February 9, 2016

Police Notes

Feb. 16, 2012



Williston Police are investigating a residential burglary that occurred between Feb. 9 and 11. Taken in the burglary was a large safe weighing approximately 150 pounds and containing a substantial amount of cash. Two guns were also stolen from the residence. Anyone with information is asked to call the Williston Police Department at 878-6611 or Crimestoppers at 1-800-427-8477 or 864-6666.


Police received a report of a window having been broken by a shot from a BB gun on Feb. 8, according to police reports.  No other information was released.


Matthew B. Corbitt, 28, of South Burlington was arrested on Feb. 9 on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court on a driving with a suspended license charge, according to police reports. He was taken to Chittenden County Correctional Center. No other information was released.

Driving under the influence

  •   Daniel D. Brooks, 41, of Colchester was cited on a charge of driving under the influence on Feb. 10, according to police reports. His blood alcohol concentration was .094, the report notes. The legal limit for driving in Vermont is .08. He was cited to appear in court.
  •  Jason W. Poljacik, 30, of Chittenden was cited on a charge of driving under the influence-second offense on Feb. 11, according to police reports. His blood alcohol concentration was .140, the report notes. He was cited to appear in court.

Driving with suspended license

  •   Karl J. Poirier, 54, of Burlington was cited on a charge of driving with a suspended license-criminal on Feb. 11, according to police reports. He was cited to appear in court on March 5.
  •  Demetrius Reeves, 34, of Essex Junction was cited on a charge of driving with a suspended license on Feb. 12, according to police reports. He was cited to appear in court.

Domestic assault

Darin Jaques, 47, of Williston was cited on a charge of domestic assault on Feb. 10 after an altercation with a family member, according to police reports.

Grossly Negligent Operation

Matthew A. Smith, 46, of Essex Junction was cited on a charge of grossly negligent operation by Vermont State Police on Feb. 11, according to a police report. Vermont State Police came upon a vehicle that was stopped in the southbound lane of travel on Vermont 2A in Williston for an unknown reason, the report said. Upon checking the vehicle, the operator, Matthew Smith, the only occupant in the vehicle, was passed out in the driver’s seat with the vehicle running, in gear, and his foot only partially on the brake, the report said. The report also said that upon waking Smith up and speaking to him, it was found that he had taken prescription medication earlier in the night and said he knew he should not have been driving a vehicle. Smith was processed at the Williston State Police Barracks and released on a citation to appear in court on April 24, the report said.

Police notes are written based on information provided by the Williston Police Department and the Vermont State Police. Please note that all parties are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.


Around Town

Feb. 16, 2012



The Williston Community Food Shelf will hold its annual meeting and election of officers on Thursday, Feb. 16, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library community room. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Anyone wishing to run for a position as an officer or board member should attend. For more information, contact Johanna Masse at 355-3312 or johannamasse@comcast.net.



Pre-registration for fall kindergarten begins Friday, Feb. 17. If your child will be 5 years old by Sept. 1, 2012, visit the Williston School District’s website (wsdvt.org) or call 879-5806 to start the process. Kindergarten registration will be held April 4-6. Appointments can be scheduled via phone or online beginning March 12.



The deadline to register to vote for the Town Meeting and Presidential Preference Primary on March 6 is 5 p.m. on Feb. 29. Requests for additions to the checklist can be picked up at the Williston Town Clerk’s Office (7900 Williston Road) during regular office hours (Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.). You may also call 878-5121 for a mailed application.

A constitutional amendment was passed by a statewide vote in 2010 allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the General Election in November to vote in the Presidential Preference Primary. In order to vote, you still must register by 5 p.m. on Feb 29 at the Town Clerk’s Office.

Absentee/early ballots are now available at the Town Clerk’s Office. For anyone wishing to cast his or her ballot prior to March 6, stop by the Town Clerk’s Office and vote in person or call 878-5121 to have a ballot mailed to you. All ballots must be received  by the close of the polls on March 6 in order to be counted.

