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A view from Saturday’s Santa Festival in Newport

in Newport/News
All photos by Tanya Mueller.

NEWPORT — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and Santa Clause is coming to town. Saturday’s Santa Festival in Newport let everyone in town know. Festivities kicked off downtown at 11 a.m. If you were not able to make it out Saturday, here is a collection of photographs taken by Tanya Mueller that will give you a sense of just how in the spirit of the holidays the people of Newport are this year. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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Newport Vermont Santa Festival

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Divas Use Laughter to Raise Money for NEKCA at Jay Peak’s Foeger Ballroom

in Arts and Entertainment/Jay

All photos by Tanya Mueller

JAY — The Vermont Comedy Divas kept the Foeger Ballroom at Jay Peak filled with laughter Friday night. The one night only benefit was organized to raise money for Northeast Kingdom Community Action.

Started in 2006, the Vermont Comedy Divas are the only all-female touring standup comedy troupe in the country. The Divas include Josie Leavitt, Sue Schmidt, Carmen Legala, Autumn Spencer, and Tracie Spencer. The show Friday night was part of their Divas Do Good charity series, where the group seeks to give back to the community by raising money for organizations with a social mission.

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“There is only one guy in here not an open target to be used as material during the show, and that’s the guy serving my drinks,” Sue Schmidt said during the opening of the show.

Although the men in the room were warned beforehand that they might be used as a punchline for the Divas, it was a group from the Memphremagog Press, who came out Friday night for their Christmas party, that took most of the ribbing.

“Sir…are you okay,” Josie Leavitt asked one of the men from Memphremagog Press after a particularly shocking set of jokes.

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Autumn Spencer started the night off, setting the stage for the acts that followed. Each Diva had their own style, making for an interesting mix of delivery, as well as material.

“The Divas are starting to drink…that’s always a bad sign,” Ms. Schmidt said halfway through the night.

The crowd seemed equally entertained by each comedian, which is part of the reason that the Divas work so well together as a group. They function as a whole, without any one comedian feeling like an opening act for the other. This balance leaves the group able to switch lineups each night.

“We usually pick the lineup just before the show,” Autumn Spencer said after the show. “It can be tough to go first because right from the start people are expecting to laugh. They are expecting you to be funny, and they want to see what you’ve got.”

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“We’ve really been trying to raise money for the community because we’ve had so many federal and state cuts,” Joe Patrissi, the Executive Director of NEKCA said. “We’ve had to do some significant fundraising.”

NEKCA is preparing for another fundraising event coming up on January 18, again at Jay Peak, with a show by the Dave Keller Blues Band. Proceeds for that event will go toward the Head Start program.

“The Divas were really great tonight, and we were thrilled that they agreed to do this for us,” Mr. Patrissi said.

For more information about the Vermont Comedy Divas visit them online at vermontcomedydivas.com

For more information about NEKCA visit them online at nekcavt.org.

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Community Action Grant Applications Sought in Newport

in Newport/News

Deadline Approaching

NEWPORT — AARP Vermont is encouraging groups and citizens to submit applications for the 2014 Community Action Sponsorship Program — a program to provide modest grant funds and technical support to community groups or individuals. The initiative is part of the recently adopted Age Friendly Communities initiative aimed at preparing Newport for the rapidly aging demographic shift – particularly in the areas of housing, mobility and community engagement.

The Community Action Sponsorships will provide financial and other support to groups within Newport that will advocate for improvements in any of the following areas:

– Affordable housing options for older residents
– Delivery of services to help older residents age in the setting of their choice
– Public transit or alternative transportation services
– Fostering intergenerational and multi-cultural connection
– Financial security for low income older residents
– Socialization and fostering community connection for older residents
– Education and awareness about LGBTQ elders
– Community accessibility for residents with disabilities
– Implementation of Complete Streets: Pedestrian & Bike infrastructure (sidewalks, amenities for walkers and bikers, public art, safe street crossings, bike lanes, navigation, etc.)

“We are committed to supporting community efforts in Newport and encourage those interested to apply. Our selection criteria and process are flexible and we are open to a broad range of ideas,” said Kelly Stoddard Poor of AARP Vermont.

The sponsorship is open to individuals, grassroots groups and small non-profits in Newport and should represent a desire to make change through local level activism and advocacy.

The deadline for applications is December 31, 2013. Up to four groups will be selected for grants ranging from $500-$2,000. Grants will be one-time funding for a 12-month period and groups who are awarded sponsorships will receive technical assistance and training from AARP staff.

AARP is partnering with Newport City Renaissance Corp. and executive director Patricia Sears on the effort. Applications and an RFP are available from Kelly Stoddard Poor at 802-951-1313 or kstoddardpoor@aarp.org

Newport to Become an Age-Friendly Community

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — With the support of Newport Mayor Paul Monette, Newport City Council and developer Bill Stenger, Newport is poised to become Vermont’s first city to join AARP’s nationwide Network of Age Friendly Cities. As such, the city embraces the changing demographics of an aging population by focusing on safe, walkable streets, better housing and transportation options, access to key services and community engagement opportunities for all ages.

As Newport plans for major redevelopment of its downtown and economic base, the city and its partners — including AARP Vermont and the Newport City Renaissance Corp. — are looking at ways to prepare for a rapidly aging population.

“With our aging population, especially in Vermont, we must ensure all communities are friendly to all residents from our youth to our senior citizens,” said Mayor Monette in his letter of support to AARP. With the support of a city council resolution, he pledged to establish an advisory citizens’ committee that includes the active engagement of older adults, and he committed to responding with a “concrete and robust plan of action” to address the needs of older residents.

Jay Peak CEO Bill Stenger also expressed support to have Newport considered an Age-Friendly city as part of the AARP network. “I would very much like to see Newport as a frontrunner in our state to proactively address the needs of our valuable aging population,” he wrote. “This initiative will prepare our city and community for the steadily aging population while benefiting all of our residents.”

AARP’s role in this program advances efforts to help people live easily and comfortably in their homes and communities as they age, and encourages older citizens to take active roles and have their voices heard. Focus areas include housing, transportation, caregiving, community engagement, volunteering, social inclusion and combatting isolation among elders.

