City Reporting

CHALLENGE TO UVM’S SEXUAL MISCONDUCT INVESTIGATION IS DROPPED

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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.

BURLINGTON SCHOOL BOARD OFFERS PAY-FOR-BENEFITS TRADEOFF

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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

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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

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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 lbuckton@burlingtonvt.gov.

BURLINGTON LIBRARY DIRECTOR IS LEAVING FOR NEW HAMPSHIRE JOB

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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

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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.”

BURLINGTON WELCOMES LEADERS FROM ITS NICARAGUAN SISTER CITY

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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.

Burlington
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

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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

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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

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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.

NEIGHBORS: UVM OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING HAS MADE BURLINGTON UNAFFORDABLE

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Oct. 27, 2016.

BURLINGTON — Keith and Penny Pillsbury have lived on University Terrace for 43 years. When they moved to the downtown Burlington neighborhood near the University of Vermont campus, the single family homes on their street were occupied by families and hospital guests.

Now only students live on University Terrace, and the Pillsburys complain that no one else can afford to live on their street.

Penny Pillsbury recalled one couple with promising careers and two children who were priced out of the neighborhood. The landlord kicked them out to renovate the apartment and so he could charge more for the rental unit. The couple offered to buy the house, but the landlord would not sell it to them, she said. After they realized they could not afford to continue renting, they moved out of state.

Nearly half the properties on University Terrace are now investment properties that are rented to UVM students who bring in more money for landlords over a longer period of time.

“What we have here is a street out of 22 residents only nine are longer term residents on the street and each year, on June 1st, we get all new neighbors,” Keith said.

The Pillsburys are part of Vermont Interfaith Action, a coalition of religious groups based in Burlington. On Monday, members of the coalition and local housing and community groups gathered at the Pillsburys’ house, which is located across the street from the UVM Davis Center, to talk about how the University of Vermont could help to ease the housing crisis in Burlington.

The city’s 2015 Housing Action Plan identifies the construction of new student housing as a step UVM could take to make housing for families more affordable in Burlington.

About 2,200 UVM students choose to live in downtown Burlington each year, according to the plan, and the size of the off-campus student population puts pressure on housing in the rest of the city. Students compete with residents for rentals, driving up rent.

Rita Markley, the director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter, which provides shelter for homeless residents, said many landlords want to make higher profits by renting to students who will pay more for smaller spaces, than a family with one or even two incomes.

Right now, 36 percent of Burlington renters put half or more of their income toward housing, said Erhard Mahnke, the director of the Vermont Affordable Housing coalition. The recommended maximum for housing is one-third of a renter’s income.

Mahnke said that UVM has made some progress to lower the density of students living downtown, but a lot more work needs to be done — and quickly.

The group identified ways that the university could encourage students to remain on campus, including a change that would allow college students 21 or older to drink alcohol on campus.

Lisa Kingsbury, the university’s planning relations manager, said the university houses 62 percent of the student population on campus and that number will increase to 63 percent once construction of new dorms is complete.

“We are doing more than most other public universities,” Kingsbury said.

In the past 12 years, the university has expanded housing at University Heights, the Redstone Lofts and converted an administrative building into dorms, she said. The three buildings have created 1,363 new beds, Kingsbury said.

Focus groups that UVM has conducted with students show that the university’s dry campus is not driving students off campus, Kingsbury said.

Kingsbury said the university recognizes that students who live off-campus are putting pressure on housing costs for the city and has participated in the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan to help address the issue.

The group agreed that off-campus housing is part of a larger rental crisis in Burlington.

“UVM students provide the city with so much vibrancy, we would just like to see more initiative to help with housing,” Markley said.

Markley also said residents want more accountability. Housing agreements between the city and the college have not been moved forward quickly enough, advocates said.

Under the 2015 Housing Plan, the city is to begin discussions with UVM in early 2016 on how to add an additional 900 beds by 2020.

Kingsbury said while no formal discussion or plan has begun at this time, UVM has looked at informal plans to develop 900 beds.

The dorms could be built by a non-affiliated, private developer not directly related to UVM, she said, that would market the housing to students, she said.

Markley said that in the past UVM has made agreements with the city to build more housing, but there has been no follow-through.

