April 25, 2019

Zoning rewrite to proceed piecemeal

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The daunting task of revising hundreds of pages of zoning rules will be divided into more manageable pieces, the Williston Planning Commission decided last week.

At its Aug. 7 session, the commission elected to break the work into three parts and discussed which sections would come first, said Chairman David Yandell. Separate public hearings will be held on each group of revisions by both the commission and the Selectboard, which has the final say on the new rules.

The town passed a new Comprehensive Plan, which sets broad policy goals, early in 2006. But the zoning ordinances are still needed to provide legally enforceable rules that carry out the plan’s goals. So there is some urgency to finish the revision, which will make ordinances consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

“This is a major change, a major update to the zoning ordinance that is long overdue,” Yandell said. “But we’re not rushing anything on this. We’re trying to get it right.”

The first round of revisions will likely include administrative procedures and growth management rules, Yandell said. Others getting priority will be ordinances already in effect on an interim basis or sections of the code where a revision is nearly complete.

The last round of revisions will involve ordinances that depend of the rest of the rules or are particularly complex, Yandell said.

The ordinances will collectively be called the unified development bylaw. When completed, the rules will run more than 200 pages and contain about 40 chapters, Town Planner Lee Nellis said earlier this month.

With much of the rewrite still in progress, it is difficult to determine exactly which rules will change. But among the proposed alternations are regulations governing signs and parking as well as permitting for new development and guidelines for home additions.

Specific dates for public hearings had not been finalized as of last week. Yandell said the commission will likely discuss the zoning ordinances at its next two meetings and hold a public hearing in mid-September.

[Read more…]

Turnaround must be removed, town says

Board rejects zoning appeals

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The Development Review Board last week rebuffed residents who wanted to keep their front-yard turnaround and operate a small business out of their historic district home.

Forrest and Erika White appealed a ruling that accused them and their neighbors of violating an ordinance that forbids alterations to the “greenbelt,” the strip between U.S. 2 and homes in the historic district.

“It doesn’t seem quite fair,” said Erika White, noting that the existing turnaround, in place for more than a decade, had only been altered slightly yet still triggered the town’s enforcement action.

The board rejected the Whites’ appeal and also refused to override a decision by zoning administrator D.K. Johnston to deny a permit for a landscaping business the couple runs from their home at 7582 Williston Rd.

The board heard nearly an hour of testimony on the pair of appeals during its July 24 session, according to a recording of the meeting. Both Forrest and Erika White spoke, as did Johnston. A few neighboring residents and one nearby businessman also testified in support of the Whites.

On the turnaround issue, the Whites noted that under legal precedent zoning violations cannot be enforced after 15 years have passed. The turnaround was never permitted, but apparently existed without drawing the town’s attention since 1990, long before the Whites bought the home.

But Johnston argued that the alternations to the turnaround – he has said it is actually big enough to be called a parking lot – negated that de facto statute of limitations.
The Whites argued that the original turnaround was only enlarged slightly – 14 inches in one direction and 18 inches in the other – and so did not amount to a significant change and should keep its exempt status.

On the business issue, Johnston told the board he refused to issue a home occupation permit because it was not the “typical” type of business that would qualify for it.

The business is called Plant & Stone Landscaping. Forrest White told the board that he does stone masonry, which he said in fact is a type of craft that would qualify as a home occupation business under the ordinance.

Johnston warned that that overturning his ruling would set a bad precedent. He said there are other businesses that are in more blatant violation of the ordinance. He said three cases in Williston are “headed to court.”

Johnston suggested the Whites apply for a home business permit. That type of permit allows more intense use in residential areas. But it also involves a more stringent review process.

To qualify, the Whites would have to comply with conditions set by the board, which could include constructing a parking area behind their home, a costly proposition.

The board’s rationale for denying the appeals remains opaque. As it has in recent years, it cleared the room and met behind closed doors before making a decision.

The rulings regarding the Whites’ property came a month after the board denied a similar appeal regarding the turnaround – Johnston has said it is actually a parking lot – by their next-door neighbors, Scott and Miranda Roth.

The couples were ordered to restore a grass strip between their driveways and remove the turnaround within seven days or face $100-a-day fines.

The Whites’ said they have yet to decide whether to appeal the Development Review Board’s decision. They could demand a hearing by the state Environmental Court.

