Ben & Jerry’s signs ‘Milk with Dignity’ pact with migrant workers

Vermont migrant workers filled Church Street with the sound of cheers Tuesday as Jostein Solheim, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, signed a legally binding agreement, nearly three years in the making, to improve dairy farm standards in Vermont.

The so-called “Milk with Dignity” agreement requires dairy farm suppliers to provide workers with higher wages, time off and better housing.

Solheim said Ben & Jerry’s is the first major corporation to sign such an agreement.

“This is what we are calling a new day in dairy, a new day for the human rights of farmworkers,” said Migrant Justice leader Enrique Balcazar.

The program aims to open communication between farmers and farm workers with assistance from the corporation when needed, Solheim said.

“This is a program that will give workers a seat at the table, it will provide dignity and a real voice,” Solheim said. “It also gives the farmer a committed team, and a premium to support them when they need it.”

Though the specifics will not be made public, Will Lambek of Migrant Justice, an advocacy group for undocumented Mexican farmworkers, said the group has five basic demands: dignified wages, dignified schedules, dignified housing, safe workplaces and cooperation.

One of Ben & Jerry’s primary dairy suppliers, St. Albans Co-op, has the largest number of migrant dairy farm workers in the state, according to Migrant Justice’s website.

Solheim applauded their partners at the St. Albans Co-op, whom they have worked with for the past seven years to develop the Milk With Dignity Code of Conduct.

“Innovation is challenging, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to bring in new voices and they have done it,” Solheim said. “Vermont is ready for this.”

In 2014, Migrant Justice began the Milk with Dignity campaign with large corporations, such as Ben & Jerry’s, to promote justice for dairy workers. It is modeled after the Fair Food Program in Florida, a program that began when tomato farm workers banded together to forge agreements with companies ensuring fair treatment for workers, according to a release.

According to a Migrant Justice survey, 40 percent of the 172 farm workers they interviewed worked for less than minimum wage and 40 percent did not have a day off.

A National Day of Action was to be held on Thursday if there was no action. Now, because of the announcement made by Ben & Jerry’s, that campaign has successfully concluded, Lambek said.

Members of Migrant Justice and their families stand outside Ben & Jerry’s flagship store in Burlington to celebrate the signing of the Milk with Dignity agreement. Photo by Kelsey Neubauer/VTDigger
 This story was originally published by VTDigger on  Oct. 3, 2017.

Students demand expulsion of UVM sophomore who stole BLM flag

Sept. 29, 2017

Two hundred University of Vermont students marched Mondayto the UVM Waterman Building with a list of demands.

The students demanded that the UVM President Tom Sullivan expel a student who stole a Black Lives Matter flag on campus last fall. They also urged the university to hire more faculty of color, reform diversity requirements and increase training for faculty. In addition, they want UVM to rename a building on campus that was named for George Perkins, a UVM dean who was the father of professor Henry Perkins, who contributed to the eugenics program at UVM in the 1930s.

“We are a different generation, we are not the generation that will allow this school to trample on students of color anymore,” Harmony Edosomwan, UVM’s Black Student Union president said to administrators outside the executive offices. “We demand to be fully seen as human by the institution.”

University of Vermont President Tom Sullivan sat down with the student leaders of the protest on Wednesday.

On Friday the university released a nine-page response. Sullivan, Provost and Senior Vice President David Rosowsky, Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity & Multicultural Affairs Wanda Heading-Grant, and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens, addressed the entire “University Community.”

“For more than three decades, the University has taken clear and decisive steps to address many of these issues outlined in these most recent concerns,” Sullivan and administrators wrote.

University administrators will not remove Perkins’ name from buildings, as demanded by students. They said there was no evidence that the building’s namesake, Dean George Perkins was involved in the eugenics movement, but they acknowledged that his son, Henry Perkins, a biology professor at UVM, was an active participant in the Nazi era movement.

Officials said the university cannot expel the student who stole the Black Lives Matter flag as he has already gone through a disciplinary process.

“The student involved in the Black Lives Matter Flag theft was afforded a due process procedure and was sanctioned. The student cannot under law be charged or sanctioned again for the same incident that has been adjudicated,” the release states.

They also explained plans to improve diversity courses and add more faculty of color.

Student leaders said while they will have a response soon, they were not ready to comment at this time.

Two hundred students marched Monday to the Waterman Building, demanding that President Tom Sullivan expel a freshman who stole a campus Black Lives Matter flag last year. Photo courtesy of Elias Periera, a UVM student.

This Saturday, the leaders planned to host a student forum to share experiences and explain why these demands should be met, Edosomwan said.

“Our voices haven’t been heard for such a long time, it’s our turn to speak up and be listened to,” she said.

BLM flag theft

The demands and protest were in part a response to the theft of a Black Lives Matter flag on campus last year. The students want the university to expel UVM student J.T. Reichhelm who allegedly stole the flag last year. He returned this fall as a sophomore, according to UVM’s directory.

Many students have called for the theft of the flag to be considered a hate crime.

“We need to recognize this as a hate crime,” Angelica Crespo, UVM senior said. “Stealing that flag was stealing our humanity.”

Last September, UVM made national headlines for flying the flag over the Davis Center green.

Days later, students woke up to an empty flagpole. Students discussed the theft in campus-led events of solidarity in the weeks after.

In April, documents obtained by UVM’s student newspaper regarding a fraternity suspension stated that fingerprints confirmed Reichhelm had stolen the flag.

Reichhelm was a fraternity pledge who was immediately expelledfrom the fraternity. Records show the fraternity turned the freshman over to university officials who did not release the information, citing federal student privacy laws.

Students are also demanding the reform of diversity requirements, which were first established in 1991 after a protest in which students of color occupied the president’s office in Waterman for 20 days before being removed by police.

The university plans to release a response to students in the next few days, UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera said in a statement on Thursday.

