October 21, 2014

SAVVY SENIOR: How to do a check up on your hospital


Dear Savvy Senior,
What resources can you recommend for researching hospitals? I need to get a knee replacement next year and want to find a good, safe hospital to have it done in.
­— Shopping Around

Dear Shopping,
Most people don’t give much thought when it comes to choosing a hospital, but selecting the right one can be as important as the doctor you choose. Here are some tips and resources to help you research and check up on your area hospitals.

Hospital Shopping
While you may not always have the opportunity to choose your hospital, especially in the case of an emergency, having a planned procedure can offer you a variety of choices.
When shopping for a hospital, the most important criterion is to find one that has a strong department in your area of need. A facility that excels in coronary bypass surgery, for example, may not be the best choice for a knee replacement. Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they’re treated in hospitals that have extensive experience with their specific condition.
In order to choose a hospital that’s best for you, it is important to discuss your concerns and alternatives with the doctor who is treating you. Some doctors may be affiliated with several hospitals from which you can choose. Or, if you’ve yet to select a doctor, finding a top hospital that has expertise with your condition can help you determine which physician to actually choose.
Another important reason to do some research is the all too frequent occurrence of hospital infections, which kill around 75,000 people in the U.S. each year. So checking your hospital’s infection rates and cleanliness procedures is also a wise move.

Researching Tools
Today, there are a number of online resources that provide hospital safety and performance data to help you research and compare facilities. Because hospitals are such complex places, it’s wise to get information from a variety of sources. Here is a summary of some top guides.
Hospital Compare (medicare.gov/hospitalcompare): Operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, this free tool lets you compare general quality of care, as well as care for many medical conditions and surgical procedures in more than 4,000 U.S. hospitals.
Consumer Reports Hospital Rankings (consumerreports.org/hospitalratings): If you don’t mind spending a few dollars ($7 for one month or $30 per year), Consumer Reports ranks 4,500 hospitals in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The reliable resource provides information on up to 34 performance and safety measures.
U.S. News & World Report (usnews.com/best-hospitals): This online publishing resource identifies the best hospitals for 16 specialties and provides rankings by metro area and by specialty for free.
Healthgrades (healthgrades.com): A private, for-profit organization, they provide free hospital ratings on patient safety and medical procedures and score hospitals using a 5-star scale.
The Commonwealth Fund (whynotthebest.org): This is a private foundation that provides free performance data on all U.S. hospitals.
The Joint Commission (qualitycheck.org): This is a not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the U.S. Hospitals receive a checkmark for each set of measures they have met. But there’s no way to tell whether a hospital is stronger in one area over another.
Hospital Inspections (hospitalinspections.org): Established by the Association of Health Care Journalists, this focuses on violations and inspection reports.
The Leapfrog Group (hospitalsafetyscore.org): This national, not-for-profit organization grades hospitals on their overall performance in keeping patients safe. Use your city, state or ZIP code to search more than 2,500 hospitals.
VA Hospital Compare (www.hospitalcompare.va.gov): If you’re a veteran, you can research and compare VA medical centers here.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

HUB Happenings


GMCS & Green Mountain Flagging move headquarters to Williston
Green Mtn. Concert Services, Inc. and Green Mountain Flagging, LLC recently announced they’re moving their united headquarters from Essex to Williston. The growth that the companies have experienced over the past several years has created a need for additional training and office space and the new location—1 Wentworth Drive off James Brown Drive—provides plenty of both. They will move to the new location by Nov. 1.
“The training and ongoing coaching of our employees is what allows us to provide quality protective services that separates us from our competitors and our new facility provides the space for us to keep our growing training and professional development department in-house, which also allows us to meet our goals more efficiently,” said GMCS/GMF President, CEO, Kevin W. Cheney.
VtSBDC hosts ‘How to Start Your Own Business’ workshops
The Vermont Small Business Development Center, as part of its many business services, is offering several workshops for those thinking about starting their own business. The workshops are held at various locations around the state, including Williston.
Learn what it takes to plan, start and run a successful small business where you can realize the challenges and satisfaction of working for yourself. Experienced business advisors will walk you through the basics and much more in this four-hour workshop designed as a step-by-step guide for the first-time business owner.
The four-hour workshops are $99. To register for a workshop, sign up online at www.vtsbdc.org

