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Backstory: Most Fortuitous Lapse in Judgment


Published December 29, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 29, 2021 at 2:18 p.m.

  • James Buck

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2021.

The sausages were on the grill, and the small talk went where it always does when journalists gather: to work.

In June, freshly vaccinated and feeling safe again, I joined some friends for an after-work barbecue at Burlington's Oakledge Park. Most people there had some connection to journalism — a not-uncommon phenomenon, in my experience, because reporters often struggle to talk about anything other than reporting. Most other people, apparently, find this insufferable.

Luckily, Vermont Public Radio reporter Liam Elder-Connors doesn't. He and I had recently worked together on a joint series for Seven Days and VPR about eldercare homes. While the sausages charred, Liam mentioned that he had recently begun reporting on housing issues for VPR.

One beer deep, I let slip a curious bit of housing news that I'd come across at the courthouse. A tenant won a judgment in 2020 against landlord Rick Bove for the return of a security deposit, but more than a year later, Bove still hadn't paid. The case wasn't quite newsworthy on its own, but maybe Liam would want to look into it, I offered.

This was a dumb move, professionally speaking. I'd be in trouble if my editors learned that I had shown my cards to a competitor or, worse still, that I'd offered to hand over my lead.

To my surprise, Liam was already looking into another court case involving Bove. And to my relief, he agreed to continue exploring the topic together, in case there was a bigger story to be told.

There was. Our journalistic faux pas became the seed of a four-month investigation into Bove's property management company. Together, we found problems at his rentals spanning decades and discovered that violations persisted despite previous efforts by newspapers, activists and town officials to call him out. Two weeks after our joint series published, the Essex Planning Commission rejected Bove's proposal to build three more apartment buildings at the Essex Town Center, citing his history of noncompliance.