Vermont is the 13th most expensive state for renters according to a national report called “Out of Reach.” A two-bedroom apartment in Vermont on average costs $1,099. Vermont renters need to earn $21.13 an hour, or $43,947 a year to keep rental costs for a two-bedroom apartment at 30 percent of their income. The “housing wage” for that same two-bedroom rental in Burlington is $26.08 an hour.

BURLINGTON REMEMBERS THE LIFE AND KINDNESS OF AMOS BEEDE

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed by the VTDigger on June 9, 2016.

BURLINGTON — In January, Amos Beede noticed Anne Heather sipping coffee alone at Panera Bread on Church Street. Beede didn’t know it, but she sat there feeling worthless after having recently become homeless, Heather recalled Wednesday.
Beede walked up to her, said hello and gave her his bagel. The two spoke for a while, Heather said. It was a small act but made her feel human again.

“He gave me more than any amount of money or jewels or anything. He gave me back a sense of meaning, a sense of worth, a sense of power that I thought I had lost,” Heather said, addressing the media after a memorial service for Beede, who died last month of injuries suffered in an attack at a homeless encampment.

More than 50 people — including the mayor, other city officials and Beede’s family — gathered Wednesday at Perkins Pier to remember him. Heather was one of many who spoke about how Beede had touched their lives. The event was hosted by the Pride Center of Vermont, an organization that promotes the health and safety of LGBTQ people in the state.

Amos Beede
Friends mourn the death of Amos Beede at a memorial gathering at Perkins Pier in Burlington. Photo by Kelsey Neubauer/VTDigger

Beede, 38, was a transgender man, and law enforcement officers have not ruled out his gender identity as a motivator in his death. He was an active member of the LGBTQ community and well-known to people at the Pride Center.

Beede lived in Milton but was a Church Street regular with strong ties to the city’s homeless community. He would frequently stay in Burlington’s homeless encampments, according to police, especially on weekends, when there is no bus service to Milton.

That was the case the night he was killed, when he was staying with friends in an encampment in the Barge Canal area off Pine Street.

Beede attended a concert May 21 at the Flynn Center with his girlfriend, Aunnah Guzman. After the show, Beede walked her home to her apartment. He was supposed to text Guzman when he reached the campsite, but she never heard from him, according to documents filed in Chittenden County Superior Court.

Later that night four people in their 20s who were staying in a nearby camp pulled Beede from the tent where he was sleeping and attacked him savagely with a plastic crate and their feet and fists, a witness told police, according to court documents.

Police said they identified Beede’s attackers as Erik Averill, 21, Jordan Paul, 21, Myia Barber, 22, and Allison Gee, 25. The four fled the day after the attack, according to police, and were later arrested in San Diego, California. Each faces a charge of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 20 years to life. Police have not said when the four will be extradited to Vermont.

The attack was prompted by an escalating dispute between the two camps, according to police accounts and court documents.

Two days before he was attacked, Beede called police from the encampment to report yelling and screaming. Officers who responded reported a disturbance caused by someone urinating on one of the tents there.

Beede approached a Burlington police officer the next night to ask if he could take out a restraining order on someone he identified only as Erik — later determined to be Erik Averill, the documents show. But Beede refused to provide more information about the person unless the order could be granted immediately, according to police.

That same night, Beede also approached a different officer, saying someone in the camp was threatening to assault him. He said he did not have the person’s name but would call police if there were any issues, according to the documents.

After Beede’s death May 28, the Pride Center of Vermont and others in the community organized the memorial gathering, said Julia Berberan, a SafeSpace program coordinator at the center.

“The murder of Amos has helped shine a light on the number of ways we are failing our communities,” said Berberan.

Beede knew many people who lived in homeless camps in Burlington, according to friends. Joshua Baker, 42, and Gavin Walendy, 18, both of Burlington, were among those he had met at the camps, Baker said. Earlier this year, Beede paid for their wedding at City Hall before a justice of the peace. He was also the only attendant, Walendy said.

Beede had a fire for bettering the lives of those around him, said Tim Farr, 29, of Burlington.

Farr said he remembers Beede helping a group of 16 people register to vote. Beede wanted to make a change and a difference in Burlington, he said.

Farr said Beede also had many ideas on how to help the LGBTQ community in Burlington.

“The spirit of Amos will always live on, and it is up to us to keep that fire that was in his heart burning forever,” he said.

