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What Ever Happened To ... ?

Seven Days writers follow up on some of the stories they covered in 2010


Published December 29, 2010 at 12:04 p.m.

Peace & Justice Center Fights to Survive

Twelve months ago, the Burlington-based Peace & Justice Center had a near-death experience. A drop in donations, anemic retail store sales and one less $60,000 grant threatened to be a perfect storm for the 31-year-old economic-justice nonprofit. Three employees lost their jobs, and executive director Nancy Lynch wasn’t sure the organization would survive without serious short-term help. It was the center’s first year in a new location, on the Burlington waterfront, and Lynch was banking on increased foot traffic to attract shoppers, and lifesaving cash, to the organization.

Update: “We’re on much more stable footing than we were a year ago,” reports Lynch. Membership is up 20 percent over last year, which she attributes to a very simple change: Every time someone makes a purchase at the store, the cashier asks if the customer is a member. If not, the customer is asked to join. “I don’t think we’ve ever done that before,” Lynch notes.

The center has ramped up fundraising appeals, too, from two per year to five. Sales at the store have improved every month since April, Lynch says, and now surpass what they were at the center’s old digs on Church Street. Grant money still hasn’t materialized, and the staff positions shed in 2009 haven’t been filled. Colin Robinson, who was P&J’s director of public policy and advocacy, left in June to take a job at the National Education Association. But Lynch says donations are up, suggesting the center will live to fight another day.


We’ve Got News for You: How Vermont Journalists, Activists and Entrepreneurs are Reinventing “the Media”?

Vermont’s daily newspapers were still shedding newsroom jobs at the beginning of 2010, and several local websites had started up to fill the void. Seven Days profiled five of them in its annual media issue: Vtdigger.org, Vermont News Guy, Vermont Daily News, Vermont Tiger and Green Mountain Daily.

Update: Two of the five start-ups we profiled have shut down in the past year: Photojournalist Alden Pellett stopped updating Vermont Daily News in mid-August; he’s currently working as an associate producer at WCAX-TV. And Vermont News Guy Jon Margolis decided to stop maintaining his own website after covering the 2010 election. “It was too much work,” concedes the veteran newspaper columnist, who just turned 70. In 2011, Margolis will write for Vermont Public Television’s website, vpt.org, and contribute Statehouse coverage to Vtdigger.org.

Liberal-progressive blog Green Mountain Daily and conservative Vermont Tiger are still going strong — balancing each other? All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates courted voters by posting to GMD during the primary campaign.?

But Vtdigger.org, Anne Galloway’s nonprofit statewide news website, has grown the most, winning over wonky readers with in-depth coverage of the legislative session and the election. Galloway and her team of volunteers and freelancers started the year with 1500 readers a month; the site now boasts 20,000, some of whom contribute financially. In May, Digger won a $25,000 grant from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. This fall, Galloway announced a merger with the Vermont Journalism Trust, a new nonprofit that will function as its fundraising arm. Bill Schubart is the chair of the board.

Galloway is still Digger’s lead reporter, editor-in-chief and marketing officer, which means she’s not getting much sleep. And she’s not paying herself a full-time salary — yet. But, she says, “I love what I’m doing.”

— C.R.

Psst ... Wanna Buy an Island?

In Seven Days’ inaugural real estate issue, we spotlighted what was then Chittenden County’s most expensive property for sale: the 32-acre retreat on Garden Island, a Lake Champlain hideaway off the coast of Charlotte that reportedly was once a summer estate of President William Howard Taft. For $7.9 million, the property came with six houses — the main house included an oversized bathtub built for the portly Taft — plus a Victorian “viewing tower,” a pontoon boat, three tractors, a winch house, kayaks, a gazebo, four rowboats, a steel-frame dock and lots of Adirondack chairs. After 35 years, the owners — two brothers and a family friend who lived in New York and Boston — were ready to pass it on to someone else.