“A communication that will provide some background and information about the university’s efforts and its response to the concerns that have been raised by the students is being prepared, and will be shared broadly in the coming days after it is shared with the student representatives,” he stated.

UVM students gather outside Waterman Building, demanding that the university update its 1991 diversity policies and hire more faculty of color. Photo courtesy of Elias Periera, a UVM student.

Burlington group discusses Memorial Auditorium future

Sept. 27, 2017

BURLINGTON — The closing of a popular downtown event venue has prompted a Burlington neighborhood group to launch a discussion to help determine the fate of the space.

More than 100 members of the Burlington community gathered Tuesday at City Hall to discuss the future of Memorial Auditorium at a meeting hosted by the Neighborhood Planning Assembly.

The meeting was intended to serve as a “firewall” between highly polarized groups who have very strong beliefs on the now-closed venue’s future, NPA chair Jim Holway said.

“We hope this is the first of many conversations,” he said.

When Memorial Auditorium closed in December, residents were left wondering what would replace the brick building built in 1935. The downtown site hosted events, including musical groups, as well as the winter farmers market for several years.

Many who spoke believed that renovating the original structure was essential to maintaining Burlington’s history. The building is located on Main and South Union streets.

Councilor Sharon Foley Bushor spoke about the value she found in the space after coming to Burlington to go to UVM.

She emphasized the low-cost entertainment options that the space provided her.

“I am very sad that we don’t value anything old – we tear it down and build something new,” Bushor said.

Bushor also said she believed it was the city’s fault that the arena fell into disrepair.

“I take responsibility because the city was a lousy landlord,” she said.

The space requires much work due to deferred maintenance, a cost that would cause taxes to increase, a NPA release stated.

Last year, Burlington was in talks with UVM about a possible joint-venture renovation of the auditorium. Ultimately, UVM decided to instead build an arena in South Burlington.

The city’s decision to ask UVM to help prompted questions surrounding transparency and community involvement in plans for the auditorium’s future.

Another portion of those at the meeting thought Memorial Auditorium’s meaning rested in the cultural development it allowed for, rather than the space itself.

Alan Abair, former property manager of the auditorium, said that he wants the city to renovate the space or build a new one.

“Burlington is the cultural center of Chittenden County,” said Abair. “If the city is going to take Memorial Auditorium, they sure better build us a new civic center.”

The potential deal with UVM sparked community activism beyond the NPA meeting as well.

James Lockridge said earlier this week that he will run in March for City Council, largely because he finds problems with the city’s “transparency and representation” and wants to get involved.

The mayor stated in a press release Tuesday that he would be putting together a team to address the future of Memorial Auditorium later this fall.

“In our history, Memorial Auditorium has served as a valuable assembly space, and as we pursue its revitalization and adaptive re-use, we should prioritize how the building will continue to serve that vital function for our community,” he stated in the release.

NPA Chair Holway said this meeting is the beginning of what many hope to be a revival of the grassroots, community-driven Burlington that Bernie Sanders created almost 40 years ago when he won election as mayor.

“Right now, people want to get a feel for, can NPAs redefine the way public process works?” he said.

Burlington teachers picket for further strikes

BURLINGTON — City teachers have been picketing in the pouring rain to urge the school board to reopen negotiations with their union.

The Tuesday afternoon informational picket — and others planned for today — aimed to inform the public of the school board’s recent decision to impose working conditions rather than continuing to negotiate a contract with the Burlington Education Association.

This is the second year in a row that the board has imposed salary and other terms on local teachers. It’s the seventh school board in the state to take that step twice, the BEA said.

The union membership plans to meet Thursday to decide what to do next, including the possibility of striking.

Last year the two sides reached a one-year deal hours before a strike was set to begin in October.

“We are not happy. We are angry,” union President Fran Brock said at Tuesday’s picket.

The teachers’ goal is to persuade the board to reopen negotiations, the union said in a news release Tuesday.

The two sides haven’t agreed on salary increases or health care contributions, although the union has said they are close.

One of the biggest issues teachers want to negotiate is the use of time throughout the school day, Brock said.

Since cutting back on educators and para-educators in recent years, class sizes have increased, with some nearing maximum occupancy in the high school, Brock said.

Without further negotiations, she said, teachers would have to increase the number of classes taught, taking time away from student-directed programming and one-on-one time with students.

This increase in workload is meant to address the achievement gap between different groups of students, but Brock said students would suffer in the long run if teachers must increase their course load.

“We too want to narrow the achievement gap, but we need the board to do it with us and not against us,” Brock said.

The school board chair, Mark Porter, has called the contract terms set by the board “fair and reasonable” in the context of “student needs and the ability of the community to fund public education.”

Child care providers say new regulations will be costly

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger .

Efforts at child care reform have been greeted with ambivalence by some providers who are concerned the changes are too steep.
New regulations for child care providers, written by the Child Development Division within the state’s Department for Children and Families, are scheduled to go into effect Sept 1. They spell out more specifically what is required.

“It is definitely more words, but sometimes it takes more words to be clear,” said Reeva Murphy, deputy DCF commissioner.

The new regulations were based upon extensive national research and discussions that began in 2012, she said.

However, as child care professionals begin to navigate the changing field in order to comply, some feel the new regulations do more harm than good.

The new requirements have distressed child care providers such as Tracy Patnoe.

Patnoe, who has been a provider for 17 years, has a facility in Morrisville with five classrooms, five full-time teachers and 39 children, she said.

Old regulations from 2001 required full-time teachers working alone in a classroom to have an associate degree in child development or a minimum of 12 college credits in early childhood development.

The new regulations will increase these requirements, Patnoe said. Each staffer will be required, at minimum, to have either completed 21 college credits in early education or obtained an associate degree in a related field, a childhood apprenticeship certificate or a child care certificate from Community College of Vermont.