THE HUB: Following the Leaders

A chat with Creative Sound owners Cris Folley and Roger Phelps

Feb. 16, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Creative Sound has been a mainstay of Williston’s Blair Park for nearly 20 years. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

When Cris Folley began his career in the electronics industry, long-playing records were still in mass production and 8-track tapes were reaching their heyday.

Although the years have passed and musical listening trends have shifted toward digitally compressed file formats, Folley has remained true to his roots — still selling the tube-based McIntosh gear beloved for its high fidelity by The Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead.

Folley and business partner Roger Phelps’ company, Creative Sound, has been a mainstay of Williston’s Blair Park for nearly 20 years, pre-dating — and outlasting — Circuit City.

Folley (joined briefly by Phelps, in between business calls) recently sat down with the Observer in Creative Sound’s home audio section to discuss all things audio.

Williston Observer: How long have you been in the electronics business?

Cris Folley: Well, the business originally started back in 1967, believe it or not. The original owner (Stan Gumienny) used to have a chain of stores called Lafayette Radio Stores — sort of like Radio Shack. He started that in Burlington in ’67. I started working for him in 1975. For a while there it got to be the largest electronics group (in the area). We had four stores back in the 70s and 80s.

WO: How did you come to own the business?

Folley: Stan got involved in the food business. I was kind of running things for him once he caught that bug … if you go to the (Champlain Valley) fair now … “Mr. Sausage” — that’s him. He started closing down some of the stores, because things were getting a little iffy, and he closed the last store in the beginning of ’93. I wasn’t quite ready to retire (laughs), so I looked into continuing with it, and my partner Roger … he was my eastern regional sales manager (for Boston Acoustics). … So I called him up and we got together and put together a business plan and started the biz up in May of ’93.

WO: Why did you choose Williston as the location for your store?

Folley: Williston was growing, and it looked like there was a lot of retail focus going on around here.

WO: How has the industry changed since 1993?

Folley: Back then, the only place to buy consumer electronics was from little, local specialty stores. Of course with all the chain stores, we had Circuit City come in, we had Best Buy come in, and now with all the Internet stuff, things have changed a lot. It’s not just the local stores anymore, so most of the stores like us branched into a subcategory called “custom installations,” where we go and design whole house systems for people when they’re building (their homes).

WO: Did the emergence of big box stores hurt your business?

Roger Phelps: People, I think, are intimidated by their own ignorance. So they’re more comfortable going to Wal-Mart or Sears and making their own choice, because then they don’t have to ask the wrong stupid question; they don’t have to embarrass themselves. … A lot of people say, “I want to get something that’s going to really last a long time.” And I say, “Just because you spend $46,000 on a Porsche and $12,000 on a Ford Escort, it doesn’t mean the (Porsche) is going to last longer.” What it means is that for the life that you have that, it’s going to be a more enjoyable vehicle to drive. It’s the same type of thing here: these speakers might not last longer, but for every minute you listen to them, it’s going to sound better.

Folley: People assume that a big chain is going to be a better place for their wallet to buy things, and it isn’t always the case. It’s always worthwhile to spend a little time shopping. We still do a fairly decent retail business. We actually do quite a bit of car audio, which is really unusual for guys like us nationally.

WO: How big a part of your overall revenue is the custom home installations?

Folley: I would say the custom stuff is easily 80 percent. … But that was something right from the start with our business plan we wanted to focus on, because it was the way things were going (in the industry).

WO: Have you noticed any change in your business with the advent of the digital music/MP3 revolution?

Folley: Sure, we don’t sell CD players like we used to, and so many of the products just keep coming out more and more with iPod capable things. I mean, iPods are great little storage devices, but in most cases, the sound is not very good. It’s been a little bit of a dumbing down of the music appreciation end of the biz because of that.

WO: How did your business fare during the recent economic recession?

Folley: You know, you work through that stuff. So yeah, things are doing OK. I kind of get the feeling they’re going to be better as we start ramping back up.


If there’s a business owner that you’d like to see featured in “Following The Leaders,” let the Observer know by contacting editor Steven Frank at 872-9000 x17 or editor@willistonobserver.com.

