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Year in Review

Local Matters: 2005 Year End Updates


Published December 21, 2005 at 9:53 p.m.

VETERANS: Counselors Brace for Returning Soldiers


SOUTH BURLINGTON -- For Fred Forehand and his fellow mental-health clinicians, not much has changed in the last year but the numbers. There's more work, no additional staff and only so many hours in the day.

Forehand directs the South Burlington Vet Center on Dorset Street, where combat veterans can go for help coping with the emotional and psychological scars of war. Founded in 1979 to help military personnel returning from Vietnam, the center now provides counseling to veterans of all wars who suffer from combat-related problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In recent months, most of the clients walking through their doors are "GWOT" veterans, or Global War on Terrorism soldiers who served in Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan. Back in January, when Seven Days last spoke with Forehand ["Stress Fractures: Is Vermont Armed to Address Returning Vets' Mental Health?" January 12], the center's three counselors had seen only seven or eight GWOT vets. At the time, most Vermont soldiers were still deployed overseas. Today, that number has climbed to 23, with more clients expected from the latest round of 600 Vermont soldiers who returned December 16.

"The influx has not been overwhelming yet," says Forehand. "We're still in that holding pattern wondering what it's going to be like." It's not unusual for there to be a lag time before stress-related disorders appear, Forehand explains. In February, 185 Vermont soldiers who participated in Task Force Redleg returned from Iraq. The Vet Center didn't start seeing referrals from that group until August.

It seems inevitable that the center's caseload will get worse before it gets better. A survey published in the March issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found 17 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq showing signs of PTSD. A similar survey by the Army found that 28 percent of Iraq veterans -- 50,000 troops in 2005 -- came home with problems ranging from lingering physical ailments to suicidal thoughts to strained marriages.

Vermont has taken a proactive approach to those problems, Forehand says, including sending teams of counselors to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to debrief returning guardsmen and reservists. By asking them simple questions about their combat experiences -- What did you see? How did it affect you? What would you like to leave behind? -- counselors hope to keep PTSD rates lower than they were after Vietnam, when as many as one in three veterans were afflicted.

Forehand says he hasn't seen enough GWOT vets to draw conclusions about how they'll fare compared to veterans of earlier wars. One unknown is how the age differences among soldiers will affect their ability to reintegrate into civilian life, he says. Most soldiers returning from Vietnam were in their late teens or twenties and had no families of their own. In this conflict, many Vermont soldiers are in their thirties, forties or fifties.

Age could work for them or against them, Forehand says. When older soldiers suffer from depression or PTSD, it affects their children, spouses, friends and co-workers. "As in many mental-health issues," Forehand points out, "having a good family support system is imperative in making a readjustment." And this time around, soldiers' families are better prepared to recognize the first signs of trouble.

Earlier this month, Rep. Bernie Sanders announced he'd secured $500,000 in additional funding for veteran mental-health services in Vermont. Thus far, the Vet Center hasn't added new clinicians, and Forehand has informed his staff that they may need to start working weekends to handle the caseload. "We'll do whatever we need to do," he says. "The key here is to support the soldier."


NIGHTLIFE: Post-Keogh, Downtown Bar Owners Still Kvetch


BURLINGTON -- By all accounts, it was a profitable summer for downtown bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The weather was glorious, tourists arrived by the busloads, and thousands of people enjoyed the extra outdoor seating available on the Church Street Marketplace, thanks to the closure of the lower block to vehicular traffic. So why are some Burlington bar owners still grumbling?

When Seven Days last checked in with the city's liquor licensees ["Razing the Bar: Is Bill Keogh Trying to Dry Up Burlington's Late-Night Watering Holes?" March 9], there was strong resentment toward then-chair of the city's License Committee, Ward 5 Republican Bill Keogh. Though many proprietors were reluctant to gripe publicly, there was a widely held feeling that Keogh was unduly harsh on bar owners seeking liquor license renewals.

Just weeks after the Seven Days story appeared, Keogh stepped down from his position as committee chair and was replaced by Ward 4 Republican Kevin Curley, who is generally seen as more business-friendly. Despite the change in leadership, however, problems persist.