Marshall named national organization president
Williston resident Tanya Marshall, Vermont state archivist and director of the Vermont State Archives & Records Administration at the Secretary of State’s Office, was recently elected as president of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators. NAGARA represents federal, state and local archivists, records managers and other government record administrators throughout the United States.
“To be recognized by her colleagues across the country—and elected to represent them—is a very special tribute to her leadership, hard work and dedication to the archives, records and information management profession,” stated Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Dubé in ‘Best Lawyers of America’
The law firm of Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick, LLP recently announced that Williston resident Priscilla B. Dubé has been selected by her peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers of America® 2015 in the practice area of Family Law. Dubé has been listed in Best Lawyers since 2010 and has been practicing family law at Bergeron, Paradis & Fitzpatrick for more than 23 years.

Businesses partner to support homeless
For the fourth year in a row, Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel, Darn Tough Vermont and Smartwool have teamed up to donate more than $13,500 worth of socks and support to representatives from local homeless shelters.
The donations are the result of a joint effort between the three businesses to help provide warm, Merino wool socks and much-needed support to the areas homeless population in preparation for the state’s colder months. To date, Lenny’s has donated more than $56,000 worth of socks and support to these shelters.
Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel also donated $4,375 worth of fall boots to Lund last month.

Carolyn Weaver joins Keller Williams Realty
Carolyn Weaver, a real estate sales professional from Williston, has joined KW Vermont.
Weaver has more than 18 years experience as a Vermont real estate agent and has marketed and sold hundreds of homes in Chittenden County. Weaver is also a member of the NVBR Board of Directors and oversees the financial committee.

Academy selects Vermont accountants for ‘Top 10’ award
The National Academy of Public Accounting Professionals (NAPAP) has named its 2014 “Top 10 Public Accounting Professionals” for Vermont. The award winners include: John Davis of Davis & Hodgdon Associates in Williston; Jerry Bowin of McSoley McCoy in South Burlington; Renee Bourget-Place of KPMG in Colchester; James Donohue of Gallagher Flynn & Co. in South Burlington; Christopher Goulette of A.M. Peisch & Co. in Saint Albans; Marcia Merrill of Montgomery Merrill in Burlington; John Meyer of Pieciak & Co. in Brattleboro; Jeffrey Morin of JMM & Associates in Colchester; George Philibert of GHP Advisors in Burlington and Todd Wimette of Wisehart Wimette & Associates in Essex Junction.

DuBois gets high marks in client relationship study
Jason K. DuBois—a financial advisor with Russell, Blanchard & DuBois, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc.—has received high marks from his clients in the recent Ameriprise Financial Client Relationship Study. DuBois ranked in the top 25 percent of all Ameriprise advisors, receiving a score of 96 percent or higher based on overall client satisfaction.
Conducted by a third party research organization, the survey provides clients with the opportunity to rate their advisors in several areas including whether their advisors provide them access to other specialists when appropriate, explain fees clearly and contact them when market conditions change significantly.

DeRosia honored
Marcia DeRosia of South Burlington was awarded the Vermont Health Care Association’s “Residential Care Administrator of the Year” award at the annual convention in Killington in October. DeRosia works at Our Lady of Providence Residential Care Facility in Winooski and owns American Health Care Software in South Burlington.

Shuman awarded
Dr. Brian Shuman, owner of Associates in Periodontics, received Vermont State Dental Society’s (VSDS) most prestigious Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his commitment to the dental profession and the oral health of Vermonters.
The award was presented Sept. 18 at the VSDS annual meeting in honor of his “many years of dedicated service to the field of dentistry.”