At the memorial, Beede’s friends gave his mother, Barbara Beede, a card they had made. The card included many origami cranes like the ones Beede had taught friends to make.

Berberan said this will not be the last time the community gathers to remember Beede and the impact he had on those around him.

VTDigger reporter Morgan True contributed to this story.

MINTER PLANS TO OFFER FREE TUITION TO STATE COLLEGES

All StoriesBTVPoliticsStories by BeatStories by publicationVTDigger

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

WINOOSKI — One candidate for governor is proposing free college tuition for some Vermonters.

Sue Minter, a Democratic candidate for governor, says her initiative, “Vermont Promise,” would give Vermont high school students the opportunity to attend the Community College of Vermont or Vermont Technical College for free for the first two years. After that, students would be able to continue their schooling for half the current cost of tuition.

Minter made the campaign announcement Tuesday at a press conference at the Community College of Vermont headquarters in Winooski.

The former secretary of VTrans said her goal is to increase the percentage of Vermont high school students who attend post-secondary programs. Currently, 60 percent of graduates go on to pursue some kind of college degree; Minter hopes to boost that number to 75 percent.

Vermont Promise is “a last dollar” plan. That means the state will cover tuition costs that are not paid for by grants or scholarships, Minter’s campaign manager Molly Ritner said.

In order to qualify, candidates must have graduated from high school within a year of applying with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Each qualifying student must also work with a volunteer mentor who will help students navigate the process of applying to schools and filing for financial aid.

The plan will cost $6 million in the first year and $12 million annually after that. Vermont Promise would be funded by an increase in the bank franchise fee and would impose a new corporate income tax on the state’s largest banks. Minter says the biggest banks in New Hampshire and New York pay a corporate income tax, while those in Vermont do not.

“In my plan, banks pay their fair share, and students get their fair shake,” she said.

Vermont is in the top five states for rates of high school graduation, but has one of the lowest rates of continuation to post-secondary institutions, Minter said.

High school graduates who don’t go on to college have fewer opportunities in the job market, Minter says.

The lifetime earnings of workers who hold bachelor’s degrees earn $625,000 more over their lifetimes than their peers who don’t attend college.

Vermont Promise will also help small businesses find qualified workers, Minter said.

Minter’s plan is modeled after a Tennessee program that is funded through an endowment.

Former Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan, who was in attendance, said that Minter is the first of the gubernatorial candidates to make access to higher education a centerpiece of the 2016 campaign.

BURLINGTON PONDERS RELAXING RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger.org on June 3, 2016.

BURLINGTON — The mayor and a city councilor are pushing a change in the city charter that would relax Burlington’s residency requirement for department heads.
A resolution sponsored Mayor Miro Weinberger and City Councilor Joan Shannon, D-Southern District, would require that department heads own a home in Chittenden County, but would not require residency in Burlington.

It would also give the mayor a vote on whether to grant hardship exemptions for their appointees.

At their meeting Thursday, the Charter Change Committee punted on the resolution, saying they needed more time to debate the change before a vote. The measure will be discussed again the committee’s next meeting on June 22.

The Burlington charter now states that department heads must be registered to vote in Burlington. Department heads are given a year courtesy period, after which the city council can grant them a hardship exemption to live outside the city.

The idea is that if a qualified candidate has a home nearby, then they should not have to uproot their lives in order to serve, Shannon said.

The resolution comes out of inconsistent decisions about residency in the past, she said.

The debate cropped up again last month, when councilors voted to confirm Noelle MacKay, Weinberger’s pick to lead the Community and Economic Development Office, and granted her a hardship exemption to remain in her Shelburne home.

Shannon said she believes it is better to have a clear policy in place, “rather than a whim of the council on any given day.”

Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, who voted against MacKay’s nomination and against granting her a hardship exemption, said he disagrees with Shannon. If someone is serving the city of Burlington, they should live here, especially if they lead a city department, he said.

Shannon said that sometimes the most qualified candidate may not be the one living in Burlington, and that this resolution provides clarity.

“We should give an exemption to everyone or no one,” Shannon said.

COUNCILORS CONSIDER DROPPING POLITICAL PARTIES ON BURLINGTON BALLOT

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 3, 2016. Photo by Morgan True for VTDigger.