The couple seemed torn on what to do next. Forrest White said operating a business out of his home allows him to spend more time with his wife and their young child. But he said complying with elaborate permit conditions could cost him a bundle.

“Now I feel backed into a corner,” he said. “I could be forced to do this or move on.”

[Read more…]

Stream restoration effort completed

Erosion created canyon along Sucker Brook

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The town of Williston has restored a stream whose banks eroded so dramatically that it was called “ Vermont’s Grand Canyon.”

The long-running effort along Sucker Brook, which meanders through the southern third of Williston, was finished earlier this month. All that remains is to plant vegetation to stabilize the project.

The work will keep Sucker Brook a clean and smooth-flowing stream, preventing pollution and fostering aquatic life, said Carrie Deegan, the town’s environmental planner. The hope is that the restoration project will also keep the stream from becoming clogged in the future.

“This work will prevent major input of sediment and pollutants,” she said.

The project fixed a problem that began 23 years ago. In 1984, a huge rainstorm caused Sucker Brook to jump its banks and flow into an abandoned gravel pit. The pit filled and its walls eventually collapsed.

That set off a cycle of erosion, which over the years scoured out a canyon along a roughly 800-foot-long stretch of the stream that parallels Vermont 2A. The canyon – as much as 70 feet wide and 50 feet deep – came to be referred to as Vermont’s Grand Canyon, Deegan said.

Though visually remarkable, such erosion has an ill affect on the stream’s aquatic life as well as the region’s ecosystem. An estimated 300,000 tons of sediment have moved downstream over the past two decades.

Sediment clouds streams and rivers, covering plants that feed fish and smaller invertebrates, said Colleen Hickey, education and outreach coordinator for the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Clinging to the sediment are pollutants such as phosphorus, which is a major cause of algae growth.

The water from Sucker Brook, like other area streams, ends up in Lake Champlain. So even though it is not a major waterway, keeping the stream and others like it sediment-free benefits everyone in the region, Hickey said.

“The lake is a drinking water source for nearly 200,000 people who live in the Lake Champlain basin,” she said. “We need to reduce pollution wherever we can.”

Sucker Brook originates near the Williston-Hinesburg border, not far from Lake Iroquois. It runs along Route 2A before emptying into Muddy Brook, which in turns flows into the Winooski River and eventually the lake.


The effort to restore Sucker Brook dates back more than a decade. For years, the town worked to secure grants, negotiate with landowners and plan the project.

The town eventually obtained about a dozen grants totaling nearly a half-million dollars. They came from several sources, including the Chittenden Solid Waste District, the Lake Champlain Basin Program, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal government.

The grants paid for virtually all the restoration work, Deegan said, noting that only $22,000 in Williston tax dollars were spent.

About five years ago, junk cars were removed from the stream area and measures were taken to limit further erosion. The following year, stone weirs – small dams – were placed in the steam.

The town then hired the Williston-based engineering firm Dubois & King to design a project that would permanently stabilize the stream banks and prevent erosion. The work was divided into two phases, with the upstream half completed in 2005, Deegan said.

The effort suffered a setback in February 2006 when a storm damaged part of the previously completed work. The damage was repaired last summer, and this summer the project’s final phase was finished.

The flood- and erosion-control measures include a stone-lined step pool and a channel. Stream banks were graded to create a floodplain. Several weirs slow the downhill flow of water.

Though the stream’s problems started with a natural event, Deegan said development in Williston likely accelerated the subsequent erosion.

Over the past few decades the increasing amount of paved surface in town has led to more stormwater runoff. After it rains or snows, water rapidly rushes into streams and rivers, quickly swelling them and creating a condition where banks can collapse.

Volunteers gathered this spring to plant alders and willows designed to stabilize Sucker Brook’s new floodplain and attract wildlife. Further plantings are planned for next spring, providing one last human intervention for the stream.

Vegetation would have eventually grown by itself, “but it would have taken a really long time,” Deegan said. “We’re going to help it along.”

[Read more…]

Town tries to speed zoning rewrite

Giant job may be divided into pieces

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A slow-moving rewrite of the town’s zoning rules may gather momentum next week when the Planning Commission considers whether to approve the new code piecemeal.