Skirack named one of America’s Best Bike Shops
Skirack of Burlington has been named one of America’s Best Bike Shops for 2014 by the National Bicycle Dealers Association. This designation has been awarded for the past two years and Skirack has been recognized each time.
There are approximately 4,000 bike shops in the United States and less than 300 were chosen to be named “America’s Best.”

The Hub: New PrimeLending team moves into Williston


By Heleigh Bostwick
Observer correspondent
PrimeLending, a national mortgage financing company, hired senior loan officer Heather Torre to head up a second team of loan officers at its Williston office on Blair Park Road.
“PrimeLending was looking for a person to grow the team,” Torre said. “It was a great opportunity for me to take my business to the next level.”
Torre, who shares the space with another established loan officer and her team, has already hired a client coordinator, who handles everything from client contracts to closings, a processor who deals with clients’ documentation needs and a closing coordinator.
“It’s a big enough sandbox for another person to come on,” said Torre.
Even though the two loan officers’ teams share office space, they are completely separate businesses.
“It’s been a challenge to get people to understand that because she’s been the only one running this for six years,” said Torre. “I want to make people more aware that I am here.”
Torre and her team serve northern Vermont and all of New York State.
“The bulk of my business is greater Chittenden County and Clinton County in New York State, but I do get referrals for apartments in Manhattan from Realtors I’ve made connections with.”
The Colchester resident chose Williston for its centralized location and interstate access.
Although there are regular office hours, Torre said she’s available 24/7 and every Tuesday the team calls all of their clients to ask if there’s anything they can do to make life easier during the loan process.
“That’s a day you can bank on us reaching you,” she said. “We believe 100 percent in communication and honesty. That’s something people love about working with us.”
Torre handles loans for residential properties and light agriculture such as hobby farms, as well as new construction.
“We’ll do a package deal of up to 90 percent financing to purchase the land and pre-fund the builder right after closing to start building—all up front,” she said. “I think our construction loan program is going to revolutionize the industry.”
Torre also specializes in renovation loans for full gut rehabs and updates to existing homes, as well as jumbo loans for lakefront and luxury properties for loan amounts of more than $417,000.
“We try to create an experience here,” she said. “Anyone can put numbers together, but buying a first home, a luxury home, retiring, these are all life changes and we’ve been there ourselves.”
PrimeLending is located at 33 Blair Park Road, Suite 202. For more information, visit https://lo.primelending.com/htorre/index.html or call 764-2082.

The Hub: The Richards Group opens Williston branch office


By Heleigh Bostwick
Observer correspondent
The Richards Group, an insurance and financial services company with offices in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, has opened a branch office in Williston.
Williston resident Rob Stokes heads up the new office, which is located in the old red brick house across from the State Police barracks on Route 2A.
“This is the furthest north we’ve had an employee benefits office,” said Stokes, director of operations-employee benefits for The Richards Group. “Most of our clients are in the southern part of the state. We chose this location because of its easy access to the highway.”
Stokes, who refers to himself as an employee benefits broker, specializes in self-funded ERISA plans for larger employers dealing with the health side of employee benefits. His role is to help companies create employee benefit packages that offer creative solutions to providing dental and medical benefits to workers in today’s complex healthcare environment.
Rachel Leblanc, service account manager offers client support services, focuses on local clients.
The Affordable Care Act has been a source of confusion for many employers who aren’t sure what they need to do to comply with the new regulations. With a single payer system on the horizon, there are even more unknowns.
“It’s really a tough situation,” Stokes said. “Employers need to stay in compliance with both state and federal healthcare regulations, but still want to offer employees benefits.
He tries to get the best plan designs for employers—such as going with high deductible plans or generics as opposed to higher cost prescription drugs.
The Richards Group offers a range of employee benefit solutions, tools and resources such as compliance dashboards, enrollment software and tools for human resource professionals to use. As a member of United Benefit Advisors, it is able to offer employers customized benefits solutions.
“We’re teamed with benefit advisors across the U.S. so we are able to go into partnership agreements to come up with better solutions,” said Stokes. “Being a UBA partner gives us a definite advantage.”
While the Richards Group also offers property and casualty insurance, the current focus of the Williston office is employee benefits.
Prior to joining the Richards Group, Stokes spent 14 years at CBA Blue, where he became an expert in self-funded plans.
“I understand the business and come up with employee benefits strategies that are outside the box,” he said, adding, “We’re all about working hard for our clients.”
The Richards Group office is located at 2283 St. George Road. For more information, visit www.therichardsgrp.com or call 343-3975.

