Tag Archives: Anne Galloway

Mr. Miller has a hissy fit

Here’s a new one in Vermont governance: a top state official refusing to “work with” a reporter who covers his beat. Strange but true. And he put it in writing!

Dramatis personae: Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform; and Erin Mansfield, health care reporter for VTDigger. Miller wrote a hot blast of an opinion piece in response to Mansfield’s recent article about the latest wave of problems with Vermont Health Connect, and here’s the opening paragraph:

The most recent exchange story is an extremely slanted piece of journalism. It does not tell the whole story of Vermont Health Connect, accuses me of lying, and creates an inaccurate perception. This particular column follows repeated factual inaccuracies by VTDigger’s health reporter, adding the new feature of character assassination. I give up. I will not work with her anymore.

Digger, for its part, “stands behind the accuracy” of Mansfield’s story.

I don’t know who’s right and wrong here. Maybe she overemphasized the negative, which is often the case in journalism. Non-news is, by its nature, not news. When something works, we don’t write a screaming headline about it.

But Miller’s version doesn’t pass the smell test.

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A monument departs

Well, geez. I go out of town for a few days, and the Easter Island Statue of Vermont media gets up and leaves.

Veteran Vermont journalist Mark Johnson announced Monday he will be leaving WDEV radio to take a position as senior reporter/editor at the online news site, VTDigger.

Johnson has hosted the popular public affairs, call-in program for 25 years, 16 years with WDEV in Waterbury and for nine years before that with WKDR, a Burlington station that Johnson also co-owned.

His last program is scheduled for Aug. 28.

Disclosure: I’ve been an occasional substitute host on Mark’s show for several years. But this has no bearing on my comments here.

This is a fantastic move by VTDigger, and a tremendous loss for the radio audience and for WDEV.

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The mudwashing of the Sorrell case

Hey, I invented a new word: it’s the opposite of “whitewashing” — the deliberate fouling of something previously spotless.

The legal troubles of Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell have two progenitors. Well, three if you count Clueless Bill himself. But the two I’m thinking of are (1) journalistic and (2) legal/political.

The former is good ol’ Paul Heintz, Seven Days’ political editor and columnist. He made public records requests for Sorrell’s emails and other materials, and ferreted out the unseemly details of the AG’s campaign finance carelessness and his overly cozy relations with the designated AG-handlers at some big national law firms. He posted his first story on April 1, and a follow-up with fresh details on May 11.

Heintz’ reporting, it must be said, was met with a very curious silence from the rest of our political media.

The other progenitor is Brady Toensing, vice chair of the VTGOP, who used Heintz’ reporting as the basis of a formal complaint against Sorrell, filed on May 20. That complaint somehow transmuted Heintz’ previously ignored reporting into a story that other media finally felt obliged to pick up. Toensing’s complaint, in turn, led to the appointment of independent investigator Tom Little.

But the media have reported it as a matter between Toensing and Sorrell, removing Heintz (and the journalistic underpinnings) from their narratives. I’d expect this sort of convenient reasoning from Sorrell himself:

“I enjoy the work. I can’t say that I enjoyed the Toensing assaults on my personal integrity and that I would abuse the integrity of the office. I’m not a masochistic person and that is not fun, whatsoever.”

Oh good, I can stop trying to imagine Bill Sorrell in leather restraints and a ball gag.

[Purell break.]

Sorry. The point is, it’s clearly in Sorrell’s political interest to depict this whole mess as a partisan attack. But why should our distinguished political media carry that water for him?

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Sometimes, “Throw The Bastards Out” seems like the best option

Well, the reaction has been fast, furious, and predictable. Legislative leaders are, for the most part, decidedly cool to the idea of an independent Ethics Commission. This, in spite of a legislative session that saw, in the words of VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, “one outrage followed another in the waning days.”

Still, State Rep. David Deen, chair of the secretive House Ethics Panel, managed to pull a Sergeant Schultz:

“I think putting something like this in place when we seemingly don’t have a major problem I’m aware of makes me wonder, are you stimulating complaints? Are you creating a problem where one doesn’t exist?”

“Seemingly don’t have a major problem”? I think I owe an apology to Sergeant Schultz.

And then there was the chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee, the gatekeeper for potential ethics reform:

When Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, heard about the plan, her first response was “No, no, no, that’s not going to happen.”

Good grief.

It’s things like this that make me believe we’d be better off if we fired all 30 state senators and replaced them with Vermonters chosen by lottery.

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Shummy’s Choice

Oh, Anne Galloway, stop making me love you.

Shumlin has repeatedly objected to any changes to the state income tax code that could result in wealthy Vermonters paying more in taxes.

Hehehehe. Sounds like something I’d write, but it’s actually a fair summation of the Governor’s stand on taxes throughout his tenure in office. Which continued, big time, last night:

Late Friday night the House and Senate agreed to a tax package that Gov. Peter Shumlin has already said he doesn’t like and may in fact veto.

… The $30 million legislative tax package includes a cap on itemized income tax deductions. Under the plan, taxpayers can claim up to two times the standard deduction, or $25,000 for a household, for itemized deductions. Medical expenses and charitable donations are exempted. The change limits deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes, moving costs and other Schedule A itemized categories.

The plan includes a 3 percent alternative minimum tax for taxpayers who earn $150,000 or more.