It’s been 1-1/2 years since an updated Comprehensive Plan was approved. But the town is still working with out-of-date zoning and subdivision regulations that don’t always mesh with the plan’s broad goals.

Town Planner Lee Nellis said he and the rest of Williston’s planning staff has juggled the update of hundreds of pages of rules while dealing with a steady stream of proposals for new development. The rewrite is now about two-thirds complete.

Rather than waiting for it to be finished, he will ask the Planning Commission on Tuesday to consider approving the code in pieces. Nellis said the work could be divided into two or three chunks, with each run separately through an approval process that includes public hearings and votes by the Planning Commission and the Selectboard.

That method would move the huge job forward, giving attention to problem areas like the sign ordinance while allowing the public to consider the new rules in digestible portions.

“It probably makes it easier for the public to comment on it in the sense that it is a very bulky document,” he said. “People will not have to absorb a huge quantity of information all at once.”

The rewritten rules will be called unified development bylaws. They will govern things as large as a new subdivision and as small as home addition.

The Comprehensive Plan outlines general policy goals for the town. The bylaws codify those guidelines with legally enforceable rules.

With some of the code yet to be written and other parts still in draft form, it is unclear exactly what will change. Nellis said most of the current rules will stay the same, albeit organized in a different format. But some changes are beginning to come into focus.

Perhaps the biggest change concerns the permitting process. Depending on the project, the town uses one of seven types of reviews. The new regulations narrow that down to two review processes, Nellis said.

The sign ordinance, an ongoing enforcement problem, will also be altered, Nellis said. The new rules will allow the town to issue tickets for violations rather than the current cumbersome process, which requires notices of violation and hearings before the Development Review Board.

Of interest to homeowners will be consolidated rules governing home additions, swimming pools and sheds. Those rules are currently scattered throughout the zoning code.

The new bylaws will move “95 percent of everything homeowners need to know about changes to their property” to one chapter, Nellis said.

The overriding concern is to make the rules simpler and easier to understand and enforce, Nellis said.

“The old code is very difficult to administer because there are lots of internal contradictions and vague and unclear language,” he said. “The rewritten code solves all those problems.”

Nellis and other planning staffers have been working on the new bylaws since the town adopted the Comprehensive Plan in February 2006. Nellis said he and his staff’s work on the rewrite has been interrupted numerous times.
He ticked off several time-consuming projects, including the town’s application for state growth center status, review of the 356-unit Finney Crossing subdivision and a controversial rezoning case in the Hillside East business park.

Williston could have hired a consultant to do the rewrite. But Nellis said only large out-of-state firms would have had the expertise required to reorganize the code into unified bylaws. He estimated the work would have cost in the “low six figures.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire said he and other town staffers did discuss hiring a consultant. But they concluded that it would be more cost efficient – albeit slower – to instead use the expertise of Nellis and other planning staff members.

The staff “thought they could handle it,” McGuire said. Besides, he added, Williston’s planners would still have to be involved in the project even if a consultant was used.

Nellis said he hopes to complete the work and have the new land-use rules approved by the beginning of next year.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to consider how to proceed with the zoning rewrite at its Aug. 7 session. The meeting starts at 7: 15 p.m.

[Read more…]

School administrator salaries up 3.5 percent

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Local school administrators are seeing paychecks roughly 3.5 percent higher in the new fiscal year that began July 1.

Virtually all Chittenden South Supervisory Union administrators received the same increase, according to Cindy Koenemann-Warren, CSSU human resources director.

CSSU includes Champlain Valley Union High School and schools in Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Williston.

The only exceptions to the average, according to Koenemann-Warren, were for a couple of administrators who shifted the number of days they’re expected to work this year. Except in rare circumstances, school administrators work year round, including through the summer.

Salary increases for CSSU teachers have yet to be determined; contract negotiations are still underway for the current fiscal year.

Local administrator salaries appear to be in the range of last year’s New England averages, according to data from Educational Research Service provided by the American Association of School Administrators. The CSSU superintendent will be earning $133,238 this year; for the 2006-07 year the New England average salary for superintendents was $139,664.

New England principal salaries last fiscal year were just over $90,000 for elementary schools, just below $95,000 for middle schools, and nearly $111,000 for high schools. Williston’s elementary and middle school principal salaries for the new fiscal year are in the low-to-mid $90,000 range; the CVU High School principal earns just under $97,000.

