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Fogel's Folly

Fair Game


Published March 4, 2009 at 6:08 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

Election addendum below... Scroll down.

Divestiture from South Africa. Diversity. Livable wages. Union organizing. Hazing. These are some of the issues raised by staff, faculty and students that have tested University of Vermont presidents — and eventually brought down three of them.

Today’s question is: Can UVM Prez Dan Fogel avoid the mistakes that sank his predecessors, as calls increase for top university execs to take pay cuts to avoid layoffs?

Fogel is UVM’s sixth president since the late 1980s, when the popular Lattie Coor stepped down amidst tumult over diversity and divestiture after 16 years at the helm.

After Coor came George Davis, who lasted just one year — his demise was accelerated by a month-long takeover of his Waterman office by students pressing for more racial diversity and multicultural teachings. At one point, Davis climbed a ladder to his office window in an effort to negotiate with the student occupiers. The humiliating image brought down his presidency.

Vermont Governor Tom Salmon filled the gap until 1997, when Judith Ramaley, UVM’s first female president, was hired. She resigned in early 2001 after a hockey hazing scandal rocked the school and made national headlines. After Ramaley, former airline exec and Burlingtonian Ed Colodny stepped in as an interim prez. He was eventually succeeded by Fogel.

Fogel quickly embarked on a “build it and they will come” strategy to make UVM a premier, small-scale research and environmental school. And build they have.

But that growth hasn’t done enough to boost UVM’s bottom line.

Last month Fogel eliminated 16 vacant staff positions and laid off 16 others. He will also leave unfilled 18 tenure-track faculty slots and four new faculty positions. At least 12 full-time lecturers will not be offered new contracts, along with a larger number of part-time lecturers who teach one or more courses each year. The baseball and softball teams are history. Fogel is also freezing salaries for non-union employees earning more than $75,000, along with other measures, to trim $10.8 million from the university’s $284 million general fund budget. More cuts are likely in April.

Some students and faculty are urging Fogel and his top administrators to take pay cuts, and for the school to dip into its endowment as a way to avoid eliminating people and sports programs.

Fogel has so far balked at those suggestions. But more recently, UVM Communications Director Enrique Corredera told “Fair Game” that the prez is considering whether it’s possible to streamline some top administrative functions.

Union members point out that since 2002 the number of administrators at UVM making more than $150,000 a year has jumped from four to 38, and their total collective compensation tops $7 million annually.

If that weren’t enough, UVM paid out nearly $900,000 in bonuses to many of these top administrators — including Fogel — since 2006, including $264,196 in the current fiscal year.

Yikes. First Wall Street, now College Street.

At a campus forum last week, Fogel addressed the crowd gathered at Ira Allen Chapel: “I understand very acutely, however, how in the wake of today’s news report on executive pay that anger is running very high, and I want to begin by addressing that, because I do not think it will be good for our students, our faculty, our staff or the State of Vermont for us to begin to tear ourselves apart as a community.”

Fogel said there would be no bonuses this year, noting past pay bumps were performance based.

“He could have won a section of the room and instead he just reinforced a sense of a divide on campus,” said Nancy Welch, an English prof and active member of the faculty union. “His defense seemed out of touch with the anger over these bonuses.”

Faculty, students and staff aren’t the only ones fired up about the extra compensation.

“The new data on bonuses and salary adjustments, if true, further confirms indefensible systems of privilege, power, inequity and injustice, borne on the backs of some of our most vulnerable staff and faculty,” said Betty Rambur, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, who announced her resignation two weeks ago. She claimed to suffer from “increasing moral distress” over the cuts she was being asked to make.

Another top official has resigned, too. Provost John Hughes is on his way out, but not before putting a key dean on administrative leave.

Students were told last week that Larry Forcier, dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, was stepping down. But, in an email to students obtained by Seven Days, Forcier claimed he was stripped of his title and received no written explanation — only told that he “scared some people” and was “creating a hostile work environment for them.”

As one grad student told Seven Days, “I can say, amongst a large majority here at the university, that from personal experience that this … just doesn’t seem right.”

This student also said the dearth of information about Forcier’s ouster in the wake of budget cuts across the campus was giving students “reason to suspect that something larger is at play.”

They may be on to something.


The Empire Strikes Back! — There’s nothing like the power of incumbency. The photo ops, the bully pulpit, the free lunches, the political aides who attack critics — all on the public’s dime.

Take, for example, the multipronged assault on Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) on Monday. Seven — count ’em, seven — high-paid political appointees of Governor Jim Douglas took time out of their busy days to criticize Shumlin for public comments about the guv’s proposed budget, the state’s roads and bridges, legislative pay cuts and more.

Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville, a longtime Douglas political aide and his 2002 campaign manager, sent out a series of letters to members of the Vermont media detailing Shumlin’s misstatements. Shumlin got the letters, too.

