Tag Archives: Phil Scott

Watchdog group: Vermont’s ethics commission is worthless

According to a new report from the nonprofit Coalition for Integrity, Vermont is one of the worst states in the nation for ethics enforcement in government.

The C4I’s report (first reported in Vermont by VTDigger) compares the ethics processes of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Vermont is in a three-way tie for next-to-last, along with Utah and Virginia. All three states have an entirely toothless ethics process. (Five states — Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming — have no ethics agency at all.)

The report’s Vermont section is a depressing read. It notes that our Ethics Commission is purely an advisory body with “no authority to investigate or enforce the ethics laws.” All it can do is review ethics complaints and refer them on to agencies with actual power. And all of its activity is shielded from public scrutiny.

This is no surprise to anyone who’s been following my coverage of the Commission’s establishment on this blog and in the pages of Seven Days. (If you do a site search for “ethics,” you’ll find the relevant stories.) Indeed, an entirely toothless ethics process is exactly what the legislature intended. After staunchly resisting the very idea that Vermont needed ethical standards, lawmakers did just barely enough to make it seem like they cared. But they don’t.

And the Democratic majority bears the responsibility for this sad state of affairs, because Democrats have the power. They used it to stonewall every idea for real ethics enforcement. They show every sign of continuing to hold that position. In fact, lawmakers essentially bullied the Ethics Commission into rewriting its own rules on advisory opinions to end any possibility that any of the panel’s work would ever be available for public inspection.

A secret ethics process. Isn’t it ironic, don’tcha think?

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Welcome to Vermont, Mr. McNeil

Oh boy, there’s more bad news from the Vermont Democratic Party. The latest from Team Turmoil is an official notice from the Federal Election Commission informing the VDP that it has yet to file its required monthly financial report for July, and warning of serious consequences.

The failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action. The civil money penalty calculation for late reports does not include a grace period and begins on the day following the due date for the report.

The July report was due August 20, so the fines have been piling up, potentially, since August 21. (The fines are assessed, or not, on a case-by-case basis. There’s no set dollar amount.) And the August report is due on September 20. If it doesn’t go in on time, the daily fines could double.

These filings are a royal pain (says anyone who’s had to prepare them), but are a necessary function for a political party. Failure to file is, well, a violation of federal law.

Party spokesperson R. Christopher DiMezzo offers words of assurance. “The FEC knows about the situation,’ he said. “We’re in contact.”

The delay in filing, he explained, is entirely due to alleged embezzlements by former staffer Brandon Batham, which is under investigation by Montpelier police. “The filing is held up because of the law enforcement investigation,” he said. “The report will go in when we figure out how to handle it.”

Well, maybe, but my bullshit detector is pinging. The party could always submit a report and revise it later if necessary. Happens all the time. Plus, does the financial filing really depend on the police investigation? We already know how much money is involved, don’t we?

Don’t we?

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When a politician says “It’s not political,” you can bet your ass it’s political

On Thursday, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan sided with Republican Governor Phil Scott against Democratic Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah Fair George in a high-profile murder case. And he insisted, naturally, that his decision had nothing to do with politics.

OK, before we get to the merits of his argument, let’s make one thing clear. It’s political. Whether Donovan wanted it to be or not — whether politics entered into his thinking or not — his decision indisputably has political ramifications.

In May, George dismissed charges against Aita Gurung for the 2017 murder of his wife because George decided she wouldn’t be able to rebut Gurung’s insanity defense. (A court-hired expert and a prosecution expert had both concluded that Gurung was insane at the time of the fatal attack.) It was one of three high-profile dismissals by George on the same day. Later, Scott asked Donovan to review the three cases.

Donovan was George’s predecessor in Chittenden County. His decision in the Gurung case clearly casts doubt on her judgment because he has just overruled her judgment. His protestations of “utmost respect” for George ring hollow.

In a media scrum after Gurung’s re-arraignment Friday, Donovan presented a bunch of inadequate and contradictory explanations. He sounded like he was grasping at straws.

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Free advice for the last people on Earth who would take it

So, over at journalismjobs.com there’s an intriguing listing from my former employer:

Award-winning, locally owned Seven Days newspaper is on the hunt for a political columnist or a news reporter to join our state government team.

That’s either/or. They’re going to hire one or the other. Which means they haven’t made up their minds whether they’re keeping “Fair Game.” It’ll depend, one must assume, on the inclination of the best applicants.