"Administratively, it still stinks," says Bill Shahady, co-owner of Wine Works. "Trying to get anything done with the city, it turns into a black hole." About a year ago, Shahady and his wife Melissa fought a costly battle with the License Committee to get an outdoor seating permit. When Curley took over as chair, Wine Works got its outdoor seating in a few weeks. Still, Shahady says the city has a lot of work to do to mend its reputation among business owners.

"I know someone who applied for a [liquor] license in early October and has yet to get on the agenda," Shahady says. "We're still laughed at around the state."

One proprietor who gave up on Burlington was Kevin Everleth. The former owner of Splash! at the Boathouse already had a liquor license in Burlington. But after spending four months trying unsuccessfully to get another one so he could buy The Waiting Room, Everleth finally called it quits. Instead, he bought Conoscenti Restaurant in Montpelier, where he got a liquor license in two days.

"It was extremely frustrating, to the point that I will never, ever open another restaurant in Burlington," Everleth says. "I can't be bothered wasting my time lathering up the wheels of baloney."

Among the city's biggest critics is Nancy Cunha, owner of Manhattan Pizza & Pub. In March, Cunha was fighting the city in court over its refusal to renew her liquor license because of an allegation that her bar overserved a customer. Cunha still hasn't received the new license -- she's serving alcohol under her old one. Her case is pending before the Vermont Supreme Court.

Cunha says she's relieved Keogh is gone. But now she complains about the parking ban on lower Church Street that made way for the new taxi stand. She says the ban, which is in effect from midnight to 6 a.m., has taken a huge bite out of business. Several of her delivery drivers and bartenders have also been ticketed and towed.

Other business owners are encouraged by the initial success of the Hospitality Resource Panel (HRP), a group of downtown stakeholders charged with defusing tensions between residents and businesses. Its big success this year, according to Nancy Wood of the Burlington Business Association, was brokering a compromise on outdoor entertainment permits. Since then, Wood says there have been no formal noise complaints stemming from music or entertainment. The HRP is still looking into other issues, such as complaints about the taxi stand, the late-night UVM shuttle and the city's outdoor seating policy.

Coming in 2006: The HRP will take up a controversial proposal to either move outdoor food vendors off the corner of Church and Main or ban late-night food vending altogether. Expect the hot dogs and cheese steaks to fly come spring.


JOBS: Step Up Students Step Out


VERMONT -- In November, Seven Days featured a story about the Step Up to Policing for Women ["Women in Uniform," November 9]. The intensive, nine-week class, run by Northern New England Tradeswomen, prepares women for the challenges of careers in law enforcement. Currently, just 35 percent of Vermont's corrections officers -- and fewer than 12 percent of the state's police officers -- are women. Vermont recruiters would like to up those numbers, to ameliorate a statewide officer shortage. On December 15, this year's program graduated eight of the 10 women who enrolled.

Program coordinator Kristen Mullins reports that of the eight who just graduated, two have already been hired by the Department of Corrections, and two more are interviewing there. Two others have passed the grueling police academy entrance exam and are interviewing for jobs in Vermont police departments.

Mullins calls the class a success. "It was very moving," she says. "People are really in a different place now than when they started."

Mullins will now turn her attention to fundraising. The grant that supported the 2-year-old pilot program has expired, and she must secure more money for it to continue next fall. She says NNET has every intention of fielding another class, and encourages interested women -- or sponsors -- to contact her at the NNET office, 878-0004, ext. 108.

However, Mullins asks that no one call between Christmas and New Year's -- that's her much-needed week off.


BURLINGTON TELECOM: Public Communication Network Makes the Connection


BURLINGTON -- The battle over public vs. private telecommunication services intensified in 2005. Many cities across the country, frustrated with the private sector's delays in providing access to new technology, started building their own networks. Others bowed to industry pressure by outlawing municipal telecom investments altogether. The fight turned ugly in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. When city officials announced the deployment of a municipally owned, free wireless Internet service designed to lure back businesses and residents, BellSouth responded by rescinding an offer to donate a building which would have housed a new N.O. police headquarters.