Update: Last fall Garden Island came off the market for the season, and possibly for good. Shortly after our story ran, the owners dropped the asking price to $5.9 million. Listing agent Debbie Fortier of Coldwell Banker Bill Beck Real Estate reports the property generated a few bites from prospective buyers but no actual offers. “It just reflects the market right now,” Fortier says, adding she’s not sure whether the owners will re-list the property in the spring.


The Nose Knows

For the annual Seven Days animal issue, we profiled Albany, Vt., resident Lisa Robinson and her pet-finding bloodhound, Thurber. While other scent-tracking dogs are tasked with finding lost humans, 8-and-a-half-year-old Thurber’s job was to find missing pets — a rare skill among search-and-rescue canines. Thurber wasn’t formally trained in tracking, but he was good enough to be in demand. Shortly before the story ran, Thurber helped reunite a lost Australian shepherd with his human family.

Update: In late September, Robinson sent Seven Days an email detailing Thurber’s untimely death. Apparently, bloodhounds are susceptible to intestinal bloat — the most common cause of death for the breed. It can kill in a matter of hours. The day he died, Thurber got up at 3 a.m. and kept insisting on going out. Robinson knew it was a bad sign. But she couldn’t get him to the vet: She was carless, on account of not being able to afford a new engine. By the time a neighbor agreed to take Robinson and her dog to the emergency vet in Burlington, the prognosis wasn’t good. Seventy-five percent of Thurber’s intestines had become diseased and he had to be euthanized. RIP, Thurber.

— L.O.

Is Mac Parker the Hero or the Villain in His Film-Financing Drama?

State regulators believe storyteller Malcolm “Mac” Parker ran afoul of state securities laws when he raised more than $12 million over a 10-year period from hundreds of investors to make a movie — the ironically titled Birth of Innocence. Millions went to a coproducer and spiritual guru of Parker’s, a Connecticut chiropractor named Dr. Lou Soteriou, who disappeared when the state probe began in earnest last February. Parker’s film has yet to be completed. ?

Update: Parker’s Vermont trial was supposed to begin in early November, but a concurrent federal probe put the proceedings on hold. A state judge agreed to delay the court date for six months so the U.S. government can make its case first. According to Parker’s attorney, the feds have allegedly made contact with Soteriou. They’ve also enlisted the help of a grand jury and seized documents from Parker’s house. Looks like a sequel to this drama is in the works for 2011.


Survival Is Taxing for Delinquent Veterans Group in Winooski

Most people have heard of the VFW, but what the heck is the Regular Veterans Association? Vermonters found out last spring when the Winooski chapter of the RVA came to the city council with an unusual predicament. The RVA — a group open to any honorably discharged military veteran, not just those who served in wars or overseas — was asking to renew its liquor license to sell beer and wine at its Weaver Street clubhouse. But the city was reluctant because the vets owed $21,888 in overdue property taxes. The RVA was also facing numerous lawsuits, including one brought by an ex-employee who claimed patrons slapped her butt while she was waitressing. Unlike the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the RVA doesn’t have a congressional charter and therefore isn’t exempt from paying taxes. Winooski wasn’t willing to wipe away the whole tax debt, but said it could forgive the education portion of the bill, worth $6575, if voters approved it in a referendum. Without a liquor license, the RVA was deprived of its bread-and-butter income, post commander Marty Martinez argued, making it even less likely the city would ever get paid back.

Update: On election day, Winooski citizens voted almost 2-to-1 against forgiving the RVA’s education-tax bill. If it had passed, the financial impact on Winooski taxpayers would have been $1.30 per $100,000 of assessed value, meaning someone owning a house worth $200,000 would have paid an extra $2.60. Winooski city manager Katherine “Deac” Deccareau observes, “This just isn’t a time [when] people want to pay any more taxes for any reason.” Meanwhile, the RVA’s total tax bill has since ballooned to $24,000, and the city has hired a collections agency to get it back. Will the city foreclose on the vets? Deccareau says she’s doing everything she can to avoid that, but eventually might have to. The good news: The RVA did secure a temporary extension of its liquor license. The bad news: It expires on December 31. So, get ’em while they’re cold!