A key player in leading the effort has been the Newport City Renaissance Corp. and its executive director Patricia Sears. “We are very excited about this partnership with AARP and really value its role in helping Newport realize our potential as a livable community for all ages,” she said. “With the significant investment coming to our region, our city is in a unique position to effect change in ways that will benefit residents and businesses alike.”

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization with 138,000 members in Vermont and 40 million members nationally. Through a wide array of special benefits, services, and information resources, we help our members make important choices, reach their goals and dreams, and make the most of life after 50.

This release was sent in by:

David Reville, Communications Director
AARP Vermont
802-951-1303

Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture says that Vermont is leading the country in terms of Agriculture, but faces challenges from the Food Safety Modernization Act

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — Chuck Ross, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, was in Newport on Tuesday to listen to the concerns of local farmers. The meeting was the first in a series of listening sessions, the rest of which will take place over the next few months throughout the state.

The low turnout in Newport for the meeting made it more of a listening session for the audience, as Ross had plenty to say in regards to the good things that are happening with Vermont’s agriculture. He also warned of the threat that the state faces in light of the Food Safety Modernization Act draft that was recently passed by Congress.

One thing that Vermont’s agriculture has going for it, is Chuck Ross himself. The Secretary of Agriculture has been named President of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Listening to him speak on Tuesday, it was clear that as a state, we have one of the most knowledgeable minds in the industry working for us.

Ross laid it out for those in attendance. As a state, we are leading the way, and we also will face severe challenges set by the Food and Drug Administration.

“When you look at the state of Vermont, and what’s happening in agriculture, it’s really exciting,” Ross said. “We are leading the country in a number of ways. We’re on the cutting edge.”

According to Ross, when you talk about agriculture in Vermont, you have to start with dairy. The dairy farms support the dairy manufacturing industry in the state. This provides many Vermonters with quality jobs.

“I can’t underscore enough the importance that dairy is to the state. A lot of the other agriculture, like cheese making and yogurt, is what I call dairy plus, because it’s supported by the dairy farms. Also, the dairy farmers over the last 70 years have held the land, kept it open, and kept it productive.”

Ross went on to say that although there has been talk about herd numbers across the state decreasing, down about 2,000 cows over the last couple of years, the herd supply is fairly stable, and the milk supply is stable.

“Our farmers are getting better and better at producing more milk per cow, every year,” he said.

Chuck Ross in NewportRoss talked about what he called the “agriculture renaissance,” happening in the state, that is bringing in a younger generation of farmers. This influx of younger farmers are proving to be successful in marketing and exporting their products all over the country, which is helping to build a new and diversified economic based agriculture. At a time when the average age of dairy farmers is in the 50’s, and the number of dairy farmers decreases, these new businesses are making a good partnership with the dairy community by putting less stress on the service industries that have been built around dairy.

Ross also pointed out that Vermont is leading the way in terms of diversification and localization of agriculture.

“Vermont is seen as one of the top three artisan cheese regions in the world,” Ross said. “Our artisan cheeses compete internationally, and do incredibly well in every competition they enter. But, you can’t do good cheese, without great milk.”

Vermont is also the number one producer of maple products in the United States. Maple production is the fastest growing and most profitable agriculture in the state. Our northern neighbors in Quebec are still by far the largest producer of maple in the world.

We are also number one when it comes to direct marketing of agriculture, with CSA programs, farmers markets, and roadside stands, driving this type of growth.

“People are copying what we’re doing in Vermont in terms of supporting and growing our local economies and communities by investing in agriculture,” Ross said.

The challenge that we face comes by way of the federal government, with the Food Safety Modernization Act. The draft is a set of regulations by the Food and Drug Administration, which was drafted in response to legislation passed by Congress to make our food system safer. According to Ross, as the draft stands today, it will seriously impact the state’s agriculture, making it much harder for farmers to do business.

“This is a huge cloud hanging over much of what we’re doing with agriculture in the state of Vermont,” Ross said. “Quite candidly, the FDA wrote a draft that is not well constructed to be useful, effective, or implementable in a way that works for agriculture in Vermont and many other states.”

Ross stated that people producing produce for direct human consumption are going to be regulated according to the Food Safety Modernization Act in ways that they have never been regulated before.

“Very significantly for the state of Vermont, the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance is potentially being rewritten,” Ross said. “The PMO has served us well. I’m scratching my head wondering why are they going to mess with something that has enabled us to produce the best food product for human consumption in the world, year after year.”

Ross said that many have been engaged in pressing the FDA not to take the draft set of rules, and make it a final set of rules. He said that they are requesting that a second draft be written.

While discussing what some of the new rules would be, Ross said that one says that you can not harvest a product for human consumption for nine months after you have applied manure. That would be a growing season in the state of Vermont. You would also have to wait 45 days to harvest a product that used compost as a soil amendment.

When asked if the FDA was considering a redraft of the rules as they stand, Ross said that he is optimistic.

“I’d say we’ve gone from unlikely, to possible.”

Christmas Tree Shops in Newport Are Open For Business

in Newport

NEWPORT — Thanksgiving is behind us. Next stop, Christmas. What better way to start the season than with a locally grown tree? Within a few miles of each other on Main Street in Newport, you have your choice of two great spots to grab a wonderfully fragrant tree or wreath for the holidays this year.

The Garden Patch Farm Stand, located at 1700 East Main Street, has a wonderful selection of trees lined up and ready to go.

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Just down the road and across the street from Cumberland Farms, at 535 East Main Street, Carl Szych and his family are up and running. Mr. Szych brings in the homegrown trees from his two farms, one located in Brownington, and the other in Coventry. Both of his tree farms offer a choose and cut option, but for one ready to go, stop in at his stand in Newport.

Christmas trees Newport Vermont

Mr. Szych has been in this spot for 18 years, and many of his customers come back every year to buy one of his trees.

“We just had somebody stop in today who has been buying Christmas trees from us for the last five
years,” Mr. Szych said.

There is also a nice selection of wreaths on display.

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Music Series Returns to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Newport

in Arts and Entertainment/Newport/News

NEWPORT — After a five year hiatus, music will again fill the historic St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Second Street, Newport, with “Now Playing Newport – A Vermont Music Series.” It will be the only year-round music series in the Newport area, taking place on a monthly basis.

