Tag Archives: Scott Coriell

Today’s Special at Phil’s Diner: Nothingburger

In the best political tradition of “ready/fire/aim,” Phil Scott and friends sent out a letter this week accusing the Shumlin administration of playing politics with state jobs. Specifically, of shifting political appointees into permanent state positions. It’s a way to reward your loyalists and extend your influence into putatively non-political areas of government.

The letter was addressed to Human Resources Commissioner Maribeth Spellman, but it was released to the media on the same day it was written. (A sure sign of political motivation.) The letter cites “concerning reports” that the administration is either reclassifying exempt (political) positions into classified (nonpolitical) ones, or creating new classified positions that political appointees could slide into.

It would be a minor scandal if true. Unfortunately, Scott has no concrete evidence, no published reports, and not a single example.

I reached out to Rachel Feldman, Scott’s chief of staff, in search of documentation. This is all I got:

The information comes from a reliable whistleblower within State government.

Okay, well, that’s not much, is it?

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The sun sets on the Vermont Enterprise Fund

Hey, remember in January, when the state Emergency Board approved two grants from the Vermont Enterprise Fund? GlobalFoundries was given $1 million, and $200,000 went to BHS Composites. Well, turns out those will be the last VEF grants ever awarded. During its recently concluded session, the Legislature rejected Governor Shumlin’s bid to add new money to the Fund — and decided not to extend the program.

The Fund is empty, and in the absence of legislative action, the program will sunset at the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s disappointing,” says Shumlin spox Scott Coriell*. “The Enterprise Fund has been a useful tool, but we do have other tools at our disposal.”

*Say that five times fast.

There was some funny business around those January grants that may have sealed the fate of the two-year-old program.

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Oh, about that other thing happening Thursday…

As we all eagerly await the arrival of Our Benevolent Overlord Donald J. Trump and the potential shitshow of a rally in a 1400-seat theater for which more than 20,000 tickets have been issued, there’s another high-profile political event tomorrow in Vermont. That would be, of course, Peter Shumlin’s sixth and final State of the State address.

He’s set the stage with a self-congratulatory website chronicling the progress made during his tenure. It’s chockablock with conveniently-limned graphs designed to emphasize the positive markers, sometimes sacrificing the nuance of truth in the process. And he has said this last year will be a process of consolidating the advances of past years, not an occasion for new initiatives.

Which would seem to imply a somewhat minimalist address. That makes sense, given his status as a lame duck dependent on the cooperation of Democratic lawmakers who will be campaigning without him in November. However…

Peter Shumlin isn’t exactly a shrinking violet. He has used past S0S addresses as springboards for major policy initiatives. Would he really go out with a whimper, not a bang?

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He shoots — and misses! Again!

In basketball, there’s a derogatory term often applied to very good players: “Volume shooter.” It refers to a skilled offensive player who hogs the ball and shoots a lot. If most of ‘em go in, it’s good. But when he’s missing, he keeps on shooting, often to the detriment of his team.

The NBA’s current king of volume shooting is the formerly great Kobe Bryant, limping through his final season with stat lines like 7 for 26 (12/1 loss to Philadelphia), 4 for 20 (11/29 loss to Indiana) and 6 for 22 (11/22 loss to Portland). Enough bricks to build a full-scale replica of the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

The #1 volume shooter in Vermont politics is David Sunderland, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. He’ll fire off a press release whenever he sees the faintest opening to score a political point. Like the 2015 Kobe, he shoots a lot but seldom scores. Unlike the real Kobe, he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career in the rear-view.

Sunderland’s latest desperation heave is a thoroughly nasty (even by his standards) attack on Governor Shumlin for having the audacity to attend the Global Climate Summit in Paris. He begins by totting up the imagined sins and shortfalls of the Shumlin administration, and then gets to the red meat:

While we can appreciate why you would want to leave your many problems behind for a few days, that’s not leadership. And it’s certainly not the job you were narrowly re-elected to do.