Look, this isn’t a radical tax plan. It’d raise about $11 million a year, and it’s in line with what many states do. Vermont has very generous tax laws that provide plenty of breaks for top earners; the Legislature’s plan would take away some of those benefits.

I can almost hear the Governor talking about how this will hurt “hard-working Vermonters.”

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A new path forward for Peter Shumlin?

Maybe he’s pulling a Tom Salmon, and planning to run as a Republican next year.

Nah, I doubt it. But it’d explain the sudden, aggressive, and decisively centrist re-insertion of himself into legislative debates. At the very last minute. After months of serenely floating above it all, and letting lawmakers shred his proposals to pieces.

The latest comes from VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, who tells us that the top Senators on taxes and spending were yanked into the Governor’s office yesterday afternoon to get an earful of his displeasure with the current budget and tax bills. According to Galloway, he “hates the tax bills from the House and Senate and would prefer to cut more from the budget.”

And:

While it’s the governor’s prerogative to influence the legislative process and ultimately sign or veto the legislation, Shumlin’s down-to-the-wire timing perplexed insiders who say the governor has had four months to influence the budget and tax bills, and has not made a concerted effort to do so until now.

… “Disrespectful” was a word several people used to described Shumlin’s late-game tactics.

He certainly seems to have adopted a scorched-earth approach toward his relationship with the Legislature — after promising, after the 2014 election, an open and collaborative approach. You know. that listening and learning stuff.

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The Kingdom EB-5: Spiders in the attic. Lots of ’em.

About 15 years ago, a retired military man appeared in Dover, New Hampshire with an audacious plan: he had a revolutionary design for midsized passenger aircraft, and he was going to start a company — Alliance Aircraft — to build them. He claimed to have solid interest from some of the world’s major air carriers, and he planned to build a factory in some underutilized mill buildings in the middle of town. Good jobs, economic activity, what could be better?

At the time, I was a reporter/anchor for New Hampshire Public Radio, and I did a story about the project. At first everything seemed ideal, but the more I looked into it, the shakier it became. When I talked to experts in aviation and finance, I learned that this guy wasn’t especially well known and that it’s harder than Hell to launch a successful startup in a capital-intensive field like that.

My report raised questions about the project’s viability and public officials’ enthusiastic embrace of same. In the end, Alliance Aircraft fizzled out. No plant, no planes. Mind you, it wasn’t a scam; the head guy was a true believer. There was little or no public investment involved; the project didn’t even get that far.

Which brings us to today in the Northeast Kingdom. If you haven’t read VTDigger’s latest story about Bill Stenger’s EB-5 project, go and do so. It is a must-read.

The story by Anne Galloway focuses on AnC Bio, the biotech facility planned for Newport and funded by EB-5 investment — the federal program that gives green cards to foreign investors who put money into job-creating projects that would otherwise go unfunded. And the story is so full of authentic jaw-dropping “Holy Shit” moments that my mind was drawn back to the halcyon days of Alliance Aircraft.

I’ll recount some of the lowlights here, but please do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. It’s lengthy, but worth your time.

— AnC Bio Vermont is partnered with AnC Bio Korea, which has developed some promising products but has also been in severe financial straits for several years. How severe? Try “its headquarters was auctioned off in 2012” severe.

The Vermont firm is a separate corporation, but it’s entirely dependent on the Korean company for the intellectual property that would be the lifeblood of a Newport plant.

— Stenger’s group said nothing about AnC Bio Korea’s difficulties in its filings with investors or its communications with the state. Galloway: “State officials… weren’t aware of AnC Bio Korea’s problems until in the course of their own research in May 2014, they learned that the Korean headquarters had been sold at auction to satisfy banks and other creditors.”

— After learning of the Korea mess, the state ordered the Stenger group to cease any communication with investors about the Newport plan. This order was ignored. Thanks, Bill.

— Here’s a biggie buried deep in the story. The proposed site of the factory (plus 18 nearby acres) was purchased in 2011 for $3.1 million by a corporation owned by Stenger’s partner Ariel Quiros. Part of the land was sold to the EB-5 consortium, little more than a year later, for $6 million. That’s a tidy profit for Mr. Q. He’d profit even more if the plant is built and his 18 acres are adjacent to a booming factory.

— AnC Bio has yet to seek or receive FDA approval for any of its products, usually a lengthy process. Stenger: “…the FDA approval of products and services will in part be facilitated by the completion of the building.”

Cart before the horse, Bill?

I could go on, but you can read it all at VTDigger. Suffice it to say that this reeks eight ways from Sunday. And beyond the potential implications for the company, its investors, and the city of Newport, this could blow up big-time in Governor Shumlin’s face. He’s been Head Cheerleader for the Stenger projects, frequently traveling overseas to help Stenger and Quiros court investors. His administration set up a conveniently Stenger-friendly regulatory mechanism.

Not to mention that Shumlin’s former right hand, Alex MacLean, was working with the Stenger group through much of this troubled time. If she wasn’t pipelining information back to the administration about all this, she certainly wasn’t doing her political mentor any favors.

If the Newport project implodes or suffers any of several extremely realistic setbacks, it will be another black eye for Peter Shumlin’s tattered reputation for good management. A largely self-inflicted black eye, at that; he didn’t have to identify himself so closely with this project. But he got stars in his eyes, and he may well pay a heavy price.