Jim McKimm, who for five years directed the former “Music For A Sunday Afternoon Series,” is returning to his musical roots after being a founding member of the MAC Center for the Arts, and serving as its president for five years. Mr. McKimm, who moved to Vermont in 1997, has served as Director of Music at St. Mark’s for the last twelve years, having served several churches in both New York City and New Jersey throughout his career.

Lynn Perry, member of the Newport Area Community Orchestra, and Jim McKimm, Series Director, look over the poster for the first concert in the “Now Playing Newport” music series which will begin on December 15th, at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
Lynn Perry, member of the Newport Area Community Orchestra, and Jim McKimm, Series Director, look over the poster for the first concert in the “Now Playing Newport” music series which will begin on December 15th, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
Joining as local music partners in the series will be Dr. Sara Doncaster, the Music Department Head at Lake Region High School, and Ken Michelli, founder and director of the Newport Area Community Orchestra.

New to the program will be a series of free youth concerts, starting with the Lake Region High School Select Chorus, who will present their holiday program on Sunday, December 15, at 4 p.m., under the direction of Dr. Doncaster. Their repertoire will include sacred music of various types.

The series will be reaching out to the other schools and youth groups in the area for the 2014 season.

The series is administered separately from the church and will be administered strictly by grants, sponsors, donations, and ticket sales. Receptions will follow most programs in the church’s Parish House.

St. Mark’s, completed in 1883, has changed little since it was built. The building’s vaulted wooden ceiling makes for wonderful room acoustics. The small venue will allow for an intimate experience for both the audience, as well as the musicians.

For complete details on the series and programs, visit them at www.nowplayingnewport.com.

If you know of anyone who may be interested in taking part in the series, please contact concerts@nowplayingnewport.com.

“Surreal,” A Surrealist Art Exhibition in Newport Starts December 7

in Arts and Entertainment/Newport

Surreal art opening Newport Vermont

NEWPORT — On Saturday, December 7, there will be a wine and cheese reception for the opening of “Surreal,” an exhibit of surrealist and otherwise weird paintings, photographs, sculpture, and video. On display will be the works of Vermont artists Bradleigh Stockwell, Mary Brenner, Diana Mara Henry, Chris Hudson, Sam Thurston, Mandee Roberts, Phyllis Hammond, and others. Also on display will be the gallery’s collection of surrealist works by the late Seattle artist Donald Peel.

The event will take place at The 99 Gallery and Center, behind 316 Main Street, and across from the Family Dollar in downtown Newport.

The opening starts at 6 p.m. and will run until 8 p.m.

Come out for this relaxing and entertaining evening of unusual art. The exhibition runs through January 31, 2014.

Community Dinners Thanksgiving Day in Derby Make it a Special Holiday for Many in the Area

in Derby/News
Photos by Tanya Mueller

All photos by Tanya Mueller, unless otherwise noted.

DERBY — The Church of God and the Elks Lodge in Derby both hosted community dinners Thanksgiving Day, making it a special holiday for many in the area. Both offered turkey dinner for anyone who wished to eat with the community, and both offered take out packages as well.

Church of God Pastor Laurence Wall poses with Julie Chase following Thursday's community dinner.
Church of God Pastor Laurence Wall poses with Julie Chase following Thursday’s community dinner.

The day before Thanksgiving, The Church of God delivered 145 meals throughout the area. Hayes Ford of Newport donated the 13 turkeys which were prepared by church members. The community dinner that they hosted on Thanksgiving Day was thanks to Julie Chase, who not only had the idea for the dinner, but cooked a turkey that she raised herself. About 50 people came out Thursday for the meal.

“This is the first time that we have hosted a community meal on Thanksgiving Day,” Pastor Laurence Wall of Church of God said. “It was a good turnout, and it’s all thanks to Julie.”

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The Elks Lodge served 225 people who came out Thanksgiving Day for the community dinner. They also served 300 take out meals throughout the day. This was the eighth year that the Elks Lodge in Derby has hosted the dinner.

Frances Dewing cooked the majority of the food, and the North Country High School Culinary Arts Program donated 69 pies for dessert. The potatoes served were thanks to George Weller of Stanstead.

“George did all the potatoes,” Ms. Dewing said. “Tuesday night they had a potato peeling party at his house, where they peeled all the potatoes. They cooked them this morning, and transported them here.”

Photo courtesy of Frances Dewing.
Photo courtesy of Frances Dewing.

The event was awarded a $2,000 Beacon Grant from the Elks National Foundation which paid for most of the food. With community donations in advance, both cash and in-kind, they raised a total of $3,000 before dinner was even served Thursday.

The money raised goes to the food and fuel fund for the Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging

“It will be a Thanksgiving that continues throughout the season,” Lisa Viles, the executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging, said following Thursday’s event.

Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging works to assist individuals who are in crisis for food and fuel throughout the year. They take donations to support their work online at NEKseniors.Org

Frances Dewing in the kitchen at the Elks Lodge in Derby Thursday afternoon.
Frances Dewing in the kitchen at the Elks Lodge in Derby Thursday afternoon.

Detroit Man Said to be Former Member of Bloods Street Gang Pleads Not Guilty of Charges He Conspired to Sell Heroin in Orleans

in News/Orleans

ORLEANS — In U.S. District Court in Burlington on Wednesday, Tony Rudolph Williams Jr. of Detroit, pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to sell heroin from an apartment in Orleans, Vermont.

Williams, 34, was arrested on Nov. 14 in Plattsburgh, New York, while getting off of a bus. Police arrested him based on information they received from confidential informants. When searched, he was in possession of more than a half ounce of heroin, a powdery substance, and muscle relaxants. He was ordered to remain in custody after being indicted on a drug conspiracy charge by a federal grand jury last week.

According to an affidavit filed with the court by a Vermont Drug Task Force agent, Williams “admitted that he was on his way to Vermont to make money selling drugs. He admitted this was his fourth trip to Vermont. He said he had transported 2-3 grams of heroin on a prior trip and sold it in Orleans County.”

According to the affidavit, a man identified by the nickname “Shorty,” has yet to be apprehended, but is said to have periodically sold heroin and other drugs from the apartment in Orleans since June.