“The people in these leadership positions have a tremendous amount they’re responsible for,” said Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association. “It’s fair to say these are high stress jobs. In many instances the operations of a school system, with the number of employees and the size of the budget, they parallel large businesses.”

CSSU, for instance, serves 4,273 students and employs 1,184, including substitute teachers. CVU High School alone is home to one third of the union’s students and 23 percent of its employees.

The nature of school leadership jobs has changed, too, Francis said.

“Everything in education is getting more complicated,” he said. “There’s more regulation. There are more individual consumer demands….”

CSSU Superintendent Elaine Pinckney agrees.

In addition to teaching math or science or a host of other academic disciplines and in addition to teaching students to be good citizens, Pinckney said, “we’re making sure they’re safe when they go home, making sure they have food in their bellies, making sure they get their immunizations. … It makes the job a whole lot more complex.

Administrators in the union’s top positions typically work 60 hours each week, Pinckney said. Compared with comparable positions in the business world dealing with large numbers of employees and customers, Pinckney said she does not believe school administrator salaries are exorbitant.

“We know there’s not a never-ending supply of money out there,” Pinckney said. “At the same time we want to make sure we compensate our administrators well because we want to keep them.”

Francis acknowledges the employment market for top school administrator positions is not always in Vermont’s favor, and that the pools of candidates interested in superintendent positions in Vermont are diminishing.

“If they are competitive (superintendent) candidates, they can go in the employment market in other places and do better economically at least in terms of salary concerns,” Francis said.

Data he quoted from 2005-2006 indicated that the average superintendent salary in Connecticut that year was $145,850; the average salary in Massachusetts was $124,000; both New Hampshire and Vermont trailed behind at $98,000 and $94,700 respectively. (The current Vermont average, Francis said, is $96,703; Chittenden County positions tend to command salaries considerably higher than more rural areas.)

A Vermont average for principal salaries is not readily available. Robert Stevens, executive director of the Vermont Principals Association, said such an average would be meaningless given the wide range of school types in Vermont. Some schools have assistant principals that to share workloads, some schools do not, he said; where one school might have 58 students, others have hundreds or over a thousand. Vermont middle schools alone, he added, come in 20 different configurations.

Stevens could not provide Chittenden County principal salary averages prior to his departure last week for out-of-state travel.

[Read more…]

Planning staffer moving on

John Adams takes job in Shelburne

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston planning staffer John Adams is stepping down, marking the second time his position has turned over in about two years.

Adams, 25, will take a job with the town of Shelburne. His title will be Development Review Board administrator/enforcement officer, a position that involves enforcing zoning ordinances and overseeing board activities. Adams’ current job as development review planner entails a mix of clerical and professional planning work.

The new job comes with more responsibilities and higher pay, Adams said, acknowledging that both factors played a role in his decision to leave Williston.

The position pays better “and it’s a step up in terms of responsibilities as well,” he said.

Adams’ current job pays $17.14 an hour or $35,651 annually based on a 40-hour week. The Shelburne position pays $43,000, according to Shelburne Town Manager Paul Bohne.

During a Williston Planning Commission meeting last week, Town Planner Lee Nellis said the fact that the position has turned over twice in a relatively short period indicates that the town isn’t paying enough.

Nellis explained that young people like Adams working in a junior planning position can be expected to eventually move on. But he said the town could retain even ambitious employees for about two years if the pay was better.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said a recent compensation study commissioned by the town showed Adams’ position pays comparably to similar entry-level planning jobs in Vermont towns.

McGuire said the problem is a small town with a small staff offers few chances for promotion. He noted that other planning staffers who left Williston in recent years have moved up to higher-ranking positions.

Bohne said the problem of limited opportunities is common in small towns. “In order for someone to move up, someone has to leave,” he said.

The position Adams is leaving may be reconfigured, McGuire said, perhaps starting the new employee at a lower level of pay and responsibility to leave room for advancement. He said the opening would be advertised starting this week.

Adams began working for the town of Williston in September 2006. He holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Queen’s University in Canada. His predecessor was David Pesnichak, who was hired for the then-newly created position in 2005.

Adams said he will step down as a full-time employee Aug. 21 but will continue to work part-time in Williston and part-time in Shelburne for a while.

