By MICHAEL DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ISLE LA MOTTE -- Isle La Motte voters re-elected Selectboard member Rusty Spaulding and approved a proposed $533,971 budget for calendar 2021 Friday during a delayed Town Meeting Day vote.
Taxpayers also voted 138-69 to tell the ILM Selectboard to consider relocating the municipal offices to the Isle La Motte Elementary School, which no longer has classes. It was a non-binding advisory vote designed to get a sense from the community.
Spaulding defeated former Selectboard member Sylvia Jensen 135-74 in a sometimes contentious race for a 3-year seat. Jensen is believed to be the only woman ever to serve on the Selectboard in the history of the island town.
"It's time to move forward," Spaulding, the senior member on the board, told The Islander on Friday evening. He said Jensen offered him congratulations.
Eight other posts were filled by people running unopposed and other minor ballot items were approved.
The budget was approved 131-82 during balloting, which ended at 7 p.m. Town Clerk Sarah Noble said about 1:30 p.m. there had been heavy early voting and less than two-dozen people coming to the polls.
Jensen has been part of a group of residents that had questioned how the 3-member Selectboard has operated. They also raised issues about transparency, the annual budget and a little-known effort to move the town offices to the school. Spaulding said he expects the oversight of the Selectboard will continue.
The original ILM Town Meeting Day on March 2 was postponed because Vermont's Attorney General sided with Jensen's formal complaint that the Selectboard had violated the Open Meeting Law. The Selectboard failed to warn at least two budget workshops for the public to attend, had no meeting minutes and also approved the budget without allowing any public comment, officials said. As part of the signed settlement with the Attorney General, the Selectboard agreed to attend Open Meeting Law training.
A second ILM Town Meeting Day in early April was postponed after the Selectboard said its legal warning needed to be corrected. The third voting date was Friday and some residents have questioned if that legal warning was properly distributed as required by law.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ISLE LA MOTTE -- Isle La Motte residents will go to the polls on Friday as voters get a third crack to conduct its annual Town Meeting Day.
Voting in person is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Isle La Motte School with only one contest. Selectboard member Rusty Spaulding is being challenged by former Selectboard member Sylvia Jensen for a 3-year seat.
The voting follows a bizarre informational meeting that was disrupted when Zoom-bombed last Wednesday.
As townspeople asked the Selectboard members questions about the proposed budget and other issues suddenly about 10 unknown characters began to join the meeting. A few minutes later some lewd, crude and rude comments came over the air and the chat room contained some racial slurs.
Town Clerk Sarah Noble quickly moved to boot the troublemakers off the Zoom broadcast and after a short delay order was restored.
After the meeting there also was some question about whether the third town meeting was properly warned by Isle La Motte officials.
A resident approached The Islander to note the warning was never published in the newspaper. Towns can avoid putting the full legal warning in a newspaper if the warning is included in the town report and it is mailed to every residence.
The town report had a warning that has been changed substantially. The town is now on its third warning and third Town Meeting date.
The first town meeting was canceled when the Vermont Attorney General determined some budget workshops were never properly warned. A second date was set, but that warning was flawed, and the voting date canceled. The third date was set for this week.
During the meeting some residents were unhappy that they were not getting answers to their questions from the Selectboard, including Chairman Selby Turner. It resulted in one frustrated resident writing in the chat room, “It’s very disheartening that when Mr. Turner doesn’t have an answer he says that he will talk to people personally or that he has to move on without any true answers. Very frustrating.”
Residents were having trouble getting some of the budget numbers to match up. There also was debate on the actual costs to taxpayers if the town offices are ever moved to the school, which no longer hosts classes.
The Selectboard also was called out for the town being able to provide public meetings that residents can hear. Mary Catherine Grazino, who said she is hearing impaired, has said at several meetings the town needs to accommodate those with hearing issues.
“I can’t hear you when you talk,” she said about the poor sound system.
By law, the town is required to comply with the American with Disabilities Act.