BURLINGTON — City councilors are mulling whether to let voters decide if a candidate’s party affiliation should continue to be included on the ballot in municipal elections.

A resolution passed last year directed the Charter Change Committee to consider drafting a charter change that would do away with the current party designation system. At a meeting Thursday night, councilors postponed a decision on the measure, but again debated its merits.

If the committee and the full council approves a change to the city’s charter, it would set up a vote for next Town Meeting Day on whether to keep party affiliation on the ballot for municipal elections.

Burlington has already done away with party designations for school board candidates following a charter change vote in 1990.

Councilor Adam Roof, I-Ward 8, who sponsored last year’s resolution, said the public should vote on whether they feel that the city still needs the designation system, and said he believes there are times when “the party-backed system gets in the way of governance.”

Younger voters are less beholden to the existing political parties and are interested in candidates who are “individual thinkers,” said Roof, who, as an independent, is not affiliated with a political party.

Councilor Joan Shannon, D-Southern District, said that if there was not a party assigned to a candidate, then some people would vote based on the perceived gender or ethnicity of a candidate’s name.

An important part of some voter’s decision is the values associated with a particular party and its platform, said Councilor Sara Gianonni, P-Ward 3.

Roof said their criticisms assume voters are uninformed about who they are choosing, and a government can’t work properly if decisions are made assuming the public is uninformed, he said.

While Roof said he sympathizes with councilors who feel the resolution would undercut their party identity, he said the change would not stop a candidate from running with support of their party. It would simply remove that information from the ballot, he said.

Roof also pointed out that the measure merely puts the questions to voters, and does not, on its own, end party designation on municipal ballots.

The decision to postpone a vote on the charter change was made in part to allow time for the city attorney’s office to investigate whether the move requires changing the city charter.

TRUMP RALLY IN BURLINGTON MET WITH STUDENT OPPOSITION

All StoriesBTVPoliticsStories by BeatStories by publicationVermont Cynic

Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Jan. 9, 2016. Photo by Ryan Thornton for the Vermont Cynic.

Before Donald Trump took the stage at his Burlington campaign rally, a voice boomed over a loudspeaker in the Flynn Theater: “If there is a protester beside you, please throw your hands over your head and start chanting ‘Trump’.”

After the voice faded out, The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t Always Get What You Want” rang through the theater as the crowd awaited the presidential hopeful with Trump posters and cheers.
“Mr. Trump believes in the First Amendment, just as much as the Second,” the voice over the loudspeaker said.

The Jan. 7 rally was a private event paid for by Trump, it continued, so protesters had been asked to remain outside.

Outside, a crowd gathered, divided by fences on either side of Main Street.

One side protested his appearance, while the other cheered in anticipation.

“Take your hate out of our state!” hundreds on the City Hall side of Main Street chanted, prompted by a sign made by junior Rosie Contompasis with the words written on it.

Contompasis explained that she was here because she felt she felt she needed to stand up to someone she thinks threatens her country.

“Trump is the embodiment of hatred and bigotry, [and] that is not an American value,” she said.

On the other side, Trump supporters waiting in line to enter the theater responded to protesters.

They chanted, “USA, USA, USA! Trump, Trump, Trump!”

For many, the day began nearly 12 hours earlier.

Trump supporters, Sanders supporters and those who without a political motive stood side-by-side in a line that extended along Saint Paul Street and into the South End.

Near the front of the line stood UVM senior Colleen Cataldo, holding a Bernie Sanders for president sign.

“Bernie has grown up here as a politician, I think Trump is here to kind of undermine Bernie, but I am hoping that we will stay strong as a state, and support Bernie all the way,” she said.

Cataldo said she has been a Sanders fan for as long as she can remember.

“I sold blueberries to raise money for his campaign once,” she said.

Though Sanders and Trump are both candidates for change, they differ in what kind of change they will try to enact as president, Cataldo said.

“Bernie’s change is progressive, while Trump’s is regressive,” she said.

The best part of the event was standing in line meeting and talking with people, Cataldo said.

Sophomore Ethan Baldwin waited in line with his two sisters, his mother and friend.

“I am here because my sister, [Abby], told me to come,” he said, with a smile on his face.

Baldwin’s sister, Abby, said she was there to hear Trump speak, and possibly hear something she had not heard before.
“There is a lot out there – but I want to get a chance to hear him for myself,” she said.