Meet the Selectboard candidates

Terry Macaig, Chris Roy running uncontested

Feb. 16, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Terry Macaig (top) and Chris Roy (bottom) are incumbents for their respective Selectboard seats. (Courtesy photos)

Both of the open positions on the Williston Selectboard will be decided on Town Meeting Day in uncontested races.

But Selectboard candidate Chris Roy isn’t taking anything for granted.

In the early 1990s, when Roy was living in Burlington, he ran uncontested in a School Board race — and lost.

“The School Board races everywhere are nonpartisan, but everything’s partisan in Burlington,” said Roy, a Republican. “Well, the Progressives figured out pretty darn fast who the heck I was, found a candidate, and had a write-in campaign and crushed me.”

Such a scenario is unlikely to occur when voters hit the polls in Williston on March 6.

Yet Roy and fellow incumbent candidate Terry Macaig are treating the pre-election process as if it were a contested race, each meeting with the Observer to share their thoughts on their past terms and their views on key issues that will affect Williston residents in the upcoming years.



Roy, 47, has been a Selectboard member since 2008.

A resident of Williston since 1993 and a father of three boys, Roy was born in Barre and holds degrees from Harvard University and Cornell Law School. He has been a member of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC since 1990, and currently serves as a director of litigation for the Burlington-based law firm.

He said that while his legal background has been an asset during his time on the Board, he needs to be cognizant of his role as an elected leader for the entire town citizenry.

“What lawyers have to be careful of is lawyers aren’t normal people,” Roy said. “If we’re not careful, we don’t think like normal people. We analyze things differently, and so I bring my lawyer stuff to the table when it’s helpful, but I try not to be a lawyer when I’m being a Selectboard member.”

Roy commented that the town budget has been chief among the issues during his time on the Board.

“I came on just as the economy tanked, so I’ve never had a fun budget,” he said. “There are certain things we can put off, and certain things we can level-fund, but there’s going to come a time when that’s going to catch up with us. I think that this year we made some headway on that, and hopefully the economy will start picking up.”

When asked what he would most like to see improved in town, Roy immediately mentioned affordable housing.

“I think that we need to do a better job with how we deal with housing, generally, and with affordable housing,” Roy said. “What we’re creating is two types of housing with a gap in the middle. We don’t have the full spectrum. I don’t want to have it be a community where there’s the nice houses over here, and affordable housing over there.”

Roy, who was a candidate in the 2010 Republican primary for secretary of state, said for now he’s content to just run for town office.

“I have absolutely no interest right now in running for statewide office anytime soon,” he said. “I’m very happy at work, I’m very busy at work, I have college expenses coming up, so work sounds good.”



Macaig, 73, is a 10-year Selectboard veteran.

A Schenectady, N.Y. native who has lived in Williston since 1966, Macaig has been the Board’s chairman for the past six years — the last four of which he has also served as a Williston state representative.

He said his experience in Montpelier has given him a broader perspective on town issues.

“You deal with talking to people in town a lot about taxes and other things, and the perspective from the legislative scene gives you an overall vision of what’s going on,” Macaig said.

Like Roy, Macaig pointed to affordable housing as an area where the town needs to improve.

“We are short on (affordable housing) in Williston, and that’s one of the things we need to work harder on, I think,” Macaig said.

Taking a cue from fellow State Rep. Jim McCullough’s recent proposal to build a community center as part of an expansion at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center that would require a zoning change, Macaig suggested that such a facility is needed in town; either at Catamount or elsewhere.

“I think we need to look seriously at a community center, and I think that it’s probably doable over the course of three to five years,” said Macaig. “As our bonding goes down for other things, we can start to take a look at that.”

With over four decades of Williston living under his belt, Macaig harbors a sense of nostalgia for the time when residents cast votes at the actual town meeting by a raise of the hand, instead of the following day at the polling booths.

“It’s unfortunate, in a way, that we went to the Australian ballot, because that sort of dilutes the town meeting and the issues that you debate at town meeting,” Macaig said.