According to court papers, Williams is said to have told police that he was a former member of the Bloods street gang. The court fillings also state that Williams has 12 prior convictions, three of which are felonies, and that he had two warrants for his arrest in Michigan at the time he was arrested in New York.

Recital of Soloists from the Newport Area Community Orchestra to Play December 7 in Derby Line

in Arts and Entertainment/Derby Line
Photo by Lisa C. Erwin
Photo by Lisa C. Erwin

The Newport Area Community Orchestra is sponsoring a recital of soloists from the orchestra on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm at the First Universalist Parish in Derby Line.

The performers are from left to right: Ken Michelli, Vivian Spates, Linda Aiken, Howie Arzt, Chris Maginniss, Paula Hansen-Graveline, and Lynn Perry (not in photo).

The performers have worked very hard preparing their solos and would love to have you join them for this special musical performance.

Four Stars as QNEK Presented “A Christmas Carol Radio Play,” Sunday Afternoon in Derby Line

in Arts and Entertainment/Derby Line/News

DERBY LINE — QNEK Productions finished off their third performance of “A Christmas Carol Radio Play,” Sunday afternoon at the Parish Hall of the First Universalist Church in Derby Line. The shows, which started Friday night, were performed as a benefit for the First Universalist Church.

QNEK a Christmas Carol Radio Play

Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” has captured the imagination, as well as the spirit of Christmas since its release in 1843. The name “Scrooge,” and the exclamation, “Bah! Humbug!” have entered the English language through the story.

It is a tale of overcoming the shallowness of our greedy attitudes, with the kind, thoughtful, and generous sides of our character that make our lives, and those around us, more enjoyable. Scrooge has the opportunity to change his ways, only because he is made aware of the consequences of his actions. The Christmas season itself is supposed to be the time of year when the spirit of good, spotlights our shortcomings throughout the year. It is a classic tale, and one that has been done many different ways.

“A Christmas Carol has been arranged and produced in a few different formats, from something right off the page, to something of a more goofy spectrum,” Phil Gosselin, Associate Producing Director of QNEK said before Sunday’s show. “This production is somewhere in between, with the dialogue being Dickensian, right off the book, but done in a radio play style.”

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The QNEK cast of 18, which included sound effects and technicians, as well as the voice actors, put on a show Sunday afternoon that was much more than just a radio play. The hall was decorated with wreaths, and the tables were stocked with candy canes. As the audience arrived for the performance, members of the cast were circled around a piano singing Christmas carols. It was a perfect Christmas scene for “A Christmas Carol.”

Throughout the show, the actors used their voices to perfectly portray the action and suspense of the story. The radio play style naturally has a way to draw an audience inside the story, and the live sound effects made for an even more memorable experience. There was even a bit of comedy thrown in, thanks in part to the playfulness between the cast members themselves.

“It’s a story about rich and the poor, good and bad,” Josh Rediker, who played Bucky Maxwell, said after the show. “As a character, Scrooge changes because people gave him a chance, which warms his heart. It’s a great story for the Christmas season, and I loved working with all the people here. They’re fantastic.”

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“The performance changes all the time,” Brian McCrae, who has been with QNEK for four years, said. “Every night there is something different, and that’s what makes live theater great. You never know what’s going to happen.

Sunday afternoon, QNEK did a superb job of recreating the traditional radio play style of old. Although we have yet to have finished the Thanksgiving dinner that officially starts the holiday season, QNEK’s performance of A Christmas Carol left those who attended any of the shows over the weekend feeling that not only is Christmas just around the corner, but perhaps the days leading up to the actual holiday are more important than the day itself.

If you missed the shows in Derby Line, QNEK will present “A Christmas Carol Radio Play” on December 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the MAC Center in Newport. Visit them on the web at QNEK.com, and, for a short video of the cast warming up the audience on Sunday, visit DISPATCH TV.

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MAC Center for the Arts Holiday Opening Reception Brings Art Lovers to Newport

in Arts and Entertainment/Newport

It was seasons greetings from the MAC Center for the Arts to the people of the area Friday night, as the gallery hosted their Holiday Opening Reception. The event, which took place from 5-7 p.m., showcased all new artwork from gallery members.

Visitors were treated to the sounds of the newly formed Newport Area Piano Sextet, who were set up in the back of the gallery. The group played a variety of music, including traditional Christmas carols.

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With a reception held every quarter, Friday marked the sixth time the MAC Center has hosted one during the Christmas season. Visitors circled the gallery viewing all the new artwork that filled the walls, a large selection of which was done specifically for the holidays.

Members of the collaborative wore name tags identifying themselves as artists, which allowed visitors the opportunity to discuss the artwork with the artists themselves.

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“This is my first time at the Holiday Reception, and I’m so impressed with how many people showed up tonight,” Elinor Osborn, a photographer from Craftsbury said.

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Regular business hours at the MAC Center are Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The newest selection of artwork makes for great holiday shopping. You can also visit the MAC Center online at http://www.memphremagogartscollaborative.com

Check out DISPATCH TV for a short video from Friday night’s reception at the MAC Center.

Vermont Filmmaker Nora Jacobson on “Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie”

in Arts and Entertainment

nora jacobsonBorn in Norwich, Vermont, Nora Jacobson’s life has taken her many places. When she was eight years old she moved to Paris with her family, where they remained until she was fifteen. She will soon head off to South Korea to shoot a feature film. In her recent project, “Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie,” Ms. Jacobson set out to discover the identity of her native Vermont. Newport Dispatch recently caught up with Ms. Jacobson while she was in Newport for a screening of the film.

“I wanted to understand what state identity means,” Ms. Jacobson said. “Does a state have an identity? Does a state have a DNA like a person has a DNA?”

Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie, seems to prove that a state, at least Vermont, does. The film is a six-part collaborative documentary that explores Vermont’s history and culture. The story is told thematically, rather than chronologically, giving viewers the feeling of being on a ride that quickly moves from one point to another.

The characters that appear throughout the series seem to represent the complexities of the state character itself. In making the film, Ms. Jacobson wanted to understand where these characters originated.

“Vermont is an interesting place. There’s this interesting mix of stereotypes surrounding us as progressive, radical left wing types, or the rural republican type. I thought, where did this come from? Is there a historical precedent?”

