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Letters to the Editor (5/18/16)


Published May 18, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated May 26, 2016 at 9:07 a.m.

A Little More Private

With respect to "Pass/Fail: The 2016 Legislative Session's Final Tally" [May 11], I wanted to provide a little additional background on law enforcement's use of automated license plate readers.

ALPRs capture images of license plates in Vermont and record their GPS locations. Testimony from law enforcement indicated that they use the data to "generate leads." Pursuant to current law, this pool of data is retained for 18 months. Over the most recent 18-month reporting period, ALPRs captured 8.7 million images, and law enforcement accessed the data 183 times; information was disclosed only 31 times. The average age of accessed data has been less than 90 days.

Privacy advocates are concerned about the ability of this technology to be used to track the movement of citizens. They argued for us to shorten the data retention period and to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing the data.

At the end of the day, S.155 kept the 18-month data retention period but established a 2018 sunset, at which point the law will get further review. More importantly: In order to obtain a warrant to inspect ALPR data older than six months, law enforcement will have to convince a judge that there is a reasonable likelihood of finding evidence that will assist in the prosecution of a known crime.

Rep. Willem Jewett


Jewett is vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Independence Day

[Re Fair Game: "Ethics Schmethics," April 27]: The most important principle of an effective state ethics commission is that it must be an independent entity, operating separately from the executive, the legislature and the state agencies that it's charged with governing.

Unfortunately, S.184 disregarded this first precept and directed the Department of Human Resources to draft the state ethics code and empowered it to perform ethics investigations of state officials and employees. Almost certainly, the rationale for this ill-advised design was to save money, but allowing human resources to perform ethics investigations does not confer impartiality, confidentiality or advance the integrity of state government. When an individual courageously makes an ethics complaint against a supervisor, agency official or legislator to a human resources investigator, that individual knows that the odds of retaliation against them increase substantially.

Given the limitations of S.184, specifically how the legislators and municipalities were neatly excised, it is probably wise to just let this version go.

In a number of states, it is the governor — and not the legislature — that creates the government ethics commission. Indeed, when asked whether they would create a state ethics commission, our 2016 Vermont Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates have asserted that they intend to — or at least support the idea.

It is important that we urge Vermont gubernatorial candidates to commit to creating an independent government ethics commission, because it is the right thing to do, right now.

Madeline Motta


Parsnip Pro

Thanks for addressing invasive species ["Floral Assault," April 27]. I just have a couple of points. First, there are no bad plants. "There is no right or wrong in nature, only consequences" — source unknown, but a brilliant quote. A consequence of tinkering with wild parsnip is the reality that you will suffer, thus my second point: It is simply insane to advise everyday people to attempt management of wild parsnip.

I realize Ethan de Seife was in reporting mode, not advisory mode. I manage "the danger plants" professionally and pull 70,000 wild chervil, wild parsnip and giant hogweed plants each growing season. Wild parsnip eradication is no task for the untrained and the inexperienced, yet in the absence of government agency action to control these species, landowners are gently encouraged to put themselves in harm's way — serious harm, big harm — to address a problem they did not create or invite.

If landowners wish to do something truly enduring for their land, they should hammer relentlessly on their representatives at every level to provide professional control resources. Why is it acceptable for these noxious nonnatives to exist on school grounds and at swimming holes?

People and towns have asked me to train groups for nighttime "parsnip parties." I hate to kill the buzz, but really? The hazards I encounter in parsnip world include barbed wire, angry blackbirds, ground wasps, wind gusts, unstable riprap, woodchuck holes, ticks, poison ivy and blazing heat. Now we want to work at night? Sorry, not my kind of party!

Michael Bald


Bald is the founding owner of Got Weeds?

The Other Home Schooling

While I agree that removing students from school only exacerbates the issues of participation and inclusion, the public response is just as ineffective ["Time Out: Group Says Schools Suspend Too Many Students," April 13]. Yes, schools should be finding alternative means to encourage pro-social behaviors such as restorative committees, Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports, and Saturday school, but laws like the "last resort" bill similarly suspend schools from their goals. Parents complain that schools do nothing but punish their children, then lash out by punishing the schools with sanctions and decreased budgets. If schools want to increase student performance, they need to utilize positive supports.

The same goes for the public's interest in schools. Maybe rather than penalizing teachers, we should give them resources necessary to enact change?

As someone who delivers these suspensions, I find too often that the schools become the center of blame. The teachers did not buy Toni Foote's son shirts emblazoned with drug references, curses or sexual innuendos — the reasons for his dress code violations. Nor did they allow the disrespectful behaviors now rampant in today's school. Teachers are responsible for educating students in their trained fields. It is the parents' job to make those students responsible and open thinkers. More and more, teachers are becoming the only source of refuge for responsible role modeling. Perhaps teaching responsible behavior at home could have a more dramatic effect than telling teachers, "You can't do that!"

Fred Skinner


Skinner is a professional behavior interventionist.

Rotten in Montpelier

I was amused — very slightly — by the comments of Sen. Jeanette White and Rep. Patti Komline in Paul Heintz's column [Fair Game: "Ethics Schmethics," April 27]. It's true that state employees "might be negotiating their contract" and that a solid ethics law would "limit [their] choices."

As one of the rapidly dwindling percentage of native Vermonters, I'd like to remind everyone that we have prided ourselves (for the most part) on being a little different from other places like Washington, D.C., and Albany, N.Y. I also think that many, if not most, newcomers to our state appreciate that as well.

Many of us feel that government, like any human institution, tends to go rotten without a clear sense of right and wrong. It's only natural that people tend to be blind to their own moral shortcuts and prejudices. I'm no exception. So we have laws and rules to make these things clear.

It is our right as citizens of Vermont to limit your choices, Rep. Komline. As for negotiations with potential employers, there are plenty of jobs out there. If someone wants to work as a lobbyist after leaving our state government, fine.

However, if that's what you want to do, I'd prefer that you just get the hell out of Vermont before you do it. Life up here is tough enough without that kind of crap, and I, for one, am fed up with it.

James Harvey


Brave Sheriff

I support Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux's daring decision to employ convicted sex offender Timothy Szad, who served 13 years in jail ["A Second Chance," April 27]. Szad committed a heinous sexual assault on teenage boy, sentencing his victim to a lifetime of recovery. While his victim declined to be interviewed, his pain must be remembered, and the community is justifiably angry and worried — worried about whether Szad will reoffend. If I lived in Hyde Park, I would be concerned, too.

However, lifelong rejection of Szad is not the answer. Recidivism is a manifestation of low self-worth, and banishing Szad would only reduce his low self-esteem discussed in your article. Most defendants I prosecuted over the years had low self-esteem because no one ever believed in them. It's hard to fathom what that's like, because most of us have always had someone in our corner. Sheriff Marcoux has taken a risk in believing in Mr. Szad; he's given Szad an opportunity to construct a sense of self-worth.

The public would be at a greater risk if Marcoux had followed the hypocritical intolerance of San Francisco and Portland and pushed Szad onto the next town. The community should follow Marcoux's lead in mentoring an outcast. Outcast youth throughout Lamoille County desperately need role models to believe in and mentor them, so they don't grow up to commit crimes like Timothy Szad.

Ben Luna


Luna worked as a deputy state's attorney in Lamoille and Caledonia counties.