April 22, 2018

Liberally Speaking12/18/08

The tenets of my liberalism

Dec. 18, 2008

By Steve Mount

When I hear my children praise Barack Obama and spout some traditionally liberal values, I smile inwardly, but I often find myself presenting them with the conservative viewpoint on the issue or making sure I debunk the rhetoric. My daughter, now learning the fine points of forensics, often catches me in this, repeating her lessons that one of the best ways to bolster your side of a debate is to know the arguments of the other side.

While this is true, my bigger point in illuminating the counterargument is to make sure that when my kids are exposed to ideas, they are exposed to a wide array of ideas; not only so that they can anticipate the “other side,” but so that they can explore all sides, and make up their own mind about what side they fall on, in any issue.

I have to think that all the exposure to knowledge that my own parents gave to me and my siblings was to that end. Not to make us personal ideology clones of themselves, but to give us each the ability to form that ideology on our own.

I hope that was their goal, because if they wanted clones, that’s not what they got. Given a political spectrum, my siblings and I are spread all over. And as I look beyond my sibling to my cousins, the same pattern holds true — from politics to religion to food to music, we all have the same roots, but we have all spread out like branches on a tree.

For a tree to flourish, it must be fed, and likewise so must the flourishing of an ideology be nourished with ideas.

Social justice and personal liberty

I think there are two main points of contention between today’s American liberal and today’s American conservative. These points on which our views pivot are social justice and personal liberty.

To ensure social justice, we must have a strong government that has a role in ensuring that justice is maintained. Generally, conservatives feel that government is best kept to a minimum. Liberals aren’t the opposite — we don’t think that more government is better. Instead, we feel that in many cases, government is the best-equipped entity to solve some problems.

Some of the best and most helpful social safety net programs, be they food stamps, Medicaid, or Medicare and Social Security, were all started to tackle problems too big for individuals to tackle themselves, too necessary to be left to the vagaries of philanthropy.

It was only through a strong federal government that we were able to see the dreams of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King come to fruition in the racist South. No one can today, with a straight face, insist that this exercise of government power, to ensure social justice, was an abuse of that power.

Conservatives tend to oppose most government regulation of business. By contrast, liberals don’t support regulation for the sake of regulation, but we know that left to its own devices, business would only look out for itself. Whether it is environmental protection, worker protection or consumer protection, it may be true that the market would eventually cull the bad apples, but not before true harm is done. Better, we feel, to regulate industry from the start.

Paradoxically, liberals want government to stay out of our personal business, even as it is a strong advocate of social justice. To me, the most stable government, the strongest economy, the mightiest military, all mean nothing if we do not have our personal liberties. All of the former are there to protect and promote the latter.

While it is probably a truism that to have perfect liberty we must also have perfect insecurity, today’s conservatives — exemplified by President George Bush and his cronies — are willing to trade liberty for security at an unacceptable ratio.

Liberty and security can coexist, but liberty must always take priority. If it does not, the drive for security will overwhelm the drive for liberty, until that which security was meant to protect is gone.

Political history

Labels can change. The Republican of Lincoln’s time bears little resemblance to the Republican of today. Today’s Democrat would cringe ashamedly at the racist rants of Dixiecrats. We can’t always count on labels.

What we can count on, this year, into the next year, and beyond, is that by discussing our differences, by exposing our ideas, we will find common ground. It is there, in the common ground, that progress is made.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.


[Read more…]

Letters to the Editor12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008


Budget needs more trimming

After reading the Observer’s Dec. 4 article entitled, “Town reins in spending amid economic woes,” I am inclined to question Town Manager Rick McGuire’s concept of a lean budget. Spending in such difficult times should be keyed to the rate of inflation and not show yet another spending increase.

In the last three budget cycles, the town budget has risen 26.8 percent (19 percent, then 5 percent, then 2.8 percent). I seriously doubt if any individual in this town has seen personal income grow, in such a short time, to that extent. It should also be pointed out that the town artificially influenced the tax rate by drawing down the town budget reserve. That artifice will probably work for one more budget cycle after the current proposal, at which time the tax rate would return to its natural level.