It is not necessary for you to attend this meeting. It would be far more economical — and far more environmentally responsible — to send your thoughts in writing or attend by video conference. You’ve frequently touted the state’s telecommunication advances — you should be taking advantage of them now.

The whole thing reads like that. Never does Sunderland pass up an opportunity for snark.

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Drawing the Shmethical Line

Brent Raymond’s move from regulating the EB-5 program to operating one of them is proving impossible to ignore. How impossible? Top Shumlin administration officials are actually raising questions about it. They’re even invoking the feared Executive Code of Ethics.

“The governor has concerns about the potential for a conflict of interest in this decision. … We fully expect all appointees and former appointees to comply with the Executive Code of Ethics,” spokesman Scott Coriell said in an email. “The governor has also asked (the Agency of Commerce and Community Development) to review the communications leading up to this departure to ensure that all actions were in compliance with the Executive Code of Ethics and conflict of interest policies.”

Ah, the Executive Code of Shmethics: the Mock Apple Pie of good government. (Mmmm, Ritz crackers and RealLemon!)

This picture should not be interpreted as visual commentary on the content of this post.

This picture should not be interpreted as visual commentary on the content of this post.


The most interesting phrase in the above paragraph is “leading up to his departure.” It would, indeed, be instructive to know how long Mr. Raymond was negotiating his new job with an EB-5 developer while continuing to be, at least in title, the state’s EB-5 regulator.

And how in Hell he thought it was okay to do that.

Well, at some level he probably knew it wasn’t okay. Otherwise he wouldn’t have kept his superiors in the dark until he actually had the job in hand. Whereupon they waived his 30-day notice and showed him the door toot suite.

He’ll still get paid for the 30 days. Because after all, why punish the guy?

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Tom Little: The right choice for the job

I’m sure it’s a coincidence (paging Mr. Coriell), but Governor Shumlin chose today to announce his choice of independent investigator to look into Eternal General Bill Sorrell’s campaign finance activities. On a Friday, and on a Friday when a sitting State Senator did a perp walk after his arraignment on sex-crime charges.

But the hiring is noteworthy, and from all appearances, Shumlin made a fine choice. Tom Little appears to be above reproach in his personal conduct, and even-handed in his political dealings. The only drawback — and to some it’s a very significant one — is that he doesn’t have any experience as a prosecutor. His legal practice has mainly been in corporate and real estate law.

Little served ten years a Republican State Representative. He distinguished himself greatly in the fight for civil unions. In this age of widespread marriage equality, that might seem like ancient history; but it was only 15 years ago, and at the time it was a legal milestone and a red-hot controversy. An August 2000 profile piece by Seven Days’ Kevin Kelley called him “the single most influential figure in steering the [civil unions] legislation to narrow passage.” As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Kelly writes, he “helped persuade other moderate Republicans to vote on their conscience, not their fears.”

He’s currently a top exec at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, and he’s got a list of public service activities as long as your arm. And someone with much more knowledge than I characterizes Little as a “straight shooter, non-corruptible.” But here’s the point where my cynicism threw in the towel: according to a bio I’ve seen, he “currently serves as Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont.”

Good grief. Who is this guy, the reincarnation of Jimmy Stewart?

I don’t know Tom Little, never met him. But apart from the lack of prosecutorial experience, it’s very hard to find any fault with the choice. Not bad for a Friday newsdump. (Sorry, Scott.)

Unwarranted outrage from your Freeploid

 

(See also addendum below: the Free Press didn’t have a reporter at one of the biggest news events in recent history!) 

Regular readers of the Burlington Free Press (all six of us) know that transparency is one of its signature causes.

(Except when it comes to the Burlington Free Press itself; there, secrecy rules the day.)

Well, this preoccupation caused Vermont’s Saddest Newspaper to leap to an unwarranted conclusion yesterday.

In the morning, the media got notice of a gubernatorial press conference to be held at 2:15 p.m. There was no mention of the subject matter.

And this caused the Freeploid to throw a nutty. It posted a short piece entitled “Secrecy surrounds Shumlin’s news conference.”