Charlie Andrews of Main Street also pressed for better speed enforcement and for appropriate signs be placed on streets. He also questioned about plowing and whether the town needed to create its own road department instead of putting all work out to contractors.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- Work on the Grand Isle-North Hero drawbridge on U.S. 2 will be close to 24/6 this summer as the State of Vermont tries to speed up the major project, according to Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn.
Word of the extra-long construction work shifts first became public at the meeting of the Grand Isle Selectboard on Monday night. Sunday will be the one day of rest for bridge workers.
Emily Clark, an owner of Ladd’s Landing a local marina adjacent to the bridge, reported to the Selectboard she had been told about the extended work shifts in an email from the state.
“Seems like a pretty significant impact,” Clark said.
Selectboard Chair Jeff Parizo said when the town tried to place some limitations on the construction efforts, the state stepped in. “We were shut down,” Parizo said.
The disclosure seemed to catch the Selectboard and Town Clerk Melissa Boutin by surprise. They wondered if there was any limitations or state statute to restrict nighttime noise. Clark noted people using her marina sleep overnight on their boats whether they come from 2 or 200 miles.
Selectboard member Eric Godin volunteered to try to learn more and report back in two weeks. He agreed to reach out to Flynn and State Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Colchester, chair of the state transportation committee.
Flynn said on Tuesday that the state is criticized for the length of the multi-year project and expects some grief by trying to speed things up.
“The bulk of the work will be completed in 2022. There will be some project closure work that spills into 2023,” he told The Islander.
“We need to gain ground,” Flynn said.
Like most construction projects there have been ups and downs and the drawbridge is no exception. The project slowed after unanticipated soil contamination due to PCBs were found at multiple locations along the shoreline.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) announced in January 2020 that it had negotiated an extension to the construction schedule.
Flynn said last year in Middlebury work crews on a tunnel project in downtown went 24-hours a day for 12 weeks to bring the project to completion so it could open in September.
Flynn said some outreach had begun on the drawbridge work, including to Sen. Mazza and to Clark.
Clark said a state email noted the contractor plans to work Monday through Saturday beginning May 2 and continue through the construction season. The day shift will run 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., while the night shift will be from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., she said.
“The work at night will be a continuation of the same construction activities during the day. The purpose of this work at night is to ensure that the majority of remaining construction is complete this season,” the AOT spokeswoman said in the email.
Originally, the bridge was scheduled to open to vehicle and pedestrian traffic in May 2021, but the Agency now anticipates traffic will be restored in 2022.
The $60.5 million project will lengthen into the summer of 2023 as the short-term bridge and temporary roadway are removed after traffic is shifted to the new bridge.
The Agency had suspected the presence of lead around the bridge from previous paint systems. While the initial testing yielded positive results for lead it also unexpectedly detected cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at multiple locations and hexavalent chromium.
The bridge, built in 1953, has about 6,000 motorists cross it each day during the summer.
The plan serves as a roadmap toward fully reopening the economy, cross state travel, and events and gatherings in the months ahead.
MONTPELIER – Today Governor Phil Scott and other officials outlined the State’s stepped plan to methodically and safely ease mitigation measures as more Vermonters are vaccinated. The roadmap – which is subject to change based on real time circumstances - offers Vermonters, municipalities, non-profits, and businesses the ability to plan with greater certainty for the months ahead.
“We’re in the last laps of this race and this plan shows how we can finish strong if we all do our part,” said Governor Scott. “We need Vermonters to look at this roadmap and recommit to following the guidance so we can finish this pandemic with the fewest lives lost; with our kids back in school before the school year ends; and take every one of the steps forward on the timeline. I’m personally asking all of you to do your part. Please, we need your help today as much as we did last year at this time.”
The Vermont Forward Plan uses vaccination rates as the key milestones for transitioning Vermont businesses to more general, universal guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19; modifying travel guidance; and when gathering size can increase between now and July 4.