Her five teachers, some in child care for more than 20 years, would be deemed unqualified to teach. They would have to go back to school, or Patnoe would have to hire new professionals, she said.

Murphy, of DCF, said these guidelines are for entry-level teachers. The hope was that as the teacher’s professional development grew, so would their level of qualification.

There are incentives to gain these qualifications, Murphy said. Scholarships are available through colleges and the state that help those in child care gain more qualifications and ensure high-quality care.

Patnoe also pointed to new regulations require 24 months of experience in child care in order to work at a center, describing it as a Catch-22 making it difficult for those who want to start a career.

The new rules would cost her organization more than $40,000 a year because the hourly rate for each teacher would increase $2, Patnoe said. That does not include payroll costs or health insurance, she said.

Patnoe said she will need to find funding to either provide education for her staff to meet the qualifications or hire new staffers — at a higher rate — who meet the requirements.

“Where is this money going to come from? It will fall on the backs of parents who are already paying more than they can,” said Patnoe. She owns Mud City Kids Childcare in Morrisville.

The high cost of child care is one of the reasons given for creating the regulations. On average, a Vermont parent spends 28 to 40 percent of earnings on child care, according to the advocacy campaign Let’s Grow Kids.

Robyn Freedner-Maguire, campaign director for Let’s Grow Kids, said that although the regulations have prompted essential conversation, they also place financial burdens on child care providers. She said more money is needed from the state.

“We need more than regulations,” she said. “We need investments.”

The regulations are the first in more than a decade for center-based child care and in more than two decades for home-based child care. They are part of a larger statewide discussion on how to improve the child care system.

Campaigns such as Let’s Grow Kids have rallied lawmakers, parents and providers to speak about sustainable changes. In addition, a blue ribbon commission formed in 2015 has been conducting qualitative and quantitative research on achieving high-quality affordable child care in Vermont.

The commission will make a recommendation on the next steps in November.

Lawyer: Injuries from wet cement bring settlement

A Bennington man recently won a $450,000 settlement for skin injuries he suffered from coming in contact with wet cement, according to his lawyer.

The lawyer, David Silver, of Bennington-based BarrSternberg Moss Silver & Munson, wouldn’t identify the client or the company allegedly involved. He said the man wanted to educate the public about the risks of working with wet Portland cement.

In November 2014 the man was helping his son-in-law put in a new floor in a crawlspace, according to Silver. There wasn’t room to stand up, so the man got on his knees to spread the wet concrete.

The son-in-law was then given a receipt by the delivery person. On the bottom of the receipt was a warning that the product could cause skin irritation. Hours later, third-degree burns covered the man’s kneecaps, leaving him with scars and medical bills, said Silver.

The man decided to sue, and Silver said the concrete company’s insurers agreed to settle. If a product is potentially dangerous, a business must tell the consumer, Silver said.

Portland cement is in almost every form of concrete. When wet, Portland cement can damage the skin because it is caustic and abrasive and absorbs moisture, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA says the effects can range from mild and brief to severe and chronic.

Burns may not be felt immediately, according to OSHA. That’s the most dangerous part, said Silver, who warned that the effects are not evident until hours after contact.

According to OSHA, if skin comes into contact with wet cement, it should be washed with cool water and acidic soap immediately. Skin softeners such as Vaseline should not be used.

Silver identified the lawyers he said represented the concrete company; they did not return VTDigger’s calls or emails.

Arraignments held for four murder suspects found in California

BURLINGTON — Four people charged with the murder of a Milton resident all pleaded not guilty at their arraignments Monday.

Erik Averill, 21, Jordan Paul, 21, Myia Barber, 22, and Allison Gee, 25, face second-degree murder charges in connection with the beating of Amos Beede, 38, in May in Burlington.

A fifth suspect, Amber Dennis, 29, pleaded not guilty at her arraignment last month.

All five are being held without bail. If found guilty, each would face 20 years to life in prison.

Beede was a transgender man who was well-known in the Burlington homeless community. He was at a homeless camp on Pine Street when the attack occurred. Witnesses told police Beede was part of a dispute between two homeless camps in the Barge Canal area just before he was killed.

In the days and hours preceding his death, Beede told police he felt he was in danger. The five suspects were said by witnesses to have kicked and beaten Beede.

The four who were arraigned Monday were brought back to Vermont early this month from San Diego, where they drove shortly after the beating. Each of the four told police in California that they played some role in the beating that led to Beede’s death, according to court documents.

Dennis did not go to California with the others and gave statements to police implicating the other suspects and declaring her own innocence. The four suspects arraigned Monday, however, gave statements to police saying Dennis participated in the attack on Beede.

Barber, Gee and Dennis are being held at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington. Averill and Paul are being held at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St Albans.

Though police say there may have been some bias against Beede’s gender identity on the part of his alleged attackers, prosecutors said they have not found enough evidence to seek hate crime enhancements to the charges.

Firefighters union backs Dunne for governor

BURLINGTON — Democrat Matt Dunne has picked up the endorsement of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont in the race for governor.

“We are standing with Matt because he has been standing with us,” said Bradley Reed, the union’s president, on Monday in front of the historic Ethan Allen Firehouse on Church Street.

Matt Dunne
Democrat Matt Dunne listens as firefighters announce their endorsement of him for governor Monday in Burlington. Photo courtesy of the Dunne campaign

Dunne, who has been a member of both the Vermont Senate and House, has a history of supporting and introducing legislation benefiting the Professional Firefighters of Vermont, Reed said.

Three weeks ago, union members met with the gubernatorial candidates and voted to collectively support Dunne, Reed said.

“He understands the importance of raising wages and working for economic justice for the middle class,” Reed said.

Reed said members face dangers every day that government must address and that Dunne has done so in the past. Firefighters have a high incidence of cancer, lung and infectious diseases, and heart emergencies, Reed said. In 2006, Dunne supported protection legislation for firefighters during cardiac emergencies, Reed said.

