The $5 million paving bond cleared its first hurdle Monday as the Public Works Committee recommended the Board of Aldermen put it on the March ballot.
That recommendation goes to the full board next week, and the administration plans two public hearings on the bond ahead of Town Meeting Day.
The proposal, put forward by Mayor David Allaire, would allocate $4 million for roads and $1 million for sidewalks, likely spent over a five-year period. This would cover slightly more than half the estimated $8.8 million needed for the city to catch up on road maintenance, finally repairing a number of Rutland’s worst roads. Allaire said $5 million seemed like a “sweet spot” where the city could make a significant impact and then reassess. City engineer James Rotondo said he backed the $5 million number.
“It’s not zero and it’s not 8.8,” he said. “It’s somewhere in the middle for us to get work done.”
Rotondo said the long-term solution is to move away from repair bonds and adequately fund road maintenance on an annual basis.
“That would be my long-term goal, after we get done with this,” Allaire said.
Nobody spoke against the proposal, though some raised a concern that the specific wording, which lacked the exact streets to be paved or a schedule, might prove too vague to convince some voters.
“You need to tell me what I’m buying,” Board President Sharon Davis said. “I’m buying X number of of miles of streets. I’m buying X number of miles of sidewalk. That’s the way I’d present it to the public.”
Allaire, Rotondo and Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said there were a number of variables that would affect what streets got paved when, including contractor availability and the final form of loan forgiveness programs under discussion in Montpelier.
Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey asked if it would be better for the city to simply budget an extra $1 million a year over the next five years instead of paying interest on a bond. Allaire and Wennberg both said that would result in extreme sticker shock at budget time.
Rotondo said that if the bond passes, planning would start right away and that he expects work would “really kick in” by spring of 2020.
“There’s a lot of work involved here and it’s going to take a lot of planning up front to get organized,” he said.
A Mount Tabor woman is facing a trial in the December 2016 shooting death of her husband, after Judge David Fenster rejected a request by the woman to dismiss the murder charge based on information provided by a forensics expert she had hired.
Since February 2017 when she pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, Peggy Lee Shores, 54, of Mount Tabor, has been held in prison and awaited trial in the shooting death of her husband, David Shores, 54, in their home.
Shores’ case has been unusual in at least one respect: A large number of her family members — many of them members of David Shores’ family — attend every hearing. Several of those relatives have offered to let Peggy stay with them while the charges are pending.
The state has not provided a motive for Peggy Shores to have allegedly killed her husband but even as recently as Monday has repeated their theory of the incident. Investigators believe that Peggy and David Shores were alone in their home on the day of David’s death and because prosecutors do not believe that David Shores shot himself, they believe Peggy must be responsible.
Attorney Steven Howard, who represents Peggy Shores, has presented the defense theory that David Shores stumbled and accidentally shot himself.
On Monday, Christopher Robinson, a forensics consultant hired by Ms. Shores, Vermont Chief Medical Examiner Steven Shapiro and Harry Jeppe, the firearms examiner for the Vermont Forensics Laboratory, gave testimony, arguing why Fenster should support their theories.
Robinson said he had found evidence of gun shot residue which proved the gun was closer to David Shores than the state believed. He said he also believed, based on the placement of the bullet found in a board in the basement, that the bullet was fired from a different angle than where Peggy Shores was standing on the basement stairs.
“Doesn’t the evidence that your expert raises raise issues for the jury to consider?” Fenster asked. “But otherwise, isn’t it still a question for the jury?”
“I guess it is, your honor,” Howard responded.
Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Travis Weaver acknowledged the state’s case “relies on some assumptions” but said there was some “strong evidence” that David Shores had not committed suicide.
Fenster said that he wasn’t allowed to make a judgment on the facts.
“I am not allowed, as you know, to weigh this evidence. All I can see is, ‘Is there a question in evidence for a jury to decide.’ … The evidence that you’ve raised, you’ve raised questions about the state’s theory. But I think that’s exactly the type of thing that I’m obligated to let a jury decide,” he said
Howard said there was nothing else he could add to his argument on Monday afternoon.
