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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

At Trial, Inmate Alleges Unsanitary Conditions in Women’s Prison Showers

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 9:43 PM

A February 2020 photograph of a Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility shower drain taken by Office of Prisoners' Rights investigator Hillary Reale - CHITTENDEN SUPERIOR COURT
  • Chittenden Superior Court
  • A February 2020 photograph of a Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility shower drain taken by Office of Prisoners' Rights investigator Hillary Reale
An inmate at Vermont’s only prison for women testified Tuesday in Chittenden Superior Court that the facility’s showers reek of human waste and are infested with sewer flies and maggots. The inmate, Mandy Conte, said that ceiling leaks, a malfunctioning drain and a faulty ventilation system have led to the growth of mold and mildew in the shower stalls, which are used by 30 to 40 prisoners.

“It smells like a sewer,” she told the court in video testimony. “It’s strong. You can smell it as soon as you walk into the bathroom.”

Conte, who has been incarcerated at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility since February 2019, began filing grievances about the House 2 showers that June. She sued the Department of Corrections in September 2019, arguing that the state had failed to meet its obligation to maintain safe and sanitary conditions.

Judge Samuel Hoar, who presided over the bench trial, did not immediately hand down a ruling on Tuesday, instead requesting follow-up briefs from the parties.

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Vermont House Candidate Proposes Segregated Police Forces

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 7:58 PM

Chris Viens (Right) and Mark Frier at a Waterbury Selectboard session last year - COURTESY OF GORDON MILLER
  • Courtesy of Gordon Miller
  • Chris Viens (Right) and Mark Frier at a Waterbury Selectboard session last year
A Waterbury politician running for state office says he doesn't want to defund the police: He wants to segregate them.

Chris Viens, chair of the Waterbury Selectboard and an independent candidate for the House of Representatives, said during a local radio interview that he thinks having minority officers respond to incidents involving other minorities might help defuse racial tensions in the state.

“As far as the defunding of the police, I’d rather see segregated police,” Viens told WDEV radio during a candidate forum on Monday. “When calls come out that are minority related, those police officers that are ... minority will address those issues.”

Viens, an excavation contractor, said that, were his plan enacted, “if there is a tragic shooting” of a person of color by another person of color, “the whole racist issue might be put to rest.”

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Vermont Announces $76 Million in New Round of Business Grants

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 5:35 PM

Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein at Tuesday's press conference - SCREENSHOT/ORCA MEDIA
  • Screenshot/ORCA Media
  • Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein at Tuesday's press conference
Vermont has launched a new program that will distribute $76 million in grants to businesses affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein outlined details of the program at a press conference Tuesday. The legislature allocated the money from Vermont’s $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funding.

The cash is part of a second round of state business grants; a first round distributed $152 million starting in July. Vermont businesses also received more than $1.2 billion in loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program; businesses can have those loans forgiven if they can prove that they used the funds to keep staffing at pre-pandemic levels.

The previous round of state grants had eligibility requirements that excluded some sole proprietors and newer businesses that did not have a full year of revenue in 2019. The state's program was also first-come, first-served, meaning businesses that applied late missed out on funding, even if they were eligible.

Goldstein said this round will be different.

“We took the lessons we learned from the first time around and worked to develop a program that would address the financial needs of those sectors that are still suffering greatly, and make it more possible for other entities that were closed out the first time around,” she said.

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Two With Law Enforcement Ties Charged in Separate Incidents

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 4:15 PM

  • Alain Lacroix |
Two men with law enforcement ties, including a current Burlington cop, face criminal charges in separate incidents.

Cpl. William Drinkwine of the Burlington Police Department was charged Friday with illegally entering a Swanton woman's home in July, Vermont State Police announced Tuesday morning. State police offered few details about the incident, saying more information would be available upon Drinkwine's November 2 arraignment in Franklin County.

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Monday, October 19, 2020

CityPlace Burlington Developers Submit New Plans

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2020 at 11:15 PM

A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street - COURTESY OF FREEMAN FRENCH FREEMAN
  • Courtesy of Freeman French Freeman
  • A rendering of CityPlace Burlington on Cherry Street
CityPlace Burlington developers applied for a new zoning permit last week, the latest attempt to get the long-stalled project back on track, project liaison Jeff Glassberg told city councilors Monday night.

Plans submitted by the developers — a new partnership that includes Don Sinex and local businessmen Scott Ireland, Dave Farrington and Al Senecal — call for even more housing than those championed by former majority owner Brookfield Asset Management.

Drawings submitted to the Wards 2 & 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly show more than 420 units of housing, including at least 84 affordable units. Previous plans had 357 apartments. The project would also include 45,000 square feet of ground-level retail shops, a rooftop restaurant and observation deck, 422 parking spots and a community meeting space. Renderings show a 10-story tall south tower and a north tower of nine floors.