[Read more…]

National Guard trainings shift as war tactics change

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Behind the first door on the right, a man is holding a child at gunpoint. In the room across the hall, behind the spring-loaded door, a man holds a coffee mug.

In each room of this makeshift plywood-covered building at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, different “people” on cardboard cutouts represent scenarios soldiers might face in combat, scenarios that are increasingly difficult to predict.

At a training session earlier this month, seven Vermont Army National Guard soldiers are gathered outside the building with Sgt. John Kidder, an instructor at the VNG Army Mountain Warfare School.

“What I’m asking you to do is look at the whole person, then the hands,” Kidder tells his trainees.

Kidder is teaching close-quarters combat skills to groups of the Guard’s artillery battalion soldiers. Williston is home to the Headquarters Battery of the Vermont Army National Guard 1-86th Field Artillery Battalion. The Williston battery soldiers, along with those from Vergennes, Waterbury and Berlin, were gathered at Ethan Allen Firing Range last month for their annual two-week training exercises.

The artillery battalion supports lightweight towed artillery pieces, or howitzers. The units fire 4-inch diameter high explosive shells that blow shrapnel in a roughly 100-foot radius around the target. Soldiers in the Williston battery are specialists in communications and operations, radar, survey, medical assistance, and administration – those functions that support the accurate and proper work of the howitzers and the battalion as a whole. The Waterbury and Vergennes soldiers are the firing specialists.

As Kidder instructed the seven soldiers how to enter and clear a building, about 150 of their artillery battalion colleagues were spread throughout the 12,000-acre property firing howitzers, learning to shoot targets at unknown distances, and practicing general marksmanship. Earlier in training, on other eight or nine-hour training days, soldiers learned land navigation and other “mountain skills,” like rappelling off 160-foot cliff.

This type of training for artillery battalion soldiers wasn’t happening even a decade ago, according to Maj. James P. McLaughlin, the battalion executive officer.

“We’ve refocused since 9/11 on every soldier’s individual skills,” McLaughlin said. While soldiers are still trained on battery-level skills, he said, squad and individual skills are a necessity in a world of shifting war tactics. “Every soldier needs to increase his skills to be able to fight (his way) out of (an unexpected) situation.”

Tactics have changed

Roughly 75 percent of the current artillery battalion has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait, according to Headquarters Battery Cpt. Miles Trudell. Some soldiers have gone more than once. When they return home, Trudell said, “they always tell me it’s completely different than the last time we were there. In a year’s time the techniques have changed, the tactics have changed.”

That may be why Kidder repeats the mantra “we need thinkers who are shooters and shooters who are thinkers” as he teaches a four-man team of trainees how to “stack up” when they’re about to enter a room that may or may not house an enemy.

With the outline of a room marked with tape in the dirt outside the practice building, Kidder asks the team to group together strategically. The “number one man” is in front, leading the pack into the room; the “hall boss” keeps his eyes peeled down an imagined hallway; a soldier is behind his back, facing the opposite way; a fourth man leads up the rear. They practice entering the imagined room swiftly, each checking a section of the room before hollering out “right side clear,” “left side clear” or “all clear” to the hall boss remaining outside.

When they prepare to stack up for another entry, Kidder asks them to switch which soldier will enter the room first. Every soldier needs to know “two jobs up,” Kidder tells them, in case those above them are injured or killed. There’s another reason Kidder believes switching around the “number one man” is important.

“Doing multiple entries in a combat zone, when the adrenaline’s going, doors are getting kicked, bangers are going off, rounds are getting fired, dudes getting smoked, friendlies getting hit, friendlies getting smoked, kids crying, screaming, dogs getting shot … the number one man is going to get fried pretty quick, right?” Kidder says. “’Cause he knows it’s just a matter of time before ‘I go through the door and catch one right in the mouth.’ Or the knee or whatever. It’s bad stuff, right? So after about two or three hours of clearing, a lot shorter than that, you’re a mess, right? You guys would probably be a certified basket case at that point, all right? Fetal position sucking on your thumb, all right? So it’s important that we switch that job out.”

Nineteen-year-old Liam Vendeville of Barre completed his first annual training exercises last month as a member of the Williston battery. The basics of close-quarters shooting, he said, are easy to get down; it’s the complications he doesn’t like.