The film being a collaboration between three dozen Vermont filmmakers, Ms. Jacobson had to decide what footage to use, and how to use it.

“I couldn’t use all the footage,” she said. “It was difficult to keep a filmmaker from feeling betrayed that I had edited the footage in a way that they didn’t always agree with.”

With the project now complete, it was a learning experience for everyone involved.

“I hope I’ve learned the art of diplomacy,” she said. “I’ve had many sleepless nights after being a little too blunt with some of the filmmakers about their work. I had to learn how to deal with people who are as passionate about their work as I am. We all have sensitive egos.”

Ms. Jacobson also learned many new things about Vermont as well.

“I didn’t know much about the African American settlers who came to Vermont in the 1770’s. We did a whole section on this community of free African Americans at the time, and I found it interesting that there was a higher percentage of African Americans in the state at the time, than there is now.”

Although still traveling the state for screenings of The Vermont Movie, Ms. Jacobson has many projects in the works.

“I’m working on a feature film to be made in South Korea, that deals with international adoption. It’s a fictionalized story based on a memoir. I’m also working on a film about Vermont’s poet laureate Ruth Stone. I also skate, and have been documenting this one pond for the last ten years, so I’m doing a film about pond hockey.”

Support the Child Care Workers Bid to Unionize by Pam Ladds

in Opinion

Written by Pam Ladds

Thirty years ago I watched a friend, a working mother, pay the kid who cut her hedge more than she paid the woman who took care of her 2 children. This woman, a registered child care provider working in her own home, spent at least 8 hours a day in the role of Surrogate Parent, totally responsible for the lives of the 4 children in her care, their emotional and physical well-being, their nutrition and their early education. For that she got paid just over minimum wage. Of course she had no access to health care for herself and her own children were subsidized by the State – in reality all of us. How we value work, women and children was blatantly obvious. We don’t!

It would be wonderful to say how much things have changed. To be able to show that the Child Care Workers are now paid living wages, have access to benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation time. However, this is not reality – very little has changed. Women’s work is still systemically devalued, and what is seen as “traditional” work, all aspects of Care Giving, receives very little respect. Child Care providers, particularly in low income areas are living in poverty themselves. The essential service that they provide – in effect they sustain the work force, and subsidize the lives of the rest of us, frequently does not provide a living wage.

An attempt to remedy this is a piece of legislation currently vending its way through the Vermont State Building. The Early Educators Bill (S.52) co-sponsored by several Senators and Representatives including NEK’s Robert Starr is designed to allow Child Care providers to organize, to have some input into their own working conditions and ultimately into the quality of care given to children – the future of the rest of us. Quality child care is a no-brainer!

It is the beginning of the road out of the poverty trap. The importance of early stimulation, quality nutrition and warm caring people is well documented. Kids who spend their days without stimulation, parked in front of the tv, and fed on junk do not do as well as children raised in homes with knowledgeable, competent, trained Care Givers.

Care Givers want to be able to organize, to bargain collectively and in doing so gain respect for their career path. Being able to earn an adequate living without resorting to Food Stamps and Emergency Room Health Care for themselves would also be helpful!

This Bill allows for choice. Child Care Workers who do not wish to unionize do not have to. The majority of Child Care Providers however, work in isolation and this formal route will allow them to meet, learn from each other and provide better care for the children in their charge. It is important to contact local legislators to show support for this Bill and to ensure the future of this profession.
It is interesting that the Child Care Providers have chosen to go the tortuously slow, “polite” pathway of asking permission to organize and improve conditions for themselves and their charges.

It is equally interesting that the State of VT demands “permission” to organize. Child Care Providers could shut down the work-force in a week if they had chosen a different path. But they elected to continue to be responsible for their charges, provide quality care, continue to struggle themselves in order to “do this right”!

They deserve our support! Please contact your legislators to support Bill S.52. For further information check out their website:

Kids Count on Me | A Project of Vermont Early Educators United

Nelson Farms – Highest Recipient of Dairy Subsidies in Orleans County

in Derby/Derby Line/News

DERBY — According to the Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database, Nelson Farms, who was recently ordered to stop polluting two local waterways, is the highest recipient of Dairy Program subsidies in Orleans County. According to the database, they have also received the third highest amount of Dairy Program subsidies in the State of Vermont.

The Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database tracks $256 billion in farm subsidies from commodity, crop insurance, and disaster programs, as well as $39 billion in conservation payments, between the years of 1995-2013.

Nelson Farms was recently taken to court by the State of Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the Agency of Natural Resources for discharging waste into the Clyde River and the Crystal Brook.

Last week, the Attorney General’s office announced a win in the water quality case against Nelson Farms. A preliminary injunction order was handed down by Orleans County Superior Court Judge Howard VanBenthuysen against Nelson Farms on November 6. The injunction states that farm operators are not allowed to discharge manure and other agricultural waste into the waterways.

The state alleges Nelson Farms allowed manure and other dairy operation drainage to overflow and discharge directly into the Clyde River from its farm in Derby Center, as well as directly into the Crystal Brook from its Derby Line location. According to a press release from the Attorney General’s office, the Nelson’s Clyde River farm has 450 dairy cows, and 200 heifers, and the Crystal Brook location has 575 dairy cows.

Between 1995-2013, Nelson Farms received $540,986 in dairy program subsidies, the highest in Orleans County.

Nelson farms dairy subsidies 2

The amount ranks third highest overall in the state of Vermont.

Nelson farms dairy subsidies 1

“Vermont farmers are stewards of the land and provide many environmental and economic benefits to our state. However, it is not acceptable for farmers to allow barnyard waste to pollute our waterways,” Attorney General William Sorrell said in a press release. “Although an acre of farm land produces less phosphorus than an acre of urbanized land, excess phosphorous in our waterways from any source deprives freshwater fish and plants of essential oxygen.”

Between 1995-2013, Nelson Farms received a total of $1,213,303 in USDA subsidies.

Willey Claims Charges of Chasing Border Patrol Agent and Waving Handgun “Totally Fabricated”

in Newport/News
newport vermont news

NEWPORT — “This is all totally fabricated,” Jason Willey, 30, of Derby Line told Judge Howard VanBenthuysen in court on Tuesday.