Although Selectboard member Chris Roy and I inhabit different parts of the political spectrum, his point that Mr. McGuire’s 2.8 percent is in reality a 9 percent rise in municipal tax rate is well taken and shows that statistics can be quite misleading.

A noteworthy example of the town manager’s failure to prepare a lean budget can be seen in the 11 percent increase in the fire department budget. One wonders how much money is really required to provide fire protection in a town of 8,000+ people, or are we seeing an example of empire building?

Most economists think that times will get worse before they get better and I believe that the town of Williston will be better served by a budget which truly is lean, rather than one which claims to be lean. It is incumbent upon us as citizens to demand fiscal responsibility and  assume that it will happen without our intervention.

Michael R. Mauss



Vt. needs more rotaries

Another avoidable tragic stop- light injury (“Pedestrian hit by car, severely injured,” Nov. 26) leaves wounds to the victim, mostly preventable as the United States and Vermont convert to roundabouts now numbering over a thousand nationally.

A holiday visit to Maple Tree Place included a U-turn at the Maple Tree Place Road roundabout where Williston Police recorded only a single fender bender crash during the first six years of operation. Vermont’s first four roundabouts, including in Montpelier and Manchester downtowns, recorded only one pedestrian injury (bumps and bruises) in 35 roundabout years. Research confirms roundabouts cut serious injuries for pedestrians and car occupants by about 90 percent.

New York’s transportation department essentially banned signals three years ago while Rhode Island and Virginia now prefer roundabouts over signals.

Data from Melbourne and France, 4,000 and 30,000 roundabouts respectively, show just one pedestrian injury yearly per 250 to 350 roundabouts (Vermont stoplights number about 350). At 15 to 20 roundabouts (costing about $30 million) yearly, it takes a decade or two to convert Vermont to roundies. Plus roundies slash pollution, energy use and delay while improving business access and constraining sprawl.

The U.S. 2/Maple Tree Place Road stands out as a good place for Williston to start roundabout conversion.

Tony Redington



[Read more…]

Guest Column12/18/08

Take action toward wildlife safety

Dec. 18, 2008

By Amanda Hollick

About a month ago a young deer was hit by a car on Metcalf Drive in Southridge. It had a broken hip and a head injury. The poor deer struggled to get up for about half an hour, continually falling back down on the blacktop.


    Courtesy photo
Amanda Hollick stands next to a deer crossing sign she installed on Metcalf Drive earlier this month. Hollick lobbied the town for two signs on the road after watching a deer suffer when it was hit by a car.

One of my neighbors, Cathy Chappell, made many phone calls to several vets and the game warden to get the deer help. When it was clear that no help was coming, another neighbor had to shoot the deer. Just watching the poor thing trying to get up and get away was horrific. Knowing that the mother was out in the field somewhere watching all of it made me feel terrible inside.

This isn’t the first time deer have crossed Metcalf. They cross frequently during the summer, mostly when it’s dark out, and there have been many close calls where people are just feet from clipping one. I never want this to happen to another deer. I wanted to make people aware that deer cross in that area and that they were here first when we moved in. People have got to slow down when on that road. I decided to take my feelings of sorrow and anger and put them into action.

I went to talk to Neil Boyden, the Public Works director, about putting in deer crossing signs on Metcalf. He was very understanding and supportive of what had happened. About three weeks later, Rick Peet delivered two deer crossing signs to Metcalf and marked out where they would be placed. Now it was my job to put them into the ground.

Early Sunday afternoon on Dec. 7, my father, Shawn, and I went down to Metcalf to start digging the 2 foot deep holes on the sides of the road. My father was the one who used the shovel, sledgehammer and the crowbar, while I used the post hole digger to get dirt out of the hole and occasionally the shovel, too.

The first hole was somewhat easy but rocky for the first 20 inches. Then we came across a huge rock. We spent about an hour and a half trying to get that out. When we finally did, it turned out to be a boulder and the rest of the hole went fairly quickly because of the dry dirt that was under the rock. The second hole went by like a flash.