A look at Chittenden County State Senate candidates


Observer staff report
On Election Day—which falls on Tuesday, Nov. 4—residents will be asked to select six state senators to represent Chittenden County from a pool of 13 candidates.
The Williston Observer asked the 13 candidates to respond to a brief questionnaire, keeping their answers to the final set of questions to 125 words or less. Their responses have been edited only for grammar, punctuation and length.

Tim Ashe
Tim Ashe
City/Town of Residence: Burlington
Profession: Affordable senior housing developer
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 20
Running as: Democrat
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
The most important issue facing Chittenden County continues to be the affordability of health care and education property taxes.
Whether or not you’re enthusiastic about health care reform, the ever-escalating costs of health care need to be addressed. Vermonters are paying $5 billion a year for medical services, up from $2 billion a decade earlier. In rough terms, that’s an additional $5,000 per Vermonter per year, while income has been flat.
With a small population, education in Vermont will always be a bit more expensive than in most other states. That said, there are costs in our statewide education system that must be reduced. There’s no good reason, for example, why neighboring supervisory unions shouldn’t jointly purchase many goods and services, like heating oil or transportation services.

Philip Baruth
Philip Baruth
City/Town of Residence: Burlington
Profession: Teacher
Number of Years living in Chittenden County: 21
Running as: Democrat
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Bringing down the cost of our education system, while maintaining (and in some very small districts, improving) quality. The House opted for mandatory consolidation of all districts statewide last session; its bill would have eliminated most of the state’s school boards and having served for some years on my own board, I thought that was a bad move—school boards are one of the most important tools a community has to control costs and reflect community standards. I’m committed to working on a compromise that will reduce redundant administration where it’s actually a problem—we live in an age of declining enrollments and we should be right-sizing some districts—but without giving up important elements of local control.

John Cisar
City/Town of Residence: Essex
Profession: Web management
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 13
Running as: Libertarian
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Affordability. An affordable county means fewer Vermont families will experience financial hardship.
If elected, I plan to tackle our affordability problem by working to eliminate unnecessary regulation and spending without affecting services. This can be done by targeting redundancies across agencies and by re-balancing drivers of affordability to reduce living and business costs. We can reduce costs and grow incomes while preserving Vermont’s quality of life. Secondly, we must mitigate risk through economic diversification to protect our workforce. A large employer presence across many industries is the signature of a balanced economy, but Vermont has a few major employers spanning too few industries. I will work to promote economic diversity so we may protect our workforce from a catastrophic departure by a “too big to leave” employer.
Christopher Coolidge
City/Town of Residence: South Burlington
Profession: Delivery driver
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 15
Running as: Libertarian
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Mental illness and substance abuse in our penal system. More transparency in allowing for mental illness and substance abuse in the commission of a crime. Addicts, alcoholics and the mentally ill need treatment rather than incarceration. If they voluntarily seek treatment, that can be an opportunity to both eliminate prison crowding and offer the opportunity for reparation. If elected I’d encourage a proactive approach in that direction.

Dawn Ellis
Dawn Ellis
City/Town of Residence: Burlington
Profession: President, Dawn M. Ellis and Associates, LLC – using planning, facilitation and research to improve public sector work
Number of years living in Chittenden County: First moved here in 1990
Running as: Democrat
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
The health of Chittenden County’s communities: its people; families; and places.
If elected, I will work to…
1) keep people healthier by integrating a systemic approach to prevention within the universal healthcare access policies.
2) support healthy families, especially in these times where working families have difficulty with scheduling, ensuring children are safe and learning out of school and families in difficulty may slip through the cracks until it’s a crisis.
3) improve the health of our environments, including the stewardship of our fresh water and natural resources; creating avenues for all of us to participate in reducing our energy and heating consumption—including lowest income families; as well as support of infrastructure that connects people to each other and learning opportunities so we and our businesses can be economically nimble and encourage vibrant centers.