Willey is accused of chasing a Border Patrol agent in a residential area, as well as displaying a handgun while speaking with a Customs officer. He claims to have no idea why he was in court, and is being held at Northern State Correctional Facility in lieu of bail, after invoking his right to take 24 hours before entering a plea.

The judge said the court would enter pro forma not guilty pleas to misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and careless or negligent operation. Bail was set at $25,000. The judge also ordered Willey to refrain from harassing any state or federal law enforcement officers, or possessing any weapons.

The incidents took place on two separate occasions, starting on Nov. 2, when Willey is said to have spotted Customs and Border Protection Officer Stephan Isabelle off duty at the Circle K station in Derby Line. According to an affidavit filed by Sergeant Michael LaCourse, Willey was starring at Isabelle while pumping gas, and allegedly pointed his finger in the shape of a gun, and made a shooting gesture.

Isabelle followed Willey and called for back-up. Customs and Border Protection Officer Justin Speaks spotted the car parked in Willey’s driveway on Lyon Road, where Willey is said to have grabbed a handgun that was tucked in the waistband of his pants. Willey put his hands about his head for Speaks to seize the gun after Speaks drew his weapon.

The chasing incident took place Nov. 14, when Border Patrol Agent John Marquissee saw Willey drive by. Marquissee states that he noticed Willey because of the incident which took place on Nov. 2.

According to an affidavit filed by state police trooper David Upson Jr., at 11:30 p.m., Marquissee stated that Willey began following him at speeds up to 80 miles per hour in a 25 miles per hour zone. Marquisse claims that he was being followed so closely, that he could not see Willey’s headlights, and that at one point, Willey cut his headlights completely.

Afterward, Willey sped off, and Marquisse was unable to locate Willey’s vehicle. Later, state troopers found Willey’s car parked in a lot on Route 105 in Newport Center, where Willey’s girlfriend, Pamela Binette, was in the drivers seat.

Binette is said to have confirmed the story of the chase, and that Willey told her to switch seats with him, which she did out of fear.

Gov. Shumlin Bags a Buck Over the Weekend, and Twitter Goes Wild

in News/Opinion

Saturday marked the start of rifle deer hunting season in Vermont, and Governor Peter Shumlin’s weekend hunting played out across Twitter like a soap opera.

Last year, WCAX tweeted that WCAX reporter Susie Steimle followed Shumlin into the woods to find out more about Vermont’s 81st governor.

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“In the end, we saw no deer or bear or any wildlife at all. Instead, we got an unusual glimpse of Vermont’s governor attempting to find some peace and quiet,” Steimle wrote.

But this year Shumlin redeemed himself when he posted this tweet:

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VT Fish and Wildlife were quick to follow up the announcement:

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Burlington Free Press followed suit:

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Even Anne Galloway, of VTDigger.org got in on the action.

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The event did not go without a bit of humor also:

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Or:

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But the best of all came last:

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Dailey Memorial Library’s Christmas Arts and Crafts Fair a Success

in Arts and Entertainment/Derby/News
derby Vermont arts and Crafts fair

DERBY — “Looking to the future while preserving the past.” These are the words guiding the capital campaign for the expansion project of the Dailey Memorial Library. With some of the proceeds from this years Christmas Arts and Crafts Fair going toward the expansion project, Saturday’s event both looked toward the future of the library, while preserving the past, marking the 22nd time that the annual event has taken place.

1 derby Vermont arts and Crafts fairInside the gymnasiums of North Country Junior High, visitors were treated to an eclectic mix of products that showcased the rich tradition of arts and crafts throughout the region. There were 33 vendors involved this year, selling a range of products.

Riley Brooks, of B3 Balsam, brought out a line of products made from ground up balsam firs. The pleasing smell of the soft, fir stuffed pillows, were a popular seller Saturday morning. According to Mr. Brooks, the fir scent of the pillows will last for many years.

“We were at a craft expo when we found Maine Balsam Fir Company, the supplier who we buy our dried firs from,” Mr. Brooks said. “We bought a pound that night, and since we had a fir pillow that was 16 years old and still smelled nice, we decided to try and make our own. B3 Balsam started that night using a 1940 Singer Straight Stitch machine.”

Mr. Wambach, from Nic & Wambach Creative Arts based out of Red Hook New York, said he visits his sister once a month in Vermont, and enjoys drawing the state’s picturesque scenes. His display showcased some of these works.

derby Vermont arts and Crafts fair 1“I enjoy the beauty of Vermont, and it’s a place with a phenomenal amount of history,” he said.

One of his favorite Vermont scenes to draw are covered bridges.

I plan to do as many of the covered bridges as I can. There are 138 in the Northeast Kingdom, and I’d like to draw all of them,” he said.

His work can be found at the East Side gift shop, or visit them online.

Richard and Vera Long, of Long Branch Wooden Bowls, brought out their entire inventory of wood turned bowels.

To make the bowls, the couple haul the logs in from their property in Holland. It takes about ten to twelve months for each piece to be finished. Mr. Long starts with a rough cut, then shelves and dates each piece. Once dry, they are put back on the lathe for a final shaping. The bowls are finished in walnut oil and beeswax.

IMG_9293“I hand sign each piece with a wood burning tool,” Vera Long said. “Because they are heirloom gifts, many customers want them for a wedding present. I put the name of the couple with the date they were married on the back.”

Jim Hutchins, of Hutch and Ricka Custom Leather Carving, displayed an assortment of handcrafted leather and hardwood items made in Newport Center. A sign which read, “little hands welcome to touch,” was posted above the display, encouraging the curiosity of the many children who came out Saturday. Their work is part of the Wooden Horse Arts Guild, and can be viewed online.

Kimberly Covert, from Covert Essentials of Enosburg Falls, was busy selling personal care products. She started her own line of products after working for an all natural skin care company in New York. Covert Essentials started making soap, but has evolved into much more.

Her biggest seller has been her deodorant products.

IMG_9265 (2)“I wanted a natural deodorant that actually works,” she said. “Using a combination of organic coconut oil and beeswax forms a nice barrier, and combined with some powder, keep you dry for a really long time.”

Her products can be found in Stowe, but should soon be available in the Newport area.