I felt very proud of myself that I took action and that the signs were finally in their place. I care about animals a lot and I encourage anyone to take action to preserve the animals and their habitat.

Amanda Hollick is a 14-year-old freshman at Champlain Valley Union High School.


[Read more…]

Barnard halts recount12/18/08

New tally confirms defeat

Dec. 18, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

State Senate candidate Denise Barnard called off the recount she had requested after a tally of Burlington ballots only increased her margin of defeat.


Denise Barnard


Tim Ashe

Barnard gained 14 votes in the recount. But her opponent for the sixth and final seat in the Chittenden County delegation, Tim Ashe, gained 24 votes. The original margin of victory for Ashe was 417 votes.

Roughly 21,000 ballots were counted in the seven-day effort ending on Dec. 11.

Barnard told WCAX-TV that she really only wanted to check the Burlington vote, a fraction of all the ballots cast in Chittenden County. When those votes were tallied, she said she asked for the recount to be stopped to save money.

Barnard thought she won the seat until a recording error in one Burlington ward was discovered on election night, handing the victory to Ashe instead.

Chittenden County Clerk Diane Lavallee was still adding up the recount’s cost last Friday. The dozens of representatives from each party who conducted the recount were paid $30 a day plus expenses.

Barnard, a Democrat from Richmond, gave up her House seat to run for the Senate. Ashe is a former Burlington City Council member who ran as both a Progressive and a Democrat.

The other candidates elected to represent Chittenden County were all incumbents.


[Read more…]

Selectboard approves sidewalk plowing request12/18/08

North Williston Road segment to be cleared

Dec. 18, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The town will plow its newest recreation path this winter, but budget constraints could keep it clogged with snow in future years.

The Selectboard on Monday approved plowing the path on North Williston Road between U.S. 2 and Mountain View Road. The nearly mile-long stretch will cost $1,410 to plow this winter, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

A petition signed by 132 people urged the town to keep the path “clear for use year-round for the general health, safety and well-being of all users.”

A handful of neighbors attended Monday’s meeting. Kerstin Hanson spoke on their behalf, saying that many North Williston Road residents were taken aback to learn plowing wasn’t automatic after construction of the path was completed this year.

“People were really surprised to learn that (plowing) was not part of the original plan,” she said. “As you know, North Williston Road is heavily traveled.”

The segment connects to other sidewalks and paths that access the school, library and Town Hall, Hanson said. And by plowing the path, the town will allow residents to walk and jog year-round while staying out of the traffic.

Town policy calls for plowing sidewalks and paths on a case-by-case basis. After residents request plowing for a specific segment, the Selectboard makes a decision based on seven criteria. They include cost, usage and whether the segment connects to other paths.

Under the policy, all requests are considered in December. If approved, the policy says plowing will not begin until the following winter.

But Boyden said in a memo that there is enough money in his existing budget to cover the modest cost of clearing North Williston Road this winter.

“Of all the paths owned by the Town I would estimate this segment of path has the second-most pedestrian activity,” he wrote in a memo. “The most heavily used path in town is the segment between Old Stage Road and Williston Road and around Williston Central School.”

The board agreed to plowing the North Williston Road stretch this winter but debated what to do in future years.

Town Manager Rick McGuire recommended that the board wait until the end of current discussions of the 2009-10 budget before deciding whether to fund plowing next winter.

Given the state of the economy and the resulting budget uncertainties, McGuire said the board may decide it wants to eliminate funding for plowing the North Williston Road segment — or even all the town’s sidewalks.

Jeff Fehrs, who has urged the town to freeze spending in the upcoming budget at the current year’s level, said it would be an “odd situation” to plow the North Williston path this winter but not next year.

Fellow board member Ted Kenney said the large number of vehicles along North Williston Road make plowing essential to keep pedestrians out of traffic.

“The thing that trumps it for me is the safety situation,” he said.