Since last year, and during Monday’s daylong hearing, Howard argued the state hadn’t tested the evidence they collected in the Shores’ case including the clothing David Shores had been wearing and the angle of the bullet found in the Shores’ basement.
After conceding that the case was almost certainly going to be heard by a jury, Howard and Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy discussed some of the parameters for the trial.
A status conference has been scheduled for February. Kennedy said she hoped to work out some issues with Howard that would shorten the trial from what was expected to be two weeks last year to one week.
Fenster pointed out finding even a week of trial days could be a challenge but said court staff would do that if necessary.
Peggy Shores has maintained her innocence since she was initially arrested.
When it comes to setting rules for farming in wetland areas, state agencies have to cooperate better, according to a legislative report released Monday.
The Legislative Study Committee on Wetlands was formed last year by Act 64 and met over the summer, taking testimony from those involved with the regulation of Vermont’s wetlands, including staff from the Agency of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
“The Study Committee strongly believes that wetlands should be protected and activities in wetlands should be regulated,” reads the report. “However, existing allowed uses in wetlands, including farming, should continue to be allowed, subject to regulation by appropriate State agencies, and there could be greater clarity as to how to conduct such activities.”
The committee was formed in order to make recommendations to the Legislature that would clarify the roles of ANR and AAFM in regulating farming operations on wetlands.
“The Study Committee voted to recommend that no legislative action be taken at this time to amend the wetlands statutes,” reads the report. Instead it recommends that AAFM continue to work on rules under Vermont’s “Required Agricultural Practices,” and that the ANR’s “Wetlands Stakeholder Group” involve more farmers.
Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, chairman of the Legislative Study Committee on Wetlands, said Monday that the issue started a few years ago when ANR began proposing rules for farming in certain wetlands, something that normally fell under the AAFM purview.
“The ANR went and developed rules and regulations to farming in wetlands,” said Starr, adding that ANR never consulted the AAFM over this, leading to confusion. Part of the problem was the two agencies had different definitions for terms such as “farming,” and didn’t appear to working closely enough together to resolve their differences.
Starr said the AAFM is currently working on updates to the Required Agricultural Practices and once they’re complete, more discussions will take place. He said it became clear over the course of the summer and fall that those falling under these regulations would prefer the rules were set by the AAFM.
What also became clear, he said, was that the ANR’s Wetlands Stakeholder Group needed more farmers involved. He said previously only one beef farmer from Salisbury was participating.
Starr said not much has changed from the agricultural community’s perspective, besides the lowering of certain permit fees.
Scott Waterman, policy and communications director at AAFM, said in an interview Monday that his agency has been moving along with its work on the RAP.
“Both the agricultural wetland definition and any process impacts for folks will be determined as part of the current rule-making collaboration and future public meeting process,” said Waterman. Folks will be able to submit comments and learn more about the impacts through the public meeting process once the proposed rules have been filed. There is no schedule for these meetings at this time.”
Laura Lapierre, wetlands program manager at ANR, said many of the issues stemmed from a lack of clarity in established rules. She said those involved in agricultural practices should now have more opportunities to weigh on the rule-making processes.
MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman announced Monday he is running for governor.
Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden, said issues that he would campaign on include: raising the minimum wage, combatting climate change, and affordable access to health care, housing and higher education.
Zuckerman joins Rebecca Holcombe, former education secretary, who announced a run for governor in July.
Incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has yet to announce whether he would run for a third term, but has already sent a letter to campaign contributors, and according to Zuckerman, has appointed a campaign manager.
Zuckerman’s announcement also was preceded by Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, who last week said he would run for lieutenant governor if Zuckerman chose to run for governor.
Others who have also said they would run for lieutenant governor include Molly Gray, an assistant attorney general and Brenda Siegel, former gubernatorial candidate. Republican Meg Hansen, of Manchester, is also running for lieutenant governor.
Zuckerman’s announcement came at a news conference Monday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel that also was streamed live on social media.
“I’ve been serving Vermonters and the state I love for more than two decades, including the last three as your lieutenant governor,” Zuckerman said. “This has been a great honor.
“I have met thousands of wonderful people from all corners of the state with diverse backgrounds and opinions. The issues they raise and the challenges we face are the reasons I’m running,” he added.
