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.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO -- Two convicted felons, wanted for failure to appear in Vermont Superior Court in North Hero, both remain on the run after judges in two nearby counties struck bail for them.
Instead, the two state judges told police when they arrested the suspects in January to issue new court citations. The defendants ignored them again.
Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said both cases are part of an ongoing disregard for proper bail requirements and a breakdown in the current statewide unified judicial system.
DiSabito, in a letter to Chief Superior Court Judge Brian Grearson, said judges sitting in Chittenden and Franklin County struck bail for two dangerous felons after they were caught in January. Both defendants subsequently blew off the citations that the judges directed police to re-issue, he said.
Grearson responded in a Feb. 16 email it would take him time to research and connect with all the court officials. DiSabito responded that he appreciated the effort, but noted “time is of the essence.” He reported the court in Grand Isle County had been left in the dark and his office was never notified that the felons were arrested and then freed.
DiSabito said the documentation speaks for itself. It reported:
-- Kristin K. Verchereau, 36, South Hero has eight failures to appear, five felony convictions, seven misdemeanor convictions and was due to appear in court in North Hero in January, but was again another no-show. An arrest warrant was issued and bail set at $50, but struck when she was arrested.
-- Stephen G. Bessette, 34 of Alburgh has two felony convictions, 14 misdemeanor convictions, eight pending charges and two failures to appear. He was wanted for both simple assault and violating his conditions of release. Bessette also was facing two violation of probation complaints -- one for threatening behavior and the other for failing to communicate with his probation officer. DiSabito asked for $1,000 bail. Judge Robert Mello
DiSabito said he learned in early February that both Verchereau and Bessette were at the Anchorage Inn in South Burlington. When he reached out to South Burlington Police, they told him they had arrested Bessette on Jan. 4, but Judge Martin Maley had ordered the $50 bail be struck. He told city police to issue Bessette a new citation ordering him into court in North Hero.
Bessette never appeared for his Jan. 14 hearing and the Grand Isle County Court was never notified that the arrest had been made.
DiSabito said Maley apparently struck the bail based on a memo from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George where she said she would not seek bail in most cases.
“...George’s polices and guidelines have absolutely no authority or force in Grand Isle County,” DiSabito said in his 4-page letter to Grearson.
DiSabito said he learned Colchester Police had arrested Verchereau on Jan. 12 on the Grand Isle County warrant for failure to appear. When Colchester Police contacted Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, he ordered her cited into court and told the arresting officer to explain that bail would be increased if she failed to appear. Verchereau failed to appear on Feb. 12 in North Hero as directed by the judge, DiSabito said.
And just like in the Bessette case, the Grand Isle County Court was never notified about Verchereau’s arrest -- nor was his office, DiSabito said.
DiSabito said both the Vermont Supreme Court and the state legislature consider a defendant’s appearance at a court proceeding of paramount importance.
He noted this was the latest snub in a long series that the court in Grand Isle County has endured at the hands of the Vermont Judiciary.
DiSabito noted that State Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin/Alburgh appeared to hit the nail-on-the-head when he recently opined “this situation is part of a broader problem with the organizational performance of the Judiciary.”
DiSabito noted the Vermont judiciary moved to a unified court system, but has been unable to ensure proper protections.
He said if the Vermont Judiciary can’t fix its own problem, the legislature may need to step in. He copied Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Colchester, Brock, his seatmate, Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin/Alburgh and Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chair of the judiciary committee.
Also copied were Reps. Leland Morgan and Michael Morgan, both R-Grand Isle/West Milton, Sheriff Ray Allen and former State Sen. President Pro Temp John Campbell, who now oversees the state’s attorneys and sheriffs in Vermont.
BY MICHAEL DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ISLE LA MOTTE -- The town of Isle La Motte has plans to postpone its March town meeting after coming to agreement with the Vermont Secretary of State and Attorney General concerning possible flaws in adopting the proposed annual budget and warning the town wide vote, officials said.
The postponement is still subject to the full ILM Selectboard taking formal action to cancel the March 2 vote and coming up with a new plan and voting date. The new date must be at least 30 days after the Selectboard can sign a new public warning and post it alerting voters about the issues to be considered and also after a publicly warned informational meeting is conducted.