“As we make progress in vaccination, we can now look forward to a time when Vermonters are largely protected from COVID-19,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “But we cannot simply wait for this to happen. We have to make it happen. Our actions — to prevent further spread and get vaccinated — will allow us to gradually, and safely, go about our lives once again, as laid out in this plan.”
Vermont has substantially completed vaccination of its most at-risk residents, including those over the age of 65 and those with certain high-risk health conditions, as well as school employees, and workers in child care, health care, long term care and public safety sectors.
The state’s data shows cases, hospitalizations and deaths significantly decreasing among the 65+ age group, which is nearly 90% complete. Other regions, like Israel and the United Kingdom, have seen their case counts fall considerably as they approached 50% vaccination among their population. This is a threshold Vermont is expected to cross before the end of the month, with 35% of our population currently having received at least one dose, and 21% are fully vaccinated.
Universal guidance also transitions away from sector-specific measures, and towards general mitigation measures across most sectors. This will make it easier for organizations and individuals to understand, implement and follow preventive and protective measures. Some sectors, like health care and education, will retain individual guidance.
“We know our businesses need to see the path forward as they continue to expand operations after many months of reduced capacity. We are grateful for all business owners have done to keep Vermonters safe and look forward to our continued partnership in executing this plan,” said Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle. “One thing we have learned is this virus isn’t going away quietly, but we are confident that this plan can stay on track if all eligible Vermonters get vaccinated when it is their turn and continue to follow the health guidance between now and July 4.”
VERMONT FORWARD PLAN STEPS
The steps in the roadmap (graphic below) offer dates for projected guidance changes and easing of certain restrictions. Three steps lead to July 4, when the State expects to transition universal guidance mandates into recommendations, and at which point things begin to feel much closer to how they did pre-pandemic.
The timeline is subject to change, but given current vaccination uptake and supply projections, the State feels confident the milestones can be met.
Universal guidance has five main tenets: Stay home if you’re sick, wear a mask, ensure six-foot spaces and uncrowded places, practice good hygiene, and know the travel restrictions.
Simplifying the guidance across sectors allows for more consistency, adaptation with current science and public health recommendations, and greater adherence to these measures and precautions.
For the purposes of transitioning business operations to universal guidance in a phased-in approach, tied to increasing vaccinations, sectors have been placed into two groups:
· Group A: Low contact, short duration, outdoor and controlled environment
· Group B: Long duration or close contact environments
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will lay out full guidance as each step forward is taken. All guidance updates will now be made available in a central location, at https://www.vermont.gov/vermont-forward.
For more information on:
· COVID-19 health information, guidance and data, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.
· To register for vaccination, visit www.healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine.
· The Governor’s actions, visit https://governor.vermont.gov/covid19response.
· The State’s modeling, visit https://dfr.vermont.gov/about-us/covid-19/modeling.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
BURLINGTON -- A South Hero man has begun serving another federal prison sentence -- this time for 3 months -- for failure to make a real dent in a more than $550,000 restitution order for a series of earlier frauds, court records show.
Paul Hendler, 49, had tried an unsuccessful last ditch effort to get out of serving the new 90-day sentence in prison. He had asked the court to allow him to serve the time at home because he feared he might catch COVID-19 in a federal prison.
A federal judge rejected the idea and ordered Hendler to report to prison earlier this month. Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford said Hendler had to step up and take responsibility for his shortcomings in not complying with court orders.
“Mr. Hendler’ s relatively short prison sentence - 90 days - follows 18 months of missed opportunities to bring his conduct into compliance with conditions of release,” Crawford wrote in his decision.
“Although Mr. Hendler resumed making payments towards his restitution obligation in the fall and winter of 2020, he has not cooperated with his probation officer in making regular, accurate disclosures of his financial status,” Crawford said.
“The jail sentence is intended to send a clear message that Mr. Hendler has an important obligation to comply with his conditions of supervision,” the judge wrote.
As of January, Hendler had paid only $9,023 in restitution since he was first indicted about 9 years ago, court records show.