Joy Limoge
City/Town of Residence: Williston
Profession: Attorney
Number of Years living in Chittenden County: 47
Running as: Republican
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Our biggest issue is spending! We are spending beyond what we have and our taxes continue to rise. We are facing another significant budget gap in the upcoming year. We have a lack of balance in government and cannot find commonsense workable solutions to the many issues we face. I will reach across the aisle. We need to look at the size of our government. We need to look at how we are spending our tax dollars and who/what we are spending them on. We need to consolidate multiple programs, have agencies work together and use resources more wisely. We need to keep our spending within our means. Finally, we need to incentivize and grow new jobs so our young people can remain here.

Virginia ‘Ginny’ Lyons
Ginny Lyons Photo
City/Town of Residence: Williston
Profession: College professor/Consultant
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 43
Running as: Democrat
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Cost of living related to health care, education, good jobs and energy concern Chittenden County residents.
Ensure that any health care changes are affordable—improving access to quality care for all citizens, chronically ill, children and seniors. Substance abuse prevention and treatment, wellness programs can reduce costs. Fewer school boards/districts will not automatically reduce education costs. Collaborative work with schools, school boards and concerned citizens can slow cost increases and improve quality outcomes in our schools. Education programs can link with workforce development for 21st century jobs. Transportation options, downtown tax credits and housing are needed for improved economic outcomes. Development of energy efficient affordable housing builds our energy future and economy. Established goals for alternative heating, transportation fuels and improved water quality will build jobs. Chittenden County benefits from my leadership in public health, energy and environment.

Benjamin Mayer
Town of Residence: Burlington
Profession: Patent drawer, host/busser, embroidery/print operator
Number of Years living in Chittenden County: 7
Running as: Civil Libertarian
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
The two party system is the most important issue facing America, for it is the gatekeeper for dealing with Fractional Reserve Banking, a fraudulent system that makes workers 90 percent poorer and bankers 90 percent richer. It is also the gatekeeper for dealing with the War on Drugs, which has had terrible effects on civil liberties, especially with a few obvious specific minority groups. Also for obtaining a foreign policy that is becoming of post-modern people that believe in civility, peace and reason.
If elected, I will only bring up issues of substance and not pragmatics. Republicans and Democrats will argue over trite pragmatics in accordance to their tired opposition game theory. I will worry about the heuristics that cause poverty and scarcity and have a profound effect on our civil liberties.

Michael Sirotkin
City/Town of Residence: South Burlington
Profession: Attorney
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 40
Running as: Democrat
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
As I travel around Chittenden County going door to door, clearly the number one issue for voters is education governance and financing and their impact on property taxes. We must find new ways to contain spending growth, especially given our reduction in students statewide. We must also try new governance structures that will continue to involve local communities cost effectively, thereby lessening the tensions between local control and consolidation. Moreover, it is equally important that, in the process, we do not sacrifice the high quality of education we currently have in our county. Decreasing enrollment gives us a unique opportunity to make progress, but we need to seize the moment. Once student populations rise again, changes and savings will be that much harder to achieve.