But he acknowledged that the change was probably necessary — and that it reflects the changing complexion of Williston from a rural farming community to a statewide growth center.

“People have an awful lot to do, so (the current format) gives them a better opportunity to at least weigh in,” he said. “They don’t hear the discussion, perhaps, but at least they can weigh in on the things that cost money.”

Landfill landmark

CSWD wins Supreme Court case

Feb. 16, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


A sand pit on Redmond Road in Williston, formerly owned by Hinesburg Sand & Gravel (above), is the site of a planned landfill. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

After nearly 20 years of being recycled through the Vermont court system, a dispute between the Chittenden Solid Waste District and Hinesburg Sand & Gravel Co. over a planned landfill site on Redmond Road in Williston has been disposed.

In a decision filed Feb. 7, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that HS&G is not entitled to compensation in excess of the $4 million CSWD paid in February 2009 for the Redmond Road sand pit formerly owned by HS&G.

Counsel for HS&G unsuccessfully argued that there was a material change in the value of the property between the valuation date of January 1, 2000 and the date payment was received in 2009.

The history of the protracted legal battle stretches back to 1992, when CSWD first began condemnation proceedings on the property.

In 2004, a jury determined that CSWD should pay HS&G $4 million for the land and $4.8 million in business losses. In March 2005, Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Matthew Katz eliminated the $4.8 million award for business losses. Katz’s decision was upheld by the Vermont Supreme Court in 2007.

The recent appeal to the Supreme Court stems from an October 2010 decision by Superior Court Judge Helen Toor to deny HS&G’s motion to amend the $4 million payment amount. The Supreme Court concurred with Toor’s assessment that the income-based valuation method used by HS&G consultant Richard Sterner — which valued the property at over $15 million — was inconsistent with the method used by the 2004 jury.

“However difficult it may be to value land such as a sand pit, the trial court must have before it some way to compare values during the relevant period,” the Supreme Court decision reads. “Sterner’s supplemental affidavit did nothing to aid the court in determining whether there had been a material increase.”

CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau said that while he was pleased with the decision rendered by the court, it won’t change the immediate plans of the waste district.

“Obviously, nobody wants to build a landfill while there’s still litigation ongoing, so it’s good to have that behind us,” Moreau said. “But we’re still focusing on reducing the amount of trash in the county, to see what we can get it down to, prior to designing and looking at (building) a landfill.”

Moreau said the recycling habits of citizens could have a large impact on the amount of trash destined for landfills.

“By our calculations, we throw 19,000 tons in the landfill every year that people could put in their blue box (for recycling),” said Moreau. “So people threw in 19,000 tons (last year) that was worth $130 a ton.”

There are currently two active landfills in the state, located in Coventry and Moretown.

CVU, State math scores drop

Williston looks for improvements

Feb. 16, 2012

By Steven Frank

Observer staff


When viewing the New England Common Assessment math results among elementary, middle and high school students, released last week from the Vermont Department of Education, the numbers don’t add up.

Taken last October, Vermont’s elementary and middle school students (grades three to eight) were 65-percent proficient or higher in math. Proficiency dropped to 36 percent for 11th grade students.

Locally, NECAP math results featured the same trend. Students in the Williston School District were 75-percent proficient. It’s the lowest score among the four Chittenden South Supervisory Union districts by one percent (Charlotte’s 83 was the highest), but still 23 percentage points higher than the 11th-graders at Champlain Valley Union High School, which draws from CSSU’s elementary/middle schools.

According to CVU Principal Sean McMannon, the key to improved math scores on the high school level lies in an ability to get more students exposed to algebra and geometry by the beginning of their junior years.

“The reason (for the drop), to me, is very clear,” McMannon said. “It’s because the content that is being assessed in math requires that you had algebra I, geometry and algebra II. That would give you a very high probability of being proficient. When you haven’t had that content, your probability of being below or partially proficient is very high.”

McMannon said he has talked with colleagues across Chittenden County to figure out a systems approach to better prepare students for the NECAP math exams.