A federal judge had sentenced Hendler in May 2015 to 27 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Hendler also was ordered to make $555,244 in restitution to nine persons and businesses that he defrauded, court records show.
Hendler, who was living in Woodstock at the time, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 14 felony counts charging him with mail and wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen money, forgery and engaging in monetary transactions involving more than $10,000 of criminally derived property, records show.
As part of the sentence, the court ordered Hendler to pay full restitution to the victims named in the indictment along with others of several additional frauds Hendler committed, court records show. The prosecution agreed to drop 12 felony counts when he admitted to two charges.
The Federal Bureau of Prison released Hendler on April 10, 2017. By July 12, 2019, a revocation of release petition was filed by his probation officer, Jon Hansen.
Among the charges was Hendler had been arrested on a new felony -- sexual assault on a woman in Chittenden County in June 2019. Hansen also cited Hendler for failing to pay at least 10 percent of his gross monthly wages toward the $555,244 restitution order, refusal to provide his probation officer with access to financial records and failure to report to his probation officer as required. In December Hansen also added another violation count of Hendler opening up a credit card account without approval of the probation office.
Hendler eventually admitted to 4 of the 5 federal violations on Jan. 8, records show. The violation count centering on the sexual assault arrest was discontinued after Hendler reached a plea deal with the prosecution to drop the felony charge.
One of the victims in the indictment, JavaPop Inc. in Woodstock, which manufactured carbonated coffee-based drinks, was forced to close due to the fraud, officials said.
Hendler founded JavaPop in 2005 and was fired in 2008 after the fraud reports surfaced, records show. They noted Hendler subsequently worked for and defrauded Green Mountain Digital of Woodstock.
In 2011, JavaPop’s then-CEO told the Valley News, a West Lebanon, N.H. daily newspaper, that the company’s losses from Hendler’s fraud directly related to closing the business. JavaPop was forced to lay off employees after the losses were uncovered and eventually closed.
Barbara Baker served as EMT, led women’s auxiliary
By MICHELLE MONROE
ALBURGH – Barbara Baker has supported the Alburgh Volunteer Fire Department for close to 50 years. On Saturday, the community came together to thank her, presenting her with the 2020 Support Specialist of the Year award from the Vermont State Firefighters Association (VSFA).
Alburgh Fire Chief Ron Kumetz said that when he suggested nominating Barb “rarely was an idea met with such enthusiasm.”
Gathering the information for the nomination was a challenge, however, given the number of years Barbara had been part of the department. So to get information on her early years with the department, he called her and claimed to be writing a history of the department.
Bailee Goodell assembled the information into a nomination letter, citing Baker’s years as an emergency medical technician (EMT), her leadership of the Alburgh Women’s Auxiliary, and dedication to the North Country Fire School.
“Through many changes in leadership and circumstance, Barb has exemplified our mission as a department, has positively impacted the community, and has consistently supported the Alburgh Volunteer Fire Department. Her skills, knowledge, willingness to help others, and dedication to supporting the fire department makes her our Support Specialist of the Year nominee,” Goodell wrote.
The award was presented by Timmy Gerard and Brent Labree, representing the VSFA.
“I’d like to thank everybody,” said Baker. “I’m blown away. I know there are a good many others who are deserving of this award.”
In addition to the award itself, she was presented with letters of congratulations from Governor Phil Scott, Representative Peter Welch, and Senators Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders, as well as a framed copy of the nomination letter.
Christopher Herrick, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety, met Baker when he attended the training offered each summer by the North Country Fire School. “I was assured the training would be good and the food even better,” said Herrick. The food preparation was led by Baker.
“You were a fixture,” Herrick said. “To say the school wouldn’t have functioned without you is an understatement.”
“You’re a true leader and an inspiration,” he told Baker. “We need more people like you.”
The Alburgh fire department was founded in 1968. Baker’s husband Dick joined soon after. It was his volunteerism which inspired her to get involved with the department. She both wanted to contribute as he was and spend more time with him.
When Alburgh added a rescue service in the early 1970s, Barbara and Dick were among the first members of the community to become trained as EMTs.