Produce Pedaling

In April, Burlington got its first cargo-bike-delivery service. Inspired by the two-wheeled businesses of bike-obsessed cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Portland, Ore., Cabot architect Mark Bromley and his two adult children started One Revolution. Their pickup and delivery operation wasn’t the first in Burlington, but so far it is the only such company with bikes devoted to hauling cargo. One Revolution’s fleet — powered by four part-time employees including Bromley’s son, Sam, and daughter, Anna — is composed of two handmade cargo bikes and two regular bikes that tow flatbed trailers. Early clients included the Intervale Food Hub and On the Rise Bakery in Richmond.

Update: Since April, One Revolution has grown steadily. Between June and August, the company racked up 6000 miles and delivered 45 tons of product. Despite the weather challenges — road salt wreaks havoc on the people-powered delivery rigs — more and more businesses are signing up for the company’s services. Although its biggest client is still the Intervale Food Hub, One Revolution is also making deliveries for Mirabelles, Apple Mountain and Flashbags. It’s working on a plan to supply food to offices near Williston’s big-box stores. To accommodate the business, Bromley has ordered another bike and trailer. Now, if only it would stop snowing…

— L.O.

Will Burlington’s Affordable Housing Sell to the Highest Bidder?

Pizzagalli Properties made a deal when it built the Wharf Lane apartments on the corner of Burlington’s South Champlain and Maple streets: to keep the housing complex “affordable” for 30 years. Three decades later, the owner is looking to sell the 37-unit apartment building to Champlain College. But doing so would displace 44 people with annual incomes in the $12,000 range. Many current Wharf Lane residents are elderly or disabled. A consortium of nonprofit housing developers — including the Vermont Housing Finance Agency and Burlington Housing Authority — started exploring the possibility of buying the building, but worried the college’s interest would drive up the asking price. The city values the building at $1,586,900 — far below market price because it’s subsidized housing.

Update: Once the public got wind of Champlain College’s interest in Wharf Lane, the school formally dropped out, and local nonprofit housing developers began to piece together a proposal to buy the building. Residents got organized, too, through a tenants group designed to give them a voice with their new landlord — whoever that turns out to be. A sinkhole that developed in the parking lot delayed an appraisal of the building’s current value. But, as of mid-December, the nonprofits are negotiating with Pizzagalli to purchase it nonetheless. Next year another Pizzagalli-owned, low-income-housing project is scheduled to go up for sale: the 57-unit Bobbin Mill apartments across the street on South Champlain.

— S.T.

Ex-Prisoners Can Make Good Neighbors

The Phoenix House, a nonprofit substance-abuse treatment and prevention organization, caused a stir in Burlington when it announced plans to open a transitional housing facility for ex-inmates on Elmwood Avenue — just a couple of blocks from Church Street. Opponents of the project said they were concerned about the facility’s proximity to the city’s commercial core. Transitional housing facilities such as Dismas House and Northern Lights generated similar reactions when they first opened. Phoenix was scheduled to start operating in September.

Update: The 20-bed Phoenix House began receiving residents at the beginning of November. As per an agreement with the city, it can add only six former inmates per month until it’s full. Nine men, all of them from Burlington, are currently living there for six months to a year. All are required to be employed, and each pays $75 a week in rent. Regional program director Jim Henzel reports the first two months have been essentially problem free. “We’ve done well with our neighbors,” he says. Lt. Jennifer Morrison of the Burlington Police Department reports there have been no calls for service at the Phoenix House and “no drain on police resources.” The facility will be at capacity by the end of January.

— L.O.

Why “Pete the Moose” Could Still Be Caught in the Crosshairs

Eleventh-hour language slipped into the state budget bill was supposed to save “Pete the Moose.” When the celebrity cervid wound up on a Department of Fish & Wildlife hit list — to prevent the spread of “chronic wasting disease” — his 5000-plus Facebook “friends” overwhelmed state officials with emails, phone calls and letters urging them to spare the beast. But the alternative, facilitated by this last-minute law, may turn out to be worse: It grants ownership of Pete and roughly 200 whitetail deer to Doug Nelson, who runs a 700-acre game farm in Irasburg. Noting his operation falls under the jurisdiction of the Agency of Agriculture, not Fish & Wildlife, the law inadvertently allows Nelson to profit from letting paying hunters pick off Pete and friends.

