Voters, especially those in Rutland and Windham counties, will have a new opportunity to learn about where candidates stand on issues of racial justice and equality.
The Vermont NAACP sent a survey to candidates for statewide and federal office and asked them to submit their answers in writing.
The survey was offered to candidates in Rutland and Windham counties, where the Vermont branches of the NAACP are located.
Among the eight questions were:
— “Vermont is at the top of the list when it comes to states that incarcerate a disproportionately high number of people of color. What steps would you take to reverse this trend?”
— “Would you support legislation implementing validated testing on racial attitudes for faculty, students and staff in all Vermont public schools?”
— “Would you support legislation protecting sanctuary cities?”
Tabitha Pohl-Moore, president of the Rutland area branch of the NAACP, said the candidate inquiry, which is the Vermont NAACP’s first, is nonpartisan and does not endorse any candidate.
“One of the things that I say in just about every interview I do now is that politically speaking, if you look at the experience of groups of color, we haven’t fared particularly well under any party, so to draw it along party lines rather than keeping it the human issue that it is, that, to me, does a disservice,” she said Friday.
The Rutland and Windham branches are recent additions and Pohl-Moore said this was their first election cycle, but members hope to make the inquiry a regular part of Vermont elections.
“Our plan is to have this sort of candidate inquiry report with every election so folks have a sense of where candidates stand on issues relevant to racial equity and racial justice,” she said.
Having read the responses, Pohl-Moore said Vermont candidates were “right about where I expected Vermont candidates to be.”
“There were certainly some answers that stood out, that were really exciting to hear and then there were some that were very scary. But, by and large, Vermont candidates came in kind of in the middle,” she said.
She added she hopes the 2018 candidate inquiry will serve as a baseline to determine whether Vermont makes progress or regresses in matters of racial justice and equality.
The questions candidates were asked were all generated by local NAACP members. Pohl-Moore and Steffen Gillom, president of the Windham branch, worked with leaders of political action committees to research issues, develop and refine questions, after sharing the proposed questions with chapter members.
“These were the final eight questions that seemed to capture the majority of what people in Vermont were really interested in knowing about racial justice issues,” Pohl-Moore said.
The surveys were distributed by email and letters. Pohl-Moore said NAACP staff learned while sending the surveys that there were two candidates who don’t have email addresses.
She estimated the response rate was a little less than 50 percent.
A few candidates responded stating they don’t return any surveys, regardless of the source or the questions on the survey, Pohl-Moore said.
“One in particular said they don’t answer surveys because then if legislation comes up they don’t agree with, they can be held to that,” she said.
Pohl-Moore said she respected those candidates for not ignoring the request but said the NAACP’s position is that voters should know a candidate’s position.
“Our only mission was to make sure that voters were educated about where the candidates stand,” she said.
The Rutland and Windham branches of the NAACP hosted a candidate forum in Rutland recently for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
The full survey results are posted online at naacprutland.org/2018/10/18/candidate-survey.
After hearing no response from Vermont Rail System for almost four months, the Rutland Town Select Board voted unanimously to sue contractors for allegedly building a rail spur over a crucial water main and manhole cover.
“We’re aware of (the lawsuit), but we’re not going to comment on any active litigation,” said Seldon Houghton, VRS intermodal fleet manager, said Friday.
In a statement Board Chairman Joshua Terenzini read during Thursday night’s Select Board meeting, he said “one or two contractors” built the rail spur sometime around 2016. The statement doesn’t specify the contractors.
The town, Terenzini said, was never notified of the spur’s construction, which was why the spur was only discovered last year. After no help from the railway system to formulate a plan to fix it, he said, the town decided to sue for damages.
“The Town has therefore decided that it cannot wait any longer for the responsible parties to step up to address this dangerous situation,” his statement read.
But Ryan Filskov, owner of RA Filskov & Sons Inc., said neither he nor his father’s company, Filskov Brothers Inc., did any of the construction the town is attempting to sue them for. Both companies are based in Poultney, according to court documents.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Filskov said. “We did not perform the work Rutland Town is saying we did.”