Shumlin has led the fight for government transparency, but his new press secretary, Scott Coriell, has failed to respond to questions about the topic of the governor’s meeting with the media.

Well, son of a bitch. Of course he didn’t respond.

Most gubernatorial pressers include a bit of political business — a bill signing, a new initiative, a ribbon-cutting. In those cases, the media alert will tell us what’s coming up.

But when there’s an actual policy announcement of significant magnitude? Hell no. Shumlin’s people aren’t going to upstage the announcement by providing advance information. The Freeploid is basically demanding that the administration leak its own stuff.

Particularly in this case, when the announcement was made simultaneously to the media and to those who’d been involved in the single payer work.  If Coriell had disclosed the subject matter, do you think the Free Press wouldn’t have found a way to publish the “scoop”?

The Freeploid went on to complain about changes in the time and venue for the presser. Which, c’mon, grow up. It’s not that big a deal.

I suspect the Freeploid’s real problem is that it no longer has a Statehouse bureau, and the editors had to decide whether to send a staffer down from Burlington. That’s a big deal for a paper as understaffed as the Freeploid. But that’s not the governor’s problem. And Scott Coriell shouldn’t be raked over the coals for simply doing his f’n job.

The article was slightly updated after the presser, and can be viewed by anyone who hasn’t canceled their subscription yet. The updated version mostly changes the verb tenses; the misperceptions, self-entitlement, and aspersions on Coriell remain intact. One more signpost on the Burlington Free Press’ descent into irrelevance.

 Addendum. A loyal reader pointed out that the Free Press’ main article on Shumlin’s presser was not written by a Freeploid staffer, but by the Associated Press’ Dave Gram. That’s pretty awful for a “media company” that insists it hasn’t retreated from Statehouse coverage, and whose leader has publicly slammed “rumors and speculation that we are abandoning coverage in Montpelier.” Well, sir, your absence at yesterday’s announcement is not rumor or speculation, but fact.

Presumably what happened was: the Free Press tried to find out the subject of the presser and failed. The editors then made a calculated gamble not to send a reporter — although they did send their photographer Glenn Russell. Their gamble exploded in their faces. Dave Gram’s a fine reporter, but Vermont’s largest newspaper should not be depending on the AP for coverage of a huge news story.

Messaging 101: Don’t make mistakes in press releases about education

So this happened. Governor Shumlin’s office issued a press release on Monday about education funding — specifically its projection of a two-cent increase in the state property tax for the coming year.

And there was an oopsie. First to spot it was Dave Gram of the Associated Press (and now, apparently, chief Statehouse correspondent for the Burlington Free Press):

And here is the error in context:

“The bottom line is that education spending in Vermont is supported by a wide variety of state revenue sources, not just the property tax,” Gov. Shumlin said. “That’s why I do not think simply shifting more education spending to other sources will address the burden Vermonters feel. We need to tackle this first as a spending challenge because education costs have continued to rise faster than Vermonter’s ability to pay for it, even though our student count has declined.”

It’s bad enough when a gubernatorial missive goes out with a big fat juicy typo. It’s even worse when the subject of said missive is education. Does newly-minted communications chief Scott Coriell need a little proofreading help?

Is this the time for business as usual?

It’s an annual rite at this time of year: a changeover in the upper levels of the administration. It usually involves some key departures, a shuffling of the deck, and the elevation of those who have served in a lesser capacity.

The latter began on Wednesday for the Shumlin Administration, with promotions for press liaison Sue Allen, campaign manager Scott Coriell, and education adviser Aly Richards. Loyal servants, rewarded for their work.

But should they be?

I have nothing against these folks. As far as I know, they deserve their promotions. But a broader question is on my mind:

Praise and promotions were freely distributed when Shumlin was riding high. Should the same be true after a poor administrative year and a disastrous campaign?

Further: Are these promotions a sign that Shumlin, at some fundamental level, doesn’t get it? That it’s business as usual on the fifth floor?

