November 29, 2014

Guest column

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Embezzlement becomes epidemic

Dec. 22, 2011

By State Rep. Don Turner

 

Embezzlement appears to have become an epidemic here in Vermont. Over the last several years there have been numerous cases of embezzlement reported. Many of these cases involve long-term, trusted employees who have earned the respect of their peers, managers and supervisors. When the embezzler is finally exposed or caught, no one can believe that the person is capable of committing the crime. Both the people they serve and those they have served under can’t believe that this thievery occurred right in front of their eyes.

I believe that a dialogue must begin this session to create a thoughtful, inclusive and systematic approach to deterring this behavior.

First and foremost, I believe that the legislature should consult with the auditor, attorney general, FBI and others who have been deeply involved in this issue before creating any new laws or policies. Educating and promoting the tremendous value of internal agency controls as a system of prevention is vital; when action is of utmost importance. I believe that the creation of new laws or policies without the presence of adequate internal agency controls will not produce the desired results and is not the best use of the legislature’s time and effort. My suggestion for agencies would be to enhance and utilize their existing system of checks and balances while adding more stringent reporting requirements. These efforts alone may indeed be enough to deter this type of behavior in some cases and would surely improve accountability of taxpayers’ money.

For those who are not deterred by enhanced internal control systems, I feel that we must pass the legislation offered by the auditor (Thomas M. Salmon). His red flag checklist and fraud training proposals extend the auditor’s discretionary authority to expect those with certain fiduciary and oversight duty to sign off (certify) that they have reviewed the controls over cash. It would also require everyone in these types of positions to take a three-hour fraud prevention training program. This authority would be expressed through the creation of legislation. The legislation would also create a reporting requirement: Any entity that receives state funds or utilizes federal funds via a pass thru arrangement would be required to report to the state on these matters. Gone would be the days of these agencies using taxpayer dollars without oversight or reporting requirements. Enhanced accountability standards will likely lead to improved transparency.

Another area that I feel needs to be thoroughly examined is the process for hiring the position of city or town treasurer. Many municipalities still elect a citizen from their community to this position. This has worked for decades and many would say that it still works fine today. However, I believe that municipal finance has become far too complex for the average individual to comprehend and manage effectively. The people in these positions are responsible for handling our tax dollars on a daily basis. I feel that they should be adequately educated, proficient and able to explain where every tax dollar was spent. Further, I feel that we have to seriously look at changing the manner in which these important positions are filled while protecting the integrity of our constitution. As a result, I suggest that in the future these positions be filled through the employment process and not the election process. This change would enhance the integrity of the position and surely lead to more accountability and transparency for the taxpayer.

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not reiterate the importance of oversight, checks and balances, and accountability in the use of taxpayer funds to operate all levels of government. It is your government; it owes you a clear explanation of how and where your tax dollars are being spent. Demand a clear and easy to understand explanation and please never be intimidated or afraid to ask questions.

 

Don Turner represents Chittenden-9 (Milton). He is the minority leader for the commerce and economic development committee.

 

The Everyday Gourmet

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A seasonal stunner

Dec. 22, 2011

By Kim Dannies

 

 

 

Looking for a last minute showstopper for your holiday dinner? Or, how about something special to ring in the New Year? Either way you’ll be set with this quick and gorgeous roasted pork with dried fruit & port sauce. My neighbor and fabulous cook, JanaG, turned me on to this meal courtesy of Southern Living magazine (November 2010).

 

ROASTED PORK W/ DRIED FRUIT & PORT SAUCE

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil and sear pork three minutes on each side or until golden brown. Place pork in a roasting pan; reserve drippings in the skillet. Roast pork at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion registers 150 degrees. Remove from oven, cover and let stand 10 minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon of oil to the hot drippings in the skillet. Add 1 cup each of dried fruit: apricots, plums, peaches and cherries. Add ½ cup pine nuts. Sauté the mixture 4 minutes on medium-high heat, until the pine nuts are fragrant. Add 1 cup port wine, 1 cup pomegranate juice and 2 cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly. Stir in 1/2 cup of chicken broth and simmer 15 minutes, until fruit is tender and plump. Remove the cinnamon sticks.

To serve, slice pork and place on a warm serving platter and top with some of the fruit and sauce. Serve remainder in a side dish. Serves 6-8.

 

 

BRUSSELS SPROUTS & BACON

Prepare 6 Brussels sprouts per person by slicing off the base knob and peel a layer or two of the cabbage. Place in a glass bowl and add 1/2 cup of water. Seal and microwave the sprouts on high for 4-6 minutes. Remove and drain excess water. Heat a large skillet and cook 6 strips of bacon. Remove bacon to a paper towel and chop. Add the Brussels sprouts to the hot drippings. Sauté for several minutes (allowing the cabbage skin to brown and blister), season with a large pinch of sea salt. Test for tenderness with a toothpick. When the sprouts are tender, add the bacon and 1 tablespoon of butter. Coat the sprouts in browned butter and place in warmed serving bowl. Top with fresh pepper.