Terenzini said the town made multiple attempts to work with VRS, including VRS Rutland manager Shane Filskov, for more than a year to resolve the issue.
“We had hoped we could see this play out before the winter came,” Terenzini said. “It’s certainly a priority that we need resolved.”
The 190-foot spur was built over a manhole cover and a pipeline south of Cold River Road some time in 2016, according to the court documents filed on Oct. 10 in Rutland civil court by town attorney Kevin E. Brown.
The town is asking for “compensatory damages, costs, expenses of suit and such further relief as the Court deems just and proper,” court documents said.
If damaged by the rail spur built over it, the pipeline could threaten more than 50 different businesses including Diamond Run Mall, Rutland Airport Industrial Park, Green Mountain Shopping Plaza, Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport and the General Electric plant on Windcrest Road, Terenzini said.
“We know the pipe was never designed or built to have a couple thousand tons of train rolling over it several times a day,” Terenzini said.
The Select Board called a site meeting July 9 with local and state officials and legislators, during which Terenzini said Shane Filskov, who also happens to be the cousin of Ryan Filskov, told him he would draw up some proposals and solutions for the rail spur problem.
VRS took eight weeks to send him the quotes, Terenzini said.
“Estimates to relocate the rail spur to a different location have been in the $200,000-$250,000 range,” Terenzini said Friday. “The people shouldn’t have to cover the cost of the mistake that was made.”
Even if VRS agreed to move the rail spur of their own accord, Terenzini said the town can’t guarantee they’ll drop the lawsuit.
“It would be a board decision for the board,” he said.
In August, VRS disagreed that there was any risk posed to the pipeline.
“We don’t see the level of imminent risk that Rutland Town seems to,” Peter Young, deputy general counsel for VRS said in August. “Having pipes, wires and culverts crossing under tracks or a rail bed is not uncommon.”
In August, Agency of Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said when the pipes were built, they were done so carefully and should be trusted.
“If the waterline was constructed to specifications for building such lines under a railroad track, and we have no reason to believe they weren’t, it shouldn’t be a concern,” Flynn said.
Rutland Town Selectman Joe Denardo said that the pipes underneath the track are made of a very vulnerable material, and should be replaced as soon as possible.
“The simplest solution is just move it south 300 feet,” Denardo said in May. “That old pipe is just like eggshells.”
The Vermont Supreme Court denied on Friday a second request from former city attorney Christopher Sullivan for a new sentencing on the fatal hit-and-run drunk driving crash in Rutland in 2013.
Sullivan’s arguments for a new sentencing were based on his contention that Judge Theresa DiMauro had abused her discretion in several ways including an initial rejection to hear from an expert witness called by Sullivan.
The high court, in a decision written by Chief Justice Paul Reiber, noted DiMauro had ultimately allowed the expert witness and Sullivan’s testimony before re-imposing the original sentence.
“(DiMauro) provided a detailed explanation of her sentencing decision, including that she found (Sullivan) and his witness not to be credible, and a reasoned basis for the sentence she imposed. The record shows (DiMauro) based her sentencing decision on proper factors, accurate information and the legitimate goals of criminal justice. … There was no abuse of discretion,” Reiber wrote.
Sullivan, 58, hit and killed Mary Jane Outslay on Strongs Avenue on April 10, 2013. After a conviction by jury trial in 2015, Sullivan was sentenced to serve four to 10 years.
Sullivan was sentenced for driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident, both modified because they resulted in a person’s death. He was sentenced to four to 10 years for both charges but those sentences are being served at the same time.
Outslay, then 71, of Mendon, was crossing Strongs Avenue with the aid of two canes when she was hit and killed.
Sullivan did not stop after hitting Outslay and did not turn himself in until the next day, when any alcohol that may have been present on April 10, 2013, would have left his system.
