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Seven Days
Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice, Seven Days
Independent Vermont alt-weekly covering news, politics, food, arts, music and culture.

Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice, Seven Days
  • Vallee Accuses Sanders of Seeking Legal Retribution 'To Make a Point'
    In a federal court filing Thursday, a St. Albans fuel company accused Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of using his government office to exact legal retribution against it for political purposes.

    The company, R.L. Vallee, Inc., alleged that Sanders and his Vermont spokesman, Daniel McLean, sought to gin up a state prosecution and a class-action lawsuit after the company's CEO, Rodolphe "Skip" Vallee, produced a television advertisement attacking Sanders and his family.

    A week after Vallee released the ad in September 2014, according to documents and testimony obtained by the company's lawyers, Sanders and McLean met with two members of the Vermont Attorney General's Office to discuss the senator's suspicion that the company engaged in anti-competitive practices. According to handwritten notes taken at the meeting by Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kriger, either Sanders or McLean suggested that the AG should "Bring [a] case just to make a point."

    McLean emailed Kriger several times in the coming weeks to ask whether Attorney General Bill Sorrell would take action. In the end, he did not.

    In the following months, McLean regularly corresponded — sometimes using his personal email account — with attorneys from two firms interested in bringing a class-action lawsuit against R.L. Vallee, the documents show. McLean offered to provide the attorneys data that Sanders' office had obtained pertaining to gas prices in northwestern Vermont. In June 2015, the two firms filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against R.L. Vallee and three other companies accusing them of price-fixing.

    R.L. Vallee owns more than 45 gas stations in Vermont and neighboring states, mostly under the Maplefields brand. Skip Vallee is a prominent Republican donor who served as ambassador to Slovakia during president George W. Bush's administration.

    Thursday's filing was the latest volley in the more than three-year-old price-fixing case. Last month, R.L. Vallee subpoenaed McLean to sit for a deposition and turn over potentially thousands of documents. Sanders' office argued that the request was an over-broad "fishing expedition" and that Senate staffers could not be subpoenaed in their official capacities.
    [content-1] In Thursday's filing, R.L. Vallee's lawyers wrote that it "strains credulity that Mr. McLean's official duties as a press aide for a United States Senator" include attempting to persuade the state attorney general to bring an enforcement action against a private…

  • Former Burlington Guidance Counselors Describe 'Toxic' Workplace Under Director
    Ex-Burlington High School guidance counselors on Thursday described a "toxic" and "emotionally unsafe" work environment under their former boss, Mario Macias.

    In a bare conference room at the Agency of Education headquarters in Barre, a three-member panel, comprised of two school administrators from other districts and a member of the public, listened to a full day of testimony from BHS educators, a student and a University of Vermont employee. It was the second day of hearings involving Macias and will continue on Friday.

    Following a yearlong investigation, the Agency of Education in September cited Macias, the BHS guidance director, for allegations that include: falsifying a student transcript, creating a hostile work environment, behaving inappropriately with a college student and impeding the investigation by "inappropriately engaging" a student witness about the charges against him.
    [content-1] Macias, who was hired in the summer of 2016, was placed on administrative leave in September 2018 pending the conclusion of the investigation. The Agency of Education, which laid out its case on Thursday, has recommended revoking Macias' license. The panel is expected to return a decision in early 2019.

    Macias did not take the stand Thursday but is expected to testify in his defense on Friday, according to his attorney, Francisco Guzman.

    Emily Simmons, an attorney for the education agency, called forward a series of witnesses on Thursday who described a poorly managed guidance department and an emotionally unstable work environment.
    Yvette Amblo-Bose, who worked as a BHS guidance counselor for 20 years, described a department meeting in which Macias jumped up and jabbed a finger in her face. "You are the problem, you need to stop asking questions," she recalled him telling her. "You are the problem in this department."

    "I cried a lot at home, I dreaded going to work, I felt unsafe," she said. Amblo-Bose also said she had "serious concerns" about the guidance services and safety of the kids during Macias' tenure.

    Larissa Urban, who worked in the department at the time, described an "extremely uncomfortable and scary" environment in the guidance office. Both Urban and Amblo-Bose quit after Macias' first year.