In the end, the board unanimously approved plowing for this winter. The board is scheduled to finalize the municipal budget and presumably decide whether to continue plowing the North Williston Road path and other segments by the end of January.

The town has about 20 miles of sidewalks and recreation paths but it only plows a small fraction of them.


[Read more…]

Two new businesses come to town12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

Despite the recession and economic uncertainty, there are new businesses opening in Williston. The Texas Roadhouse restaurant opened its doors on Monday and expects to thrive.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
The new Lumber Liquidators warehouse and retail showroom will finish moving into its location at 329 Harvest Lane by the end of the year. For now, much of the hardwood flooring store’s goods can be found in this temporary trailer.

“We offer food at a great value,” said Jerry DiCroce, the company’s marketing partner for New York and Vermont. “In this economy, people are still looking for a great value.”

DiCroce said the restaurant, the first of the franchise in Vermont, is going through a soft opening for the next four weeks and is hoping word-of-mouth from area residents will attract diners. The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Lumber Liquidators, a national hardwoods flooring chain, will be moving into its new location at 329 Harvest Lane before the end of the year, according to manager Ronald Vincent. The building, where the store is opening, also houses Natural Provisions and Goodwill.

Vincent said the location, totaling about 5,500 square feet, still needs its floor installed before inventory and store computers can be set up. In the meantime, Lumber Liquidators is selling goods out of a trailer, located on premises.

Lumber Liquidators is also looking to add signage on the Harvest Lane building and is asking the Development Review Board for permission to make changes to current signs. The board is scheduled to hear from store representatives at its next meeting on Jan. 13.

Once moved in, the store will have a soft opening through the winter before a possible grand opening in the spring, Vincent said.

— Tim Simard, Observer staff


[Read more…]

Businesses thrive despite struggling economy12/18/08

Dec. 18, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Every day, it seems, a new report is released on the economic slowdown. Unemployment numbers are at their highest in years, the country has been in a recession for 12 months and, most recently, consumer prices have dropped by a record 1.7 percent in the past year. With all the ups and downs of the stock market and news about bailouts, it would make sense if local businesses were taking the brunt of diminished consumer spending.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Kimberly Wilkinson of South Burlington shops at Plato’s Closet on Tuesday afternoon. Despite the current recession, Plato’s Closet, located in the Taft Corners Shopping Center, reports having one of its best years.

But that’s not necessarily the case in Williston, where some business owners say restaurants remain busy and shoppers have been coming out full force for the holiday shopping season. Some stores report having their best business in years, and new businesses are moving in.

At Plato’s Closet in the Taft Corners Shopping Center, manager Erin Parker said 2008 has been a busy year for the store.

“This is one of our best years,” Parker said.

Plato’s Closet, a national franchise store, buys and sells “gently used” brand name clothing, according to the company’s Web site. Prices are generally much lower than what can be found in department stores, the site adds.

Parker said there have been more people coming to the store to sell older clothes. Plato’s Closet has remained busy even during its slower season, which happens to be December.

Also in the Taft Corners Shopping Center, Amarah’s Chocolate Company is doing good business, according to owner Angela Emerson. She credits the store’s success to planning ahead for the economic downturn.

“We listened carefully to our customers and made some adjustments,” Emerson said, adding the confectionary store has not raised prices in recent months and has even lowered prices on some goods.

Emerson said her customers are “feeling the pinch,” but have still been stopping to buy chocolate and candy for the holidays. She said she’s confident Valentine’s Day will also be successful.

Restaurants have kept busy in spite of the economy, with Texas Roadhouse opening its doors on Monday (see sidebar).

Mexicali Grill and Cantina in Maple Tree Place continues to draw customers, and manager Quinten Forkas doesn’t see that changing into the New Year. Forkas said there are still long waits on the restaurant’s busy nights of Thursdays through Saturdays. The only noticeable difference this year is a drop-off in company cocktail parties.

“We definitely had more of those at this time last year,” Forkas said.

He also believes Mexicali’s location in a major shopping center and adjacent to the Majestic 10 movie theater helps business, as well.