The Professional Firefighters of Vermont includes firefighters, EMTs and paramedics.

Dunne has been endorsed by various other unions, including the Vermont State Employees’ Association, the Teamsters and the Executive Committee of the Vermont AFL-CIO.

The firefighters union generally leans toward Democrats but had endorsed Republican Phil Scott for re-election as lieutenant governor in 2012 and 2014. He is now running for governor.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the AFL-CIO.)

Challenge to UVM’s sexual misconduct investigation is dropped

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on July 18, 2016.

BURLINGTON — A University of Vermont student has dropped a lawsuit against the school alleging he was not given due process in the investigation of a sexual misconduct complaint filed against him.

The unidentified student dropped the lawsuit after the university requested that it be dismissed, according to UVM.

“John Doe has dismissed his lawsuit requesting additional information. UVM has provided John Doe with no additional information,” UVM Director of Communications Enrique Correderas said in a statement.

The suit filed late last month in federal court claimed the man was not given enough information to defend himself in the investigation process. To protect his privacy, his lawyers filed under a pseudonym: John Doe.

The college’s probe was in the early stages, and the student had not been found responsible or not responsible for the alleged sexual misconduct.

Details of the sexual misconduct case are not publicly accessible because of regulations that govern student privacy.

The university said it will now complete the sexual misconduct investigation using its regular process.

In the lawsuit, John Doe claimed his rights were violated when he was not given information during the investigation.

“(UVM) has adopted a policy that violates the due process rights of those accused of sexual misconduct,” the suit stated.

Lawyers for John Doe did not respond to requests for comment.

The university said the protection of due process does not allow the accused to interfere with an investigation.

But his lawsuit stated that if the student was found responsible, his life would change drastically.

“If deemed responsible for the allegation, plaintiff may suffer severe reputational harm, difficulty continuing his education and securing employment in the future profession of his choice,” the complaint stated.

He argued he did not have enough information to properly explain his side of the story.

The University of Vermont moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the use of federal court, in this case, was not appropriate. To complain to federal court, the university argued, the student must demonstrate having been injured or harmed. Legal injury includes the loss of rights or loss of reputation.

The university argued John Doe had not shown any harm.

“He has not been deprived of any interest in life, liberty or property, and any allegation that such an injury will occur is entirely speculative, especially at this early stage of the investigation,” UVM stated in its response to the lawsuit.

The suit also requested the university halt the investigation until the court ruled on whether John Doe’s rights were violated.

The university said it acted properly. “The university is confident that its sexual misconduct policy and procedures fully comply with federal law,” it said in the statement.

On June 10, the University of Vermont sent an email to John Doe stating that the office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity would begin an investigation after an allegation of sexual misconduct was made against him, according to the lawsuit.

University investigator Nick Stanton emailed Doe on June 17, asking for a decision as to whether Doe wanted to participate in the investigation through an interview by June 22, the lawsuit stated.

John Doe’s lawyers responded June 23 stating that he denied the allegations and would cooperate with the investigation. Additionally, his lawyers asked for copies of statements of the student who made the allegations as well as any other witnesses, the suit stated.

“In order to have a meaningful opportunity to respond to the allegations we need to know specifically what is being alleged. The credibility of the accuser is a critical factor in this matter. Without knowing what the accuser said, (John Doe) is unable to prepare a defense and respond to the allegations,” his lawyers wrote to UVM on June 24, according to the lawsuit.

UVM maintained that it followed national guidelines for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct.

“Our procedures for conducting Title IX sexual misconduct investigations conform to the guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education and best practices adopted across the country,” the university stated in a statement to VTDigger.

Vermonter leads a mission with heart

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on July 13, 2016.

GEORGIA — After a story broke that Vermonter Zachariah Fike, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, had reunited a Purple Heart with a veteran’s family, he received a call. It was from a man in Michigan who said his father had found a Purple Heart medal nearly 50 years ago. It sat in a candy jar and was played with by the man’s children and grandchildren.

The recipient of that Purple Heart was named Thomas Earle Hadley II. He was a pilot in the Korean War who died saving one of his fellow officers.

Fike tracked down his family. He found Hadley’s sister, Connie Bachman, in Massachusetts and returned the medal during a ceremony with her family in 2012. A few months later, Bachman’s daughter called Fike and said her mother was suffering from throat cancer and wanted to speak with him.

“You brought my brother back to life,” Fike recalled Bachman saying over the phone. “Now, I am no longer afraid to die.”

Two days later, Bachman died beside her family. She had told her family she felt her brother was there with her, Fike said Bachman’s daughter related.

Fike says it was then he knew he had found his passion: bringing Purple Heart soldiers to life again and honoring their lives and service by reuniting them with their medals.

“It is such a humbling experience to watch families be brought together as they are reunited with a Purple Heart. It is really bringing them together” that motivates him, he said.

Fike has just been named the Military Times Army soldier of the year. Over the past seven years, Fike has returned hundreds of medals to Purple Heart veterans or their families since he began his quest in 2012 through his nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited.

Fike said his family has had a history of serving the country dating all the way back to the American Revolution. The military is in his blood, he said. Both of his parents were in the military. Fike served two tours in Afghanistan as an Army officer. After coming home from his first tour in 2009, he became a military collector.

“When a soldier comes home from war, they change,” he said. “They find something to keep busy.” Fike began going to antiques shops with a friend. He saw an old war helmet and didn’t think objects of such importance should be discarded in that way, he said.

For Christmas that year, Fike’s mother gave him a Purple Heart that she had purchased in an antiques store. Fike said that as soon as he opened it, he knew the medal did not belong to him.

“It was the one thing that should not be in a collection,” he said.

For the next three days, he searched for its owner, then he was deployed to Afghanistan. On Sept. 11, 2010, after Fike returned home as a wounded soldier, he picked up the search and found the family of his first Purple Heart soldier: Corrado Piccoli.