Update: Douglas missed an August deadline to inform the Agency of Agriculture how he planned to prevent interaction between wild and domestic animals on his property, raising suspicion that he will continue to flout state law and jurisdiction. He finally came through with a plan in October, but it doesn’t include any strategy for keeping the animal population from getting too large, or state whether he would personally profit from the “culling” of hunting native species. Meanwhile, animal enthusiasts anticipate a bill will likely be introduced in the legislature this session that would revert oversight of Nelson’s herds back to Fish & Wildlife. Otherwise, the state doesn’t get to call any shots on his property.

— S.T.

Dunne’s Deal: Will Youth and Experience Be a Winning Combination for Google Exec Matt Dunne?

This year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary was the most crowded and competitive in memory. To help voters distinguish the Dems, Seven Days produced in-depth profiles of the candidates. Matt Dunne, the 40-year-old Google executive and former state senator, trailed a distant fourth in the polls but carved out a niche as the “youth” candidate. Dunne earned a loyal following among activists, “creative economy” entrepreneurs and a few celebrities, including environmentalist Bill McKibben and business guru Tom Peters. Dunne campaigned hard with a message of economic development and linking the “last mile” to high-speed Internet service in Vermont.

Update: Dunne finished fourth in the primary with 20.8 percent of the vote. Peter Shumlin, the charismatic state Senate president from Putney, won by a nose, and went on to beat Republican Brian Dubie in one of the nastiest campaigns in Vermont history. Since then, Shumlin has appointed his primary opponents — except Dunne — to high-profile posts in his administration: Doug Racine as secretary of human services; Deb Markowitz as secretary of natural resources; and Susan Bartlett as special assistant to the governor.

Dunne, 41, has kept a low profile since the August 24 primary. Days before, his brother, Josh, suffered a stroke. “In retrospect, it would have been incredibly difficult had I managed to win the primary, because my priority would have been where it needed to be, which was with Josh,” says Dunne, who was in San Francisco on Google business last week. After putting his day job on hold during the campaign, Dunne returned to work for the Internet giant. He also bought a tractor, a 44-horsepower Kubota front loader, which Dunne calls “the most exquisite form of therapy I could possibly imagine.”

What about rumors that Shumlin was eyeing Dunne for secretary of commerce? Dunne denies it. Dunne says Shumlin visited him after the election but didn’t offer him anything. “I said, ‘Peter, look. I’m happy to help in whatever way that’s useful, but I don’t need a job. I’ve got a great job.’” The governor-elect has since asked Dunne to serve on a broadband task force and he agreed. Will Dunne run for office again? “There are certainly politics in my future,” he says.

— A.B.

In the Cards: A Writer Visits a Local Psychic to Peer Into Her Future

I had always been curious about the College Street psychic, so I decided to drop in and get a reading. You know, for work. Because that’s my job. I opted for the full tarot card reading, for which the psychic, Samantha Stevens, unburdened me of $45. During my reading — my first ever — Stevens informed me that I often felt unappreciated, was pining for a lost love and would be leaving my job in a year for something better. I’d be going on a tropical vacation within eight to nine months, while a male family member would become sick. Oh, and she also told me that I had been sexually abused. Nice. Needless to say, my reading ranged from mildly creepy to breathtakingly offensive.

Update: No long-lost love called during the month Stevens predicted. Honestly, who makes phone calls anymore? Tropical vacation? The biggest adventure I’ve had since seeing her was a trip to St. Albans in a snowstorm. So far, none of my male family members have fallen ill, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t — you know, just in case.

The whole sexual-abuse assertion stuck in my craw. Could I have repressed it? I turned to another “psychic,” who confirmed my hunch — that I was no more a survivor of sexual abuse than Stevens was a responsible medium.

