Nine Rutland City Board of Aldermen candidates squared off at a forum Wednesday evening broadcast live on PEG-TV.
This year, incumbents Paul Clifford, Sharon Davis, Matthew Reveal, Scott Tommola and Matt Whitcomb are facing challenges by John Atwood, Samuel J. Gorruso, Kam Johnston and Michael Talbott in a competition for five two-year seats.
After opening statements, moderator Tom Donahue asked candidates to highlight one issue they are passionate about.
Davis said the city’s neighborhoods are her passion.
“That is our tax base,” she said. “We need to continue to strengthen and stabilize neighborhoods that have been affected by drugs and crime.”
Donahue then asked candidates how they would address Rutland County’s declining workforce and population.
Clifford raised the perennial issue of a city-town merger. He said a merger would give the region a “stronger voice” in Montpelier.
“The only thing holding us back are naysayers and big egos,” he said.
Gorruso said the city needs to attract new industry and find new sources of revenue.
“Rutland has lost a lot of high-paying jobs,” he said, referencing the loss of Omya and Green Mountain Power executive jobs, as well as companies like Tambrands, MetroMail and local banks.
Johnston said he is still holding out hope for passenger rail service.
“I thought the train was our savior, but it’s taken so bloody long,” he said.
He said a commuter rail line to Burlington would allow Rutland to take advantage of economic growth in Chittenden County.
Johnston is currently a member of the Rutland City School Board.
Talbott touted the value of the arts as an economic driver and that can attract people to rural communities.
“Embracing the arts is a proven pathway to economic viability,” he said citing examples from around the country.
He also mentioned grants that are available as well as his experience as chairman of the Castleton University Communications Department with pursuing such funds.
Tommola focused on lowering the tax rate.
“If a business is going to come into Rutland, the tax rate has to fit their business model,” he said.
He pointed to nonprofits as a drag on the city’s grand list as well because they do not pay property taxes and suggested putting a cap on them in the city.
On the issue of the city’s $5 million paving and sidewalk bond, candidates were split with several expressing a need for more details.
Atwood was one such undecided voice.
“I am not sure which way I’ll vote,” he said, explaining that while he agrees infrastructure is important, he thinks “the details of the plan is a little bit sparse.”
Reveal, who in an earlier response said good infrastructure leads to business development which in turn leads to more people, said he “fully” supports the bond.
“If you own a car or ride a bike in this city, you know it’s needed,” he said.
Whitcomb said he supports the bond, but is empathetic to voter concerns.
He then raised the issue of accessibility, explaining that for people attempting to travel to medical appointments, the “first mile and last mile” tend to present the biggest barrier to care. Poor sidewalks can create such a barrier.
“I think it is selfish not to support it,” he said.
In a “yes” or “no” lightning round, Donahue asked candidates if they supported the city and school budgets.
All nine candidates said “yes” to the city budget.
On the school budget, only Atwood and Talbott said “yes.”
MONTPELIER — Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Tuesday about a gun control bill that would do multiple things if passed into law, including closing the “Charleston loophole” and requiring those with relief from abuse orders to give up their guns.
The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing at the State House on H.610, a bill focused on domestic violence introduced by Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Washington, and Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-Chittenden. The bill would eliminate the so-called “Charleston loophole” which allows a gun dealer to transfer a gun to someone before a background check is complete. The loophole got its name because it was used by Dylann Roof who got a gun and killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 despite not being permitted to have a gun due to his arrest record.
It would not allow those with relief from abuse orders against them to possess guns, making it a crime to do so, and would allow a judge to issue a warrant for seizure of any guns that are believed to be in that person’s possession. The bill would also allow health care providers to contact law enforcement if they believe a patient poses “an extreme risk of causing harm to himself or herself or another person by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a dangerous weapon or by having a dangerous weapon.”
Rodney Chayer talked about what it’s like to be a father going through the court system. Chayer said fathers are treated as a doormat, a money bag to steal from and a second-class parent instead of an equal with the mother. He said he can understand why some fathers are reactive instead of proactive.
“You poke any animal long enough, it will bite you,” he said.