Saturday’s craft fair lasted until 2 p.m. Although the event draws many people every year, this year was especially steady. The money raised will go to the operating fund of the Daily Memorial Library, as well as the capital campaign for the expansion project.

To see a video of what the new library will look like, please watch the video below.

Newly Formed Piano Sextet Will Play Friday Nov. 22 at MAC

in Arts and Entertainment/Newport

photPiano Sextet Newport Area Community Orchestra

NEWPORT – The newly formed Newport Area Community Orchestra Piano Sextet will be performing at the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative on Friday, November 22nd from 5-7 p.m. for their annual Holiday Reception.

The group will be playing a variety of music including traditional Christmas carols.

The members are from left to right: Ken Michelli, Mark Violette, Linda Aiken, Lynn Perry, Howie Arzt, and Chris Maginniss.

Nelson Farms Ordered to Stop Polluting the Clyde River

in Derby/Derby Line/News

DERBY LINE — The Vermont Attorney General’s office announced a win this week in a water quality case against two farms owned by the Nelson family. The preliminary injunction order was handed down by Orleans County Superior Court Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, against Nelson Farms on November 6. The injunction states that farm operators are not allowed to discharge manure and other agricultural waste into the Clyde River, or the Crystal Brook.

The state alleges Nelson Farms allowed manure and other dairy operation drainage to overflow and discharge directly into the Clyde River from its farm in Derby Center, as well as directly into the Crystal Brook from its Derby Line location.

According to the press release from the attorney general’s office, the Nelson’s Clyde River farm has 450 dairy cows, and 200 heifers, and the Crystal Brook location has 575 dairy cows.

Nelson Farms has until Dec. 15 to present plans to the state as to how both locations will permanently eliminate any potential waste runoff entering the brook or the river. They also must allow inspectors on site to inspect the farms anytime between 6 a.m. – 9 a.m.

“Vermont farmers are stewards of the land and provide many environmental and economic benefits to our state. However, it is not acceptable for farmers to allow barnyard waste to pollute our waterways,” Attorney General William Sorrell said in the press release.

“Although an acre of farm land produces less phosphorus than an acre of urbanized land, excess phosphorous in our waterways from any source deprives freshwater fish and plants of essential oxygen.”

“The State’s agricultural water quality laws and programs are designed to assist farmers to help keep our waterways clean,” Sorrell said. ”When voluntary compliance efforts fail, however, the Agency of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Conservation and my Office will work cooperatively to take enforcement action.”

Click to download the injunction (PDF)

Click to read the Attorney General’s press release.

Images From Newport Fire Thursday Afternoon

in Newport/News

All photos by Manfried Starhemberg

NEWPORT — The fire which blazed Thursday afternoon on Central Street in Newport left three families without a home. The apartment building, owned by Memphremagog Rentals, was completely destroyed. Nearby homes were evacuated by the Newport City Fire Department and Police Department due to the thick, noxious smoke which filled the surrounding area.

Newport Vermont Fire

The fire broke out around 1 p.m. The Derby Line Fire Department was called in to help battle the fire which burned well into Thursday evening.

Newport Vermont Fire 2

As of Thursday night, not much is known as to the cause of the fire, however, a cause and origin investigation will be done. There were no injuries. All residents who were inside the building at the time made it out safely.

Newport Fire Vermont

The Vermont Movie: Exploring the Identity of Vermont

in Arts and Entertainment/Newport

NEWPORT — Part three of Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie, a six-part collaborative documentary exploring Vermont’s history and culture, was screened Wednesday night at the Gateway Center in Newport. The episode, titled Refuge, Reinvention, and Revolution, explored the back-to-the-land and activist communities that sprung up in the state during the sixties and seventies. A discussion took place afterward, led by Dorothy Tod and Kate Cone, two of the filmmakers who worked on the film.

The Vermont Movie is much more than a historical documentary. For one thing, it is thematic, rather than chronological. History is used to measure and organize the story, but, history is only one of many tools the film uses to explore the identity and character of Vermont.

The film looks at identity as a process of change, always in a state of flux and trying to work itself out. It also demonstrates how the collective consciousness of the present is only the latest in a series of changes taking place over time.

Episode three focused on how the social turmoil that the country experienced during the sixties, paved the way for a counter-culture migration into the state. Many communal living experiments were established, with the state’s natural serenity providing the perfect opportunity for the refuge, reinvention, and revolution, the episode takes its title from.

The characters appearing in part three are as much individuals, as they are representatives of the collective identity of the state. As the episode follows these “hippie” communes, emotionally, the viewer is drawn into the universal search for home, and what it takes to secure that place once it is found. The idealism that might bring one to a place like Vermont is quickly countered with the reality of what it takes to adapt to its unique environment.

“The film is as much about emotional history, and cultural history, than anything else,” Phil White said following Wednesday’s screening. “

The film also makes one ponder what it is about Vermont that makes it so special.

“It’s also just fun to reflect on why we love Vermont. For so many people Vermont is a home of choice. What is it about Vermont that is so appealing? If you were born here, or moved here, it feels like home,” Mr. White went on to say.

“It’s important to have another view of the identity of Vermont,” filmmaker Kate Cone, said. “We know what we think Vermont is, but the film offers a wide range of new ideas, connections, and links about events in history that people might not know about.”

For filmmaker Dorothy Tod, episode three allowed her to reflect on the theory behind the filmmaking process that brought about The Vermont Movie.

“Freedom and Unity, which is part of the name of the film, became a way to describe how we as filmmakers worked,” she said. “I didn’t grow up on a commune, but I grew up on the edge of one, and had neighbors and friends who had been part of one. It always made me a little nervous to have that degree of freedom.”

Episode four will be screened next Wednesday at the Emory Hebard State Office Building in Newport. The episode title is “Doers & Shapers.”

The film is an important study of the history and identity of Vermont, and should not be missed. For more information, visit the film on the web at TheVermontMovie.Com or watch the trailer below:

Senior Living in Straw Bale Home: Holland, Vermont

in Arts and Entertainment/Holland

Photos by Tanya Mueller

HOLLAND — With straw bale walls, enclosed in a lime, clay, straw plaster that was mixed on site, it’s not exactly what comes to mind when you think of a senior living facility.