“The movie theater is a good neighbor to have,” Forkas said.

At the Old Brick Café in Williston Village, owner Melissa Blanchard said the summer and early fall were very busy, although business has quieted in recent months. Blanchard admits it hasn’t been easy to open a new restaurant in a recession, but she and her staff have been working hard to make it successful. She cites the good number of repeat customers that come in every week.

“We’re doing everything we can to make it work,” Blanchard said. “The hope is that things will get better.”

The café is also expanding its hours to include dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The idea is to attract locals as well as customers from outside Williston.

Another new business in town, Lumber Liquidators on Harvest Lane, has been booming despite the recession, according to manager Ronald Vincent. He said business has been “excellent” since October.

“The economy hasn’t slowed down for us,” Vincent said. “I can’t see how it’s affecting anyone I know of. People are still spending the way they normally would.”

Instead of buying a new house, people are buying materials to fix up the one they live in, Vincent said. Spending the money now for renovations will pay off once housing prices go back up, Vincent added.

Emerson is in agreement with Vincent that the economy is not as bad as what people are being led to believe. She said the national media is blowing the economic problems out of proportion, at least for Vermont.

“They’re inflating it,” Emerson said. “The less they talk about it, the better.”

But whether or not the recession is as bad as feared, Williston is still a good town to do business in, Emerson said.

“We appreciate all our customers’ support,” Emerson said.


[Read more…]

Meeting to cover complaints about gun club12/18/08

Neighbors petition for restrictions

Dec. 18, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Gunfire rings out each Sunday morning at Mona Boutin’s nearest neighbor, North Country Sportsmen’s Club.

The Williston resident says the shotgun blasts drown out conversation and disrupt an otherwise quiet day. Just as worrisome is the lead from thousands of spent shells that she feels is contaminating her groundwater.

Boutin and her neighbors want to limit activities at the club. They have circulated a petition asking the town to forbid shooting outside of permitted hours on Wednesdays and Sundays.

“The noise from the shooting at North Country Sportsmen’s Club is upsetting to everyone who lives in the vicinity,” states the petition signed by 46 people. “We, as taxpayers, deserve to have a quiet and restful break from our working lives.”

The situation has prompted Town Manager Rick McGuire to schedule a forum to discuss the club’s environmental impact and Williston’s authority to regulate its activities. The forum will be held tonight, Thursday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. at Williston Town Hall.

North Country Sportsmen’s Club has operated since 1962 in a relatively rural part of Williston off Old Creamery Road. The club holds shooting events on Sundays throughout the year and on Wednesdays during warmer months. It also hosts various groups and events, said Tom Blair, the club’s president.

Boutin said she wants the town to forbid special events on Saturdays, which she says have been taking place with increasing frequency. She also thinks the club should clean up old shells.

McGuire said state statute limits local regulation of gun clubs. The law requires clubs to comply with permit conditions, if any, but otherwise exempts them from municipal rules, including noise ordinances like Williston’s.

Boutin said attempts to negotiate with the club have accomplished little.

“We’ve been trying to work with them for years,” she said. “It hasn’t gone well.”

Blair said residents should have known when they moved there that the gun club would sometimes be noisy. He accused Boutin’s husband, Leo, of “spreading all sorts of misinformation about the club in an attempt to shut us down.”

Boutin acknowledges that the club was there when she and her husband moved to their home in 1986. But she also noted that Leo’s family had farmed the land for three generations and so predated the club.

More than noise

Lead contamination from the spent shotgun shells that litter the club’s property also worry Boutin. She said she drinks only bottled water.

Her young grandson recently visited her home for the first time and Boutin was alarmed when he was given tap water.

“I said, “No, not out of the faucet,’” Boutin said. “I don’t feel I should have to live this way.”

Recent tests showed the presence of lead in her well water, albeit below the level considered hazardous by the state, Boutin said. The petition expresses concern that 500 tons of lead shot from spent shells now sit in a wellhead protection area.