Diane B. Snelling
Diane snelling
Town of Residence: Hinesburg
Profession: Artist, senator
Number of Years living in Chittenden County: 61
Running as: Republican
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
The critical issue facing Chittenden County and Vermont, is choosing our priorities.
Unless we agree and can create a sustainable budget to achieve those priorities, we will continue to increase spending beyond the capacity of taxpayers. As the economic engine for the state, Chittenden County must support planning that helps businesses and citizens succeed. All of the things we want — affordable health care, quality public education, a clean environment, public safety, affordable housing and appropriate social services — require sufficient funding to succeed. The first step is to understand what we get for the taxes paid.
The Outcomes legislation (S.293/Act 186) that I sponsored takes the critical step of finding agreement on priorities among legislators, the administration and non-profit community partners. I am committed to creating effective and accountable government and will continue to seek collaboration among all partners to achieve that goal

Paul Washburn
City/Town of Residence: South Burlington
Profession: Compliance consultant
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 38
Running as: Libertarian
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Repealing Act 48 or “Single Payer Healthcare” is the most important issue facing Chittenden County and the State of Vermont. Over the past 20-plus years, Montpelier has passed increasingly irresponsible legislation. Meanwhile, the State continues a cycle where more Vermonters and businesses leave than arrive. Some believe “Single Payer” is a noble endeavor. However, in practice it’s rarely a successful strategy. For example, Act 60, our education funding system, is a special type of single payer program where cities and towns send property tax revenue to Montpelier for redistribution. The negative consequences of Act 60 are palpable. School budgets have increased, yet outcomes have not improved. I would work to repeal Act 48 and be an outspoken voice against irresponsible legislation that erodes our foundation.

David Zuckerman
City/Town of Residence: Hinesburg
Profession: Organic vegetable, pork and chicken farmer
Number of years living in Chittenden County: 25
Running as: Progressive/Democrat
What is the most important issue facing Chittenden County today? If elected, how will you address that issue?
Healthcare—costs are rising for individuals, municipalities and businesses at an unsustainable rate. The number one cause of bankruptcy is bills associated with inadequate health insurance coverage. I support publicly financed universal healthcare for every Vermont resident. I will introduce legislation requiring the costs of procedures be presented to patients before they accept them. I will advocate for an easy-to-follow website that shows the prices for care at different facilities in Vermont. Patients will make the most cost-effective and healthy choices if information is easy to find and use. With comprehensive universal healthcare, individuals will be free to start new businesses or change careers without fear of losing their healthcare coverage. This will strengthen our economy and create jobs in Chittenden County.
The following are also on the ballot, but did not respond to the Observer’s attempts to reach them:
Travis Spencer, Milton, Libertarian
Glyn Wilkinson, Burlington, Libertarian
For more information and a complete list of all candidates, visit www. sec.state.vt.us/elections.aspx

Fry-a-lator fire forces evacuation


Observer staff report
A fire in the Shaw’s Supermarket kitchen forced the store to evacuate staff and customers on Oct. 9.
The Williston Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at 10:07 a.m. Firefighters happened to be in the store’s parking lot when the fire alarm went off, allowing for an immediate response. Smoke was coming from the kitchen, where firefighters “discovered a small fire in the area of one of the commercial fry-a-lators which was being extinguished by an employee,” according to a department press release.
Firefighters instructed the employee to leave and extinguished the fire before focusing on removing the smoke from the building.
Mutual aid was requested from the Essex Junction and Essex Town fire departments to assist with venting the smoke. No injuries were initially reported, although EMS personnel later evaluated an employee who chose to go to the hospital for evaluation of non-life threatening injuries.
Representatives from the Vermont Department of Health ensured the food in the store was safe to eat. The supermarket reopened at approximately 5 p.m. after ventilation and cleaning.

Public Service Board will not reconsider pipeline


Observer staff report
The Vermont Public Service Board decided on Friday not to reconsider its decision to approve Vermont Gas’ natural gas pipeline extension.
The board granted a certificate of public good for the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project—a 43-mile natural gas pipeline extension from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes—in December. However, the Vermont Supreme Court granted the board the authority to reopen its review of the project in light of Vermont Gas’ July disclosure that the estimated cost of the project leapt more than 40 percent. The overall cost of the pipeline rose to $121.6 million from $86.6 million.
“This is a significant cost increase,” the board’s Oct. 10 decision states. “Having carefully considered the record developed at the hearing we convened on September 26, 2014, as well as the briefs subsequently filed by the parties, we have concluded that the new cost information is not of such a material and controlling nature so as to change our previous determination that approval of the Project pursuant to the criteria of 30 V.S.A. § 248 will promote the general good of Vermont.”
Local construction has continued on the pipeline since the summer. Vermont Gas set up a staging area in Williston in the spring.
On Sept. 26, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Vermont Gas’s request for a waiver granting regulatory authority to the states for Phase II of its pipeline project. Phase II would extend the pipeline to Ticonderoga, N.Y.