The allegations? That Shumlin claimed lawmakers would be reducing their pay by 14 percent thanks to a short session. Shumlin copped to the fact that it’s actually 11.5 percent, which he points out to “Fair Game” is more than the 5 percent token cut taken by some Douglas officials. Shumlin also said 75 percent of the state’s roads and bridges were in rough shape. The number of deficient bridges is actually 18.5 percent, and 56 percent of the roads are “poor” or “very poor,” argued Transportation Secretary David Dill. That adds up to only 74.5 percent — which is definitely not 75 percent. You get the picture.

The Douglas SWAT team of memo writers included Lunderville, Dill, Commerce Secretary Kevin Dorn, Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham, Economic Development Commissioner Betsy Bishop, Tourism Commissioner Bruce Hyde and Human Resources Commissioner David Herlihy.

If they have that much free time, maybe the guv doesn’t need that $400,000 taxpayer-funded PR machine after all.

Just a thought.


Dean’s New Digs — Pres. Barack Obama finally announced his pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Who didn’t get the job is former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, the outgoing chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Dean’s D.C. feud with Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, is believed to be the reason for the dis.

“I was pretty clear that I would have liked to have been Secretary of HHS, but it is the president’s choice and he decided to go in a different direction,” Dean told Sam Stein of the Huffington Post.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Dean will work with the National Democratic Institute, which consults with countries around the world on democracy and governance issues. He will also serve as a senior strategic advisor and independent consultant at the international lobbying firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. And, he’ll give paid speeches. Cha-ching!

By mid-month, Dean will set up shop inside the South Burlington offices of Democracy for America, the grassroots political group that rose from the ashes of his 2004 presidential bid.

“He will be moving into his home base here at DFA, and we’re happy to have him come back on board as a senior advisor,” DFA’s executive director, Arshad Hasan, told “Fair Game.”

Hasan said DFA will provide him with support staff and will work with him on Dean’s signature issue — health-care reform. “He’ll be going out on the road in support of candidates and advocating on our issues,” said Hasan. “He is raring to go.”


Swing and a Miss! — It’ll be interesting to see whether the Burlington Free Press maintains its tradition of being the news establishment least likely to pick a winner in the Burlington mayoral race.

We erroneously noted last week that the Freeps backed the GOP candidate in 1993 and 1995 — it was just 1995. Which begs the question: Do they ever pick a winner?

History suggests: not often. Here’s a list of the losing candidates the editorial board members backed in contested races since 1981: Democrats Judy Stephany, Brian Burns and Paul Lafayette in 1983, 1985 and 1987, respectively, over Independent Bernie Sanders. In 1989 they endorsed Democrat Nancy Cioffi Wood, who lost to Progressive Peter Clavelle. In 1993, they picked Clavelle, who lost to Republican Peter Brownell. They backed Brownell in 1995, and he was bested by Clavelle. They chose Democrat Hinda Miller in 2006, who gave it up to Progressive Bob Kiss. This year, Democrat Andy Montroll got the nod.

The Freeps’ sole winning pick? Clavelle over Republican Kurt Wright in 1999.

Since spring training is underway, let’s put that performance in terms sports fans can relate to: Since 1983, the Freeps has a mayoral endorsement batting average of .111.


Spring Fling — A Missouri Democrat, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, will be the featured speaker at the 10th annual David W. Curtis Awards on March 28 at the Burlington Hilton. The event is the same night as comedian Jon Stewart’s show at UVM — bad for the Curtis crowd, good for the campus one. The university could sure use some laughs.

The son of the man for whom the night is named, Christopher Curtis, said McCaskill is a great choice for many reasons. She championed Obama’s stimulus bill and has been a big supporter of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“And, of course, Senator McCaskill comes from an important swing state,” said Curtis. “She no doubt will have her share of interesting and colorful stories from the political front.”

More likely the talk will focus on Vermont, and who’s lining up more insider support for a gubernatorial run: Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, State Senator Doug Racine or some as-yet-unnamed candidate.


Election Predictions — Since Seven Days goes to press hours before election results are tallied, you’ll have to check online for my take on the Burlington mayoral race and a new city council.

Who will win the mayor’s race? Will the Democrats have a governing, if not clear, majority on the city council for the first time since the mid-1980s? Will the council have a majority of women seated for the first time ever? What does this mean in terms of policy shift and agenda?

For this and more post-election discussion, check out the Seven Days website and our staff blog, Blurt — and feel free to chime in.

******** POST-ELECTION ADDENDUM 3/4/09 ***********

Third Time's the Charm

In the end, the Progressives needed a little help from another party to hold on to the Queen City mayor's seat. As he did three years ago, Progressive Bob Kiss won the day by picking up the second-place votes of his third-place rival.

In 2006, when the race went to an instant runoff, Kiss benefited from Republican Kevin Curley's second-place votes to stay ahead of Democrat Hinda Miller. In 2009, it was the second-place votes of Democrat Andy Montroll that secured Kiss' reelection. It's a little surprising that so many Dems chose Kiss, especially since Montroll and a top Kiss aide, Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, had been involved in a political imbroglio involving Montroll's legal work with a perceived competitor to Burlington Telecom.

Kiss said the key to his victory was the same as it was three years ago. "I ran a campaign based on winning 50 percent plus one of the vote," said Kiss, barely audible as his supporters cheered for him at Sweetwaters. He said that while Democrats and Progressive have their differences, "The Democratic Party has a broad spectrum, and I'm not surprised that I was able to pick up some of Andy's second-place votes. I had a lot of supporters who are Democrats."