As interest in alternative building methods increases, and the stereotypes that surround Earth-based construction break down, the straw bale structure sitting in Holland, Vermont, is pioneering its way into the future. It is the only straw bale senior living home in the United States.

IMG_9128A little over two months after welcoming in its first residents, the building is gearing up for its first heating season. With heavy winds common at the location, and freezing temperatures on the horizon across the area, the 1900 square foot structure is well equipped to face whatever challenges winter has in store.

The building is a fortress of thermal insulation. The wall structure of the post and beam frame consists of 18 inch wide straw bales. The bales, which sit on a two-foot-high pony wall that forms a base to keep them off the foundation, have an R-value insulation rating of 28. The pony wall is stuffed with super insulated cellulose, with an R-value of 55. The roof also incorporates super insulated cellulose material, and the frost-protected concrete slab that the structure sits on is insulated from underneath, as well as along the sides.

Radiant heat lines run throughout the concrete slab and heat the building. An extremely efficient propane-fired condensing broiler provides a continuous loop of hot water through the lines, allowing a consistent temperature to be easily maintained.

IMG_9120The building consists of two 600 square foot single bedroom senior housing units, with a communal space between them. There is an entry porch, as well as two south-facing porches for each unit. Since it is an independent living facility, the communal space houses an energy efficient washer and drier, which residents share.

Energy efficiency is a theme throughout the house. Currently, the home is set to become the first straw bale building to be awarded certification from Efficiency Vermont as a Vermont Energy Star Home.

The project, managed by Rural Edge, along with general contractor Lee Cooper of Back 2 Basics Builders, began last spring. The frame and roof were up by fall, then wrapped for the winter to keep it dry. The straw bale walls went up in the spring of this year, with everything finished by September.

Evelyn Page, who is now deceased, was one of the oldest living residents in the area. When her husband passed away, she wanted to leave a legacy, so she donated 7 acres, and funded the project. Her only request was that it provide housing for local residents of Holland. Unfortunately, she did not survive to see the finished home, but she did get to see the walls going up.

So, what are the drawbacks to building with straw bales? Uncontrolled moisture is the biggest challenge straw bale structures face. The architects who worked on the project had to reduce exposure to wind-driven rain and snow. The problem was addressed with extensive roof overhangs designed to move water away from the plaster and stucco walls.

This winter will be the ultimate test of the building. So far residents are comfortable and enjoying the opportunity to be a part of such a unique project.

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State Senator Robert Starr Offends Arab-American Group

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — At a Vermont Transportation Board public hearing on October 30, Vermont State Senator Robert Starr made a remark which angered the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). In a letter sent to Senator Starr the group requested that he address the matter publicly.

During the public hearing, Senator Starr was addressing members of the Vermont Transportation Board, who were taking responses from participants as to how the state could make up for a loss of gas tax revenue as the use of electric vehicles increases.

The state of Vermont’s energy plan sets a goal of 25 percent of all vehicles to run on alternative fuels by the year 2030.

“Part of the revenue that the state gets for transportation is tied to the gas tax,” Vermont Transportation Board Executive Secretary John Zicconi stated during an interview last week. “When we hit 143,000 electric vehicles, we will loose about 21 million dollars annually in revenue. The question Senator Starr was responding to was if this is coming, how do we make up that revenue?”

Senator Starr voiced his opinion that electric rate increases in the state would make it more expensive in the future to operate electric cars, than to drive gas powered vehicles.

“As far as electric cars go, the way I see it, if our electric rates keep going up at the rate they’ve been going up, I don’t think we’ll ever hit that magic number of 5,000 electric cars, because it’s going to cost more to plug those suckers in than it does to go give the Arabs four dollars a gallon for the gas,” Senator Starr said.

A participant in the crowd that night, who wishes to remain anonymous, was troubled by what he heard. The next day the incident was reported to the ADC. The group, based out of Washington, D.C., is the largest Arab American grassroots organization in the country.

In a letter sent to Senator Starr, the ADC wrote:

“ADC strongly believes that your statement is highly offensive to the Arab-American community and perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arab-Americans. Your statement can be interpreted as a generalization toward all persons of Arab ethnicity.”

Starr’s comment was confirmed through an audio recording that exists of the incident.

“What Senator Starr said was very stereotypical, and there is no room for that in politics,” ADC Director of Legal and Policy Affairs, Abed Ayoub, said during a telephone interview.

“Elected officials, and those seeking office need to be more responsible with their words, and need to have a better understanding of different ethnic groups and individuals that make up a part of this country.”

Although the individual who reported the incident demanded full anonymity, he provided this statement regarding his initial shock after hearing Starr’s comment.

“There are many ways his remark could have been taken, all of which were offensive.”

“His metaphor and his words were very careless, and very stereotypical,” Mr. Ayoub stated.

It took a week for Senator Starr to have the opportunity to respond to the letter because he never actually received it. Although the letter from the ADC was sent within a few days, they faxed it to the number given for Vermont State Senators online. Since they do not have offices in Montpelier, any fax that would have arrived for Senator Starr would be waiting in Montpelier until January.

When made aware of the letter, Starr was quick to offer an apology, and to retract what he said.

“I shouldn’t have said it that way,” Starr stated when asked about the incident.

“See our electric rates here in Vermont are the fourth highest in the nation. I should have said with our electric rates so high, we aren’t going to be able to use electric cars. I certainly didn’t want to offend anybody, and should have said it would be cheaper to give our money to the big oil companies and oil men. I did not want to offend anybody, and if I did I am certainly sorry that I did. My statement was more of a reaction to electric rates here in Vermont being so high.”

When made aware of Starr’s response, the individual who reported the incident appreciated Starr’s willingness to address the issue. He had been advised by the ADC that sometimes issues like this go without response.

“He acknowledged what he said, took responsibility for it, and offered an apology. You can’t ask for more than that, and usually don’t get as much,” the individual who reported the incident said. “When someone says something that offends someone else, and you find sincerity in their apology, you move on, and everyone grows from the situation,” he went on to say.

“I’ve worked with the public since I was a kid, and I don’t ever want to offend anyone,” Starr said. “I wasn’t applying gas prices to any individual, or individuals, but we do buy a lot of foreign oil, and our electric rates have gone up considerably over the last four years.”

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