Chayer said if this bill passes, anyone would be able to accuse another in anger or revenge in an attempt to get their guns removed. He said a mother could make false allegations against the father, robbing the child of the bond formed when the two go hunting.
Ben Hewitt said he’s a gun owner and a hunter. Hewitt said his two sons hunt as well and altogether they own 11 guns.
He said most proposed gun legislation measures are “at best feel-good Band-Aids on gaping societal wounds.” But he supports H.610 because last month one of his son’s best friends shot and killed himself.
“That morning, he had filled the tank of his truck with gas. Earlier that afternoon he had texted his mother asking her to buy him a new toothbrush. By all accounts and indications, his suicide was an impulsive decision,” he said.
Birgit Matthiesen is a board member of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Matthiesen said the bill has her strong and urgent support.
“I have seen domestic violence up close and very personal. I am a child of a family of domestic violence, and I am a survivor. I have seen and I have felt the red hot rage of the moment of violence. I have seen and I have felt the terror of those violent hours,” she said.
Bob Readie said the bill was one of the worst he’s read. He said it would violate due process, individual rights, property rights and civil liberties.
“This is horrible. Horrible,” he said. “What about constitutional rights? Where does it say in the Vermont Constitution that you have the authority or the power to deny those rights?”
Peggy O’Neil is the executive director of WISE, which serves victims of domestic and sexual violence in northern Windsor County. O’Neil talked about a murder in her community that took place several years ago. She didn’t give many specifics, but said a woman, who was a mother two a 2-year-old, was shot and killed by her boyfriend. She said the victim had been threatened previously with a gun.
O’Neil then told another story about a woman who was with a partner who slept with a gun under his pillow. Not for protection, but to induce fear and maintain control, she said. O’Neil said the woman was able to get a relief from abuse order, to get his guns taken away and had a strong support system.
“While we’ll never know if removing his guns kept her from being killed or injured, what I keep thinking about over and over these last 25-plus years and in this work for nearly 17 years is that if his guns had not been removed that night, I might not be here with you tonight to ask for your support. This young woman was me,” she said.
Tabitha Armstrong talked about statistics in cases of homicide where domestic violence was involved. Armstrong said between 1994 and 2017, there were 148 such cases. Of those, she said 82 involved a gun and 34 of the deaths in which the abuser killed themselves or were killed by police.
She said that left 48 deaths in a 23-year period. She pointed out that’s the same amount of homicides over the same amount of time due to stabbing, strangling or blunt force trauma.
She asked, “So are we to believe expanded red flag laws are going to stop an abuser from murdering a victim? How is that when just as many use their hands?”
Kate Root is a member of Courtney’s Allies, a group that formed in Barre after Courtney Gaboriault was shot and killed by a former partner in a murder-suicide in 2018. Root said relief from abuse orders are not obtained lightly or easily. She said the argument that the bill would eliminate due process was false.
She brought up the expression “bringing a gun to a knife fight” to highlight the danger of guns.
“Anytime a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, the likelihood of death resulting increases dramatically. And this is a material fact. Guns are manufactured objects that can be replaced. Courtney’s life and the lives of all other domestic violence victims can never be replaced,” she said.
James Sexton said legislators are experts at using fear instead of logic to pass bills into law, such as calling guns “scary assault weapons.” Sexton said no weapon, tool or implement of any type is capable of creating an assault.
He then talked about how his wife was hit by a drunk driver in December while she was using a snowblower in the front yard.
“It wasn’t an assault car. It wasn’t assault alcohol. It was the driver that created the assault,” he said.
Most of the hearing saw those for and against the bill taking turns giving their thoughts on the bill. But towards the end only those in favor of the bill spoke. It’s unclear if there were opponents of the bill who were in attendance and wanted to speak, but were not called on.
A request for comment from the committee was not returned Wednesday.
A local man convicted of murdering an East Wallingford tattoo parlor owner in 1997 had 15 years taken off his minimum sentence Monday, which leaves him in a position to return to the community shortly, according to his attorney.
Eric Marallo, 40, was convicted in Rutland criminal court in December 2000 of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of Dwayne Bernier, 45, whose body was found on the floor of his East Wallingford tattoo shop, The Dragon’s Leyr, on Nov. 23, 1997.