    Another counselor, Simrat Peltier, started in the fall of 2017 and said the stress and fear of the job ultimately led her to start taking anti-depression medication.



  • Senate Backs Sanders-Sponsored Resolution to End Military Aid to Saudi Arabia
    The U.S. Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that calls for the end of all U.S. military involvement in Saudi Arabia's ongoing war in Yemen.

    The 56-41 vote on Thursday afternoon was a rebuke of Saudi Arabia over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated inside the country's embassy in Turkey. Because the U.S. House has blocked debate of the resolution, the Senate vote was largely symbolic.

    President Donald Trump has refused to condemn the killing, which the Central Intelligence Agency determined was likely ordered by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

    In a statement Wednesday before the vote, Sanders said Khashoggi’s killing was one of many human rights abuses by the Saudi government

    “The Saudi intervention in Yemen has created the worst humanitarian disaster in the world, with millions of people facing imminent starvation,” Sanders said in the statement. “The time is long overdue for the United States to stop following the lead of Saudi Arabia, a brutal regime that recently murdered a dissident journalist and has no respect for human rights.”
    [content-4] The Senate vote is a foreign policy win for Sanders, who is considering a presidential run in 2020. He was repeatedly criticized  during his 2016 presidential campaign for his lack of focus on foreign policy issues. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was a co-sponsor of Sanders' resolution and gave a speech in support of it on the Senate floor Thursday.

    "If the Saudi royal family hopes to salvage its tattered reputation and relations with the United States, it will need to take far more decisive action to end the war in Yemen and bring to justice all those responsible for murdering Jamal Khashoggi," Leahy said.

    The resolution is unlikely to move past the Senate, the Washington Post reports, because House Republican leaders snuck language that bars consideration of any such resolutions into an unrelated vote on an agricultural bill. Five House Democrats voted with Republicans in order to block the debate.

    U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) voted against Wednesday's proposal that blocked the Yemen resolutions and is co-sponsor of a House resolution similar to the one that passed the Senate. …

  • Media Note: Lynns Sell the St. Albans Messenger
    Emerson and Suzanne Lynn, the owners of several local newspapers in Chittenden County, are selling the St. Albans Messenger.

    The buyer is Chicago-based publishing executive Jim O’Rourke, according to a story posted on the Messenger's website. The announcement did not disclose the terms of the sale.

    Emerson Lynn bought the paper, which publishes six days a week, in 1981. His company, the Champlain Valley News Group, is based out of the Messenger offices in St. Albans.

    The Messenger's announcement on Thursday did not explain why the Lynns decided to sell the paper, though it says that Emerson and Suzanne will continue their jobs there as editor and general manager, respectively. The story also did not address the future of the three remaining newspapers in the Champlain Valley News Group — the Essex Reporter, Milton Independent and Colchester Sun.
    [content-1] The Lynns and O'Rourke did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.

    According to the Messenger, O’Rourke lives in the Chicago area, where he's been an executive at World Book, Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway that publishes educational materials. He also spent two years as president and publisher of a group of Michigan newspapers owned by Digital First Media. Before that, O'Rourke worked for GateHouse Media from 2006 to 2012.

    O’Rourke has some experience in Vermont, according to the Messenger:…

  • Winooski Green Card Holder Faces Deportation for Pot Conviction
    Thao Vo was riding to the bank on his motorcycle last August when a man driving a black Dodge Durango pulled him over. A federal agent got out of the SUV and told Vo he was being detained and taken to a federal immigration facility in St. Albans.

    It was the beginning of six months behind bars for Vo, a Vietnamese citizen who has lived legally in the U.S. with a green card since 1999, when he was 6. He got out in March on supervised release. But officials have since told him that he must wear a GPS tracking device until he's deported to Vietnam in February because of a 2016 conviction for marijuana possession.

    Along with his fiancée, Desiree Mora, and close friends, Vo is trying to raise money and publicity to fight the government’s decision.

    “My whole immediate family is over here. Everybody,” Vo said in an interview. “I’ve been here for 20 years. I’ve made my mistakes, but I’ve never blamed anybody for my mistakes.”