Purple Heart
A Purple Heart medal. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Now, Fike and his team hope to return 150 medals over the next year, a rate of one every three days.

He has volunteers across the country who help him with rescuing medals, researching veterans and returning the medals to their owners.

Half the medals the nonprofit acquired are donated, and half are bought by rescuers for up to $300 each.

Purple Hearts Reunited first has the medals framed by Village Frame Shoppe in St. Albans.

The medal then takes a journey home to be ceremonially returned, Fike said. The ceremony includes a history of the Purple Heart and anecdotes from the family of the veteran the medal honored.

“It really brings them alive again,” he said.

Bringing Purple Hearts home is a lifestyle for Fike, he said. As CEO, he spends almost all his free time working on the nonprofit, he said. Fike works on active duty as a captain in the Vermont National Guard from 9 to 5, he said, and as the father of two children until they go to sleep.

Fike said that when his children go to bed, he begins his third life: reuniting Purple Hearts. In addition to being CEO, he has taken part in ceremonies around the country. One of Fike’s goals is to reunite the 100 World World I Purple Hearts the organization has with their families by April 6, 2017, the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into that war.

Fike said he sometimes drives eight or nine hours on the weekends and sleeps in his car to save money for the nonprofit.

He said the group’s greatest challenge is funding. To return one medal from start to finish costs around $1,500. Last year, the group spent $50,000 just rescuing these medals. That was not including additional costs to reunite the medals with their families, he said.

“We need help,” he said.

The honor from Military Times is not the first time that Fike’s work has been featured nationally.

It has been on various National Public Radio programs, including the StoryCorps podcast in 2012 and WBUR’s show “Here and Now” in 2013.

In May, The Associated Press released a story on Purple Hearts Reunited.

Burlington school board offers pay-for-benefits tradeoff

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on July 7, 2016.

BURLINGTON — The Burlington School Board says it has proposed a way to meet a key goal of the teachers union in their stalled salary negotiations but it would require redirecting some money from benefits.

The board and the Burlington Education Association presented arguments for their respective positions before a neutral fact finder last week.

“I feel confident we put our best foot forward (in presenting facts) that will help us reach a compromise,” said Mark Porter, chair of the school board.

The union must look over the information in greater detail before commenting, BEA President Fran Brock said Friday.

In a news release, the board said it presented a hypothetical salary grid that would fall within the middle of the salary ranges for teachers in other Chittenden County school districts.

Educators in Burlington are now paid less than the middle level of teacher salaries in the county, according to Brock. A provision in the 2013 three-year contract promises to bring Burlington teachers’ salaries to that point in 2016, she said.

The union has said the district is breaking that promise, while the board has pointed to turnover among board members and said the union’s expectations are unsustainable.

A board statement says this model is unsustainable because it makes Burlington dependent on other school districts’ salary decisions and does not allow the board to allocate money in the most effective way.

“While we want to be regionally competitive, we cannot be locked into an agreement that forces us to ignore and account for other key contextual factors, including the ability of our community to pay, legislative mandates and other needs of the district,” the board said.

The union is requesting a 5.7 percent salary increase and a continuation of medical and academic benefits.

The board wants teachers to pay more of the cost of their health insurance premiums. Burlington educators currently pay 15 percent, but the board wants 19 percent in the upcoming contract. The average Vermont professional pays 20 percent of his or her health insurance premiums, according to Stephanie Seguino, vice chair of the school board.

Porter said the proposed 5.7 percent pay increase would bring salaries far above the midlevel mark, and at a cost to students. The board wants to increase salaries about 1.8 percent.

“The board remains committed to providing regionally competitive compensation, but the associated salary increases will only be affordable if some of the dollars used to fund other generous benefits are reallocated to help pay for them,” he said in the news release last week.

The board said it told the fact finder that the union’s proposed salary increase in conjunction with benefits the district is currently covering would require moving money away from student programming.

Burlington teacher salary increases in the recent past have exceeded inflation, the board said.

The teachers’ current contract expires Aug. 31. In February, a mediator was designated to end a deadlock in negotiations. But a March 23 session with the mediator was unsuccessful, the board said in its release.

Brock said if the board does not increase salaries substantially, the district will lose good teachers. “If we want quality schools, we need quality teachers,” she said.

In the past year, the Burlington School District lost teachers to both the Community College of Vermont and South Burlington due to pay rates, Brock said.

But Porter said that with more than half of Burlington students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch based on their families’ income, such increases would be unsustainable for the city.

Other places, with different demographics, are able to pay more, Porter said.

Brock also accused the board of withholding information. “Burlington prides itself on its transparency, and that is not something the board has shown throughout the process,” she said.

Porter said some budget breakdowns used for negotiation sessions remain private for the board just as some models remain private on the part of the union for negotiation purposes. But budget information is available online, Porter said.

The fact finder is required to issue a report within 30 days. Those findings are not binding but are meant to serve as a frame of reference when contract negotiations resume.

Construction workers dies at UVM residence hall project

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 30, 2016.

BURLINGTON — A construction worker died early Thursday at a project on the University of Vermont campus, apparently after falling from a significant height, the college said.

The worker, whose name has not been released, was taken to the UVM Medical Center, where he died a short time later.

Authorities are investigating what happened, the college said.

The man worked for Engelberth Construction, one of the companies building UVM’s new first-year residence hall, where the incident occurred about 6:40 a.m.

Construction at the site has been halted until authorities complete their site investigation.

The university said counseling will be made available to families, friends and co-workers. Students, faculty and staff in need of assistance are encouraged to contact the Counseling Center at 802-656-3340 or InvestEAP at 802-864-3270.

Future of youth center eyed with nostalgia, change in mind

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 30, 2016.