 

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France.  She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.

Life in Williston

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Planning and patience

Dec. 22, 2011

By Karen Wyman

How many of you know exactly what you’re doing this weekend? Next weekend? Ten weekends from now?

I didn’t think so. Neither do I, yet I had to submit my 2012 vacation and time off requests for work last week. Planning this took several calls, e-mails and texts to daycare, family, sitters, friends, hotels, airlines, etc. I had to tentatively plan the girls’ birthday party to make sure I was off a weekend near the actual date, even calling a few special friends to check that this weekend seven months from now is still open for them. I coordinated in- laws visiting from across the country. I prearranged a year’s worth of holiday celebrations. I scheduled our anniversary plans (FYI hubby: we have dinner reservations and a babysitter!). I essentially stressed out anyone and everyone close to me. My best friend now knows when I will be available to attend her 40th birthday party, my family knows who is hosting what holiday, and they all have their allotted time slots to visit us. Sounds crazy, but unfortunately, it’s necessary.

Now, I am a planner, but I’m not psychic. I can’t accurately anticipate an entire year of activities. Surprisingly, having to plan so far in advance still leaves little room for rescheduling due to illness or any other of the many wrenches that can be thrown into the best-laid plans.

Planning ahead seems to be a necessity in most aspects of life these days. There are waiting lists for everything — from preschool to the newest hot DVD release or gaming console. We line up for new cell phones and computer tablets. While I remember one incident of standing in line outside of Ames with my mom early on a Saturday morning to await a shipment of Cabbage Patch Kids, I don’t feel like there was such a high demand for things. People weren’t camping out Thanksgiving night to be the first to obtain a deal; they were at home enjoying time with their families.

In this culture of mass production, mass merchandisers and Internet shopping, why do we act like we are awaiting a life-saving ration of food? If it isn’t supply and demand at work here, what could it be? Could it be greed (we have to be the first to obtain the latest and greatest)? Maybe it’s satisfaction (do we have so many possessions now that we are just never satisfied?) Or, have manufacturers created this problem by constantly producing a “new and improved model” — making previous but still recent versions obsolete?

If you’ve ever planned a wedding you are well aware of this ticking timetable syndrome. Reception sites, caterers, florists and other vendors are booked years in advance. I have had some friends reserve certain services before even being engaged! I’m sure many of you have experienced trying to book a doctor’s appointment — or better yet a specialist such as a dermatologist appointment — and being told they are booking six months out. It seems in today’s world, we are either hurrying up and waiting for something or procrastinating and missing out.

On the other hand, mapping out my family’s schedule for a year seems like child’s play compared to planning out our entire financial future: saving for college, two weddings (we are already telling the girls Vegas chapels are highly underrated) and, of course, retirement! I am also afraid that I may need to already be on a nursing home waiting list.

I have always prided myself on my time management skills, but this world needs to slow down just a little bit. I do know that if anyone would like to do lunch, I am free Feb. 11, 2013 between 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., unless of course, my name comes up on the wait list for a dental cleaning.

Karen Wyman has been a Williston resident for six years, and lives with her husband and twin 4-year-old daughters.

 

Places I’ve Played

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Basketball in the study hall

Dec. 22, 2011

By Bill Skiff

 

Bill Skiff’s basketball home games at Cambridge High School were played in its study hall (picture circa 1940s). (Courtesy photo)

As a young boy, I learned my baseball in the barnyard, but I learned my basketball in the study hall.

In the 1940s and 50s, Vermont high school basketball courts came in many sizes and shapes. Our court at Cambridge High School was no exception.

Our second-floor basketball court was also our study hall. It was where we reported every morning for attendance. In this open room, each of us had our own desk. The desks were arranged in rows from front to back, and spaced about 3 feet apart — all across the floor.

When basketball season arrived, the study hall began this mystical transformation into a basketball court.

The janitor would place chicken wire frames in front of all the windows and hang wire cages over the lights in the ceiling. He then oiled the floor to keep down the dust.

As the school’s closing bell rang, each student pushed his or her desk out of the study hall and into the hallway — where it remained until the next morning. At both ends of the court, huge floor-to-ceiling nets were then dropped, and more desks and chairs were stored behind it.

What made our study hall court interesting was its size. Your standard high school basketball court today is 50-by-84-feet with unlimited ceiling height. Our study hall court was 29 ½-by-47 feet. From the floor, the ceiling was just 12 feet. Regulation height of a basketball rim is 10 feet. That left only 2 feet above our basket before you hit the ceiling!

No one ever arched a shot at the basket. All of our shots flew straight at the backboard and banked in. It drove our opponents crazy. They spent the first quarter of each game bouncing balls off the ceiling (which was out of bounds), and turned the ball over to our team.