I can’t tell if her prediction that I’ll leave my job within a year is legit because the year’s not up yet. If you don’t see my byline next July, you’ll know she was right about something.

— L.O.

Can Burlington Save Centennial Field and the Lake Monsters?

Burlington’s Centennial Field is one of the oldest active ballparks in the minor leagues, but the field, clubhouses and seating don’t meet modern standards. Conditions are so bad, in fact, that Minor League Baseball is threatening to yank Burlington’s franchise. Everyone agrees the ballpark is a great asset to the city, but none of the stakeholders is coming forth with a check to pay for the improvements: Ray Pecor owns the team; University of Vermont owns the ballpark. In July, city officials began formal meetings with Pecor, UVM leaders, and representatives from the state, Burlington business community and Vermont’s congressional delegation to find funding to bring Centennial Field up to code.

Update: A study released in October found that improvements to Centennial would cost $6.6 to $9.2 million, but could easily increase to between $14 to $19 million if a parking garage is part of the deal. The must-fix costs range from $3.3 to $4.1 million, and Engineering Ventures, which conducted the study, said some of those improvements must be done before next season. The good news: There may be a “next season.” Minor League Baseball officials aren’t talking so tough about rescinding Vermont’s franchise — at least until 2012. That’ll give proponents more time to pitch a plan to pay for the fixes.

— S.T.

Obama Program Meant to Help Homeowners Actually Sends Many Into Foreclosure

A federal program designed to help cash-strapped homeowners hang onto their properties has actually had the reverse effect: In some cases, it’s forced people into foreclosure, including some gainfully employed folks who have never missed a single mortgage payment. The Obama administration created the Home Affordable Modification Program in 2009 to allow income-qualified homeowners to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages. After a three-month trial-and-review period, homeowners could be permanently assigned lower monthly payments. In practice, however, many Vermonters who’ve gone through the program say it’s been a disaster. Vermont Legal Aid reports that its office has been receiving five or six new HAMP cases each week, including some from clients who received foreclosure notices while their HAMP applications were still pending.

Update: A recent congressional review of HAMP confirmed what many Vermonters have been saying for months: It isn’t working. On December 14, the Congressional Oversight Panel issued a scathing assessment of the Treasury Department’s foreclosure-prevention program. According to the report, HAMP has had “poor results in preventing foreclosures” and has “failed to hold loan servicers accountable when they have repeatedly lost borrower paperwork or refused to perform loan modifications.” The panel predicts that HAMP will prevent just 700,000 foreclosures, fewer than the three to four million goal. Eight to 13 million foreclosures are expected by 2012.

Dawna Hammers of Shelburne, who was profiled in the original Seven Days story, avoided foreclosure with a loan modification, but not through HAMP. She was recently laid off and may yet lose her home. Gerrit Holmes of Vergennes, who also shared his story, avoided foreclosure, as well — but not before liquidating his entire 401(k) and sending his lender, Bank of America, a check for more than $12,000. Holmes was recently contacted by NBC News’ Lisa Myers for a national report on HAMP’s shortcomings. Myers found Holmes as a result of the Seven Days article.

— K.P.

Emails Suggest Vermont Meat Inspector Knew About Bushway Abuse

Dr. Dean Wyatt, a Vermont-based USDA veterinarian, became an animal-rights hero in 2009 after helping to expose veal-calf abuse at the Bushway Packing Inc. slaughterhouse in Grand Isle. As the scandal spilled over into 2010, Wyatt publicly posed a question: Why didn’t Vermont state meat inspectors step in when it became clear that the USDA’s corrective measures had failed to stop the inhumane handling? Hidden video shot by an undercover Humane Society operative — which showed calves too weak to stand being kicked, dragged and shocked — brought the abuse to national attention. But it was Wyatt who first tipped off the Humane Society. The son of a federal meat inspector who was killed on the job, Wyatt later testified before Congress about abuse at Bushway and at a hog plant in Oklahoma.