The mailing of town and union school district ballots had been held up in recent days while Isle La Motte and state officials attempted to sort out a few municipal election problems.
Meanwhile officials with the Champlain Islands Unified Union School District were scrambling on Friday to get school ballots in the mail to the roughly 465 Isle La Motte residents on the town checklist.
The union school ballots were expected to be mailed earlier with the town ballots, but Clerk and Treasurer Sarah Noble said late Thursday afternoon the municipal ballots were on hold until more was learned from Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Secretary of State Jim Condos.
North Hero and Grand Isle had earlier mailed both union school district and town ballots together.
Attempts to reach Selby Turner, chair of the ILM Selectboard, were unsuccessful.
Rusty Spaulding, the senior Selectboard member, said the town plans to have at least one informational meeting on Saturday Feb. 27. Another meeting, which was proposed at the last minute for today, is off.
The Attorney General's office said part of the need to pull the plug on the March 2 vote was due to the Isle La Motte Selectboard never allowing town taxpayers a chance to weigh in at any time during the budget building process in recent months.
If the ILM Selectboard does formally postpone the town vote, it will eliminate one of the other problems expected on Town Meeting Day. The union school district had agreed on Jan. 19 to have day-long voting on March 2 at the Isle La Motte town offices.
During a Jan. 26 meeting, the Isle La Motte Selectboard voted to have voting on March 2 -- at the same time 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- but at the town's elementary school about a half mile away.
ILM residents opting for in-person voting would have been required to go to both the school and town offices to cast their respective ballots.
The switch in the town meeting date is due in part to the ILM Selectboard conducting at least three secret meetings the public was never warned were happening, according to Assistant Attorney General Michelle Anderson, who is chief of the Administrative Law Division.
Former Selectboard member Sylvia Jensen filed a complaint at a Dec. 29 Selectboard meeting when she learned the 3-member panel had secret, unposted meetings on Dec. 21 and Dec. 28. The Selectboard later acknowledged it held a third unannounced budget workshop in January.
When the Selectboard took no action on Jensen's open government complaint, she filed a formal protest with the Vermont Attorney General.
Turner, as chairman, maintained no board decisions were made on the budget, Anderson said. The Selectboard later acknowledged the work sessions did violate Vermont law and promised to warn future budget sessions. The Selectboard also agreed to allow the public to weigh in on the budget.
Yet during a Jan. 26 meeting, the Selectboard -- in one single motion -- approved its proposed $535,971 town budget and the official warning for all ballot items. When Jensen and another resident tried to ask questions, they were waved off and told "no questions."
Will Senning, chief of elections for the Secretary of State's Office, said it was important to hold an informational meeting and take questions.
"They need to take feedback and they need a new warning," Senning told The Islander.
Anderson agreed with Senning in her letter to Turner, as board chair, late Thursday afternoon.
"You agreed to cure any violation by ensuring all such meetings would be open in the future. You further stated that the public would have an opportunity to comment on the budget materials assembled prior to the opportunity to vote on it," Anderson wrote.
"Although the Board addressed the matter in a subsequent public meeting and announced that such budget sessions would be open in the future, you did not provide the opportunity for the public to comment on the budget," she said.
"This omission makes the proposed cure ineffective," Anderson said in the 2-page letter that also was sent to Jensen and The Islander.
"Upon further discussion, you agreed to hold an additional public meeting, providing the public with an opportunity to make comments and present questions on the budget," she wrote.
Anderson said for the cure to be effective, the meeting needs to be held prior to the public voting.
"This necessitates a delay in the voting date to comply with applicable election laws," she said.
Anderson said Turner, on behalf of the town, agreed Isle La Motte would take several steps proposed by the Secretary of State's office to ensure the violation is cured and the town complies with Vermont election laws.
"I further advise that you work with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to update the Board’s training on open meetings, Anderson said at the end of her outlining the corrective steps.
The Islander will update this news story for the print edition.
By Sandy Gregg, South Hero Planning Commission