The first in the line was Mark Conrad, a Burlington resident who arrived at 4:30 a.m. in hopes of seeing UVM students protest, he said.

“I am a Bernie supporter, but I am here to see the spectacle that surrounds Donald Trump,” Conrad said.

He was surprised to see that no students were there early in the morning, he said.

A crowd to protest Trump did not begin to gather until 3 p.m.
In the meantime, many stopped to take pictures of a collection of Bernie Sanders paintings by local artist Dug Nap, displayed in the window of local art store Frog Hollow.

One passerby who took a picture was UVM alumna Taylor Hannan and her mother and grandmother, who had just come from the Flynn to see the event and its proceedings unravel.

“It was very interesting to see the dynamic, here is definitely a variety of different people there – they’re not all Trump fans,” she said.

Everyone stood together in line – suits and sweatpants, those in Trump T-shirts and those in Bernie T-shirts, old and the young alike.

Martin Deslauriers, wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap, awaited the presidential hopeful in that line.
He said there was one reason why he supported Trump and one reason why he was in that line: “America.”

Inside the theater, those waiting on line since the early morning began to trickle in slowly starting at 5 p.m.
By 7 p.m., the scheduled start time of the rally, the Flynn Theater, which seats over 1,400 people was nearly half full.

Senior SGA senator Dylan Letendre arrived at 4 p.m. to see the Republican frontrunner, but left to watch the event online
“The event had started and we were too far from the door, we would not have made it in at all,” he said.

Donald Trump was greeted by excitement as he appeared on the stage, arriving thirty minutes after he was introduced by members of his campaign.

“Vermont – where the air is so nice and clean,” he said.
Trump’s speech consisted of foreign policy critique, an analysis of his opponents and the medial coverage of his campaign and himself.

He mentioned various infamous moments of his campaign, such as the controversial wall he said he will build between Mexico and the United States.

“I am going to build a wall … and who is going to pay for the wall?” he asked the audience.

“Mexico,” they responded.

He laughed. “No one can build a wall like me,” he said.
At this remark a woman shouted over the balcony of the theater:“You racist fucking asshole!”

Protesters followed her lead and began shouting.

“Throw ‘em out into the cold,” Trump told Flynn security.
Protesters began shouting in small numbers every few minutes, many chanting Bernie Sanders’ name.

“Bernie has our backs,” one group began chanting.
The chance to run against Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders would be a “dream come true,” Trump said. “I would love to run against Bernie Sanders.”

NEW SUNSET ON TAX LOOPHOLE MAY CAUSE SHUTDOWN OF GREEK HOUSES

BTVEnterprise and InvestigativeGreek LifePoliticsSelected storiesStories by BeatStories by publicationVermont Cynic

Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Oct. 21, 2015.

Come January 2017, the Greek system at UVM will have to come up with approximately $30,000 a year in order to account for the property tax, said Jonathan Wolff, the association’s legal counsel.

Greek houses have been property tax free for more than 100 years.

Junior Hayden Audy, head of recruitment for UVM’s Alpha Gamma Rho chapter, said he remembers being told that the fraternity may not be able to keep the house with this expense.

“All of the sudden everything changes… your home is ephemeral,” Audy said.

Greek life has been on cam- pus for over 175 years, according to the UVM Fraternity and Sorority website.

In 1906, the state of Vermont passed a law that gave Greek houses tax exempt status because of their philanthropic and academic nature, said Tim King, president of the Greek life alumni association.

Grace Coolidge, the 30th first lady of the United States and member of the University of Vermont class of 1902, was a member of UVM’s Pi Beta Phi Female Fraternity, which later became UVM’s Pi Beta Phi Sorority, according to the White House Historical Association.

In 1931, Coolidge had the Pi Beta Phi house built.

“No one has ever lived in the house but Pi Phi, it is a historical legacy,” said Rachel Hurwitz, president of UVM Pi Beta Phi.

Hurwitz said that the property tax will likely cause the house to shift hands for the first time in its 80-year legacy.

“If this sunset [property tax] comes to pass, which it probably will, we cannot ask any more of our members than we already do, and we will lose our house,” she said.

If this happens, the homes will most likely be bought by either the University of Vermont Greek housing could be taxed or Champlain College, both tax exempt, Wolff said.

