Is it okay for the majority leader of the Vermont House of Representatives to take a "community relations" job with the state's dominant power company? A company that just two months ago fought tooth-and-nail to kill a House bill that would have forced it to return $21 million to ratepayers?
That's the question after Rep. Lucy Leriche (D-Hardwick) confirmed to the Vermont Press Bureau this week that she's accepted a temporary gig with Green Mountain Power, the state's largest electric utility. Leriche announced weeks earlier that she won't seek reelection this fall, but she remains House majority leader until January. In her new role at GMP, Leriche will work with local and state officials to coordinate the company's construction of the controversial Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell.
"Welcome to Vermont," says Secretary of State Jim Condos. "A person has a right to work for a living — as long as they're well aware of any lines that might occur, as far as conflicts of interest. Vermont's a small place."
Condos would know. For years, while serving as state senator, Condos held down a job at Vermont Gas Systems,* which, like Green Mountain Power, is owned by Montreal-based Gaz Metro. These days, Vermont Gas' spokesman is a guy by the name of Stephen Wark, a former deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Service, which regulates utilities, and a one-time flack for former Gov. Jim Douglas.
Other former top officials in the Gaz Metro empire? How about Robert Dostis, GMP's top lobbyist and former chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee? Or Neale Lunderville, GMP's recently-departed director of enterprise innovation, who was Douglas' secretary of administration? Or David Coriell, the guy Leriche is replacing at GMP, who also served as a Douglas flack?
To Wally Roberts, executive director of the good government group Common Cause, the ever-revolving door between industry and government in Vermont is problematic. He says the state "falls back on its tradition of small town acquaintanceships and the feeling that everybody in state government should be trusted."
"That was true in the past, but that kind of attitude is not appropriate anymore," he continues. "It's a faith that was maybe appropriate in some bygone era, but I think big money has started to come into Vermont elections."