The Governor has made the right noises. But the current situation calls for a lot more than that. You can say “The buck stops here” all you want, but if the buck stops and gets tossed in a drawer, it’s a meaningless statement.

After the election, I saw a gleam of hope: Shumlin does his best work in crisis, as we saw after Tropical Storm Irene. This election was the closest thing to a personal Irene for Shumlin. My hope was that he would seize the opportunity, thoroughly evaluate everything he and his people do, and boldly set a new course.

So far, given his frequent deferrals to legislative leadership and his dispensation of Jobs For The Boys (And Girls), I’m having my doubts.

In addition to a personal reckoning by Shumiln, there ought to be a personnel reckoning. During the campaign, I wrote that the continued problems of Vermont Health Connect called for some clear direction and, probably, the rolling of some heads.

In addition to Doug Racine’s, that is. Racine may have had his failings at Human Services, but it wasn’t like he got a lot of help from Shumlin. Plus, he had little to do with Vermont Health Connect. He was expendable, not because he was the biggest problem, but because he wasn’t really part of the team. Mark Larson, who was far more responsible for VHC but was clearly one of the boys, was shunted to the side but kept his title and is still drawing a salary for duties and responsibilities unknown.

Is Governor Shumlin capable of evaluating his staffers and functionaries with the cold eye of reason, and demoting or defenestrating those who’ve contributed to his administration’s malaise?

We’ll see. He promises more personnel changes to come. But I have to say I’m not optimistic. If the changes have more to do with the desires and ambitions of his staff than with a sorely-needed overhaul of the Shumlin Machine, then his third term is off to an inauspicious start.

 

The most significant thing about Governor Shumlin’s first TV ad of 2014

The Shumlin campaign has taken to the airwaves with a 30-second commercial that features real-life Vermonters who have benefited from Shumlin initiatives. The aim of the ad is to remind viewers of the administration’s many accomplishments — to counteract the stream of bad news about Vermont Health Connect and the Department of Children and Families, and to remind liberal voters that the Governor has, indeed, delivered on many of his promises.

All he needs is rainbows and unicorns.

All he needs is rainbows and unicorns.

Pretty standard stuff, and it’s been duly reported in the media. But they haven’t noticed* the most significant thing about the launch: its timing.

*Correction: All but one of them failed to notice. Sevan Days’ Paul Heintz reported it two days before I did. That’s why they call him The Huntsman.

In 2012, the Shumlin campaign didn’t take to the airwaves until roughly two weeks before Election Day.

This year, the campaign hits your TV screens almost a full month earlier.

According to campaign finance reports, the Shumlin camp spent $125,000 on ad buys in 2012. Campaign manager Scott Coriell isn’t saying how much they’ll spend this year, but it figures to be a lot more.  They’ll be filling airtime for six weeks instead of two, so it’s fair to guess that they’ll triple their spending this year. Or more.

So, why?

In 2012 Shumlin faced an underfunded, underorganized, mismanaged opponent. Shumiin’s re-election was never in doubt. This year, he faces one opponent who’s far worse in all three categories, and another who represents a fringe viewpoint with a proven track record of appealing to a sliver of the electorate. Recent polls (and deeply flawed polls at that) notwithstanding, his re-election is once again in the bag.

But the Governor isn’t aiming his campaign at the broad electorate. He’s trying to pump up the base and generate higher turnout by core Democratic voters. Hence the reminders of popular Democratic initiatives.

If he can get a pure majority of the vote — at least 50% plus one — he’ll have a lot of political capital to spend in next year’s debate over single-payer health care.

But if he wins with a plurality and, worse case, he gets fewer votes than the Republican and Libertarian candidates combined, he’ll have a lot less pull with the Legislature. And right now, he’s polling in the mid-40s. He needs a boost.

Plus, of course, the higher his vote total, the more Dems and Progs will ride his coattails to victory. And he’ll need every liberal vote he can get, if single-payer is to pass next year.

That’s the significance of the early TV launch this year.