Done With Boves
After reading your cover story ["Roaches and Broken Locks," November 3] about the horrible conditions at the rental properties owned by Mark and Rick Bove, I vowed to never purchase another Bove's product. I want nothing to do with someone who could be so cruel to fellow humans, especially those most vulnerable. Thanks to Seven Days and Vermont Public Radio for bringing this into the light for public scrutiny.
Thanks for covering how a major national issue is also affecting local hospitals ["Health Care Premium," November 3]. You hit all the major issues and facts. The hospital staff provided a few thoughts but no clear solutions. What was not mentioned was that, in dire situations like this one, a free market often produces great results for individuals but terrible effects on greater society. We saw the same thing early in the pandemic when hospitals were bidding against each other and the federal government for PPE. When labor prices rise for health care, we all end up paying the bill. The most feasible way to solve the issue is via federal legislation or regulation. This could still reward those who travel, but perhaps it could cap wages at two times the local rate.
The article showed clearly that we're in a vicious cycle: The more traveling nurses there are, the greater the incentive for the employed to shift to traveling. This is increasing health care costs, reducing morale and likely reducing quality.
There are instances when federal rules are politically acceptable to folks of all sorts, like the anti-gouging rules for generators after storms. It's time for our elected officials in Washington, D.C., to start the conversation with their colleagues and work to rectify the situation.
Rest in Pine
It isn't often
You find a coffin
Of fine design
And natural pine.
To rest awhile
In simple style
Till Mother Earth
Brings you rebirth.
Many thanks for featuring Knock Knock Natural Coffins and Noah Burton ["Board to Death," October 27]! I've been planning my green burial and had been considering a $1,500 "mushroom suit," so Noah's price is a bargain. His new enterprise is a timely and valuable service, and I hope more folks will consider this alternative to cremation. Yesterday I met Noah at his workshop and placed my order!
Another Way of Reckoning
[Re "The Art of Transformation," October 13]: The Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont has taken the time while closed during the pandemic to rethink its collection and how to display it with a more thorough recognition of the history of the works and the people who create(d) them. However, I think there is a better way to deal with racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic and other biased art (and art created by people with a history of such behavior) than not displaying it at all or replacing it with a piece of text explaining why it is not being shown.
Other institutions deal with this by creating exhibits that explain and show contrasts. If we don't see the problem, how can we learn?
An NPR story on October 28 described how Kehinde Wiley's "A Portrait of a Young Gentleman" has been installed in the Huntington Museum of Art facing Thomas Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy." Wiley talks about visiting the museum as a child and not seeing representations of himself. His portrait is a "more inclusive" reimagining. He adds, "They're squaring off. But nothing's resolved."
The Right Police Chief
Recently Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger suspended the search for a new police chief [Off Message: "Weinberger Again Suspends Search for New Burlington Police Chief," November 5]. When announcing his decision, he wrote that "City Council actions over the last year ... have weakened the Department and undermined the Chief's role." This has made "a successful search impossible at this time." If the mayor meant calling for a review board and creating community liaison positions, then, yes, the chief's role was theoretically weakened.
However, many who live and work in Burlington see it differently. Indeed, they consider these moves, however incomplete, to be the beginning of a process to give residents more oversight of those whose jobs give them a certain level of power over the lives of anyone inside city limits. The chief and the department should not be operating as a world unto itself but for all who live and work in our town. If no candidate has applied for the position for the reasons Weinberger would have us believe, that seems to be a good thing.
It is important to remember that the last police chief Weinberger selected was rushed through. It's equally important to remember that he resigned under pressure due to unprofessional conduct that was possibly against the law. Given this, and the desire of many Burlington residents to reform the Burlington Police Department, waiting for more candidates acceptable to the city councilors and those who elected them is the proper path to follow.
BHS Back Better?
[Re Off Message: "Burlington School Board Votes to Build New High School on Old Campus," November 2]: What a wonderful opportunity! There should be an international competition to design the new building. Young Vermont architects would be able to collaborate with older, more established and more experienced architects from out of state. They would be able to create a living expression of the most progressive dreams for a learning environment that could represent — in its location, structure, form, use of materials and color — the values that this community wants at the core of the learning experience. That community includes the school board, teachers, school staff, parents and the rest of us.
I urge the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to engage the school board, the city council and the neighborhood planning assemblies in a serious discussion of how an architectural competition could be conducted to be transparent, inclusive and effective.
Louis Mannie Lionni
Meet the Slumlord
Rick Bove's actions and deliberate inactions with regard to properly maintaining his "affordable" apartments demonstrate all the characteristics of a particularly nasty species of property owner: the slumlord, a term missing from ["Roaches and Broken Locks," November 3].
He claims to be helping the "most vulnerable" while sucking extra money from tenants and state and federal programs. That is our tax money going to finance the million-dollar addition and renovation on his Colchester mansion.
Some decades go, I lived in a Burlington apartment that had water coming through the kitchen ceiling light fixture whenever it rained. We were warned not to lean on the wall in one room because the bricks would bow out. We couldn't have more than a handful of people on the wooden back porch, which also functioned as our "fire escape."
There was no enforcement, perhaps even no code to enforce.
When the landlord sent over a contractor, that person told us that the landlord expected to get off cheaply on the repairs and that he was dreaming. Within a few weeks, there was a mysterious fire engulfing the back porches and the roof. I lost nearly everything. The tenants were all evicted, since the building was unsafe and unlivable due to fire, smoke and water damage.