Update: Wyatt died of brain cancer on November 7 in Tyler, Minn. — a month after one of the Bushway co-owners, Frank Perretta, was sentenced on animal-cruelty charges. Perretta got a $2000 fine and 120 hours of community service for his crimes. More significantly, his sentence forbids him from working with animals — in the husbandry or slaughter industries — for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the USDA is considering Wyatt’s proposal to establish an ombudsman position so field inspectors would have a place to report problems. In November, the USDA agreed to a Wyatt-promoted policy change that prohibits slaughterhouse workers from binding animals by the legs before they are stunned. The practice can result in serious injury for the animal.


Trail Hit a Bump: Act 250

Since the 1990s, a coalition of motorized and nonmotorized recreational groups has been trying to convert an abandoned, 93.2-mile railbed between Swanton and St. Johnsbury into a multiuse recreational corridor. Once completed, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail would become New England’s longest year-round recreational path — the backbone of a statewide trail network. But an East Hardwick landowner, whose property is just 50 feet from the trail, raised concerns last year about winter snowmobile traffic and filed an 11th-hour appeal, requesting an Act 250 review. At the time, trail proponents warned that the land-use review would delay the project by years, add thousands of dollars in costs, and possibly result in the loss of a $5 million federal grant, effectively killing the project.

Update: In late August, a Barre environmental court judge ruled that the LVRT does require an Act 250 review. Shortly thereafter, members of the board of VAST — the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, the trail’s lead sponsor — voted unanimously to pursue the permit. Laird MacDowell, who chairs VAST’s Lamoille Valley Rail Trail committee, said that despite the extra time and expense — another year’s delay and $40,000 in new legal fees — VAST is “100 percent committed” to making this trail a reality. Working in VAST’s favor: The Act 250 coordinator assigned to the case is Geoffrey Green, who’s been supportive of the trail all along. Last year, he was the only one of three Act 250 coordinators to vote against the Act 250 requirement. For his part, MacDowell says he’s “personally getting involved” with the landowners to address their concerns about trail speed limits and curfews. Just last week, VAST’s engineering firm shared its plans at public meetings in the three affected counties.

— K.P.

Vermont’s Medical Marijuana Law Leaves Disabled Veterans Dry —Not High

Paul Shannon is a disabled veteran from Sheffield who was wounded in the Korean Demilitarized Zone in May 1975. He’s spent the last 35 years trying to manage his chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder through massive doses of opiates, which twice nearly killed him. Shannon learned through doctors, and personal experience, that marijuana alleviates many of his symptoms. But Shannon can’t get on Vermont’s medical marijuana registry because all of his medical care is provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA doesn’t allow its physicians to recommend cannabis to their patients — even in states where it’s legal. Should he seek help from a civilian doctor, and subsequently test positive for pot, Shannon risks losing access to a crucial benefit: his federally subsidized prescription pain drugs.

Update: The VA has since revised its medical marijuana policies to resolve the conflict between state and federal drug laws. Under a directive issued on July 22, 2010, patients treated at VA hospitals and clinics may now use medicinal cannabis in the 14 states where it’s legal without fear of being denied access to VA substance-abuse programs or pain-management treatments. However, the VA’s new policy doesn’t equate to accepting or sanctioning pot’s medicinal value. VA doctors may still alter the dosages of pain meds for patients they know are using cannabis. And VA doctors still cannot prescribe cannabis to their patients or assist them in getting on the official medical marijuana registry in their respective states. Moreover, since Shannon cannot afford to be treated by a pot-friendly civilian doctor for six months each year, as Vermont’s medical marijuana law requires, he’s still effectively caught in a cannabis catch-22.

— K.P.

A Barre Renter Is Fighting City Hall for Shutting Off Her Water

Last February, the city of Barre turned off the taps at Brenda Brown’s apartment because her landlord had failed to pay an overdue water bill. When Brown called city hall to appeal the shutoff — or arrange to pay her portion of water usage — she was told she couldn’t do either because she wasn’t the “ratepayer”; her landlord was. So, Vermont Legal Aid brought a federal lawsuit on Brown’s behalf seeking to overturn Barre’s renter-unfriendly policy on unpaid water bills, and declare unconstitutional the state law that supports it. Brown’s two weeks without water were a pain: She was recovering from foot surgery and couldn’t bathe, flush the toilet or wash dishes without lugging bottled water up flights of stairs. Her lawsuit sought class-action status so similarly aggrieved renters would be protected from sudden disconnections.