    Vo said he has two criminal pot convictions. He said he was convicted of a felony in Illinois in 2013 after he and a friend were caught in a vehicle with six pounds of pot (he said a federal judge opted not to deport him for that offense), and a misdemeanor in Vermont in 2016 for possessing between one and two ounces. He said he spent 22 month in prison in Illinois and paid fees, as well as a $600 fine for the Vermont conviction.

    Seven Days was unable to review Illinois court records but did examine documents in Chittenden County Superior Court that show Vo was arrested twice in 2012: once in connection to an assault and robbery in Burlington and once for driving under the influence; prosecutors later dropped all of those charges. Vo said he was wrongly charged with DUI in 2016 after someone else falsely claimed to be him during a traffic stop. That charge, too, was dropped.

    In an emailed statement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson John Mohan confirmed Vo's immigration status and timeline of events. But he refused to say exactly when Vo will be deported. The order stems from a "violation of the terms of his admission due to a criminal conviction," Mohan wrote.

    Vo currently lives in Winooski as a stay-at-home caretaker for…

  • Stuck in Vermont: Holiday Lights at the St. Albans Cooperative Tractor Parade
    Episode 558 Dozens of tractors and trucks decorated with creative holiday light displays converged in St. Albans on a chilly Friday night for the 5th Annual St. Albans Cooperative Tractor Parade. We met up with people celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the St. Albans Co-op before the parade with hot chocolate and visits from Santa and The Grinch. Eva hitched a ride with local dairy farmers, Junior and Joyce Gamache, on their hay trailer being pulled by a John Deere tractor that was driven by their grandson Cody. You may remember the Gamaches from an earlier "Stuck in Vermont" video which featured Junior's love of all things John Deere and Joyce's gang of rescued cats. Crowds of onlookers and families braved the cold to enjoy the festive parade, showing their support for the local farmers that make this state so great. Drone footage courtesy of: Armand Messier, Northern Vermont Aerial Photography Shooting date: 12/7/18 Music: Kevin MacLeod, "Christmas Rap" Twin Musicom, We Wish You A Merry Christmas" & "Hip Hop Christmas" This episode of Stuck in Vermont was made possible byNew England Federal Credit Union…

  • Jacquelyn Kennedy Baker, 1936-2018
    Jacquelyn Kennedy Baker, daughter of John and Mary Kennedy, passed peacefully in her sleep at home on December 11, 2018, at the age of 82. Jackie was born May 8, 1936, in Amsterdam, N.Y. Jackie loved Vermont, where she raised her five children in Chittenden County and spent many summers at her camp on Fairfield Pond. She enjoyed many things in life and loved to travel abroad to exotic places of history, culture, beauty and architecture. From Alaska to Vietnam to Africa, she loved a good adventure. Jackie spent her free time reading and continuously learning, even as a day trader. She also cherished her time with close friends and the Red Hats. But her passion was real estate, where she became a successful self-made business woman. To Mom, life was about family and church — always keeping family and loved ones close, but directing them with helpful advice and a gentle heart. She was pragmatic with her decision making. A self-taught engineer who had a passion for problem solving, Mom loved to look at problems holistically before coming up with a solution. She was a joyful soul and loved to laugh. She could talk to a complete stranger and end up making a lifelong friend. Affectionately known as Gramma Jake, she will forever be remembered to her children as “Mom.” Jackie is survived by her daughter and three sons: Anne Latulippe and her husband, Francois, of Duxbury, Vt.; William Rutkowski of Huntington, Vt.; Douglas Rutkowski and his wife, Rebecca, of Hampstead, N.C.; and Michael Rutkowski of Raleigh, N.C. She is also survived by 14 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her son Mark Rutkowski, her husband William Rutkowski and second husband Clement Baker, and her sisters Patricia Dalrymple and Barbara “Babs” Leonard. Services will be held Thursday, December 20, 2018, at 2 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Wilmington, N.C. A celebration of Jackie’s life, followed by an interment ceremony, will be held in the spring in Vermont.…

  • Walters: Baruth to Propose Waiting Period for Gun Purchases
    In the wake of a young Vermonter's suicide, Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) said he will introduce a package of gun safety measures in the 2019 legislative session that includes a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before purchasing a firearm.