Barbara did her EMT training in 1972 and continued to serve until 2013 or 2014. She couldn’t remember the exact year arthritis forced her to stop.
“I loved being an EMT, and it bothered me when I couldn’t do it anymore,” she told the Islander.
Asked about calls from her time as an EMT, Baker said, “There are some sad ones that I don’t want to get into.”
“The best one was we delivered a baby,” she added.
Baker was a co-founder of the auxiliary, and she has served as its president for the past 30 years. “It started with the wives,” she said. Women weren’t allowed in the department, but they wanted to bring food and water to their husbands at fire scenes. Then it expanded to raising funds.
The auxiliary held a Bingo night every week. Appropriately, Baker’s award was presented at the Bingo hall.
When Baker joined the town clerk’s office as an assistant – she would later serve as town clerk and treasurer – she made certain that if there was a fire call she would be allowed to go.
Weekday calls can be a challenge for a volunteer department, explained longtime Alburgh firefighter Terry Tatro, as many firefighters are at work. Even though she wasn’t a member of the department, which didn’t admit women, she was riding in the truck. “We had to make her a member,” said Tatro.
Once she was a member, Baker said she still kept to assisting with hoses and other tasks that did not involve going into a burning building. “Grass fires, I’d fight,” she said.
Baker wasn’t the first female member of the department. That honor fell to one of her daughters.
Barbara and Dick had six children and nearly every one has been involved with either firefighting or rescue services. A granddaughter is currently a firefighter in the Air Force.
“He inspired ‘em all,” Baker said of her husband.
Dick also helped to fund the North Country Fire School, which trains firefighters from Vermont, New York and Quebec. Barbara would eventually join the board. Training together helped with camaraderie among the departments, she said.
On Saturday, Canadian members of the school watched the award presentation on Zoom.
There was one thing Baker wanted to be sure everyone knew. “Just remember,” she said, “all of those things I didn’t do alone.”
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ALBURGH -- Alburgh voters were in a positive mood on Town Meeting Day as they approved all ballot items, including the town and school district budgets.
Voters also re-elected School Board members Michael Savage and Mallory Ovitt and agreed 404-200 that the proposed Alburgh Clubhouse, a private non-profit for childcare and pre-school programs, could construct a building next to the town elementary school.
Shawn Creller defeated Ryan Savage 280-243 for a two-year seat on the Selectboard. Matthew LeFleur finished third with 45 votes.
Selectboard member Russell Duchaine, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, easily won a two-year term by outdistancing two other candidates.
Nicholas Palmer was uncontested for a one-year seat on the Selectboard.
Constable Ariel Brace lost her bid for re-election to Jarid Creller. He prevailed 254-216 while George McGrath finished a distant third with 97.
Longtime Delinquent Tax Collector Terry Tatro also won re-election for one year by easily outrunning Shawn Creller 359-230.
Shawn Creller did beat Corrine Russin 327-230 for the one-year post of town grand juror -- a mostly honorary position.
The Islander will have more details in next week's print edition. The polls were still open Tuesday when the newspaper went to print.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO -- Andy Alling nipped Craig Greene 135-130 to capture a 3-year seat on the North Hero Planning Commission -- the only contested race on Town Meeting Day in the island community.
Town Clerk Corinn Julow reported all special ballot items were approved during early and day-long voting Tuesday.
The annual town budget of $980,182 was approved 305-55.
Among the special ballot items was an article seeking authorization for the Selectboard to spend up to $30,000 to defray the anticipated cost of moving the town offices out of the North Hero Elementary School. The offices may land at the North Hero Community Hall next to Hero's Welcome on U.S. 2. The vote was 268-90.
Voters also approved four police, fire and rescue ballot items, including spending $62,920 for 22 hours of patrol each week by the Grand Isle County Sheriff's Department. It passed 288-74.
Selectboard member Ben Joseph had proposed adding a couple of hours of patrol each week, but the full board voted down the idea, 4-1, during the budget writing process.