Before I begin the uninformed speculation and free advice, let me make one thing clear. I have no inside information. At this point, I have less insight into the inner workings of Seven Days than I do for True North Reports, the ha-ha “news” site bankrolled by reclusive moneybags Lenore Broughton.

When I got the ziggy, I didn’t know whether they intended to keep the column going or kill it. In recent years, Seven Days has sought to distance itself from its hippie-dippie alt roots. Maybe the Peter Freyne Memorial Chair no longer fit in with the highfalutin aspirations of Vermont’s largest organ.

On the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Seven Days without “Fair Game.” Back in the bad old days, Peter Freyne was their only news guy, to use the term very loosely. The column has been a staple of the paper since practically day one.

Also, at this point it occupies a singular place in Vermont’s news ecosystem. There are no other political columnists, besides the part-time ruminations of VTDigger’s Jon Margolis. “Fair Game” remains incredibly popular — a must-read for anyone in Vermont politics or news media. That’s a lot of legacy and pageviews to surrender. Also, Vermont politics needs a good shitkicker. It’s far too comfortable a space right now.

But if they’re going to keep “Fair Game,” they need to make some decisions about what exactly it is and what their expectations are. Otherwise it’s not fair to the new hire. It sure wasn’t fair to me.

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Deadbeat Donald

It’s a minor thing compared to the egregious offensiveness of his entire campaign, but Donald Trump has once again proved to be a deadbeat. He has failed to pay an $8,500 bill issued by the City of Burlington for police and fire overtime costs related to Trump’s January rally in the Flynn Center.

You remember, the one where his campaign issued thousands and thousands of extra tickets, thus ensuring a law-enforcement quagmire and setting the stage for potential violent confrontation?

Well, he hasn’t paid up, and the city has decided “it would not be cost effective” to pursue the matter.

[Mayor Miro Weinberger] reiterated that Trump’s “failure to cooperate” with local law enforcement and lack of communication with the public and ticketholders put “undue strain on the City’s police and “unnecessarily hurt downtown businesses.”

Paying the invoice, Weinberger said, “remains the right and honorable thing for Mr. Trump to do.”

Well, sure, but there’s no point in waiting for Donald Trump to do “the right and honorable thing.” He has a long record of doing otherwise.

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Don Turner plays hardball

I don’t know if it’s the Hansen effect or what, but lately House Minority Leader Don Turner has adopted a more aggressive stance toward his job. Instead of loudly complaining about the maneuverings of the Democratic majority, he’s now finding opportunities to play the active obstructionist.

This is kind of a new thing in Vermont politics, and is of a piece with how Congressional Republicans act on the national stage.

Turner’s latest exercise in Human Speedbump concerns S.230, the energy siting bill vetoed last week by Governor Shumlin. He has reportedly crafted a “fix” to the bill that would allow him to sign it; but Turner is vowing to block passage in any way he can.

And it ain’t nothing but politics.

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About that Shumlin approval poll

Bit of a surprise came to us late last week, with news of a survey showing Governor Shumlin had suddenly enjoyed a surge in popularity.

The results were released by Morning Consult, a national polling agency that gave Shumlin a 55 percent approval rating after collecting data online between January and May. Shumlin jumped nearly 10 points from the last time Morning Consult polled Vermonters, in November, when 46 percent of respondents gave him a thumbs up.

"What should I do now, Scotty?" "Ya got me, boss." (Photo from VPR)

“What should I do now, Scotty?” “Ya got me, boss.” (Photo from VPR)

The results are also at odds with a February poll from the Castleton Polling Institute that put the Governor at 37 percent approval, and the previous two Castleton surveys: in September 2015, Shumlin was at 40 percent; in March 2015, it was 41 percent. That’s awfully darn consistent.

The Democratic Party was quick to promote the Morning Consult number. Understandable; it would be the best possible news for the party and its gubernatorial candidate. It would prove broad support for the Democratic agenda, and it would mean the candidate wouldn’t have to create distance between her- or himself and Shumlin.

As for me, well, color me skeptical. After all, what has happened since February — or November — to bolster Shumlin’s popularity? He didn’t score any high-profile victories in the Legislature. And he’s taken quite a hit from the EB-5 imbroglio, since he’d associated himself so prominently with the scandal-plagued developers.

Is there some other counterbalancing factor — some political “dark matter” exerting a positive gravitational pull on Shumlin’s numbers? Or is it just an outlier?

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