Tag Archives: conflict of interest

Sorrell gets the wet noodle

Scoop of the week award goes to Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau, for snagging himself an advance copy of the independent investigator’s report on Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

The topline is that Sorrell was exonerated.

The reality is not nearly so simple.

There were six accusations against Sorrell. On two of them, investigator Tom Little found no evidence of wrongdoing. On two others, Little admonished Sorrell for coming uncomfortably close to “crossing the line.”

As for the final two, Little concluded that they were outside the scope of his investigation.

Whaaaaaaaat?

Tom Little was appointed on May 7, 2015. Today is January 22, 2016.

Eight and a half months.

Couldn’t he have told us a bit sooner that he wouldn’t be investigating two of the six counts?   When exactly did he reach that conclusion?

Also, who outlined the scope of Little’s investigation? Well, we know the answer to that: he was appointed by Governor Shumlin. But was it written in a way that excluded certain areas of inquiry?

We were promised a complete investigation of Bill Sorrell’s activities — and that’s not what we got. 

And I think Tom Little, whose investigation was taxpayer-funded, owes us an explanation.

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Greshin redux: it gets worse

Earlier this week, State Rep. Adam Greshin spearheaded an effort to cut a planned funding increase for Efficiency Vermont. I noted the rather obvious conflict of interest: Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort, and higher EV funding would have meant higher utility rates.

Since then, two further developments. First, as multiple correspondents have pointed out, ski resorts got a massive handout from Efficiency Vermont last year:

A $5-million rebate program from Efficiency Vermont helped initiate a $15-million investment in high-efficiency snow guns at resorts around the state. The resorts say that the new snowmaking guns can create a lot more snow in less time, and can deliver piles of snow earlier in the season than the old-school snowguns.

The majority of resorts’ electricity use is in air compression for snowmaking. EV’s program was a smart way to target a significant energy sinkhole. But it took a lot of flack for a “giveaway” to a big business. Did that contribute to lawmakers’ willingness to give the agency a substantial trim? I can’t say, but it’s a fair inference.

Adam Greshin’s business got a huge boost from EV, and now that he’s gotten his benefit, he wants to minimize his outlay for the program. Isn’t that convenient?

Second development. In my previous post I asked if Campaign for Vermont would go after Rep. Greshin. After all, CFV issued a formal complaint last year about then-Democratic State Rep. Mike McCarthy’s alleged conflict of interest. All McCarthy did was vote for a measure that would have benefited his employer, SunCommon; Greshin led the charge for a bill that would dramatically cut his business expenses, which seems more egregious to me.

Initially, CFV director Cyrus Patten was on my side:

Well, the morning came, and…

Sorry, but that doesn’t hold water. By its own account, Sugarbush spends about $2 million a year on energy. That’s not exactly your typical ratepayer. Methinks the grizzled heads at CFV thought better of slamming Greshin, who’s not formally connected to CFV but as a business-friendly centrist, his political agenda matches theirs. Unlike, say, Mike McCarthy.

I’m sure Patten will write this off as more CFV-bashing by me, but I smell a double standard.

Look, I realize there’s a huge gray area when it comes to conflict of interest, especially in a state with a nonprofessional legislature. Most of these people have other jobs. You can’t ask Dr. George Till to recuse himself from anything to do with health care. You can’t ask Sen. Bill Doyle, a faculty member at Johnson State College, to abstain from higher eduction funding bills. You can’t ask Don Turner, fire chief of Milton, to not vote for public safety appropriations.

But Greshin’s case is different in two regards: (1) paying utility bills is a huge expense for his resort, so there’s a greater order of magnitude involved; and (2) he didn’t just vote on a bill — he championed the cause. If not for Adam Greshin, the Efficiency Vermont funding would have sailed through the House.

I think that’s a pretty clear case, and I believe the House Ethics Committee should look into it.