“I think there is some really good pilot work going on where they’re having students take more math in their ninth- and 10th-grade years, sort of doubling up,” McMannon said. “We’ve not done that yet — I’m waiting to learn from colleagues. When you take that approach, whenever you add something, you’re taking another opportunity away. … Those are choices that schools, parents and students are going to have to make.”


Math wasn’t the only NECAP exam taken in the fall. Mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island were also tested in reading and writing. Schools test students on a science version of the NECAP each spring.

In Williston, 82 percent of students in grades three to eight scored proficient or higher in reading — one percent higher than last year and eight percentage points above the state average.

Compared to other CSSU schools, Williston scored two percentage points higher than Hinesburg, but was lower than Charlotte (the highest with 90-percent proficiency or higher) and Shelburne.

In terms of writing scores, 46 percent of grade five students tested proficient or higher, with 69 percent doing so in grade eight. Both writing scores dropped from last year — nine percentage points in grade five and 10 in grade eight.

Of the Williston students classified as economically disadvantaged — those on free or reduced lunch programs — 62 percent scored proficient or higher in reading (the second consecutive year of improvement), with 46 percent doing so in math.

For students with special needs, 34 percent tested proficient or higher in reading, with 27 percent doing so in math. Both scores are slight improvements over last year.

“Generally, we’re about the same as we’ve been in the past,” Williston District Principal Walter Nardelli said in regards to the scores overall. “But it’s not OK to stay in the same place. We’re in the process of digging (the results) down to an individual level, to see which students need extra help.”

Nardelli cited funding in the proposed school budget for 40 more hours of summer school instruction as one approach to improving NECAP scores.

“There are a lot of pieces that we are working on coming together,” Nardelli said. “I’d like to say we can fix it overnight, but it will take some time.”

Letter to the Editor

Feb. 16, 2012


St. George School Board opening

Are you a resident of St. George and interested in becoming involved in the community? If so, then become a School Board member. There will be an open position starting in March on the St. George School Board for a 3-year term. Meetings take place on the second Wednesday of the month. Our children need you to represent them.

Come to the St. George Town Meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6 at Champlain valley Union High School.


Hester Hemmett

Clerk, St. George School Board

Guest column

For whom should he care?

Feb. 16, 2012

By Edwin Cooney 


I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t particularly surprised last week when I learned that the leading GOP presidential contender, Willard (Mitt) Romney has decided that he cares about neither the poor nor the rich since the rich can take care of themselves and the poor have a “safety net” under them. As for you in the middle class, the socio/political domain of workers who earn between $50,000 and $250,000, the handsome, articulate former Massachusetts governor has finally discovered you.

Up until now, you, the middle class, have been the strategic domain of President Obama, who has kept his pledge not to increase taxes on you. Of course, the president’s opponents love to point out the obligations that “Obama Care” puts on everyone (especially the middle class), which they insist amounts to a tax increase. It is a reasonable argument when you’re being strictly political rather than responsibly objective. After all, a tax increase is more money taken for income taxes under the status quo, where healthcare is an additional service being offered which extends the status quo. Whatever position you take, the question remains: should the president especially care about classes of Americans?

Harry Truman, in his usual straightforward way of looking at a president’s responsibilities, asserted: “the rich have the luxury of being able to pay lobbyists to come down to Washington to lobby Congress to meet their demands. There’s nothing wrong with them. As for the rest of America, the only lobbyist they have is the President of the United States. That’s his job — to look out for the interests of the average person.”

The idea that the president should particularly care about anyone’s welfare is a relatively recent expectation.