“I kept thinking ‘I hope I don’t have to do this in real life,’” Vendeville said, reflecting on his thoughts during that exercise. “In real life there’s going to be all sorts of furniture, people you don’t want to shoot because they haven’t done anything. Having basics is good, but just going through it in real life probably would be pretty scary.”

Trainings and missions change, too

Vendeville said he found the mountain training skills portion of annual training – knot-tying techniques, rappelling and climbing – most helpful.

“It’s always something good to know if you have to use it anywhere,” he said. “It applies to civilian and military life.”

Staff Sgt. Warren Rotax, 49, of St. George said he’s seen a lot of change through the roughly 20 annual trainings he’s attended. When he first joined the Army National Guard in the 1970s, he said, annual training was “a big party.”

“To be honest, we used to go out, shoot howitzers and drink,” Rotax said. “Now we’re really training with the real professionals (who’ve been through combat). It’s very intense. … Especially this year, the training was very realistic.”

With the switch toward training soldiers on survival skills, Rotax said, “you have more confidence in what you’re doing.”

That confidence – and the trust in the organization that comes with it – is an important byproduct of training, according to Trudell. Having a wide range of skills makes soldiers more flexible as missions shift. Most of the battalion’s more recent deployments, Trudell said, have not been for artillery; military police work like convoy security and base protection has been a primary responsibility.

“Training is a lot more specific to the environment and basically what the mission is,” Trudell said. “Our mission as a field artillery has changed a lot as well.”

Williston armory details

[Read more…]

Changes proposed to firearms ordinance

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

The public will soon have a chance to fire off some opinions on proposed changes to Williston’s firearms discharge ordinance. At Monday’s Selectboard meeting, the board moved to hold a public hearing to discuss changes suggested by the Williston Conservation Commission. In essence the changes would open up some town-owned land to hunting, and make it easier for people to hunt on their own land. But it would also mean allowing hunting within 10 feet of some public roads.

It is currently illegal to discharge a firearm north of Interstate 89 in Williston, except for a small area in the northeast of town. South of the Interstate is mostly open to hunting, but as the current ordinance reads, guns may not be fired within 500 feet of any buildings, roads, trails or “public park or recreation area.” The commission is proposing changes to the ordinance to allow hunters access to some municipal lands south of I-89, and to shorten the distance from roads and trails that guns may be used.

A memo presented to the Selectboard on Monday by the commission and Environmental Planner Carrie Deegan argues that the 500-foot restriction is unfair to hunters because it applies to public trail easements on privately owned land and is much stricter than the state law.

“The WCC does not feel it is appropriate (or legal) to restrict hunting on private lands,” the memo reads. “This should be the decision of each individual landowner. In addition, 500’ from a public road seems an excessive distance when state standards allow hunting within 10’ of any roadway.”

The proposed changes would keep the 500-foot rule as it applies to buildings, but would allow firearms to be discharged 10 feet away from public roads, and 100 feet from marked trails on town-owned land. The changes prohibit firing across any road or trail, and also give the Selectboard the authority to prohibit shooting on any municipal land.

Greg Paulman, who teaches a hunter safety course in Williston, has been encouraging the commission to pursue the changes. Paulman said in a phone interview that the new rules will not compromise safety, but will lay out guidelines so that hunters and hikers alike can enjoy the public land.

“Essentially what the Conservation Commission has done is they’ve clarified some rules so that there will actually be an enforceable ordinance on town owned land that allows for people to hunt and lets other people using the land know there is hunting going on,” Paulman said.

Selectman Andy Mikell said at the meeting he was “unlikely to support” the changes.

“I’m all for recreational purposes but citizen safety is first and foremost,” Mikell said. “Let’s hear from the public and see what they want.”

The board said it would run the changes by legal counsel and schedule a hearing after that.


The board also decided to change how it takes minutes at its meetings. Currently a clerk writes down summaries of the discussions at the meetings, and also records the motions and decisions made and who was present. State law requires the minutes to record the list of board members present, names of other active participants, all motions, proposals and resolutions made, what action was taken and the results of votes.

The board voted unanimously to change the format of minutes to include just the bare minimum. However, Town Manager Rick McGuire said the board would also begin digitally recording the meetings and burning them onto CD to archive.

McGuire recorded Monday’s meeting himself, but said Wednesday that the clerk, Chris Wrobel, would likely take over that responsibility. McGuire said the recordings will also be divided into different tracks according to agenda items.

