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Friday, February 16, 2018

Walters: Scott Shifts Gun Stance Following Fair Haven Threat

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 7:20 PM

  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott, who has long opposed any new restrictions on gun ownership, shifted his position Friday following the arrest of a young man who allegedly intended to commit mass murder at a Rutland County school.

Eighteen-year-old Jack Sawyer of Poultney was arrested Thursday and, in an interview with police, outlined a detailed plan for shooting students — "as many as I can get," according to the arrest affidavit submitted in court — at Fair Haven Union High School. It seems clear from reading the affidavit that Sawyer would likely have carried out his plan, if not for private individuals alerting authorities on two separate occasions.

Scott appeared deeply shaken by this very close call as he addressed reporters Friday afternoon in his Montpelier office. "If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?" he asked.

"Just yesterday, I did an interview noting that we are the safest state in the nation," he continued, referring to remarks he made to Seven Days' Taylor Dobbs. "But the reality of how close we came to a devastating tragedy underscores the threat of violence that faces the entire country.

"As a result, I've been asking myself, 'Are we doing everything we can to protect our kids?'" Scott said. His change in heart, he added, means opening the discussion to such issues as mental health, school safety, gun safety and, potentially, at least, some form of gun control legislation.

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Vermont Senate Approves $15 Minimum Wage

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 2:44 PM

Sen. Michael Sirotkin, right, lead sponsor of the Senate's minimum wage bill. - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Sen. Michael Sirotkin, right, lead sponsor of the Senate's minimum wage bill.
The Senate gave final approval Friday to a bill that would raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. Supporters of the proposal called the vote a victory for working Vermonters and said the bill would have long-term benefits for the state’s economy.

If the House passes the proposal and Gov. Phil Scott signs it into law, employers would be required to increase hourly pay every year through 2024. The first increase would come January 1, 2019, when the minimum wage would rise from $10.50 to $11.50 an hour.

The legislation passed the Senate by voice vote Friday. It first cleared the body on a 20-10 procedural vote Thursday, indicating that supporters could override a gubernatorial veto — at least in the Senate.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden), said it would help reduce income inequality in Vermont.

“Despite whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, independent, I think everybody acknowledges and everybody agrees that we have great problems with income inequality in this state and in this country and in every corner of this state,” Sirotkin said.

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Union Members Dispute Claim of 'Unanimous' Driscoll Endorsement

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 12:03 PM

Karl LaBounty shakes hands with Carina Driscoll - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • Karl LaBounty shakes hands with Carina Driscoll
Members of a Burlington city employees union are pushing back after their president declared a "unanimous endorsement" of Burlington mayoral candidate Carina Driscoll Wednesday.

Several members of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees told Seven Days that they do not support Driscoll — and never knew about the endorsement vote.

"There was never an email, never a discussion, none of the union members voted," said Ted Miles, a Burlington code enforcement inspector who is a member of the AFSCME union. Miles, who said he'd cast his Town Meeting Day ballot for incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger, also questioned the critiques that other union members had for the current administration.

"It was definitely not any kind of unanimous endorsement by any stretch of the imagination," Miles said.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

After Florida Shooting, Vermont Governor Says No New Gun Laws

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 5:45 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Phil Scott
The day after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 students at a Florida high school, Gov. Phil Scott defended Vermont's permissive gun laws and rejected calls for new restrictions.

"We’re fortunate we’re one of the safest states in the country, and I believe our gun laws are balanced," the first-term Republican said Thursday afternoon. "They balance public safety with our rights."

Rather than limiting access to firearms, Scott said the state should focus on providing more training and drills in schools so that staff and students can prepare for active-shooter situations.

"We should do more [training], and certainly we should be vigilant at this point in time," Scott said, citing concerns about "copycat" shootings in the wake of the Florida massacre.

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), an outspoken gun control proponent, saw it differently. He said the latest incident should "increase the shame" on the Vermont Senate, which he criticized for failing to address gun violence.

"We are doing jack shit about a problem that’s every bit as pressing nationwide as the opioid epidemic," Baruth said Thursday. "And the reason I say that is not to denigrate what’s happening with the opioid epidemic — people are dying — but the mass-shooting epidemic that we’re experiencing is decaying American life at its foundation."

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Media Note: WDEV Hires Veteran Journalist Dave Gram

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 4:06 PM

  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Dave Gram
One of Vermont's most respected journalists is about to take on a new medium. Dave Gram, an editor for who spent 31 years covering the Green Mountain State for the Associated Press, has been hired by WDEV Radio as the host of its daily two-hour talk show.

Gram's first day behind the microphone will be February 26. He replaces Mike Smith, who is leaving on February 19 after two and a half years as host of "Open Mike." The program will get a new name, which has yet to be determined, according to station owner Steve Cormier.

The search for a new host, he said, involved calling people and soliciting suggestions. That's when Gram's name surfaced. "He came in, we talked to him and we offered him the job," said Cormier. "Sometimes it's that simple."

Gram's a serious newsman, but he's known in Statehouse circles for a sharp sense of humor that seems likely to translate well to radio. In both respects he's not unlike Mark Johnson, who hosted the show at WDEV for 16 years before, ironically, becoming an editor at VTDigger in 2015.

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Men Accused of Shooting 200 Cars in Burlington Over Two-Year Span

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 10:37 AM

Weapons seized during the arrest of William Bowler and Alexander Charbonneau. - COURTESY OF BURLINGTON POLICE
  • Courtesy of Burlington police
  • Weapons seized during the arrest of William Bowler and Alexander Charbonneau.
Burlington police arrested two men who allegedly used BB guns to shoot 200 parked cars across the city over a span of two years.