The developers also say they intend to make good on their promise to reconnect Pine and St. Paul streets. The city had planned to use $21.8 million in tax increment financing dollars to pay for those and other street improvements, but project delays had put that funding in jeopardy. Glassberg told councilors, however, that the state legislature extended the borrowing deadline for another year.

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Media Note: Local Couple Sells Williston Observer to Local Couple

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2020 at 6:11 PM

The latest issue of the Williston Observer - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The latest issue of the Williston Observer
The Williston Observer has new owners for the first time in more than two decades.

Williston residents Susan and Rick Cote purchased the Observer earlier this month from Marianne and Paul Apfelbaum, who bought the weekly paper from its founding ownership group back in 1994.

The paper, which is mailed for free to every home and business in town, announced the sale in a page-two story on Thursday that quoted Marianne Apfelbaum as saying that she and her husband had been hoping to sell the paper to locals.

"I think people are going to be very happy with a smooth transition of the paper to new owners who are equally as committed to community journalism and serving the community as we are," Marianne Apfelbaum told the paper. She could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

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Leahy Warns of 'Irreparable' Harm as Barrett Hearings Close

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2020 at 2:51 PM

Judge Amy Coney Barrett - ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Associated Press
  • Judge Amy Coney Barrett
U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday successfully scheduled a committee vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court, plowing past objections from Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who slammed the proceedings as a "caricature of illegitimacy."

Leahy's comments were wedged between two separate votes Thursday morning, the verdicts of which all but ensured the high-speed train that is Barrett's confirmation would reach its destination before Election Day.

The GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee twice voted along party lines to both strike down a Democratic attempt to delay the hearing indefinitely and to schedule Barrett's confirmation vote for October 22.

If the committee decides to advance her nomination that day, the full Senate could vote as soon as October 26 — eight days before the November 3 election. Senate GOP leaders say they have the votes to confirm.

"There's really no way to gloss over how wrong and base this process is," Leahy said, participating in the hearing remotely for the fourth straight day over health concerns related to the coronavirus.

"The damage inflicted in the wake of this outrageous power grab is going to be considerable, perhaps even irreparable, both to the U.S. Senate and to the federal judiciary," he said. "It doesn't have to be this way. This doesn't have to be the story of Judge Barrett's nomination."

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Twentieth — and Final — F-35 Jet Arrives in Vermont

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 9:05 PM

Col. David Shevchik, far right, saluting after he landed - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Col. David Shevchik, far right, saluting after he landed
The Vermont Air National Guard on Wednesday welcomed the 20th and final F-35 fighter jet to its fleet, making it the first base in the country to receive its full complement of the state-of-the-art aircraft.

"Today marks another notable milestone, and it also presents a clear reminder of the awesome responsibility that we've all been entrusted with," 158th Fighter Wing Commander Col. David Shevchik told dozens of Air Guard members gathered on the tarmac at Burlington International Airport, where he had just made a smooth — and loud — landing after a three-hour flight from Fort Worth, Texas.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Vermont Breaks Previous Absentee Ballot Voting Record

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2020 at 5:32 PM

  • © Aurielaki |
More Vermonters have cast absentee ballots ahead of the November general election than any other in state history — and there are still three weeks of voting left.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, 95,885 residents have returned absentee ballots as of Tuesday afternoon, surpassing the previous general election record of 95,203, set in 2016.

And while the unprecedented showing was largely expected after Vermont sent an absentee ballot to every registered, active voter this fall to reduce traffic at the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic, voters appear to be returning those ballots at a notably high clip.

On Monday, Vermont became the first state whose early voting returns exceeded 25 percent of its total ballots cast in the last presidential election, according to a database from a University of Florida professor that reflects early voting returns from 38 states.

"Our hard work preparing for the 2020 General Election during the COVID-19 health crisis has paid off already, as Vermonters have overwhelmingly embraced safe and secure voting options to cast their ballots," Secretary of State Jim Condos said in a statement to Seven Days on Tuesday.

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Three Chittenden County Schools Among Five in Vermont With Recent COVID Cases

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2020 at 3:36 PM

Officials have recently reported more cases in schools - ROB DONNELLY
  • Rob Donnelly
  • Officials have recently reported more cases in schools
Public schools in Chittenden County remained coronavirus-free since reopening on September 8 — until this week. Over the last few days, three public schools in Vermont’s most populous county reported positive COVID-19 cases, though none have closed as a result.

The Department of Health is also currently investigating school-based COVID-19 cases in Windsor and Manchester, as well as cases connected to youth and adult hockey teams that play at Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

Before last weekend, the state had recorded just six total coronavirus cases at five different schools. Four of those cases were classified as “recovered” and two were listed as “current," according to data the Department of Health last updated on October 9.

Vermont’s school-related COVID-19 cases are well below other northern New England states, Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said Tuesday. In New Hampshire, there have been more than 100 cases of coronavirus in 68 schools since the school year started. And in Maine, he said, there have been 71 cases associated with its schools.

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