[Read more…]

Three injured in dog attack

By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Three Williston residents were sent to the hospital on Saturday – the victims of a dog attack on Porterwood Drive, according to Williston police.

Dan Hill, a resident of the mobile home park where all three victims lived, said he had been petting the dog, a Chow named Dakota. Hill’s daughter, Heather, 25, joined him and Dan Hill gave her a treat for the dog, he said. The dog “suddenly attacked the female” according to police reports, biting her in the chest.

Heather Hill then tripped and fell, and the dog bit her on the forearm, Dan Hill said, so he grabbed the dog’s hind leg, and the dog then bit him on the forearm.

The dog’s owner, Bonnie Racine, tried to end the attack, but the dog bit her as well, police say. Officer Keith Gonyeau subsequently spoke with Racine, who appeared to go into shock after the attack, he said.

All three victims were taken to Fletcher Allen Healthcare after being treated at the scene by Williston Rescue personnel. Heather Hill required 10 stitches on her arm, but she said doctors expect to remove them next week.

The attack occurred on the north side of a shed on Racine’s property, where the dog was tied to a car, Gonyeau said.

The dog had been staying with Racine’s daughter in Burlington while construction was being done on her property, Dan Hill said. The dog had recently been taken back to Williston and both Hills say the confusion of moving and all the construction personnel around that day probably stressed out the dog, and led to the attack.

“It was chaos there. All the odds were against this poor dog,” Dan Hill said.

The dog was “secured” by police, and is being quarantined at a kennel in Shelburne for 10 days per state law, according to Williston’s animal control officer, Sue Powers. The police report indicates the dog is current with its rabies vaccination. However, the dog did not have a Williston dog license, according to Williston Town Clerk Deb Beckett. The Observer’s attempts to reach Bonnie Racine for comment were unsuccessful.

The dog’s fate is now in limbo. Town Manager Rick McGuire said the town is playing an “informal role” in facilitating discussion between Racine and the other victims.

“In this situation, there is a question of whether the town has jurisdiction … but we certainly have an interest in what happens with the dog,” he said.

McGuire said the town has not received a written complaint about the dog, and acknowledged there would likely be a hearing if one were to be received.

The Hills said they will not press charges. “I think it was an isolated incident,” Heather Hill said. “Dakota is usually a very calm and well-liked dog.”

Dan Hill said he is a friend of the Racines, and has known the dog for six years. “I don’t want the dog to be put away. My daughter doesn’t want that either.”

[Read more…]

CVU teacher gives $5,000 teaching award to African school

Observer staff report

Champlain Valley Union High School biology teacher David Ely will give $5,000 to a school in Africa.

Last month Ely received the 2006-07 National Teacher of the Year Siemens Award for Advanced Placement at a ceremony at the AP Annual Conference in Las Vegas. A monetary award of $5,000 accompanied the award. Ely’s selection for the honor was announced earlier this year.

Ely was selected for the national award from a pool of 50 teachers who’d been selected as the outstanding teacher from his or her state. The teachers were selected from a pool of more than 15,000 high schools, according to James Whaley, president of the Siemens Foundation.

Ely, 63, has taught at CVU High School since 1979. He has won numerous awards over the years including the Distinguished Teacher Award, White House Commission on Scholars and the Vermont Teacher of the Year. Ely has taught AP biology to 800 students, more than 750 of whom have taken the national exam, with 98 percent receiving qualifying scores and 450 receiving the highest score of five.

For five of the past nine summers, Ely has trekked to Costa Rica with groups of up to 30 of his AP Biology students, according to a press release. As a biologist, he feels compelled to pursue biodiversity studies abroad, and serve the local community. This year, he traveled with family and friends to Kenya and visited three schools. When traveling, Ely makes a point to deliver necessary supplies to children. This year, in addition to purchasing school supplies, he used his Siemens award money to give a most unusual gift to a school run by women disowned by their tribe – a cow.

“In this part of Africa, wealth is measured by the number of livestock you own,” Ely said in the release.

The Siemens awards for Advanced Placement are designed to promote excellence in math, science and technology education. The program celebrates high school students who excel in AP science and math courses, as well as teachers and schools who are leading the nation in participation and performance in AP science and math courses.

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