Spectators sat in school desks behind the protective nets at each end of the court, just behind where the baskets hung from the ceiling. When you went in for a layup shot, you jumped straight up. If you didn’t, you landed tangled in the net and in the lap of someone in the front row.

Sometimes an opponent would push you into the sidewall, which was covered with the chicken wire. This experience left you with a “chicken-wire tattoo” for at least a week.

It was a difficult court for the officials to see all the fouls. When there were 10 players under the basket, it was so crowded that the referees couldn’t see what was going on. I gave, and received, many elbows under those boards without a foul ever being called.

That did not mean, however, that the officials didn’t have control of the game. My friend, Dick, had a quick temper. One time after he was pushed to the floor, he got up and was about to start a fight. The official stepped in front of him and said, “Son, you can play basketball or you can fight, but you are only going to do one at a time.”

Our basketballs were the same color as the oiled floor. I used to joke that I never knew basketballs had writing on them until I went to college. In fact, I never knew they were light brown. We had three basketballs. One was the game ball, another was the JV ball and the third was left over from years past. Today they have more basketballs on the court during warm ups than we had during all four years of high school.

We didn’t have lockers and showers. Only one school in the whole league had a shower. Dad, our coach, always planned an extra hour when we played there so we could take our one shower of the season. At home, mother made me take a bath twice a month whether I needed it or not.

Each player had his supportive fans. Charlie, our center, was 6-foot-2. His fans would yell, “Go big Tommy!” Dick’s would yell, ”Get the lead out Dufresne!” My best fan, my mother, would wait until there was not a sound on the court and then yell, ”Give the ball to Billy!” I always wished I could hide.

We had wonderful cheerleaders. They stood in the opening to the study hall, ready to run out on the court when the opportunity arose. We also had a terrific girls basketball team. Their rules were so different (it would take me a whole other column to explain them).

We enjoyed our study hall court and the game of basketball. The whole town would show up for games. If you played a poor game, you avoided going out afterward for fear that you would run into someone who would ask, “What was the matter with you last night? You looked half asleep.”

We loved the game of basketball and would play it anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. And if you think our study hall court was different, wait until I tell you about some of the others.

 

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

 

Editor’s Note: Look for more of Bill Skiff’s basketball-themed columns in January.

Photos: CVU cheerleaders in NYC

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Courtesy photo by Jennifer Olson

Champlain Valley Union High School cheerleaders Brenna Gorman (middle) and Sarah Gerry (right) participated in the 85th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov. 24. The duo was also named to the National Cheerleaders Association’s All-America squad. Erika Sloan, a cheerleader from Texas, is also pictured (left).

Photos: CVU wrestling

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Courtesy photos by Jennifer Olson

The Champlain Valley Union wrestling squad finished fifth among 17 teams from three states Saturday (Dec. 10) in the Early Bird Tournament at St. Johnsbury Academy. Clark Poston led CVU in the season-opening tournament with a victory in the 182-pound division. Grant Poston took the runner-up slot in the 160-pound class.

Photos: CVU boys hockey

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Courtesy photos by David Yandell and Joe Kropf

The Champlain Valley Union boys hockey team won the Charlie Burchard Memorial Tournament in Burlington with 2-1 victories over North Country on Dec. 9 and Rice Memorial on Dec. 10.

Photos: National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center expansion

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Observer photos by Steven Frank

John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced Monday that ICE’s National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center has expanded its operations center in Williston. The new space has been in use for approximately one month and the center’s director, John Burke, said it’s ‘over five times bigger’ than the former space — established in 2009 in another part of Williston. Morton said it’s the first facility in the world solely dedicated to the investigation of bulk cash smuggling. The center deals with cases where more than $10,000 has been transported into the United States, which Morton said is illegal without reporting. Morton added that agents in Vermont played a key role in the seizure of $41 million in Colombia and Mexico used in a cocaine smuggling operation — a case known as Operation Pacific Rim that began in September 2009. ‘Vermont has been a great place for us to conduct national operations,’ Morton said during Monday’s announcement.

This Week’s Popcorn

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‘The Muppets’

Dec. 15, 2011

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

 

When “The Muppets” is going full tilt, espousing its positivism and good cheer — and the endearing compassion makes us laugh with wellbeing — observe the audience’s happy faces. It makes you wish you could just grab Congress by the shoulders and say, “C’mon man, join in…be a little less selfish. You could really make this a better world.”

Yeah, well, until the rainbow connection exercises that kind of magic, we have this feature-length big wish to remind us that not everybody has turned full cynic, detractor or obstructionist. While not the best Muppet yarn to date, we are still heartwarmingly informed why a couple generations have been enthralled by the life-ennobling fantasy.