    Baruth announced his intention on Facebook Wednesday, and he referred to the death of 23-year-old Andrew Black, an Essex resident who died in his home on December 6. Black's mother, Alyssa Hughes Black, told WPTZ-TV that her son bought a gun late that morning and shot himself within a few hours.

    In Black's obituary, his parents urged people to "work for legislation that imposes a reasonable waiting period between firearm purchase and possession to provide a cooling off period to guard against impulsive acts of violence."

    California, Illinois and Rhode Island are among the states that have established waiting periods in law.

    The issue has come up in Vermont before. In 2014, Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna was seeking treatment for severe depression. She bought a handgun, and used it to take her own life the next day.

    "It's kind of freaky how easy it was for her to get that gun," her husband, Paul Henninge, later told Seven Days.

    In his announcement, Baruth wrote he had "been working on a package of ... proposals for several months." He says that other provisions would ban 3D printing of guns and require that gun owners store their weapons safely.

    Baruth says that his proposed legislation would be aimed at "shoring up what we did this year." He refers to two provisions in a series of gun safety bills that became law in 2018: a requirement for universal background checks before purchasing guns, and the so-called "red flag" measure that allows police to remove guns when there's imminent danger of violence.

    "3D printing creates a work-around to background checks," he says. He plans to propose banning the act of printing a gun and the dissemination of information on how to make a gun. Baruth acknowledges that the latter idea has been challenged on First Amendment grounds, but he expects that challenge to fail.

    "You can criminalize publishing directions on making a bomb," says Baruth. "I don't see why states or the federal government couldn't prohibit the dissemination of information about making a gun."

    The safe storage requirement is a logical…

  • Burlington City Councilor Accuses Other Members of Racism
    A Burlington city councilor has accused six of his colleagues of voting against a resolution he introduced because he is black.

    Ali Dieng (D/P-Ward 7) fired off the accusation in a tweet around midnight Tuesday, shortly after his proposal to provide increased support to the city's Neighborhood Planning Assemblies failed in a 6-6 vote.

    "Thank you to all the councilors that voted to support the motion calling for an open process to strengthen our NPAs," Dieng wrote. "The motion failed 6-6 because it came from @diengali the only back [sic] councilor in #BTV."

    The resolution, cosponsored by Dieng, Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), Brian Pine (P-Ward 3) and Dave Hartnett (D-North District), asked the city to work with the NPAs to identify the support and money they need to operate more effectively. Four Democrats, Adam Roof (I-Ward 8) and Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) voted against the measure, saying that some of the local neighborhood groups opposed the resolution and others hadn't had time to weigh in.
    After Dieng tweeted, Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) immediately pushed back.

    "I don't think we have an obligation to vote yes based on the skin color of the maker of the motion," she wrote in response. "My NPAs didn't know where it came from when they came out in opposition."
    "Your statement is untrue and I take great offense to it, as anyone would," Shannon added in a follow-up tweet.

    Wright said he contacted Dieng on Tuesday and asked to meet with him and Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, to iron out the issue. Reed, who is black, has led implicit bias training for the city in the past, according to Wright.

    Dieng, who was first elected in 2017, declined the invitation. "I don’t know what is the purpose" of the meeting, he told Seven Days. "What can Curtiss Reed tell me that I don’t already know and understand? What is Kurt Wright going to tell…

  • Welch's State Director to Leave for Colorado
    George Twigg, the state director for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), is leaving his post later this month.

    Twigg, who replaced Tricia Coates in March 2015, said he's moving with his wife to Boulder, Colo., where he’ll work as a policy analyst for the Boulder Board of County Commissioners. “Unlike Vermont, Colorado has a pretty robust county government system,” he said.

    As Welch's top Vermont staffer, Twigg oversees the congressman's outreach and constituent service operations, coordinates his in-state schedule and serves as Welch's eyes and ears in the district.

    Of his time in Welch's office, Twigg said, “It’s been an especially interesting time to be in national politics, with the 2016 elections." It required, he continued, “trying to not just respond to the tweet of the day but think about long-term solutions to real challenges and issues that Vermonters have.”

    Before he went to work for Welch, Twigg was public affairs director for the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.

    Welch’s office has yet to hire a replacement, according to Twigg. …

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