In the early years of our republic, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison held the view that a president should be politically “disinterested” in the outcome of public affairs as they directly affect people’s lives. Recent scholars have suggested that one of the reasons Thomas Jefferson (our third president) fell out with Aaron Burr (our third vice president) was because Burr was more interested in serving people’s needs than he was in being the expected “disinterested” public servant (certainly his duel with Alexander Hamilton didn’t help, but it wasn’t the source of Jefferson’s unhappiness with Aaron Burr). Presidential policies generally had to do with the broad interests of the young United States: our relations with Britain and France (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison from 1794 through 1815), Indian affairs (James Monroe through Grover Cleveland from 1819 until 1887), and the Civil War (Abraham Lincoln through Rutherford B. Hayes from 1861 through 1877). As late as the 1920s, Calvin Coolidge vetoed the McNary- Haugen Farm Relief Act designed to provide badly needed financial assistance particularly to western farmers who’d been plagued for several years by floods, droughts and soil erosion. Coolidge and many other Republicans saw direct assistance to farmers as “class legislation.” For the most part, government wasn’t seen as a legitimate tool on behalf of everyday working people until the New Deal. Thus, only since Franklin D. Roosevelt has there been a debate about the legitimate role government should play in people’s lives.

Hence, the question: what should a perspective president care about?

During the course of one of his more folksy 1930s fireside chats, FDR put it this way:

“I like to think of our country as one home in which the interests of each member are bound up with the happiness of us all. We ought to know, by now, that the welfare of your family or mine cannot be bought at the sacrifice of our neighbor’s family; that our well-being depends, in the long run, on the well-being of our neighbors.”

FDR’s appeal brought about a solid political coalition of some farmers, laborers, students, Southern conservatives, Northern and Western liberals, and intellectuals that established moderate forward-looking government from the 1930s through the 1960s. Even Richard Nixon insisted that if a presidential candidate is to be successful, he must appeal to conservatives during the primaries but move to the left to accommodate the center during the general election (the opposite extreme to center in the Democratic party).

Hence, after months of appealing to the right, Gov. Romney appears ready now to keel sharply to the center.

Will the GOP’s right wing allow him to do that? Will they interpret his move leftward as an effort to protect conservatism against the slings and arrows of the left until he can start practicing conservatism in the White House? Or will they see his move as a betrayal of conservative dogma to which all of the GOP candidates have paid such intense homage during this campaign?

Is it the poor, the rich or the middle class to whom any successful presidential candidate must appeal? I say it’s the middle class. However, of the three class categories, the middle class is the most fickle and therefore the most dangerous. Its demands, resentments, and needs are so intertwined — yet contradictory — that they’re more easily offended than pleased. And when offended, they’re deadly!

Most of all, they possess more votes!


Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.

Recipe corner

Chocolate reminiscence

Feb. 16, 2012

By Ginger Isham


From a recent Woman’s Day magazine, the following info was sent to me by the other Virginia in our family, my sister-in-law, Ginny.

Chocolate squares can be kept up to a year if stored in tight, wrapped paper in a cool, dark and dry place. If there are white spots or a dusty film called “bloom,” the spots mean that the cocoa butter (fat) has separated and the film means the sugar has dissolved through condensation. Do not throw away because they will be rejoined in the cooking process.

I like to reminisce from the pages of Good Old Days Magazine. This is an amazing recipe I found a few months back and it is really good for people unable to tolerate milk.



1 cup sugar (try with 2/3 or ¾ cup)

5 heaping tablespoons flour

5 level tablespoons cocoa

Pinch of salt

2 ½ cups boiling water

2 teaspoons vanilla

Butter (size of a walnut)

Mix the dry ingredients and pour gradually into boiling water (I use a whisk to stir) and cook until thickens and is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Cool. While stirring, pour into baked pie shell. Can refrigerate. Serve with whipped cream or maybe make a meringue for the top, and brown.



2 eggs

2/3 cup half and half (use part whole milk)

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 medium croissants (cut into 1-inch cubes)

1 ounce chopped bittersweet chocolate

Lightly spray a small casserole dish with oil. Put half of the croissant cubes in baking dish. Sprinkle chopped chocolate pieces on top and spread rest of croissant cubes over the chocolate. Whisk together eggs, sugar, half and half and vanilla, and pour over croissant mixture. Sprinkle extra sugar over all. Bake in oven 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then drizzle melted chocolate over pudding. You can also use chocolate syrup, and serve with small scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and/or whipped cream. Double or triple recipe if you want to serve more than two people.


