Tag Archives: VTDigger

VTDigger’s Union-Busting Efforts Continue Apace (UPDATED)

Got an email today from VTDigger founder/chief executive/editor/reporter/Maximum Leader Anne Galloway. It was a request for donations that included the line “Help us…foster the next generation of journalists.”

Yeah, up to a point. Past that point, successive “next generations of journalists” are running for the hills. Latest example: Statehouse reporter Kit Norton has left Digger with no firm plans for what’s next, according to his Twitter feed. About a month ago, Katie Jickling quit, tweeting out plans to leave journalism and pursue a master’s degree.

Update 7/14/21. According to Mark Johnson’s column in this week’s Seven Days, Statehouse reporter Xander Landen has also left Digger. This adds to the numbers I cite below. And losing both Norton and Landen at the same time is a tremendous blow to Digger’s Statehouse and political coverage. They were smart, effective reporters who’d learned the ropes. Now, other reporters will have to start from scratch.

Which made me wonder how many reporters have whizzed through that revolving door since May 2020, when they formed a union and entered into contract talks. Talks which have seen management stonewalling the union.

So I fired up the Internet Archive and found the VTDigger homepage as of May 27, 2020. That’s right around the time that Digger recognized the union in the face of a near-unanimous organizing vote.

The answer is, yep, there’s been a lot of turnover. By my count of the staff listing on the Digger website, the organization had 12 full-time reporters on 5/27/20. Five are no longer there. (Jickling, Norton, Anne Wallace Allen, Elizabeth Gribkoff, Aidan Quigley), That’s a fair bit of turnover. And every one of those departing reporters was a member of the union.

I don’t believe that Digger is deliberately driving people away in order to break the union, but I do believe that weakening the union is a fortunate consequence of its high turnover. Galloway’s fundraising pitch notwithstanding, many writers flee because they find Digger to be a toxic workplace.

Fostering the next generation of journalists, my Aunt Fanny.

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It’s So Hard to Find Good Republicans These Days

Amidst the endless parade of articles bemoaning the plight of poor businessfolk who can’t find enough workers to fill their low-paying, no-bennies jobs, let us take a moment to pour one out for the group that has by far the hardest time finding a few good people: The Vermont Republican Party.

You almost have to feel sorry for the VTGOP. They’re so underfinanced and disorganized, so out of touch and few in number, that their every ticket features a frightening quantity of blank slots. They’ll take almost anybody with a pulse who’s willing to step out in public with an “R” next to their name.

Two cases in point today. First, we have Christopher-Aaron Felker, the surprise entry into Burlington’s special election to fill the seat of former councilor Brian Pine. Second, Gov. Phil Scott’s latest nominee to the Vermont Commission on Women.

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Dan French Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

The Education Agency’s proposed new logo (not exactly as illustrated)

Vermont’s education secretary let the cat out of the regulatory bag on Wednesday. He acknowledged that state regulation of approved independent schools is, as Willy Shakes put it, “more honored in the breach than the observance.”

Dan French was speaking to the state board of education, a body not known for an aggressive attitude toward the AIS’s. But this time, they’d had it up to here.

VTDigger’s Lola Duffort reported on French’s testimony, casting it primarily in terms of the troubled Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Kurn Hattin gave up its license to operate a residential treatment program in the face of enforcement action by the Department of Children and Families (the department cited a pervasive culture of abuse) — and yet, the Ed Agency rubber-stamped Kurn Hattin’s status as an approved independent school.

Well, on Wednesday we found out how the agency arrived at that curious conclusion. And it ought to send shivers down the spine of every parent and educator and, heck, every taxpayer in the state.

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Ain’t No Cure For the Dumbertime Blues: The Veepies, Hot Weather Edition

Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.

First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.

And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.

In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.

There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!

After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.

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The Evidence of Things Not Seen

Ah, if only it were so

There is so much to say about the pair of dueling events that took place in Essex last Friday. The first was a cauldron of conservative outrage concerning Their Latest Bugaboo, critical race theory, about which they know nothing. The second was a counter-event across the road, featuring supporters of the school district’s anti-racism efforts.