BURLINGTON — A previous generation of young Burlington residents found a haven and a creative outlet at 242 Main, a historically user-generated youth space that dates to the days when Bernie Sanders was mayor in the 1980s.

Now, with the facility losing its home in the bottom of Memorial Auditorium, the city is beginning discussions on how to move it into a new identity and a new generation. The youth center has to move by the end of December because of the auditorium’s maintenance needs.

The city began a public discussion on the teen center’s future at a meeting this month at Fletcher Free Library. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront manages the youth space, but the library is interested in taking over its content and financial programming in light of the center’s role in making information accessible to youth, said the library’s director, Rubi Simon.

Community members who used the space as teenagers and young adults in the 1980s and ’90s came to offer their opinions on its future.

The hub for Burlington youth was started in the ’80s when Sanders was mayor. His youth office, then led by Jane O’Meara Sanders, created the space to empower young people in Burlington creatively by giving them a safe space to go and to explore new ideas.

The space fostered a community of artists age 8 through 25, said City Council member Selene Colburn, P-East District, who used the space when she was a teenager. Those at the older end of that range would foster a safe space for the younger artists through informal mentorship, she said.

Over the next 10 years, the space would become known nationally as a venue for punk rock. But for Burlington’s youth at that time, it was much more, according to some who were involved.

Jessica Morley, a Burlington resident, said the safe and independent nature of the space allowed her to explore creatively. It kept her out of trouble, she said.

“I would have been dead without it,” Morley said.

But Matt Kimball, 30, of Burlington, who is 242 Main’s current booking manager, said the space is not the same now as it was. “The truth is there is nothing happening. … There are occasional shows, but that’s it,” he said.

In efforts to revitalize a youth-created space, the library has created a teen board with two students from every school, both public and private, in Burlington.

The hope is for the board to act similarly to the Mayor’s Youth Office in the ’80s, empowering youth to create the space and providing the resources to do it, Simon said.

Some who attended the meeting felt the space should operate in a more organic way, relying on students to come to it rather than reaching out to schools.

Recreation Superintendent Gary Rogers said any new space must be created for today’s youth and may differ from what arose in the 1980s and ’90s. “We need to reach out to the teens of 2016 and ask them what they want from a teen space …,” he said.

Liam Corcoran, 22, of Burlington, commented on the demographic change among the area’s youth. In the past 20 years, the ranks of local youth have become more ethnically diverse since many refugees and other new Americans have moved in.

Corcoran said the new space for 242 Main must accommodate this change. “There is a great need for a place where new Americans feel comfortable,” he said.

Simon said this meeting was the first of many in planning the next steps. The next will be scheduled for sometime in July, she said.

Simon, who is leaving the library in August for a new job, said people interested in becoming involved in a new teen space can contact teen coordinator Lisa Buckton at

Burlington library director is leaving for New Hampshire job

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 29, 2016.

BURLINGTON — The Fletcher Free Library is losing its director after four years during which she focused on implementing the most current trends in library sciences.

Rubi Simon told Mayor Miro Weinberger of her resignation June 20. Her last day will be Aug. 26, and she will become director of the Howe Public Library in Hanover, New Hampshire, in September.

Simon said the decision to resign was difficult but that she was drawn to the new position by the compensation and professional opportunity it offered.
“Rubi is a visionary leader who built upon the successful traditions of our 140-year-old library and infused the library with new energy, ideas and programs at a key moment in Fletcher Free’s evolution,” Weinberger said in a news release.

As hallmarks of her tenure, Simon pointed to her creation of a teen service program to engage teens in the library and her work to get staff excited about working in library services.

“Libraries are in a major transition,” she said. “We are about literacy and information, and ensuring that all have access to this.”

Simon said she has helped bring Fletcher Free Library up to date by using cutting-edge technology, expanding services and using a strategic planning process.

Hanover City Manager Julia Griffin said Simon was chosen for her forward thinking in library trends and her ability to get along well with staff and library trustees. “She is a bright, talented, energetic professional, and we are happy to have her,” Griffin said.

Weinberger said he will establish a committee for a national search for a new director.

Vermont mayors reiterate need for gun control

BURLINGTON — A bipartisan coalition of mayors is asking lawmakers to put more stringent gun control measures in place.

After the nation’s largest mass shooting in history earlier this month killed 50 and injured 49 others in Orlando, President Barack Obama called on local and state government officials to act.

On Tuesday, the Vermont Mayors Coalition, which began promoting gun control measures in January 2013 not long after a shooting of kindergartners at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, reiterated the need for stricter state policies aimed at preventing gun violence.

Mayors Miro Weinberger of Burlington, Seth Leonard of Winooski, John Hollar of Montpelier and Thom Lauzon of Barre met at Burlington Police Department Headquarters Tuesday to formally announce their renewed call for local and state action.

“We cannot expect Congress to do anything about this anytime soon, but (local governments) must,” Weinberger said.

The mayors want the state to adopt universal background check policies similar to those adopted by 20 other states. The proposal would close a loophole that allows half of all gun purchases to be made without background checks. In addition, the mayors are pushing for a notification system for local law enforcement when people who are prohibited from owning guns attempt to buy firearms. They also want a report on the efficacy of a new state law, S.141, which requires that individuals who have been found by the court to be a threat to themselves or others be reported to the National Criminal Background Check System database.

Prior to the the law’s implementation in 2015, there were fewer than 1,000 people reported within the state to a national system called the national instant background check, according to a news release.

Weinberger said earlier this year Lauzon requested confirmation that the measure was being enforced. Despite repeated calls to the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative, the department in charge of enforcement, there has been no response, the press release states.

“Implementation (of the law) has been slow and less than transparent,” Lauzon said.

Lauzon said the coalition convened early last week after the Orlando tragedy to begin a dialogue on the action the coalition should take collectively. Opinions vary on how to control guns between each of the members, allowing room for this discussion, he said.

“There is so much room for compromise,” Lauzon said.