Students quiz candidates at annual school forum

Williston Central School Student Sophie Roy questions Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce about the state’s efforts to reunite unclaimed financial property with its owners.

Williston Central School Student Sophie Roy questions Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce about the state’s efforts to reunite unclaimed financial property with its owners.

By Matt Sutkoski
Observer correspondent

None of the seventh and eighth graders at Williston Central School can vote yet, but time flies. Before you know it, they will be 18 years old and will need to brush up on the issues to make good electoral decisions.
They’ve already gotten a good start.
Every election season, Williston Central School students quiz statewide office holders and hopefuls about their positions during a forum at the school. Last Friday, the students got their shots at questioning the 2014 slate of candidates.
It was light at first.
“Let me just say this school rocks,” said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell as he made his introductory remarks.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne joked that he is “running for eighth grade class president.”
Once things got going, the questions and answers got serious.
Zahanna Branicki started off by asking whether Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s “Buy local: It’s not just for hippies anymore” campaigning really helps local communities.
Scott replied that if you buy items online from distant retailers, “it’s not your local business. It hurts the local economy.”
Jessica Gagne asked U.S. Rep. Peter Welch how President Obama’s signature health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act, will enhance the economy.
Welch said one of several ways it could help is to make jobs more portable. Before the Affordable Care Act, people often stayed in jobs they were ill-suited for, didn’t like and had little room for advancement in because they had to hang on to the employee-provided health insurance.
With the Affordable Care Act, he said, workers can move on to other, better jobs without fear of losing health insurance coverage.
One question hit close to home for the questioner. Sophie Beliveau said part of her family’s property was taken through eminent domain to make way for the natural gas pipeline project. She asked Sorrell whether it was proper for a Vermont landowner to lose property rights to a national corporation based in New York.
Sorrell responded that eminent domain is a thorough legal process, during which it is determined whether the public benefits from a proposed project before property is seized.
The questions asked during the forum arose from issues raised during civics classes.
Students were each asked to submit three or four questions about candidates’ political positions. Teachers winnowed down the list and two seventh and eighth grade classes chose the 21 questions posed to candidates during the forum.
The event was all about education, and Gov. Peter Shumlin made a point of playing up its importance.
He had to leave the forum early to attend a meeting with federal Environmental Protection Agency officials, but just before leaving, he told students to plan to go to college beyond high school.
“If you don’t go beyond high school, you are sentencing yourself to a low wage job,” he said.
Getting personal, Shumlin recalled his struggles with dyslexia as a child and how the learning disorder made him a poor student. But with hard work and help, he succeeded.
“I want to speak to you who learn differently. If I could in the end become a good student…. you can,” he said.
And on the questions went, for more than an hour. Reagan Dufresne asked Progressive Lt. Gubernatorial candidate Dean Corren about high gas prices in northwestern Vermont.
Corren called for regulations that would force gasoline distributors to give pricing information to the Attorney General’s office, to ensure there is competition that encourages lower prices. “Whenever you talk about it publicly, the discrepancy goes away,” Corren said.
Under questioning from Matt Trifaro, Sorrell said he would fight to maintain Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which requires that food that has been genetically engineered be labeled as such.
“This is just consumer information. That should trump their position that they can’t be forced to disclose what’s in their products,” Sorrell said.
After the forum, Beliveau pronounced it a success. She said it was one thing to research the candidates’ positions, but another to actually hear about them in person. She said the live forum helped her understand the candidates’ thoughts better than just hearing about it on the news.
The Williston Central School has held the forums for the past 18 years.