William Bowler, 24, of Swanton, and Alexander Charbonneau, 30, of Burlington, allegedly committed six additional shootings before police arrested them late Wednesday. The men are each charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of unlawful mischief and are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.

The shootings occurred throughout the Queen City with no discernible pattern and frustrated investigators for two years. The men targeted cars parked on or near streets and inflicted damage that ranged from $500 to $2,000 per vehicle, police said.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Burlington City Employees Union Endorses Driscoll for Mayor

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 4:25 PM

Karl LaBounty shakes hands with Carina Driscoll. - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Karl LaBounty shakes hands with Carina Driscoll.
A union representing Burlington city employees endorsed mayoral candidate Carina Driscoll, saying that incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger isn't representing workers from city hall.

It's the first time "in a very long time" that the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees has endorsed a candidate for mayor, union president Karl LaBounty said at a press conference Wednesday.

"This year we felt that it was a time to stand up again," LaBounty said.

The AFSCME Local 1343, Council 93 union includes more than 200 workers from the Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department; the Department of Public Works; the library; the airport; the city clerk and treasurer's office; the Community and Economic Development Office; as well as staff from the Burlington school district.

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Attorney General's Office Drops DUI Case Against Former Trooper

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 1:23 PM

  • Dreamstime
The Vermont Attorney General's Office has dropped a charge against a former state trooper who was allegedly intoxicated while driving a cruiser on duty.

Eric Rademacher, who resigned after his 2015 arrest, had been slated to go on trial later this year for a charge of driving under the influence. His first trial, in February 2017, ended with a hung jury.

On March 2, 2015, Rademacher was called to a traffic accident in Killington around 4:30 a.m., authorities said. Officers on the scene reported smelling alcohol on his breath, and a preliminary breath test measured his blood-alcohol level over the legal driving limit, authorities said. Rademacher's attorney contested the accuracy of the test during nearly two years of litigation.

In a notice Friday dismissing the charge, Assistant Attorney General Evan Meenan cited Rademacher's completion of both a residential alcohol-treatment program and lengthy outpatient counseling. "This treatment will hopefully enable [Rademacher] to avoid engaging in behavior like that which led to charges in this case," Meenan wrote.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Burlington School Board Approves Flying the Black Lives Matter Flag

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 9:37 PM

Eliza Abedi, cofounder of the BHS Social Justice Union, after the vote Tuesday night - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Eliza Abedi, cofounder of the BHS Social Justice Union, after the vote Tuesday night
A Black Lives Matter flag will fly in front of Burlington High School within the week, and it will stay up until the end of the school year.

Members of the BHS Social Justice Union wept with joy and cried "We did it!" after the school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve their request to raise the flag.

A ceremony and flag raising is tentatively planned for Monday.

"I'm overwhelmed, honestly. I'm just so happy that they did the right thing and we're finally heading in the right direction," said Eliza Abedi, a 17-year-old senior and cofounder of the Social Justice Union.

"This is so beautiful," said Binti Malawia, a 16-year-old sophomore. "We're finally being heard."

The two were among about a half dozen students who appeared before the board. The students read a resolution saying that people of color make up 35 percent of the school district and want to be recognized. "Flying the BLM flag not only recognizes students of color, but it also creates a welcoming ethos and helps to bridge Burlington communities together," the student resolution stated.
Members of the Burlington High School Social Justice Union celebrate. From Left to right: Binti Malawia, Marissa Cobeo, Hawa Adam, Balkisa Abdikadir, Rivan Calderin and Eli Pine - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Members of the Burlington High School Social Justice Union celebrate. From Left to right: Binti Malawia, Marissa Cobeo, Hawa Adam, Balkisa Abdikadir, Rivan Calderin and Eli Pine
The flag does not mean black lives are more important than others, they said, and instead should be viewed as promoting equality and taking a step toward redressing many years of oppression and institutional racism.

Some critics of the Black Lives Matter movement feel it unfairly stereotypes police and creates racial division with talk of white privilege.

Although students mentioned the possibility of a backlash for flying the flag, there was none during the meeting at Lyman C. Hunt Middle School. The board members briefly debated the details but were supportive. There was no public comment before the vote.

The school board did get a legal opinion, though, from school district general counsel Joe McNeil on the free speech implications of saying yes to the Black Lives Matter flag. A yes to the resolution would not turn the flagpole into a "public forum" that would force the board to approve all flag requests, even ones for highly controversial symbols such as swastikas, McNeil said.

The Burlington students were inspired by a similar effort at Montpelier High School, which raised a Black Lives Matter flag on February 1 at the start of black history month.

The Burlington students were interested in flying the flag every February, but the motion that passed covers just 2018. Acting board chair Stephanie Seguino suggested it might be better for students to return next year to make a fresh request. Mark Porter, the former board chair, supported the resolution and suggested the district offer equal treatment to similar requests from other populations of students in the district, be they Asian American or members of the LGBT community.

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Vermont Attorney General to Post All Public Records Requests Online

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 5:59 PM

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan
Updated at 7:07 p.m.

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan posted hundreds of his office’s documents online in a transparency campaign launched this week. The goal, Donovan said Tuesday, is to publish every public records request received by the office, along with its responses.

“If we’re going to release it to somebody, let’s release it to everybody,” he said.

The system is already online, showing some requests from 2018. Donovan's office said Tuesday that all of the records from 2017 are posted.*

“On average last year, we did one [records request] every three days,” Donovan said. “We produced over 10,000 pages of records.”

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