Tag Archives: Seven Days

There Is No Vaccine for Stupid: The Veepies Return Again

When I launched this series, I had no idea how often I’d have enough material for another edition. Turns out, it takes roughly one week. That’s almost one story per day. Here we go again with a healthy dose of Stupidity in the Public Sphere…

The Try to Fix a Problem, It Comes Back, Try the Same Thing Again, It Doesn’t Work, Try It Again, Another Fail, Try Again, You Know What They Say About History Repeating Itself Award goes to the Scott Administration for failing to address the repeated failures of the Labor Department. The weekend brought yet another story about unemployed Vermonters waiting weeks to get their checks or hours on hold to the Department’s call center.

It’s been one thing after another for DOL since the beginning of the pandemic. Its excuses have some truth in them; the UI system is a victim of long-term negligence at the federal level, and last spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims was unprecedented and unforeseeable.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington was dealt a bad hand, but he’s played it poorly. He has overseen failure after failure. Not only was he not fired or punished or removed to a quiet corner of the DMV, he actually got a promotion while his department was in flames. But it’s not all on him.

After the jump: Conspiracy theorists get their minute in court, a town ducks a feel-bad story, and a newspaper trolls avidly for advertisers’ favor.

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Call Dr. Levine, We’ve Got a Full-Fledged Stupidemic On Our Hands

Well, geez. I already had enough material for another edition of the Veepie Awards on Friday, and then the weekend brought a fresh outbreak of The Stupid. So before any more cases are diagnosed, let’s roll out our second-ever awards for Outstanding Stupidity On Public Display…

The We’ve Always Done It This Way, and We’re Going to Keep Doing It This Way Until the Sun is a Cold, Dark Husk Award goes to House leadership for continuing the barnacle-encrusted tradition of appointing one Republican to a committee chairship, no matter how small the Republican caucus. This time it may just bite ’em in the butt. And, more painfully, bite unemployed Vermonters with children.

As reported by VTDigger’s James Finn, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is likely to eliminate an additional $50-per-week to unemployment benefits for jobless Vermonters with children, included by the Senate in a bill addressing UI benefits and the unemployment trust fund. This is the committee with the obligatory token Republican chair, Rep. Michael Marcotte. He told Finn that he’s skeptical about the parental bonus, and his committee may strip it from the bill.

We don’t know how other Commerce members feel, because none are quoted in the article. But the chair sets the committee agenda, and has the power to block anything they choose. Heck of a time for a Republican to occupy that seat.

I get the desire for bipartisanship, or at least the plausible appearance of same. I could understand giving a chairship or two to a minority if there’s a close partisan split in the House. But why give away a leadership post to a party that can barely win one-third of available seats? Republicans know it’s a token gesture. It doesn’t stop them from feeling abused and ignored by the majority. It accomplishes nothing. Or, in this case, less than nothing.

After the jump: Stupid Bar Tricks, Art Malappreciation, and a comms guy makes a dumb comms mistake.

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We’re In a Housing Crisis, Aren’t We?

Anyone who can climb the hill gets a house!

Yeah, I think we are.

Two items in the news:

First, from VTDigger’s Erin Petenko, sales of Vermont homes to out-of-staters reached historic levels last year, presumably driven by the pandemic, and

Second, from Seven Days‘ Anne Wallace Allen, the home building industry has given up on large swaths of Vermont and concentrated its activity in high-flying Chittenden County.

We had a big affordable-housing problem back when we thought coronavirus was something you caught from a tainted beer. It’s gotten worse since then, and the trends are all in the wrong direction.

That $37 million affordable housing bond we proudly enacted in the pre-Covid days of 2017 looks like a drop in the bucket. And Sen. Michael Sirotkin’s proposal for an even bigger Housing Bond 2.0, which has languished in the Legislature for the past two years*, is looking more and more vital.

*Thanks in no small part to the opposition of Treasurer Beth Pearce, whose aversion to public debt rivals the Scroogiest of conservatives.

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What Has Doug Hoffer Done to Deserve This?

Illustration from the normally staid Auditor’s homepage. I think he’s running low on fucks to give.

A few days ago, I wrote about two performance audits conducted by Auditor Doug Hoffer concerning Vermont’s approved independent schools. His findings, in brief: they are growing and consuming more Education Fund dollars, and state oversight is lax in a number of important ways. (The two reports are available by way of the Auditor’s website, specifically this page.)

I mentioned in passing that the two audits had gotten very little coverage in the media. The second one went almost completely under the radar; the Big Three of Vermont media (VTDigger, Seven Days, VPR) didn’t cover it at all.

It’s part of a pattern; Hoffer’s audits and reports get perfunctory coverage at best. But this year it took a turn for the worse. At the same time that major media outlets were giving scant attention to Hoffer’s actual work, they were giving plenty of space to Oliver Olsen, a relentless Hoffer critic (and longtime supporter of AIS’s).

For those just joining us, in December and early January Olsen inundated the auditor’s office with requests for records and information — a total of 18 inquiries, four of them filed on Christmas Eve. At the time, Olsen hinted at a deep expose of serious flaws in Hoffer’s work. In a letter to House and Senate leadership, he wrote “My review, which is not yet complete, has identified a number of problems with the auditor’s work that I hope to bring to the Legislature’s attention in the new biennium.”

What have we gotten from Olsen since then? A wet fart. Have the breathless media covered his failure to deliver? Not on your life.

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Bennington Still Pooping the Bed on Racial Equity

Ah, Bennington. Gateway to southern Vermont. Scrappy little town with loads of history. A downtown worth an afternoon’s ramble. The Blue Benn Diner. Bakkerij Krijnen.

And a police department that may be the most racist in Vermont.

And a town government that steadfastly, blindly supports its racist police.