The 200 students living in the homes would be displaced and forced into the Burlington housing market, as most are juniors and seniors, he said.

Hurwitz said she feels Greek students are an easy way to get money because they are a group of young people. UVM Greek life raised a total of $140,000

for charity and gave 21,000 hours of community service in the past year, she said.

“It almost feels like we’re being targeted because of our age,” she said. “They think we’re not going to know how to fight to stop it.”

Vermont Senator Tim Ashe said the property tax is simply a way to maintain equity among all property holders and students.

Ashe is a Chittenden County representative who served as the chair of Senate Finance at the time of that the tax was initially proposed in 2014, according to the Vermont State Government website.

He stressed that the tax  is not intended to punish  Greek life, but to create equality between students and other taxpayers.

“If two students live [in] side-by-side buildings, one with a set of Greek letters and one without, one pays property taxes as part of rent and the other does not,” Ashe said.

This means that other students must pay taxes in their rent, while Greek students do not.

Ashe said he was not alone in thinking this — the bill passed the house and the senate with large bipartisan votes.

Greek students provide the community and charities with funds and services in a way other taxpayers do not, King said.

“Each member is required with their membership to complete a certain number of philanthropic hours and maintain a certain GPA,” he said.

According to Hurwitz, taxing Greek houses would add an additional .06 percent to the multibillion dollar Vermont budget.

“The money we raise is ultimately more than the money they would get from us,” she said. ”That just seems like such a loss to the Burlington community for such a small gain.”

LOCAL INVENTORS COME TO SHELBURNE FOR FAIRE

All StoriesBTVStories by BeatStories by publicationTechnology and MedicineVermont Cynic

The horse barn at Shelburne Farms welcomed local inventors Sept. 26 to 27, who came to show the Champlain area how their inventions will “make” for a better future.

This year’s Champlain Mini Maker Faire, partially sponsored by the UVM, was comprised of over 40 innovators of all ages from across New England.

Maker faires are part of an international movement aimed at providing awareness and exposure for local makers, crafters, inventors, scientists and  artists, according to the Champlain Maker Faire’s website.

Howard Drukerman, Champlain chapter president of the National Association of Rocketry, shows off his hat at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire on Sept. 27

Cole Wangsness — The Vermont Cynic: Howard Drukerman, Champlain chapter president of the National Association of Rocketry, shows off his hat at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire on Sept. 27

“A maker faire brings together families and individuals to celebrate the do-it-yourself mindset and showcase all kinds of incredible projects,” according to the website.

Students in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences exhibited their recent innovations such as an inexpensive prosthetic limb made from a 3D printing machine called the Fab Lab.

Since these limbs are cheap to make, they are  well-suited for a growing child that may need different sizes throughout childhood, senior Aaron Brunet said.

The prosthetic limb imitates a human limb in various ways including the tendons, Brunet said.

“The idea is we give them to local kids at the University of Vermont Medical Center,” he said.

It takes about 48 hours to print the prosthetics, Brunet said.

The creation of the prosthetics are part of a global network of volunteers, called E-Nable,  who use 3D printing to make cheap, accessible prosthetics, he said.

Just outside the barn, a rocket shooter launched dozens of homemade rockets, individualized in decor by children of all ages.

This rocket launcher was created by 11-year old, sixth grade inventor and entrepreneur Noah Schwartz.

Schwartz said he built the rocket launcher three years ago after seeing his friend build one.

Cole Wangsness — The Vermont Cynic: Model rockets on display at the fair.

Cole Wangsness — The Vermont Cynic: Model rockets on display at the fair.

Together, they built three, he said.

“The rocket will launch up 100 to 200 feet depending upon the air pressure,” Schwartz said.

In addition to this invention, Schwartz said he has started his own business.

Schwartz’s  company, called Noah’s Fizzy’s,  sells fizzy maple lemonade, he said.

He won the faire’s “Road Pitch Competition,” – a competition for the best business pitch, he said.

Along the edges of the faire, various rockets were displayed as part of the National Association of Rocketry booth.

Howard Drukerman, president of the Champlain Model Rocket Club said the interesting part about the rockets is the size of their engines.

“There are a variety of rockets, from very small ones all the way up very large in diameter and height,” he said.

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