Marallo stabbed Bernier to death with a Gurkha knife in order to rob him.
Marallo was sentenced on April 13, 2001, to serve a minimum of 45 years in prison. On Wednesday, however, Judge David Barra imposed a sentence with a minimum jail term of 30 years, which had the support of Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy and attorney Paul Volk, who represents Marallo.
Marallo’s sentence was reduced based on an argument from Volk that Marallo had received ineffective counsel from his court-appointed attorneys during his 2000 trial. The attorneys should have raised issues based on two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Apprendi v. New Jersey and Ring v. Arizona, Volk said.
Referred to in court Wednesday as Apprendi-Ring arguments, the two cases are based on the Sixth Amendment cases and prevent judges from taking certain actions, including enhancing criminal sentence, based on issues that were not decided by juries.
On Wednesday, Kennedy said Volk had approached her in early summer with his proposed motion for post-conviction relief, or PCR. After many discussions, Kennedy said she agreed to make the same offer to Marallo that had been made by one of her predecessors, James Mongeon: a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
“I’m honest about why I’m doing this, judge. With a PCR challenge, if I guess wrong and the (Vermont) Supreme Court rules against me, in this case, maybe on the surface it would be coming back to resentencing. But if the issue is whether that particular jury should have been given the facts to consider aggravating and mitigating factors, realistically, I don’t know how that would happen. That could potentially mean I start at ground zero and present a case to a new jury. That, to me, is too risky,” she said.
Volk asked Judge David Barra to accept the sentencing recommendation because “the way that Mr. Marallo was sentenced was constitutionally deficient.”
Marallo’s record as an inmate has been “exemplary,” Volk added.
“I’ve never had a case in which so many folks who have been responsible for supervising a person had so many good things to say about him. He was a very young man at the time of the commission of the events here. He’s grown up in a different setting but he’s grown up a lot. He’s definitely become a different person,” he said.
Given a chance to address the court, Marallo said nothing about Bernier or the murder but just said he had an “immense amount of gratitude” to have the issues raised in the proposed PCR motion addressed by the court on Wednesday.
Kennedy said her office had contacted Bernier’s family to let them know about the re-sentencing and why it was happening, but she said she had gotten no feedback about whether they would attend the sentencing. No members of Bernier’s family were in the courtroom on Wednesday.
Marallo’s parents attended the hearing but declined to comment afterward.
Volk said Marallo’s family was “obviously quite happy with the result that was obtained here.”
According to Volk, Marallo has now served his minimum sentence because of the sentencing reduction. However, Volk said the decision would have to come from the Vermont Department of Corrections.
When Marallo has been assessed about whether he’s ready to enter and complete re-integration programming, he would likely be released to the community under furlough, which would mean he remains under state supervision but not in a prison setting.
The next step for the completion of Marallo’s sentence would likely be parole, Volk added.
Volk said he would not discuss why he had not pursued a retrial or some other method of reducing the 30-year sentence even more, because it fell under attorney-client privilege.
BRANDON — Three people, two of them incumbents, are running for two one-year seats on the Select Board.
Alison WalterThe newcomer is Alison Walter. She said in an interview that she grew up in Brandon, attended Neshobe Elementary School, then later went to Middlebury High School. She attended college at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. After graduating in 2014, she went to work for a beeswax candle business in Athens, Georgia, returning to Brandon in 2017.
She came back to help her mother run two downtown businesses, Blue Moon Clothing and Gifts, and Indu, an antique store. Near the end of college, Walter learned she had kidney disease, which would ultimately factor into her decision to seek town office. “A year ago, on March 18, I had a kidney transplant and the whole town kind of rallied around me to support me through that, so that’s part of the reason I’m running for Select Board,” she said.
Walter is a member of the Downtown Brandon Alliance. Through it, she’s worked to help downtown businesses get through the Segment Six project, a massive overhaul of the downtown area along Route 7 that, for the most part, was completed last year. Walter wants to keep working with the alliance to improve the town’s trail system, making it comparable to the trails in Pittsford and Rutland.
She feels the current Select Board is doing a good job, but has room to improve.