The big story of the night was not just Kiss' win, but Republican Kurt Wright's defeat. He led Kiss in both the first and second instant-runoff rounds, but lost convincingly in the third.

Wright said he is mulling a recount request, which he has to make within 48 hours.

"I wouldn't be asking for a recount simply thinking that it will overturn the election results," said Wright. "But, I think it may serve voters to better understand how a candidate who wasn't 'first' in the first two rounds could end up being the winner."

Aside from that, Wright said his strong showing proved that a Republican can come close in the liberal bastion of Burlington.

"The race didn't turn out the way I wanted, but I'm happy with how we ran our campaign," Wright said during a post-election party at The Rusty Scuffer.

Despite the loss, Montroll said he, too, was pleased with how he ran his race, and is looking forward to devoting more time to his family and law practice.

"We raised a lot of good issues and received a lot of support," Montroll said before a crowd of jubilant Dems at Nectar's.

Montroll said a full recount may not be in order, but a closer look at the results may ease the minds of voters. "I think IRV has worked, but it may be time to take another look at it," he said.

The IRV process inspired head scratching among poll watchers of all persuasions - except the Progressives, of course, who welcomed the outcome. Mild-mannered Kiss says he believes IRV is serving the city well, and not just because it's helped him win the election twice.

Predicting he would "prevail" even in a traditional run-off election against Kurt Wright, Kiss said, "I think people do understand how IRV works and support it."

IRV defenders should start dusting off their arguments. How well they respond to the questions and criticisms that arise from this dramatic mayoral contest will likely decide IRV's fate going forward.

The Anatomy of a Race - So, what did it for Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss? About as low-key as an incumbent can be, he seemed to be merely "standing" for reelection rather than "running" for his life. But, in the end, he proved that nice guys sometimes do finish first.

Simply stated, none of his challengers was able to stick Kiss with a debilitating political issue. In 1993, when voters ousted Progressive Peter Clavelle, they did so because of anger over an ill-timed tax increase anger as well as the city's decision to offer domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees.

Nothing like that emerged in this race. The school budget ended up passing by a healthy margin, even in this tough economic climate. It's also hard to unseat incumbents in Vermont - just look at the governor's office - if the only assaults opponents can muster are on the candidate's "leadership" and "vision."

The low voter turnout indicates that a lot of people simply tuned out the race, or weren't enthused by it. The exception? Supporters of Dan Smith. a newbie to city politics who sought to energize young professionals and students - a tough electoral row to hoe. His fourth-place showing - with only 1300 votes - was disappointing. But he was in a race with three strong party-based candidates.

"I wouldn't have run this campaign any differently," Smith said outside of Red Square, where his supporters gathered Tuesday night. "We got a lot of support across the city, and I think our message, and how we engaged the young professionals, is something I hope will keep people focused and active on finding that common cause across party lines to make the city better."

City Council Rundown - As I predicted in "Fair Game" last week, Democrats picked up votes on the Burlington City Council. They gained one seat for sure. A run-off election in Ward 7 will determine whether they end up with two.

What does that mean? Not since the mid-1980s have there been so many Democrats on the council, which gives them almost outright control of the 14-member governing body.

Nancy Kaplan bested Republican Eleanor Briggs Kenworthy in Ward 4. They were vying for the seat vacated by Republican Wright.

In Ward 7, Democrat Eli Lesser-Goldsmith and Republican Vince Dober were separated by only a handful of votes, necessitating a run-off election.

The Progressives held onto their council seats in Ward 2 and Ward 3. Newcomer Emma Mulvaney-Stanak crushed her Democratic challenger Nicole Pelletier. Both were running to fill the seat being vacated by Prog Jane Knodell.

Progressive Marrisa Caldwell held off a spirited challenge from Democrat David Cain, a newcomer to city politics. That seat had been held by Progressive Tim Ashe, who opted not to run for reelection. Cain came within 30 votes of Caldwell, and is definitely a face to watch in city politics.

Democrats in Ward 5 and Ward 6 - Joan Shannon and Mary Kehoe respectively - won easily, as did Independent Sharon Bushor in Ward 1.

Another change worth noting is that the new city council will be gender balanced. There will be seven women and seven men overseeing the Queen City.

For Bushor, the idea of seven, women on the council was welcome news. "I don't know if it will mean anything in terms of policy changes, but it will definitely be a positive image for young women to see and hopefully inspire."

She couldn't recall a time when that many women - especially from across the political spectrum - were on the council.

As to who might emerge as the next city council president - Republican Wright's successor? It's anyone's guess. Progressive Clarence Davis has said he is interested in running, and Wright thinks he'd be a good choice.

Of course the Democrats, who now dominate the council, may have something to say about that.

Finally, for all those readers and campaign workers who lambasted me for my election predictions, which I posted on Blurt last Friday, I only have this to say: Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!

Yeah, I called it. Well, except Ward 4. Seven out of eight ain't bad.

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