Update: Brenda Brown was forced to leave her Barre apartment in September because the building went into foreclosure. On December 13, U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss granted class-action status to Brown’s lawsuit and allowed another aggrieved renter, Earl Brooks, to intervene as a coplaintiff. Meanwhile, a Rutland renter has enlisted the help of Vermont Legal Aid to sue the city of Rutland for shutting off her water — a move that touched off a nightmarish chain of events. Jennifer Kasuba’s lawsuit, filed December 3, alleges that Rutland disconnected her water on September 15 without notice because her landlord owed $807. Since the dwelling lacked water, the city deemed the building uninhabitable, forcing Kasuba, her husband and her 11-year-old son to stay in a motel. Because she was homeless, Kasuba says child-welfare officers took her son away and placed him with relatives until the family can find permanent housing.

— A.B.

Conscious Commerce: Seventh Generation’s Cofounder Throws the Book at Corporate Irresponsibility

In an interview timed to coincide with publication of his book The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win, Seventh Generation chairman Jeffrey Hollender argued, “If social responsibility isn’t embedded in the strategy of a business — and it seldom is — then it ends up being marginal and meaningless.” The 55-year-old Hollender came across as a radical change agent who happens to chair a successful company that makes green household products. “At Seventh Generation,” he declared, “we want to be activists.” He added, “Think about it — business is basically a vehicle for transferring money from the poor to the rich.” Asked about his future plans, Hollender said his aspiration was “to become a full-time activist.”

Update: Hollender got his wish — though probably not in the form he imagined it. In October, he was let go by the company he cofounded in 1988. Seventh Generation has not officially said why Hollender was sacked, only hinting in a cryptic blog post that the move had something to do with the hiring of a new CEO, Chuck Maniscalco, a year and a half ago. In an interview last week, company spokeswoman Chrystie Heimert was a bit more explicit, saying Hollender was dismissed because he did not fully cede executive authority to Maniscalco. “It was difficult for Jeffrey to let go,” she said.

In a recent interview Hollender said, “I’m still trying to get clear with Seventh Generation what I can and can’t say.” Insisting his firing had nothing to do with his competence, he went on, “There were some differences in values and philosophy between me and the board. I tried to create a company that was an exception to the rules of how many companies operate. My conclusion now is, we have to focus on changing those rules.”

From his home in Charlotte, Hollender now leads the American Sustainable Business Council, an 18-month-old grouping of some 60,000 small- and medium-size companies that sees itself as an alternative to the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The council takes policy stands opposite those of the chamber, advocating action on climate change, for example, and “stopping the Bush tax cuts from being rolled forward for high-income people.” Hollender will also continue serving on the board of Greenpeace and other eco-minded organizations. His forthcoming book, titled Planet Home, will be published by a division of Random House.

— K.J.K.

Eyes on the Spies: From His Vermont Home, a Washington Post Reporter Keeps Tabs on “Top Secret America”

Working from the unlikely locale of South Pomfret, Washington Post reporter William Arkin maps “an alternative geography of the United States” consisting of more than 10,000 secret government and corporate installations. They conduct surveillance or counterterrorism operations in every state, including Vermont, Arkin revealed this past summer in a three-part Post exposé entitled “Top Secret America.”

Arkin, 54, moved to the Woodstock area in 1993 for many of the same reasons other urbanites have been lured to the Green Mountain State. That included the state’s distinctive brand of politics. “I definitely feel an affinity for what goes on in Vermont,” Arkin said in an interview with Seven Days. Although his home office lacks cell phone service, the Post investigator manages to keep in touch with the contacts in Washington and around the world that he’s cultivated during a career as a self-described military expert.