Thanks to Burlington Telecom, Vermont's Queen City has become a central front in this fight. The city has been working since 1999 to build its own fiber-optic network, which will provide telephone, Internet and cable-TV service -- to the dismay of Verizon, Adelphia and other private telecom providers. At the end of 2005, B.T. is closer than ever.

When we put B.T. Director Timothy Nulty on Seven Days' cover in May ["Working His Connections," May 25], his fiber-to-the-home, "triple play" network was still a pipe dream, so to speak. B.T. had already received approval to carry phone service and broadband Internet, but it was still awaiting approval from the Public Service Board to bring cable TV to city subscribers.

At the time, Adelphia Communications was appealing B.T.'s request. Its representatives argued that the network posed a threat to private investment, and warned that Burlington's taxpayers could end up being stuck with a boondoggle.

Seven months later, the landscape has shifted. B.T. received its Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for cable TV this fall. The utility moved out of its cramped office beneath Memorial Auditorium and bought the building at 200 Church Street, where it now houses its offices and the backbone of its expanding network. It also recruited about 40 "beta-testers" from an initial service area in the city's South End, whose homes and offices were wired for free. These customers now receive Internet access from the city.

Nulty reports that B.T. plans to roll out its voice and cable TV service to those customers in the first week of January as well. If all goes as planned, B.T. will build out citywide in 2006 and '07. It will be the only network to offer triple-play service in Vermont. No one else has announced plans to bring this service to the state.

Adelphia Communications, on the other hand, is bankrupt, and about to be gobbled up by Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable. Now Comcast is seeking a CPG to operate a cable-TV franchise in Vermont. The state's independent-media activists have banded together to complain about Comcast's service record, and to demand that the nation's largest cable company continue to support the state's vibrant network of public, governmental and educational-access stations.

A decision on Comcast's CPG is expected in December, but no new information was available at press time. As for Burlington Telecom, Nulty writes in an email, "We're still on track to have our grand opening around the third week in January."


ARM WRESTLING: Pembrook Takes It Over the Top


HUNTINGTON -- When we last heard from Heather Pembrook, she was in training. The 35-year-old Huntington resident is a competitive arm wrestler. "It's just so, I don't know . . . basic, so physical," she said of her sport. "You're so in the moment. There's nothing else going on in your head when you're arm wrestling."

When we featured her in the May 11 article "Hand Job," she was about to compete in her first statewide championship on May 15. The article focused on Weybridge Town Clerk Karen Curavoo and her boyfriend Bill Sinks, both of whom have won worldwide recognition for their "hooking" skills. Now Pembrook has something to boast about, too: The arm wrestling novice took top honors in Vermont's women's left-hand division. Then she won second place for left and right hands at the National Championships in South Carolina, in June. She picked up wins in New Jersey and New Hampshire, too. In October, Pembrook traveled to Tokyo to compete for a world title.

The Vermonter lost on both the left and the right to the Japanese champ, but she won second place by pinning Brazilian wrestler Chris Rejeine with her left hand in the finals. On the other hand, Rejeine beat her wrestling rightie; Pembrook took the bronze.

Pembrook describes the Brazilian as a tough opponent, who dyed her hair fluorescent green -- in honor of the Brazilian flag -- and wore her national championship medal on her forehead. Before the match, recalls Pembrook, "She went over into the corner and she kind of did the Tarzan yell."

Such theatrics are alien to the earnest, down-to-earth biologist, who works for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation and serves as president of the Huntington Historical and Community Trust. Arm wrestling is the first competitive activity in which Pembrook has participated since she graduated from high school. She's even a vegetarian. In honor of her dietary preference, her co-workers have given her a psych-out stage name. They call her "The Tofu Hammer."


UVM UNION: Full-Time Faculty Ratify Contract


BURLINGTON -- The 640 full-time faculty members at the University of Vermont are going into their winter break with something to celebrate. They voted 180 to 4 to accept a new contract that includes, among other things, a 16.25 percent salary increase over the next three years.