Ginger Isham lives with her husband on a fifth generation family farm on Oak Hill Road.


Little Details


Feb. 16, 2012

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

We sat in a circle, inhabiting hard plastic chairs. Wingtips shuffled impatiently on the floor beside work boots. White collars huddled next to blue. Each man wore his guilt – or denial – on his sleeve.

The room smelled of cigarettes, although no one was smoking. Burnt tobacco lingered on those who sucked their last few desperate drags outside before class; it tinges fingers while permeating breath. Pungent exhalations – like too strong, nasty cologne – filled the space. It triggered headaches, until I got used to the smell.

Class started at 6 p.m. sharp. Arriving late counted as an absence, requiring a visit to one’s probation officer. Three misses prompted expulsion, risking a return to jail.

Welcome to Burlington’s Domestic Abuse Education Project (DAEP). I worked at DAEP a decade ago after volunteering with women and children impacted by domestic violence. I resolved to engage batterers, to promote prevention. Spectrum Youth and Family Services coordinates the batterer intervention program.

There is no excuse for violence. Women remain far more likely to be battered than men.

Co-facilitating a class with court-ordered attendance establishes an interesting dynamic. Showing up was often a condition of release from jail. Some participants demonstrated resentment via body language and zombie-like presence. Engaging this bunch was difficult. Fostering mutual respect and accountability was crucial.

A police file preceded each new addition to class. Police reports and affidavits detailed relationships disintegrating into violence.

Class was conducted on a first name basis, for safety and confidentiality. I didn’t want participants to be able to look me up in the telephone book. If I spotted a student in public, I left it up to him to say hello or not.

We began with a check-in. Each man stated his name, charge, first name of his victim and his abusive actions. These weekly confessions forced batterers to detail how they slapped, punched, threatened, destroyed property and/or used weapons to instill fear. Domestic violence is oxymoronic: intentionally hurting someone you love makes no sense.

We explored the tactics of domestic violence via discussion, role plays, films and written assignments. We identified forms of abusive behavior: physical, emotional, threats; economic, manipulation of children, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming. The curriculum challenged gender stereotypes while citing components of healthy relationships. Years later, I still remember the stories.

James was 19. He beat up his pregnant partner and tried to run her over her with his pick-up truck. I remember his remorse. Months after class ended, James showed up to deliver oil at my house. Vermont is small. He smiled and asked how I was. I asked the same in return, hoping all was well on his domestic front.

Sam was a middle-aged businessman, a transplant from out of state. He voluntarily enrolled in class and earnestly participated. Sam recounted, in his check-in, a fierce argument with his wife in which he picked her up and threw her across the room. His daughter witnessed the assault. His wife stared at him from the floor in horror and disbelief.

Carl held a knife to his pregnant girlfriend’s throat, threatening to kill her. He was smart and very philosophical. He grew up in an apartment above a bar in Burlington’s Old North End. Reflecting on his mother’s series of abusive boyfriends, Carl said, “I swore I’d never be like that.” Children learn what they live.

I ran into Carl several years ago. HE said hello to me. Construction wrecked his back and he was working as a cook at a Burlington eatery. He introduced me to his partner and their beautiful little girl who were at the counter, eating breakfast. Were they living in an emotionally safe household? I hope so.

The scariest man of all – I can still see his face – was married with two little daughters and a professional job. He was absolutely furious to be there. I feared for him and his family.

We had to kick one guy out because he kept showing up strung out on heroin. He, too, ended up at my house one day, part of a demolition crew. He looked at me funny each morning as I checked in with the contractor. When the job was done, he finally approached me and asked, “Are you a PO (probation officer)?”

“No,” I said, “but I used to teach a class at probation and parole.”

Enough said.


Editor’s Note: Names changed to protect confidentiality. Women Helping Battered Women Hotline: 658-1996. For more information on DAEP: www.Spectrumvt.org/vipp


Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at Editor@willistonobserver.com or LittleDetailsCol@yahoo.com.