What a coincidence.
Slumlords have run the rental scene in Burlington for decades. What will it take for city, town and state entities to weed out or restrain the bad actors and safeguard tenants for real? And for every landlord to realize that Bove and his ilk are smearing their reputations with the ill treatment of tenants and the theft of grants, loan guarantees and tax credits through noncompliance with terms?
Nursing Problem Isn't New
Having known and worked with several University of Vermont nurses over the years, I can attest that the use of traveling nurses is neither new nor COVID-19 specific ["Health Care Premium," November 3]. Rather, it is and has been a piece of the overall disrespect that the medical center has for the nurses. Traveling nurses would be used to cover for staffing shortages due to low wages and retention issues caused by understaffed units and overworked personnel.
More generally, Vermont and our nation have a long history of undervaluing the workers who take care of us. In addition to this article, VTDigger.org had one about the lack of mental health workers and resources, and Vermont Public Radio carried a story on school closings due to lack of teachers.
What is truly sad is that none of this is new, and nobody should be surprised. UVM nurses have had to strike several times over the years, and they remain underpaid and overworked. Teachers are stressed to the breaking point, and the UVM Medical Center emergency department has, over the years, become a mental health crisis unit with up to 15 patients waiting for a treatment bed — sometimes for weeks.
As a therapist, I have learned to believe people when they tell me and show me who they are. How we treat the workers who care for us is a reflection of the values of our state and our society, and I think that is a damn shame.
Scott on Course
[Re Off Message: "State Officials Stress Vigilance, Not Mandates, as COVID-19 Surge Continues," November 9]: When haying with some friends who enjoy stock-car racing, I asked what kind of driver Gov. Phil Scott is. They said he was an extremely patient driver who carefully looked for opportunities that could make a difference. This could describe Scott's method of governing, as well as his approach to the pandemic — one that, even with the increase in COVID-19 cases, has served our state well.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when there were so many unknowns, Scott correctly imposed a state of emergency that bypassed our democratic system of checks and balances and allowed him to rule by decree. It was an extreme measure for an exceptional time. To his credit, now that there are vaccines and much more is known about this virus, he is loath to take on this power — a prerequisite to imposing a statewide mask mandate.
The opening up of our society was expected to result in more cases, and it has. The Delta variant has exacerbated that. But at this point, with the tools and knowledge we have now, our children need to go back to school, our businesses need to be open and we need to learn to live with this virus that will, in some form or another, be a part of our lives from now on.
The governor's weekly press briefings are a refreshing view of how this democracy and press should work. As with all of life, there are many bumps and no straight lines to where we hope to go. We in Vermont are fortunate indeed to have Scott's steady hand on the wheel of our government in these challenging times.
In Praise of 'Natural Immunity'
I appreciate Dr. Mark Levine's honest answer at the November 9 press conference when asked to explain our state's record COVID-19 cases despite our record high vaccination rate [Off Message: "State Officials Stress Vigilance, Not Mandates, as COVID-19 Surge Continues," November 9]. One reason he stated is that we have "low natural immunity." How could this be? Proudly, we wear masks while sneering at those who go barefaced in the grocery store, and we snub the hardly vaxxed and unmasked Floridians and Texans.
In Vermont, we have missed many joyful gatherings for the common good (but we did gather to protest). Yet, we now have THE HIGHEST COVID-19 CASE RATE IN THE COUNTRY. Yes, yelling words! We hid in our homes! I canceled Thanksgiving! We vaccinated, masked and shunned.
Watch a football game in Texas. Eighty thousand people with no masks, no proof of vaccines. Yet, at the Flynn, we are masking and forcing proof of vaccine, only 50 to 75 percent effective as immunity wanes, or proof of a test showing that three days ago someone did not have COVID-19. Not logical. Texans and Floridians have been living life, attending schools unmasked and getting "natural immunity" while we were hiding and creating a culture of fear and division.
My solution is that we continue to encourage vaccines and masks but stop worrying about those who do not, and get back to living and fostering our "natural immunity." Stay home if you feel sick. Wasn't that always the consensus? It is time to humble ourselves, have grace for others who think differently than we do and move forward.
How nice to see your recent "sweat bath" piece ["Sweat Equity," November 10]. It is true that Vermont — and most of the U.S. — has a less vigorous acceptance and understanding of sauna culture than other parts of the world. Perhaps it is time to change that?
As a sauna builder, designer and consultant for more than 30 years, I have a unique perspective on how Vermont measures up. While there are areas in North America where generations of Finns and others have built and used saunas as part of their everyday lives, we do not have that legacy. And as to the popular use of sauna, it wasn't until 1954 that a small group of entrepreneurs started importing sauna heaters — and design know-how — from Finland in order to provide proper sauna in the United States. Sauna has been a cultural necessity — or, at times, a wellness fad to the uninitiated — ever since.
In our rural state, our public saunas today tend to be scarce and typically situated at ski resorts, where a combination of revenue streams can help support costs. Most of my work is residential, but I have been involved in 20-plus public projects both here in New England and across the country over the years.
Public saunas here tend to be different: less authentic and produced without sufficient planning and programmatic understanding, to the point where the reason for the room is lost.
The examples mentioned in the article help us understand that this culture is valuable; access to proper public saunas is important. Good luck!