The club has tested standing water on the gun club’s 54-acre property, Blair said. Analysis by an independent laboratory showed no detectable lead.

He said lead is ordinarily inert and so poses no hazard to the environment as long as it is kept away from acidic substances, which can cause it to leach into the ground. He said the club plans to apply lime to ensure the soil maintains a neutral pH.

Boutin said the club should excavate the old shells and truck in fresh fill. Blair said digging up old shells is impractical given the hilly terrain.

Over the past year, the club has increasingly held special events on Saturdays, Boutin said. The town is supposed to be notified when the club operates outside of permitted operating hours. But when she called Williston Police, Boutin said officers didn’t know anything about the special events.

Blair said the gun club tries to be a good neighbor. Over the years, it has changed the orientation of ranges to prevent shots from straying off its property. Members now use shells that create less noise when fired.

When no shooting is scheduled, Blair said residents are allowed to hike the property and walk their dogs. It also caters to sport shooting newcomers, he said, particularly women and teens.

“They also get to know that the people out there shooting at targets aren’t a bunch of wild-eyed rednecks,” Blair said.

Tonight’s forum will include a diverse panel, including Ken Belliveau, Williston’s planning director; Paul Gillies, the town’s lawyer; and George Desch, hazardous waste site manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.


[Read more…]

Welcome to winter12/18/08


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
Children and adults enjoy the snow at Rossignol Park hill off Industrial Avenue on Saturday. There was plenty of snow for families to sled, slide and snowboard following last week’s snowstorm, though much of the white stuff had melted by early this week.

[Read more…]

Welcome to winter12/18/08

Williston survives season’s first major bout with blustery weather

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

While parts of southern Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were slammed with New England’s worst ice storm since 1998, the Champlain Valley experienced its first significant snowfall of the season.

Schools were closed across the area on Friday as snow, then sleet and freezing rain made for treacherous road conditions on a cold December day. Luckily, the valley missed the devastating damage and power outages that large portions of New England continued to deal with into this week.

According to National Weather Service data, recorded at Burlington International Airport in South Burlington, just over eight inches of snow fell in the area. Forecasters predicted close to a foot earlier in the week, but a period of sleet and freezing rain tempered snow totals.

It was the same story in Williston, as both Allen Brook School and Williston Central School cancelled classes for the day. Bob Mason, chief operations officer for Chittenden South Supervisory Union, said the superintendent’s office made the decision between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., with help from reports issued by the Department of Transportation.

In spite of the wintry mix, roads improved as the day wore on. Public Works Director Neil Boyden credits the hard work of the town’s plow drivers to stay on top of the storm. As the snow piled up in the middle of the night, crews were out plowing, salting and sanding. Boyden said only one plow broke down out of the seven plows the town owns.

The lack of wind prevented drifting snow from piling up on the roadways, and the timing of the freezing rain kept road conditions from becoming worse than they could have.

“If it had happened at the beginning of the storm, it would have been a different story,” Boyden said.

Sean Soper, a Williston firefighter, said calls for assistance during the overnight and early morning hours of the storm were light. But the department responded to a flurry of accidents and alarms during the last burst of snow late in the morning.

“We had a whole bunch of calls all at once,” Soper said.

Firefighters responded to two building alarms between 10 a.m. and noon on Friday, most likely caused by power surges, Soper said.

Around the same time, crews also responded to a motor vehicle rollover on North Williston Road at 10:53 a.m. Soon after, another crew responded to a car accident at 11 a.m. at the corner of Route 2 and Industrial Avenue, where crews discovered a vehicle had slid into an embankment. No injuries were reported in either accident.

Boyden said crews were out again Sunday evening as wind whipped snow across exposed roads. Plows on East Hill Road, North Williston Road and South Brownell Road fought with snowdrifts as warm air blew into the area.

Much of the snow melted on Monday with warm temperatures and rain showers, but winter returned Wednesday, with three to six inches forecasted to fall across the region. More substantial snow is expected Friday into Saturday, with more possible Sunday into Monday.


[Read more…]