Smart and plucky, there is no shortage of muckraking cleverly aimed at our current political quagmire/malaise as Tex Richman (get it, get it?), deliciously portrayed by Chris Cooper, seeks to block the Muppets from saving their old studio and making a comeback. You see, there’s oil under that building and Tex reckons to corral it all for himself.

If he makes some poor suckers unhappy in the bargain, all the better. But be warned, Mr. Richman, the film ostensibly proclaims, the Muppets and all that they symbolize are not to be trifled with so cavalierly. Representing Muppetkind’s interests are Jason Segel’s blithe Gary, his puppet brother, Walter (Peter Linz), and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams).

The envisioned renaissance of Jim Henson’s original gang, now depicted as having long forsaken showbiz, begins in Smalltown, U.S.A., when Gary, planning a combination vacation/anniversary trip to Hollywood, springs it on Walter that there’s a ticket for him, too. And of course that means they’ll be visiting the Muppet Theater, a Mecca for Walter.

But alas, upon arrival, the Muppet Theater has gone to seed. A tour by a doddering old guide played by Alan Arkin only makes the scene of dishabille all the more depressing. Oh, what’s a potentially heroic puppet in search of his true destiny to do? Simple, responds Gary, save the day by visiting the Muppets in diaspora and reunite them.

In the mode of “The Magnificent Seven (1960),” the self-appointed crusaders start at Kermit’s hermitage, a veritable museum to yesteryear’s glory reminiscent of Norma Desmond’s (Gloria Swanson) manse in “Sunset Boulevard (1950).” It takes some cajoling to sell the retired icon, but soon they’re off in style in his 1984 Rolls Royce.

Stops at Gonzo’s plumbing empire — the third rate theater where Fozzie Bear bravely ekes out a living — and on down the line of now displaced Muppets impress an urgency for their return to grace. That’s just one of the many metaphors adeptly tied together in no less than six storylines weaving through the saga. A nice score complements the message.

Interestingly, the gaggle of obviously astute 9- to 11-year-olds perched to my right got it, snickering heartily at the film’s social satire — probably affirming what they’ve all along suspected. While there was otherwise no great guffawing in the theater, but rather a series of intermittent yet earnest chortles, the joyful mirth of social contagion was in full flower.

Aside from a curiously stolid gramps and grandma seated in front of me who, I suspect, never reacted to anything in their entire lives, the audience knew this was an experience in goodness. While the script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller isn’t as tight or joke-filled as we’d like, it nonetheless spans the generations with warmth and glee.

Miss Adams and Mr. Segel, the goody-two-shoes cliché playing afflatus to would-be-Muppet Walter, put it across nicely via a one-two combination of innocence and self-effacement. They are at once grownups and children, yet wise enough to detail the challenges Walter must face up to if he is to ever self-actualize.

In addition to the étude in good vs. evil, the coming of age contemplation and the ponderings about stardom, the musical comedy also includes a primer on the protocols of keeping a romance in bloom. Bouquets aren’t enough, we observe, as Gary — heretofore preoccupied with Walter’s pilgrimage — must grow into the altruism that is love.

The movie’s height of sensitivity and whimsy comes when Walter and Gary, through song and dance, take turns addressing their alter egos — Gary to his puppet self, Walter to his human parallel — in the very simple but delightful “Man or Muppet.” You can’t help but smile. I mean, gosh, here we are taking the Muppets seriously, and rightly so.

Oftentimes, especially after hearing a lying politico or being pick pocketed by the bank’s “other fees,” we wish folks would be a bit more upright, like it seemed when we were little — before we got to know the score. “The Muppets” enchantingly reminds of our human potential; that we are not puppets, and that you can’t pull our strings for very long.

 

“The Muppets,” rated PG, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by James Bobin and stars Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and The Muppets. Running time: 103 minutes 

CVU sports schedule

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Dec. 15, 2011

 

BOYS BASKETBALL

Friday: at Vergennes, 7:15 p.m.

Tuesday: BURLINGTON, 7:15 p.m.

 

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Thursday: SOUTH BURLINGTON, 7:15 p.m.

Tuesday: At Barre (Auditorium) Tournament, 7 p.m.

 

GYMNASTICS

Saturday: at South Burlington, noon

Wednesday: at Milton, 6:30 p.m.

 

BOYS HOCKEY

Friday: at Lower Canada College, 4 p.m.

Wednesday: MIDDLEBURY, 7:30 p.m.

 

GIRLS HOCKEY

Saturday: at Rutland, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday: at Northfield, 5 p.m.

 

WRESTLING

Tuesday: at Enosburg, 6 p.m.

 

ALPINE SKIING

Friday: Slalom at Bolton Valley Resort, 5 p.m.

Wednesday: Slalom at Burke Mountain, 10 a.m.

 

HOME CONTESTS IN CAPS

Schedules subject to change