Lauzon suggested the same cooperative approach be used in a statewide discussion about the issue and he says he will be public discussion on the topic, he said.

Even on the local level, Weinberger said, gun control measures have been lenient. In Burlington, a person can walk into a bar with a gun, he said. His attempt to get the Legislature to approve a local ordinance that would have blocked firearms from bars failed last year.

“Burlington is known for its progressive values,” he said, “This is not an example of us trying to push the boundaries.”

Between 80 percent to 90 percent of Vermonters support universal background checks, according to Hollar.

Seth Leonard, who owns three guns, said the firearm control measures would not infringe on the rights of gun owners, but would protect the public.

“This isn’t about gun owners vs. non gun owners,” he said. “It’s an issue that should not be divisive on any level.”

Coalition aims to ramp up housing growth in Chittenden county

Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on June 27, 2017.

SOUTH BURLINGTON — A new collaborative initiative aims to help build 3,500 housing units in the next five years in Chittenden County, where communities and advocates have long expressed a need.
Members of local and state government as well as businesses and housing nonprofits gathered Monday to announce their Building Homes Together initiative.

“Every community (in Chittenden County) needs to up its game,” said Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger on Monday. “It requires different municipalities coming together.”

Dozens attended the event in South Burlington, including state officials and representatives of cities and towns across Chittenden County.

In addition to pursuing the housing goal, the coalition will assist with infrastructure to encourage developers to build in nonrural areas of the county, said Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for Champlain Housing Trust.

Over the past five years, Chittenden County has added on average 450 housing units a year. Meeting the coalition’s goal would require an increase of 250 units a year.

Champlain Housing Trust CEO Brenda Torpy said the idea is that 20 percent of the new units, or 700, come from nonprofit housing organizations.

For nonprofits to build that much housing, the county will need around $65 million to $70 million in capital from public sources and private investments with below-market interest, Donnelly said.

The initiative grew out of discussions involving Champlain Housing Trust, Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and Housing Vermont on how to address countywide housing issues.

The organizations were quickly joined by local and state government officials, Donnelly said.

This is the first time a coalition of this sort has committed to combining private and public sectors to make this happen, he said.

“The coalition will allow for a collective effort to address a regional issue,” Weinberger said.

In Burlington, the cost of housing is frequently raised as an issue. National statistics recently said that 2.2 minimum wage jobs would be needed per household to affordably rent a two-bedroom apartment in the city. Earlier this month, some residents and advocates said part of the reason is that UVM students living off campus have driven up market prices.

But Weinberger said the county needs more than affordable housing. It also needs housing for seniors, environmentally friendly housing, and housing that allows for easy commuting throughout the area by bike or walking, he said.

South Burlington’s city manager, Kevin Dorn, said the need for rental housing has increased as demographics in Chittenden County have shifted to include greater numbers of young people. The coalition plans to address this need by assisting in the creation of housing spaces with both rental and permanent housing options, he said.

Businesses in Chittenden County want to see housing at different affordability levels in order to infuse new energy throughout the business community, Torpy said.

Each city or town has specific and different needs that must be met, Donnelly said.

Colchester Town Manager Dawn Francis said the town needs to change its sewer system if it is to accommodate more units.

Williston is looking to start a housing trust to aid with costs, Donnelly said as an example of individual communities’ needs. The coalition will look to bolster such efforts with small decisions that support each community, he said.

Members of the public interested in participating in the coalition can contact Donnelly at

Burlington welcomes leaders from its Nicaraguan sister city

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 22, 2016.

BURLINGTON — In more than 30 years of cultural exchanges with its sister city in Nicaragua, Burlington has shared firefighting gear, Little League teams and academic work. This week, the Queen City will share its urban agricultural model.

Mayor Miro Weinberger welcomed Mayor Reynaldo Francis and Vice Mayor Anicia Matamoros, of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, at City Hall on Wednesday, three days after the leaders’ arrival in Burlington.

The trip allows Francis and Matamoros to take a look at Burlington’s sustainable community gardening practices in the hopes of implementing similar agricultural structures in Puerto Cabezas, a city of about 60,000.

Puerto Cabezas has been planning to make agricultural changes in its community, according to a news release from the city of Burlington. It will encourage women to produce vegetables for sale and for their families’ use by giving them seeds. During their stay in Burlington, the visiting leaders are learning what a sustainable urban farming model can result in.

“In Puerto Cabezas, (we) have the land, (we) have the resources, so it’s a matter of how to use these lands and resources in ways we are learning from being here,” Francis said through a translator.

He said the unemployment rate in Nicaragua is 90 percent and that this new development will create agricultural job opportunities.

Mayor Reynaldo Francis, of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, gives Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger a gift Wednesday while Puerto Cabezas Vice Mayor Anicia Matamoros holds Burlington’s gift to their city. Photo by Kelsey Neubauer/VTDigger

The 30-year relationship between the two cities was forged in 1984 by then-Mayor Bernie Sanders to promote peace during a time of war. It flourished under his successor, Peter Clavelle. The relationship has included exchanges of goods, culture and ideas.

This six-day visit to Burlington is Francis’ first. He was 17 when the relationship between the two cities began, he recalled Wednesday.

Matamoros said she felt blessed to be in Burlington. In Nicaragua the No. 2 official must be of the opposite gender to create a balance in government, she said.

Clavelle, who also attended the welcoming event, said he hopes the visit will prompt new energy within the relationship. He urged members of the Burlington community to reinvigorate the relationship by getting involved.

“The door is open. … You are hearing an invitation as well as an expression of need,” Clavelle said.

He said Burlington will, in exchange, receive new knowledge from a well of open hearts and minds. “We always get out more than we give,” he said.

Out of Burlington’s nine sister cities, Puerto Cabezas has had the most active partnership, Clavelle said.

In the tradition of exchange, the two cities gave each other pieces of local art Wednesday.

