, walked straight through to the kitchen, and started yelling and screaming at us."
Now her menu clearly states that tips will be automatically included for parties of five or more. - regardless of nationality - but her waitstaff no longer has permission to add a tip whenever they feel like it.
The good news The talk blew over, and Kong says the Canadians who do visit the restaurant seem to be tipping more generously.
How did the uproar affect Burlington restaurants - and other businesses Burlington Business Association executive director Kelly Devine says talk of the Queeb tax subsided after the summer tourism rush. She believes that the few restaurants singled out for unfair tipping practices have changed their policy, and speculates, "It was a learning lesson for some folks who were doing that in the community."
How do you say "Oops!" in French
Barre Hasnt Bagged a Downtown Grocery Store - Yet
Last summer, a group of neighbors in Barre launched a campaign to create something residents had sought for 20 years: a downtown grocery store. Organizers behind the Granite City Co-op thought the ti me was right to push for it. Barre's $17 million Main Street revitalization project was just winding up, and residents spoke of a a renewed sense of civic pride.
Barre has chain grocery stores - there's a Hannaford two miles from downtown and a Price Chopper three miles away - but the city center doesn't offer much more than a few small food markets.
"We're tired of waiting for someone to come along and meet our needs," Barre resident Emily Kaminsky said in August, adding that if bigger grocery store chains didn't want to build downtown, Barre would go it alone.
Adding to the sense of optimism: Developers were about to break ground on the City Place development, a mixed-use office and retail space that would bring hundreds of new state employees into downtown Barre on weekdays. The development included plans for a first-floor grocery - seemingly perfect timing for Kaminsky and her compatriots.
"I feel like there's definitely a renaissance coming," predicted Hilary Schwoegler, a board member for the would-be food co-op.
UPDATE: Barre's downtown residents are still going the distance for groceries. But Kaminsky and company have signed up 270 prospective members of the Granite City Co-op, now referred to as the Granite City Grocery. The goal is to get 300 pledged members by the end of December and 600 by next spring. The group also raised more than $12,000 through a homegrown fundraising drive to pay for a feasibility study. By February, organizers will have identified at least three prospective sites for the new grocery store.
After the City Place groundbreaking was delayed, Williston-based developer DEW Properties now expects construction to begin in January. DEW vice president Steven Morton says he's in talks with several prospective tenants for the first-floor space, including the Granite City Grocery group.'
How's that civic pride
"It's like the floodgates were opened up, in terms of emotion and energy, once Main Street was open," says Kaminsky. By the time October rolled around, she says the sense among Barre residents she spoke with was, "Wow. Things are really possible here."
The Year 2012 Sets a Record for Burlington Robberies
In a typical year, Burlington experiences about a dozen armed robberies. But an increase in hold-ups in August, September and October put the city on edge. Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling said there were 28 robberies through October - a more than twofold increase over 20 .' Seventeen of those came in the six weeks between August 14 and Halloween. The worst incident was a brazen mugging and shooting in the Old North End on October 12 that left a 25-year-old librarian with a bullet in his back.
Confounding the situation, the violent crimes didn't fit any clear patterns. The suspects, the weapons they used and the neighborhoods they hit were all over the map. And unlike the surge in property crimes - largely attributed to drug-addicted criminals - there's no single demographic that describes the robbery suspects, Schirling said. This fall, police turned to federal law-enforcement agencies - the U.S. attorney's office, the drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms - for help in combating violent street crime.
UPDATE: Four more robberies were reported to BDP between November 7 and December 18, the date .this issue went to press. That brings to 32 the number of robberies in 2012 - a record high for the Queen City. Among the new victims: a 29-year-old male who told police he was accosted in the Old North End at 10:35 p.m. on December 4 by a knife-wielding suspect who demanded his wallet.
Deputy Chief Andi Higbee said the department plans to reconstitute its two-officer Street Crimes Unit - which has been inactive for a year - to tackle robberies, as well as burglaries and drug offenses. The officers will hit the streets before year's end, he said.
Higbee said police have made no additional arrests since November 7 but said that the cases remain open and active. "They are not closed until we exhaust all investigative avenues," the deputy chief said. "If some information were to pop up, we will follow those leads."
(c) 2012 Seven Days
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