This time, the cops and the town have literally chased an interracial couple out of town. And the couple, with the help of the Vermont ACLU, has filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission.

Will this get Bennington’s attention? Eh, probably not. After all, the town has continued to support its police department after a Black man was railroaded to prison only to have his conviction overturned, having the cops’ racist approach to traffic enforcement documented by a UVM researcher, and seeing a consultant hired by the town describe a “warrior mentality” in the BPD that had “sown deep mistrust” between community and cops.

The details of the latest case, as reported by Seven Days’ Derek Brouwer, are grim.

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Massive Coincidence Strikes #vtpoli World

Throughout this weird campaign season, Gov. Phil Scott had insisted he was too busy with pandemic response to do any fundraising, campaigning or debating.

Until yesterday. In an interview with Seven Days, Scott reversed course: “I do feel that I owe it to the competition, as well as to the process, to get myself involved in the last three or four weeks [of the campaign].”

Ahem. Let’s recap.

On Friday the 10th, Your Obedient Serpent took Scott to task for refusing to campaign.

On Monday the 13th, Scott reversed course.

This could be one huge, belief-beggaring coincidence. But am I going to take some credit for Scott’s change of heart?

You bet I am.

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Repeat After Me: The Coverup is Worse Than the Crime (UPDATED)

Those were the days, my friend…

Brandon del Pozo has bowed to the inevitable, and resigned as Burlington’s police chief. His departure came a mere four days after he admitted to Seven Days’ Courtney Lamdin that he had used an anonymous Twitter account to troll frequent City Hall critic Charles Winkleman.

Still, a whole bunch of questions remain unanswered. But they can all be boiled down to a single multidimensional query:

Why did it take so long?

The original deed — creating a fake Twitter handle to bash a critic, and deleting it almost immediately — would have been a bad look. But a fireable offense? That’s questionable. I think del Pozo would have survived.

Instead, here’s what happened. Del Pozo posted the tweets on July 4. Winkleman took notice, and vented his suspicions to Lamdin. She approached del Pozo on July 23, and he repeatedly denied any involvement. He lied “nearly a dozen times,” as Lamdin reported.

Five days later, del Pozo came clean to Weinberger. The mayor put the chief on medical leave and took away his gun, badge and city-issued cellphone. And told him to stay off social media. (The leave was publicly announced on August 2.)

Del Pozo returned to the job on September 15. And still, nothing about the twitter account and the lies to Seven Days’ city hall reporter. Weinberger kept it under his hat, thinking maybe, I don’t know, it’ll all just go away?

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Donovan Knew

The Vanishing Wunderkind

If there was any doubt about whether Attorney General T.J. Donovan might run for governor in 2020, he has just eliminated it.

Not by making an announcement, but by making it all but impossible to get the Democratic nomination. The guy’s so radioactive right now, he ought to just lay low for at least two more years.

Because it turns out he played a major role in concealing the scandal at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. We know this thanks to Seven Days‘ Paul Heintz, who has done the near-impossible. He uncovered a major scandal in state government — and then, one week later, he has substantially advanced the story, at a time when every media outlet in Vermont is pursuing this thing. Or should be.

Today’s piece reveals that pretty much everyone in state government knew about widespread abuse at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility long before it became public, including officials who loudly expressed their horror and astonishment that there were problems at the prison.

Including, most notably for our purposes, T.J. Donovan, who has known about systematic problems at the prison for two and a half years.

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Way Down In The Hole

[Not Exactly As Illustrated]

Brookfield Asset Management, the alleged developer of Burlington’s infamous hole in the ground, continues to be frustratingly vague about its plans and its timeline for actually building something on the former site of the Burlington Town Center. And folks, this could turn out to be the defining issue in the March 2021 city elections, when incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger is expected to seek a third term.

And, to craft the ultimate in mixed metaphors, that hole may become a millstone around his neck.

Demolition of the old mall began nearly two years ago. Original developer Don Sinex began boasting of big plans for the site way back in 2014. He tapped out earlier this year, and Brookfield stepped into the void.

(Sorry.)

(Although Sinex’s grand vision for Burlington CityPlace can, for shits and giggles, still be seen on its splashy website. Maybe cityplaceburlington.com been declared a historic monument or summat.)

City leaders are pressing Brookfield for some measure of certainty about its plans. Brookfield has failed to miss planning benchmarks since it took over the property. It presented sketches of a site plan to for the site to city council last month, but many crucial details remain to be filled in.

Weinberger, who was a loud and vocal supporter of Sinex and has now, a little more cautiously, tossed his hat into the Brookfield ring, is sounding a little antsy. Seven Days:

“We are looking for them to do more, quickly, to prove … that, in the end, it’s going to succeed,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said. “We are looking for some further confirmation on that.”

Good luck with that, Mr. Mayor. And good luck running for re-election if the hole is still a hole in early 2021. Which is not terribly farfetched; every step on a project of this scope is going to take time, especially in a micromanaging community like Burlington.

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Buy my book!

Ye Olde Blogge is about to go into cold storage. It shall remain intact, but as long as I serve as political columnist for Seven Days, I won’t be posting new material here.

A farewell message will follow. But first I’m exercising a bit of Blogger’s Privilege and posting a shameless plug for my book, which has nothing to do with Vermont politics. Indeed, it stems from an entirely different chapter in my life.

From 2000 to 2005 I worked at New Hampshire Public Radio as a news anchor, reporter, and host of a daily interview show. “The Front Porch” was resolutely unpolitical. Its tagline was “Interesting people from New Hampshire” — by which I meant the NHPR listening area, including parts of Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts.

When I launched the show, the joking response was, “So how long before you run out of interesting people in New Hampshire?” My answer, timidly at first but with more conviction as time went on, was ‘I honestly don’t think we ever will.”

And I was right.

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