Winooski city manager steps down

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 21, 2016.

WINOOSKI – After seven years of service, Winooski city manager is leaving the position for a new role in Chittenden County.

Katherine Decarreau known as “Deac,” announced her resignation from her position as city manager. She is taking a job as the executive director of finance and operations at the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union.

Decarreau said that it was simply time to move on.

A lifetime resident of Winooski, Decarreau became city manager in 2009.

Decarreau said her work with the city is intense work and has recently become tiring for her. She is looking forward to overseeing operations and finances and for the school district, she said.

“Every question you get [as city manager] has two years’ worth of history that you are going to create, and it’s sometimes nice to change up those questions,“ she said.

Mayor Seth Leonard said that Decarreau will be missed. Her tenure as city manager has allowed Winooski to move forward not only providing the city with structural and financial organization, but also a foundation for strong civic engagement models for the city, he said.

Leonard said he found out about the resignation eight days ago.

The Winooski city council will meet tonight to draft a plan to move forward. The council, which includes Leonard and four councilors will select the new manager. According to the city’s charter, the city manager may stay on for 60 days after official resignation at the city’s need. Leonard said the search for a new manager may take about six months.

The acting city manager is community services director Ray Coffey.

Leonard said he has no notion of who the new manager will be at this time, but they are open to a very wide range of options.

Winooski is the most diverse and densely populated city in Vermont. The candidate must be able to manage a growing population with only a certain amount of space, Leonard said.

Decarreau, who has been able to walk to work, said she has scoped bike routes for her new job. She will continue to live in the city. Leonard said that though he is sad to see her go, he wishes her the best at her new job.

Marina proposal ready to go before Burlington council

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 20, 2016.

BURLINGTON — The Queen City is one step closer to making changes along the waterfront that could attract more boaters.

The Board of Finance voted unanimously last week to recommend the City Council approve the Burlington Harbor Marina project development agreement as proposed. The agreement outlines the construction of a marina with 160 boat slips and a park between the Coast Guard station and the fishing pier.

The $7 million project would combine public and private money, according to a news release from the mayor’s office. It is part of the public investments action plan, which established public works projects throughout the city, according to the city’s website.

The board discussed the agreement briefly before voting at its meeting June 13. Changes to the agreement were made before the meeting based on discussions and recommendations during private council executive meetings, said council President Jane Knodell, P-Central District.

The park and its parking lot along the marina would be paid for with $800,000 in public money, according to the agreement. The marina itself would be financed by two private developers, Chuck Deslauriers and Jack Wallace, who have committed $6.2 million to the project under a 40-year agreement with the city to use the marina’s space.

The public voted to put $500,000 in public funds toward the development of the marina in 2014. The additional $300,000 to be used is left over from various other projects in the public investment plan, according to the administration.

If the council approves the development agreement, the city can begin seeking the necessary permits from the Development Review Board and state and federal agencies.

Construction is expected to be finished sometime in 2018, according to the mayor’s office.

Burlington is the largest city on Lake Champlain but has the ninth-largest marina. That deters potential visitors during the summer, the mayor said. In addition to slips, the marina would have pump-out facilities and other services for boaters, and a wa­ter taxi stand.

The council is set to vote on the development agreement June 27 in Contois Hall at 7 p.m.

City Market says sales are driving further expansion plans

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by the VTDigger on June 17, 2016.

BURLINGTON — Onion River Co-op, which began in the 1970s as a small buying club, will extend its retail presence throughout Burlington by the end of next year if its plans to open a third City Market move forward.

The co-op recently said it is planning a store near Central Market on North Winooski Avenue that would be completed as early as the fall of 2017. It is already working on a second location, in the South End, that is to open in July 2017.

City Market’s director of community engagement, Allison Weinhagen, said the new locations would take some pressure off the downtown City Market, which has far outgrown its capacity for sales. The main South Winooski Avenue location, which has 12,000 square feet of retail space, was built to handle $20 million in yearly sales, she said. By the end of this year, the co-op will reach double that sales volume, she said.

The hope is that the South End location, which is to have 14,000 square feet of retail space, will absorb about 20 percent of the sales at the current location, allowing the co-op to provide better service, Weinhagen said.

“Growth is a natural process for success,” she said.

City Market opened in 1973 on Archibald Street and moved to a North Winooski Avenue storefront in 1989. The last major expansion was in 2002, when it moved into the current location.

That step left the organization struggling financially. Weinhagen said the lack of preparation for the financial results of the move won’t be repeated.

The co-op has long prepared and saved for this expansion and now has a financial adviser and an auditor who help make sure the finances are secure before major spending, she said.

“We will only make choices that are fiscally responsible for our members,” she said. The cost of the two new locations has not been finalized, she said.

The expansion into the Old North End is also seen as engaging a new customer base.

Surveys have shown that the demographics of City Market customers closely match those of Burlington, which means most people feel comfortable shopping there, Weinhagen said.

“But there is a mental block at North Avenue, where some people feel like this isn’t their store,” she said. “So we are hopeful that the Old North End store is their store.”

Few large or even medium-sized grocery stores carry fresh produce in the Old North End, said Teresa Mares, a Burlington anthropologist and assistant professor at the University of Vermont who has studied “food deserts” throughout Chittenden County. The co-op’s arrival will help make those foods accessible, she said.

Mares said that although the new store may affect some small businesses in the Old North End, the benefits of having a unionized, local and cooperative store far outweigh any other effects.

The co-op said in a news release that it has signed a tentative lease with the property firm Redstone for a space on North Winooski Avenue. The co-op has until Oct. 24 to decide whether to commit to the full term of the lease.

The cooperative is owned by 11,600 members and is run by a nine-member board of directors. The board elects the general manager, who is in charge of the rest of staffing, Weinhagen said.

Despite its growing size, the cooperative is committed to maintaining its identity as a community-owned and -driven organization, she said.