The full-time unionized faculty voted December 16 to accept the deal struck by the union and administration a week earlier. The vote ended nearly a year of negotiations in which the union fought to increase faculty salaries to the levels of those at comparable institutions around the country. The new salaries will be retroactive to July 1.

United Academics President David Shiman said the union got most, but not all, of what it was seeking. For example, the union accepted a slightly revised health-care plan that caps prescription drug co-payments but requires higher physician co-pays. The new contract also provides so-called "bridge coverage" to faculty who are between grants. "I think it's an important step to protecting some research faculty who are sometimes quite vulnerable," Shiman says. The revised health plan begins July 1, 2006.

Negotiations nearly broke down over an administration effort to be able to unilaterally alter faculty retirement benefits. However, the two sides brokered a deal that will require UVM to consult with the union before making any such changes.

Not all of the faculty had cause to celebrate. UVM's part-time teachers, who voted to unionize more than a year ago, remain without a contract. As of press time, their negotiations were still in mediation.


104.7 FM: Farewell to the Fry Guy


MONTPELIER -- Morning DJ Ric Tile has left FM 104.7 "The Point." His last day was December 16. We wrote about Tile's on-air obsession with the gooey French-Canadian delicacy poutine in the March installment of our food column, "Edible Complex." Tile is the state's foremost -- and only? -- poutine-ologist.

The two-and-a-half-year Point vet says he decided to depart because the station's new management didn't appreciate his oddball interests, such as reporting on Scottish soccer scores, injecting a few words of Spanish into his show, interviewing local authors each week, and inviting listeners to select an outfit of women's clothing for him to wear while he read the news. "Apparently it's 'not compelling,'" he quips.

After the bosses nixed his favorite bits and rejected his new programming ideas, Tile decided to hang up his mike and do more writing for his other employer, an ad agency in Florida. But Tile's not leaving Vermont; he'll telecommute from Montpelier. He plans to continue mapping Vermont's poutineries. "Is there a book in it?" he muses. "I don't know."


ONLINE SALES: EBay Honors Local E-Traders


WINOOSKI -- This was a big year for Erik Holcomb and Peter Becker. The two cyber-entrepreneurs run Global Garage Sale, an eBay drop-off store they started in December 2003, in a renovated woolen mill in Winooski. They spoke with Seven Days last summer for "Tag Sale Techs", a story on the growing popularity of eBay trading assistants and trading posts. These businesses help customers sell their stuff on eBay. According to a July 2005 A.C. Nielsen survey, 724,000 Americans use the online auction site to generate all or part of their incomes.

In 2004, the GGS guys moved $75,000 worth of their customers' merch on eBay. This year, that number reached $610,000 and is still climbing -- enough to make GGS one of eBay's top sellers. Earlier this month, the auctioneers sent the guys -- and 99 others across the country -- "breakfast in bed." "They brought us a tray with coffee, OJ., muffins, a newspaper, flowers and a pair of slippers," Holcomb and Becker write in an email.

But neither men could pull up the covers and enjoy the treat. "They delivered . . . to our work," they write, "since they know we're so busy selling stuff on eBay that we can't have it in bed at home anymore."


SCHOOLS: Board Bans Corporate Branding at School


BURLINGTON -- When a 9-year-old student at the Champlain School asked her teacher why the class was accepting books donated by a local business that makes weapons to kill people ["Taking Aim at General Dynamics' Corporate Giving," March 30], the third-grader was left alone in the classroom while her friends picked up their free books. The student's mother, Burlington antiwar activist Laurie Essig, challenged the district's decision to accept the books, which were stamped with the General Dynamics corporate logo. That forced the district to reevaluate its charitable-donations policies.

On December 13, the Burlington School Board finally put the matter to rest. It adopted a new policy prohibiting the acceptance of gifts that appear to endorse a commercial enterprise. Under the new policy, any gift worth more than $1000 must receive prior approval from the superintendent. The new policy also restricts corporate logos on school grounds "to avoid the appearance of commercial promotion."

The policy has already had an impact, according to acting superintendent Jeanne Collins. Recently, the district had to turn down the donation of a $25,000 scoreboard for the new ball fields at Burlington High School because it included the Pepsi logo.

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