There’s what it says about the Vermont Republican Party that its chair attended Hate Night. There’s the ideological connection to recent events in the Mill River school district, where conservative outrage has also reared its unsightly head. There’s how the event was covered: Badly by VTDigger, and with manufactured both-sidesism by Seven Days. There’s the complete unmasking of a prominent conservative “journalist,” and the rise of a new contender for Worst Lawmaker in Montpelier.

But let’s start with Hebrews 11:1. In the King James Version favored by many evangelicals, it says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This verse has multiple applications here.

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There Are Two Ways This Can End, and They’re Both Terrible

Anne Galloway, the Captain Ahab of Vermont journalism, has returned to port with another big bloody chunk of the Great White Whale.

The whale is the EB-5 scandal, about which fundamental questions remain unanswered because a lot of information has yet to be made public. I don’t agree with how VTDigger is stonewalling its union, but this is an example of why we need Digger. Galloway is doing a tremendous public service by chasing a complicated story that no other media outlet has been willing to tackle.

Should I do a brief recap of the EB-5 thing? Is that possible? Well, here we go.

EB-5 is a program that offers green cards to foreign investors who put money into development projects in designated rural and/or poor areas. It was a small thing in Vermont until the great recession of 2008-9, when it suddenly took off. State oversight failed to keep up with its rapid growth. A lot of good projects got built, but Ariel Quiros allegedly committed large-scale fraud by taking money for projects he never built. He was assisted in these efforts by Vermont businessman Bill Stenger.

The state of Vermont, particularly the Shumlin administration, either failed to detect the fraud or tried to cover it up. Which one? Probably both, but we don’t know because a lot of key documents are still, several years later, being kept under wraps.

VTDigger has been diligently pursuing those documents, and keeps winning partial victories. Which then gives them reams upon reams of documents to go through.

On Wednesday, Digger posted another installment in its series. This time, it reports that state officials knew there was fraudulent activity two years before the the scandal was revealed by federal regulators in 2016.

Yikes.

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Digger vs. Its Writers

For a full year, the VTDigger Guild has been trying to negotiate its first contract. And it’s been met with an unyielding brick wall on every front. Now, in a series of tweets, it has taken its case to the public.

The Guild organized in the spring of last year, and I was proud to be part of the effort. I believed the union would be a good thing for all parties. And it still can be, if Digger gets serious about a contract.

Until it does, I’m suspending my monthly donation to Digger. I can’t support an enterprise that treats its workers this way. If you identify as a friend of labor, I suggest you think long and hard about doing the same. And write a letter to Digger via this page on The Action Network.

I hate to do this. Digger is an absolute necessity for coverage of Vermont policy and politics. Founder Anne Galloway deserves all the credit in the world for creating this enterprise.

But it’s time to grow up, and enter into a partnership with its workers. This shit won’t fly any more:

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Sure Is Quiet Out There

A strange hush has fallen over the #vtpoli landscape. The Legislature is set to adjourn at the end of the week, and yet we hear no arguing, no complaining, no House/Senate or even Legislature/Governor sniping, no last-minute knifings of inconvenient bills. The governor hasn’t vetoed anything yet, and he’s barely made any veto threats.

This is looking like the quietest, least contentious session in years. Now, maybe this is a consequence of The Year Of Zoom, with reporters unable to lurk outside closed doors and buttonhole people in the hallways and trade rumors with lobbyists. But when you look at the available record, there’s no evidence of the usual endgame drama.

I mean, just look at VTDigger’s Bill Tracker. It shows no gubernatorial vetoes, five bills signed by Gov. Scott, four bills awaiting his action, 11 passed the House and Senate with differences being resolved*, and seven that have passed one chamber and not the other. The Bill Tracker is not comprehensive, but it is a thoughtful compilation of high-profile issues before the Legislature. And it shows a pretty decent record of accomplishment with few apparent flashpoints.

*Most differences are fairly minor, and agreement this week seems certain.

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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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