In the Legislature: Local control in wind siting unlikely

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David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House last Thursday in support of raising the minimum wage.  “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House last Thursday in support of raising the minimum wage. “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle March 26, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

MONTPELIER — Regional and local planners are expected to be the big losers in a bill to open up the siting process for ridgeline industrial wind projects.

Scheduled to appear on the Senate floor, the bill was rerouted to the Senate Committee on Appropriations Tuesday as negotiations continued behind the scenes to strike a compromise and keep it alive.

“Unfortunately, regional planning is one of those things we’re probably not going to wind up with,” said Senator John Rodgers of Glover during a telephone interview Tuesday.

One of the stated purposes of the bill was “to strengthen the role of planning commissions and local selectboard and planning commissions in the siting review process for energy facilities by giving greater weight to their recommendations and plans.”

But at the end of the day, that’s not likely what’s going to happen.

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Community Justice Part II: Senate bill pushes new ways to deal with crime

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The theory of restorative justice is neatly summed up in this chart created by John Perry, whose work helped in the creation of Vermont’s system.  “I’ve used this chart in presentations around the country,” Mr. Perry said when asked for permission to use the diagram.  “It might as well be published in Vermont.”

The theory of restorative justice is neatly summed up in this chart created by John Perry, whose work helped in the creation of Vermont’s system. “I’ve used this chart in presentations around the country,” Mr. Perry said when asked for permission to use the diagram. “It might as well be published in Vermont.”

copyright the Chronicle March 19, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

If a bill passed last week by the Vermont Senate becomes law, it will be the latest step in Vermont’s very long struggle to find new, and better, ways to deal with criminals.  That struggle began about 20 years ago, with a group of young idealists, led by a visionary Westmore man, reshaping how justice is meted out.

The recently approved Senate bill would allow some offenders — primarily those who pose no threat to public safety — the option of participating in a nontraditional program, such as the community justice program that operates in Newport.

Its intent is “that law enforcement officials and criminal justice professionals develop and maintain programs at every stage of the criminal justice system to provide alternatives to a traditional punitive criminal justice response….”

In the nontraditional reparative justice program, community volunteers work with an offender to develop a plan for making amends to the victims of his crime and to repair the damage done by his actions.

That program was developed about two decades ago by a group of young workers at the state Department of Corrections (DOC), with support from several governors and an important contribution from a longtime resident of Westmore, Bill Page.

In the 1970s the nation was seized by a fear of violent crime, and a concern that prisons were not fulfilling the intended purpose of rehabilitation.  John Martinson, a noted researcher on the subject, grew pessimistic about the results of all the programs he investigated.

He wrote an article for the magazine Public Interest setting out his findings, an article whose conclusion, usually summarized under the heading “Nothing works,” was spread throughout the popular media.

Around the country, prisons were generally seen only as a means to keep offenders from harming law-abiding citizens.  Legislators followed the public mood and voted for increasingly harsh sentences for all manner of offenses.

A group of new officials at the Vermont DOC, however, thought they could find a solution to what seemed an intractable problem.

“We were arrogant, brash and young enough not to know better,” recalled John Perry in a recent telephone interview.  Mr. Perry retired from the DOC as director of planning in 2011.  “We thought we could make a difference,” he said.

They began in ignorance.

“We knew crime was increasing — increasing like crazy in the late ’70s and ’80s,” Mr. Perry said.

What the young officials at the DOC did not know was that the increase was in reported crime, not actual crime.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Vermont experienced an influx of new residents coming from other parts of the country.  One of the things they brought with them was an expectation of what government was supposed to do, Mr. Perry said.  As a result, the new residents tended to call police for assistance more often than the locals had.

As in other states, Vermont legislators reacted to what they perceived as an increase in crime by increasing penalties in an attempt to stem it.

The result, recalled former DOC Commissioner John Gorczyk in a telephone interview, was “an explosion in incarceration without an increase in crime.”

The DOC, in those days, was “underfunded, overcrowded and under-loved,” Mr. Perry said.

But young, idealistic officials were put in a position to make changes to the system when Governor Richard Snelling brought William Ciuros to Vermont to take over the DOC.  Mr. Ciuros forced the department’s old guard out and installed “the new kids” in their place, Mr. Perry said.

Those included Joseph Patrissi, then deputy commissioner, Mr. Gorczyk, and Mr. Perry.  Mr. Patrissi is currently executive director of Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA).