In April 2017, the Vermont Supreme Court ordered the trial court to re-sentence Sullivan in order to allow him to present testimony from an expert. Sullivan had asked permission to have a psychologist submit a report about Sullivan’s history with alcohol and provide an expert opinion about why Sullivan left the scene.
The Vermont Supreme Court granted Sullivan’s request for a second sentencing, but in August 2017, DiMauro, who had presided over Sullivan’s jury trial, reimposed the four-to-10-year jail sentence.
Sullivan appealed again, arguing that DiMauro didn’t have the right to impose a sentence longer than the mandatory minimum and shouldn’t have dismissed Sullivan’s mitigating evidence. Sullivan also argued that DiMauro had a grudge against him which affected her sentencing decision.
Both the crimes for which Sullivan was convicted are punishable by a minimum term of one year in jail.
Sullivan argued DiMauro should not have been allowed to impose a sentence longer than the minimum without aggravating factors. But the decision pointed out that a sentencing judge is not restricted to the minimum sentence and doesn’t need to present aggravating factors as justification.
Reiber said DiMauro had provided reasons for the sentence including the fact, undisputed by Sullivan, that Sullivan hadn’t turned himself in immediately even though he had learned Outslay had died.
DiMauro also found that Sullivan “failed to take responsibility for his crimes and that he posed a risk to the public.”
However, during the re-sentencing hearing in August 2017, Sullivan was allowed to present his expert witness and give evidence based on actions taken after the first sentencing which he argued was proof that he accepted responsibility for the fatal crash.
DiMauro had initially rejected Sullivan’s request to offer the expert testimony and Sullivan’s additional testimony, but Reiber said the Supreme Court justices believed that was because she misunderstood the limits that had been imposed when the case was returned to the trial court for a re-sentencing.
“Even assuming ... that the judge’s interpretation of our mandate was incorrect, it was not evidence of bias or animus,” Reiber wrote.
Sullivan was disbarred in November 2015.
According to the Vermont Department of Corrections, Sullivan could be released as early as August.
The Paramount Theatre is suing its insurance company for allegedly refusing to cover damages to the theater’s roof earlier this year.
The lawsuit, filed this week in Rutland civil court, claims Acadia Insurance Co. violated Vermont’s consumer fraud act when it went back on an earlier pledge to fully cover damages from the roof issues. Calls to Acadia, which has offices in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, were not immediately returned Friday afternoon — nor was a call to the Paramount’s lawyer.
The 13-page complaint puts losses from the roof damage at $400,000. It requests Acadia be compelled to pay the damages, 12 percent interest from the time the lawsuit is filed, attorney’s fees, “exemplary damages” and “Such other relief as the Court may allow.”
A bump was discovered in the ceiling during a routine inspection in May, triggering a closer look that revealed a split support beam. This happened just before a sold-out concert by country music band the Oak Ridge Boys had been scheduled, forcing the Paramount to cancel the show. Support scaffolding was installed and the theater reopened a few days later, with the balcony area closed pending roof repairs that were completed over the summer.
According to the lawsuit, the Paramount’s insurance policy provides coverage for “an abrupt collapse, meaning an abrupt falling down or caving in of any part of a building with the result that the building or part of the building cannot be occupied for its intended purpose ... very specifically if it is caused in part by ... the weight of snow, ice or sleet.”
The lawsuit also claims that Acadia insisted on the placement of the support scaffolding over the disagreement of the Paramount’s engineers, but promised to cover the damages and advanced the nonprofit theater $50,000 to cover initial costs.
“Acadia then engaged counsel, who it appears advised it that the claim should be a fully covered claim,” the complaint reads. “Said counsel on behalf of Acadia then notified the Paramount ... that it would not be paying the claim in full, but would negotiate payment of some lesser amount ....”
The lawsuit asserts that Acadia does not clearly indicate the reason behind its alleged reversal, and asserts the refusal to pay the claim was “without any reasonable basis” and a violation of the theater’s insurance policy.
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