Zuckerman said his decision to run for governor was not an easy one.
“I am a small business owner and a farmer,” Zuckerman said. “My wife has health challenges and we have a teen at home.
“My family is incredibly important to me. Though a privilege, public service requires dedication, time and energy. So, I had to weigh many factors,” he added.
Zuckerman said he would continue to fulfill his duties presiding over the Senate through the end of the session, but said he would launch a larger kickoff of his campaign come spring.
In answer to questions about his reasons for running, Zuckerman said there had been a lot of discussion about “affordability,” the central tenet of Scott’s political platform, but said there had been little progress on improving the economic fortunes of Vermonters. He said raising the minimum wage would make the state more affordable, something Scott has opposed because of the potential impact on businesses and the economy.
Climate change is also a priority for Zuckerman, who criticized Scott for failing to act on recommendations by a commission appointed by his administration to address the crisis.
“I think they put out over 54 recommendations and we’ve seen very few of those get taken up by this administration in a way to move us forward, in fact, when this climate crisis ... is severely affecting our farmers, our tourism industry, the maple industry and much of what we love in Vermont,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman also acknowledged that Scott only mentioned the word “climate” twice in his state-of-the-state address last week: once in reference to changes to the Act 250 land use law to allow more development in downtowns; and in reference to encouraging people to buy electrical vehicles. Scott did not mention much broader programs to address climate change, such as the multi-state Transportation Climate Initiative to reduce carbon emissions or the Global Warming Solutions Act to mandate that state agencies reduce emissions in the state.
“A lot of people try to couch these things as environment versus the economy or versus jobs, but the reality is that there are thousands of jobs in an environmentally friendly future,” Zuckerman said. “We’ve got tens of thousands of homes that need to be weatherized, which would not only create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, it would also save working families money in heating bills and energy bills going forward, which would make this state more affordable for them.
“So, if we would invest in those kinds of measures, its’s a win-win, and that’s the future that I think people are looking for,” he added.
In answer to the observation that it’s been almost 60 years since an incumbent governor was defeated, Zuckerman said there had been a building frustration that the economic circumstances of Vermonters had been “stagnant for years and years” with Vermonters “living paycheck to paycheck.”
“There’s going to be a huge wave, I think, of energy, that’s been building for years, for a Progressive future for this state on issues like health care, climate crisis, wages, affordability, affordable housing, and folks are frustrated with government as usual,” Zuckerman said. “They would rather there would be folks looking out for them, really fighting for them in the executive office.”
Zuckerman said he also supported a “wealth tax” recently proposed by Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington County, in his Vermont Green New Deal. It proposes taxing the wealthiest top 5% of earners to raise $30 million annually to fund programs that address climate change.
Zuckerman is the co-founder of Full Moon Farm, a Northeast Organic Farming Association certified organic farm in Hinesburg. Inspired by the U.S. Sen. Sanders when he was a representative in Congress, Zuckerman first ran for the Vermont House in 1994 while enrolled at the University of Vermont. He lost by 59 votes but came back two years later to become the fourth Progressive Party member ever to serve in Montpelier and the highest third-party public official in the country.
Other issues he has supported include renewable energy, cannabis reform, GMO legislation, progressive taxation, marriage equality and end-of-life choices. Zuckerman served in the Vermont Senate as a Progressive/Democrat since his election in 2012 until elected lieutenant governor in 2016 and was also the vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“In all, Vermont has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees since 1989, primarily from Bhutan, Burma, Bosnia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam.”
A Fair Haven man faces two felony charges after an attempted robbery is reported at Terrill Street Beverages in Rutland. A3
Ban bill coming
With the governor calling out vaping in his State of the State address, anti-smoking advocates are confident they’ll have the support to ban all flavored tobacco products this session. A3
Coffee & Crafting
Coffee or tea and craft supplies provided to make mugs out of clay. Requires 2 sessions, one to create your mug and one to glaze it. Suggested donation $10, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Godnick Adult Center, 1 Deer Street, Rutland, AprilC@rutlandrec.com, 802-773-1853.