Update: The Post began running a second installment of “Top Secret America” on its December 20 front page. Arkin and co-reporter Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize winner, this time focus on the local level, unveiling a “vast domestic intelligence apparatus” that collects information on thousands of Americans, “many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.”

Much of the surveillance is motivated by perceived or presumed connections between Islam and terrorism, the reporters write. They quote Ramon Montijo, a former U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, who says he has taught classes on Islam and terrorism to law-enforcement officers in Vermont and several other states.

An interactive map accompanying the Post series lists 27 offices in Vermont engaged in domestic counter-terrorism activities. Seven of them are in Chittenden County, including two in Burlington: a U.S. Secret Service branch and an outpost of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, aka ICE.

The map also highlights three operations in Williston, one of which is known as the Vermont Fusion Center. Administered by the state police, the fusion center’s aims, according to its website, are to “collect, analyze and disseminate intelligence information in an effort to identify, investigate and prevent criminal activity, and protect the citizens and critical infrastructures vital to our society.”

— K.J.K.

Ring Man: Burlington MMA Fighter Noah Weisman Charts a Course for the Big Leagues

Noah Weisman had been in more than a few scrapes in his life. Growing up a biracial Jew in Burlington wasn’t so easy. In his early twenties, he found mixed martial arts, a rapidly growing sport that redirected him from a life of troublemaking into one of rigorous training and tireless self-promotion. As a professional fighter, he’s amassed a record of 4-1 in the 155-pound division. He’s also a single dad and a car salesman. Despite a separated shoulder, Weisman won his last bout — a good old-fashioned brawl at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. He hoped the fight would attract some big sponsors.

Update: Weisman’s MGM Grand fight was great exposure. After the fight, he got a call from a major sports and entertainment management firm in Manhattan that offered to represent him. The company provides the same service for a number of professional athletes within the NFL, NHL and MMA. Right now, Weisman says, he’s getting acquainted with his new management, with which he signed a three-year, open-ended contract. Weisman was recently ranked among the top 10 fighters in his weight class in New England. With his shoulder healed, he’s looking forward to a possible fight in April. He won’t give details because it’s not a sure thing yet, but the matchup has the potential to expose Weisman to tens of millions of television viewers. Not bad for a car salesman.

— L.O.

From Colchester to Congo: St. Mike’s Launches a National Dear Hillary Campaign

St. Michael’s College students launched a campaign this year to end sexual atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, described by one of the activists as “the worst place in the world to be a woman.” The effort, which spread throughout the country, took the form of a mass mailing of birthday cards to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Dear Hillary,” the cards read, “As a gift to yourself and the women of the world, we ask that you make peace in eastern Congo a foreign policy priority.”

Update: After requesting a meeting with Clinton, the students were referred by the State Department to Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, who met with seven Vermont members of the Dear Hilary Campaign on December 15 in Washington. Also on hand was Rick Swart, the State Department’s “desk officer,” or point person, for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Verveer thanked the students for their work, saying, “You represent the finest of civil society.” The ambassador emphasized that the Obama administration supports the campaign’s objectives. “We are with you,” she told the students and two members of Burlington’s Congolese community. “I don’t see it as you in your camp and we in our camp.”

In addition to citing a variety of U.S. peacemaking initiatives, Verveer expressed frustration that the attacks on women are continuing. “If it were easy, it would have been done by now,” she said of efforts to stop the estimated 15,000 rapes that have occurred this year in the eastern DRC.

The students pressed Verveer and Swart on a number of issues. St. Mike’s senior Kate Bailey asked pointedly why the United States keeps supplying aid to Rwanda and Uganda, neighboring countries accused in United Nations reports of complicity in the violence against Congolese women and girls.

“These countries have a need for bilateral aid,” Swart said. “There is no simple solution, no simple answer to the question you’re asking,” he added.

The Dear Hillary contingent expressed satisfaction following the hourlong meeting that the campaign’s concerns had at least been heard at a high level. But the activists weren’t placated. They’ll be working in the new year to organize what they hope will be a major demonstration in front of the State Department — either in March, which is Women’s History Month, or in May sometime around Mother’s Day.

— K.J.K.