The closest article was whether to appropriate $10,000 to the Pelots Restoration Association for the cleaning and removal of invasive weeds from Pelots Bay, Carry Bay, Hibbard Bay and Bow & Arrow Point. The approval, 218-145 this year, is an annual special ballot item designed to help clean up Lake Champlain.
More details about Town Meeting Day will be in next week's print edition of The Islander. The Islander went to the printers while the polls were still open.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- Town Clerk and Treasurer Melissa Boutin held off her former assistant Linda Effel for both posts during Town Meeting voting, while Jeff Parizo defeated Rachael Griggs 456-348 in a race between incumbents on the Selectboard.
Eric Godin defeated Ronnie Bushway in a battle of former selectboard members seeking to return to the board for a 3-year term. Godin won 478-342.
In the race for treasurer, Boutin nipped Effel 428-408 for a 3-year seat. It was unknown late Tuesday if Effel would seek a recount.
Boutin had a little more breathing space in the race for town clerk with a 455-380 edge over Effel, a former Grand Isle County State's Attorney and Zoning Administrator.
Grand Isle Town Meeting Day was more active this year for a combination of reasons. The Selectboard meetings have become somewhat contentious in recent months. Also Effel stepped down as Boutin's assistant on the day she filed to run for office to challenge her boss for both jobs.
Griggs, who is finishing her first 3-year term and is board clerk, opted not to seek another 3-year term. Instead she decided to challenge Parizo, the vice chairman, who was seeking his third two-year term. That opened up the Bushway-Godin race for the seat Griggs held.
The town reported 849 residents voted, including 711 by early balloting, out of 1,654 on the town checklist
All special ballot items, including town budgets were approved by voters by wide margins.
The Islander, which went to press this week before the polls closed, will have more details in next week's print edition.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
SOUTH HERO -- South Hero residents voted 291-182 on Town Meeting Day to give preliminary approval to allow cannabis retailers and associated businesses to operate in the island community.
Specifics for any possible cannabis businesses, including locations, must still be approved by South Hero officials and potentially the state of Vermont.
In the only contested race in South Hero on Tuesday, Charles Hulse defeated Robert Fireovid 297-103 for a 3-year term on the Selectboard. Chairman Jonathan Shaw did not seek re-election.
Shaw said 500 residents voted early or came to the polls on Tuesday out of 1,611 voters on the town checklist.
Besides retailers, the marijuana-related article included others "licensed to engage in cultivation, wholesale, product manufacturing, retail, and testing of cannabis and cannabis products."
Shaw said Riyaz "R.J." Merali, who operates Nadia's, a health and wellness store on U.S. 2, asked the Selectboard to put the question on the town-wide ballot.
Merali, who lives in South Hero, was the owner/pharmacist at the former South Hero Pharmacy in the village until August 2020.
He cited the potential taxes from cannabis-related items that the town of South Hero would be able to share.
"Marijuana is being used in the state of Vermont and the islands," he told The Islander last month.
Merali said his store customers have asked him if he might expand into the cannabis business. It was unclear how many other businesses might be interested in expanding into the drug business in South Hero.
South Hero was the only Champlain Island town to vote on the cannabis issue this year. Alburgh, North Hero, Grand Isle and Isle La Motte all opted to pass, but may have to weigh in at some point if they want the decision left to local residents and not the state of Vermont.
The annual South Hero elections were somewhat quiet this year with only the one contested race.
Town Clerk and Treasurer Janet Yates is retiring this month after 29 years working for taxpayers.
Erin Morse, who has been shadowing Yates, was uncontested for the clerk's 3-year post.
Assistant Treasurer Kim Julow was uncontested in her effort to move up to the 3-year posts of town treasurer.
Selectboard member Graham "Skip" Brown had announced he was retiring, but filed on the final day when nobody sought the 2-year seat.
Other seats also were uncontested.
Read next week's The Islander for more Town Meeting Day results. The Islander went to press on Tuesday before the polls closed.