“Right now it seems like the meetings are really focused on nitpicking and getting down to semantics instead of the broader things people are presenting to the board, and it seems like there’s a lot of jargon being thrown around, meetings that should take 45 minutes are taking two hours. I feel like the Select Board should be there to serve the community and it seems like right now people are kind of intimidated to go and talk to them,” she said.
Walter said that as a young woman she’d bring a different perspective to the board and be better able to represent young families moving into town.
Doug BaileyDoug Bailey said in an interview that he’s the board’s longest serving member, having been first appointed in 2014, and also the oldest.
“I would say at this point I bring experience, being the oldest board member in age, and I bring monetary banking experience, being a conservative in our spending, and along with Mr. (Seth) Hopkins, we’ve really changed the financial look of Brandon.”
Hopkins is the board’s current chairman, who joined the board not long after Bailey. Bailey said he’s been a Vermont resident since 1978 and worked in the banking industry in Brandon and Rutland for about 30 years. He retired 15 years ago.
He said he was appointed to the board during a difficult time for Brandon. There were a few years where it took four or five public votes to pass a budget. He knew a few people on the board and, as a retired banker, was offering advice to them. He offered to join the board when a member resigned, and was later elected.
Since he came into office, the town’s financial situation has improved significantly, he said. “My goal when I got on was, we wanted to financially straighten things out, then we wanted to start rebuilding the infrastructure, which along with Segment Six, we’ve paved many roads in town,” he said. “That was something many people had said to me, we’re paying our taxes but we’re not seeing things happen. We have paved many, many roads in town and want to continue doing that.”
Bailey is a fan of saving money for unexpected expenses, such as the Segment Six project having been under-bonded by several million dollars, and federal aid being slow in coming when Newton Road flooded a few years ago. He said it took 10 months for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse the town, but the town had people back in their homes within a matter of days.
“If you don’t have a reserve, you can’t do that,” he said.
Seth Hopkins has been chairman of the Select Board for the past three years, and came to town 15 years ago. He and his wife wanted to open a bed and breakfast, and he knew of an opportunity here, having gone to Middlebury College and being familiar with the town. The bed and breakfast ended up becoming a bicycling and hiking tour company, but has been a success all the same.
At 43, Hopkins has been involved in town-level politics from an early age.
“Where I grew up was Ashby, Massachusetts, and even from a very young age I went to town meeting with my parents,” he said. “When I was still in high school, I was put on the finance committee for my town, it was just something that has always been part of my life and my family’s life. My mother was very, very active, my father slightly less active in town politics.”
He was appointed to the Select Board in January 2015 and ran for election that March. A few years before that, he’d been on the town’s budget committee, which helps the Select Board draft its budget. “From a philosophical perspective, the thing I’m most proud of is we’ve transformed the board from being a board that was contentious to a board that works by consensus, and as you can imagine, a change like that is a culture change and it takes a long time, and it’s incremental, it’s about building trust, and it’s about respecting other people’s opinions and compromising, and so forth,” he said. “I think that’s been the most beneficial to the town, is getting away from those rancorous two to three hour Select Board meetings down to an efficient hour-long Select Board meeting where we are all moving in the same direction.”
From a more technical perspective, he’s pleased that he’s been able to help get the town under better financial footing. Going forward, he wants to help ensure the Segment Six project is closed out properly, and he wants to be part of the decision making process with regards to potential funds from the Davenport Solar project, a large solar array being proposed near Carver Street. Hopkins said the town’s revolving loan fund for small businesses has been successful and might benefit from additional funds.
“We are enthused that our justice system has intervened in a meaningful way to institute much needed change and hold (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol) accountable.”
Alvaro M. Huerta, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said following a court decision Wednesday in Arizona in favor of migrants being held in inhumane and unsanitary conditions. — A9
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Phoenix Books on Center Street in Rutland is the place to be for cute little animal stories with Reed Duncan and Rollo. You don’t have to be a child. B5
Transcending indie rock with poetic lyrics, bold melodies and powerful vocals. $20. BYOB. 7:30-9:45 p.m. Brandon Music, 62 Country Club Road, Brandon, email@example.com, 247-4295.