Mr. Ciuros got his deputies to cut their long hair and change their attire from woolen shirts to suits.

“We worked 12 hour days,” Mr. Perry recalled.  “I never worked so hard in my life.”

Mr. Ciuros soon ran afoul of Governor Snelling and was dismissed, to be replaced by Con Hogan, but his team remained in place.

Among other initiatives, they started letting nonviolent offenders serve their sentences in the community, or on weekends, so they could continue working, Mr. Patrissi said.

That program hit a hard bump when the son of vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Farraro was arrested at Middlebury College with two and a half pounds of cocaine, said Mr. Perry.

He met the qualifications for release, except for having a residence in Vermont, Mr. Perry recalled.  That was quickly managed, but the national media soon descended on Vermont to photograph the sign saying “luxury condominiums” outside his apartment complex, Mr. Perry said.

Madeleine Kunin had just been elected governor, and she tried to provide political cover for the DOC by creating the Community Corrections Advisory Board, Mr. Patrissi said.

She appointed Mr. Page to the board, as well as John Downs, a founding partner at Downs, Rachlin and Martin, and Fay Honey Knopp, a director of the Safer Society Foundation.  The Safer Society program is a national referral service for sex offenders seeking therapy.  She was also the founder of the Prison Research Education Action Program.  Also on the committee was Jack Coleman, a former president of Haverford College who spent a sabbatical from his job as an inmate at a Pennsylvania prison.  Mr. Coleman was a friend of the warden, who was the only one who knew he was there voluntarily, Mr. Perry said.

Mr. Patrissi and Mr. Page had already met, at a book club meeting at Mr. Page’s house on Willoughby Lake where both men spent summers.

After the meeting, Mr. Page, who knew Mr. Patrissi was commissioner of corrections, approached him.

“He asked, ‘How would you like to know something about human nature?’” Mr. Patrissi recalled.  “I’d been in corrections 20 years and I was schooled in that side of human nature,” he said.

Mr. Page had been director of corporate planning at the Polaroid Corporation during that firm’s glory years and had learned from the work of E.O. Wilson, a sociobiologist and the world’s foremost expert on ants.  Professor Wilson’s work, which traced the genetic basis of human nature, was being used by Polaroid in its marketing efforts, Mr. Patrissi said.

If Mr. Page decided someone was worthy of his attention, he’d latch on to that person as a teacher, said Mr. Gorczyk.  Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Patrissi called him a mentor.

Mr. Page began running a kind of school for DOC officials, inviting them to his house, or taking them down to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, headquarters of Polaroid for classes with him or other experts.

As Mr. Perry recalled, he outlined some of the basic principles of human nature, including an innate fear of strangers, a preference for working in groups of around six members and, most importantly, the principle of reciprocity.

“If I buy you a drink at a bar,” Mr. Perry said to explain reciprocity, “you had better buy the next round.  If I have to buy the second round, there won’t be a third one, and we won’t be friends.”

Working with Mr. Page and Mr. Downs, the group began to feel its way toward the system of reparative justice.

All felt that a real system of justice had to begin by putting the victim at its center, something that the English system of law, which was largely adopted by most U.S. states, did not do.

A reading of history, Mr. Perry said, shows the English originally had a system of law that rated the worth of an individual by his or her rank and punished offenses with fines that were proportional to the crime.

The basic idea, Mr. Perry said, was that a village needed all of its citizens if it was to function, so disputes had to be resolved in a way that would not cause the loss of someone’s skills to the community.

When William the Conqueror took over England in 1066, he assigned his son the task of creating a system of colonial law, Mr. Perry said.  That law treated every crime as an offense against the king, who was presumed to own everything in the country.  Fines were no longer paid to a victim, but were given to the king, and many crimes were punished by death or mutilation.

Vermont, in its Constitution, bans the latter form of punishment, which it calls “sanguinary punishment,” Mr. Perry said, so a system that turned away from the English model could be seen as being in accord with the intent of the state’s founders.

Mr. Perry found similar ways of meting out justice in such native societies as the Navaho, who resolve criminal offenses with a series of meetings or circles which seek to define the nature of the crime and gradually, through discussion, to find a way to mend the damage.

Whenever they hit a problem, Mr. Page would create a report that analyzed the situation in detail and proposed a solution, Mr. Perry said.

“He was right every damned time,” he recalled.

Mr. Patrissi said Mr. Page showed great patience with the group.

“Here we were, with this genius, who already knew where this was going to go,” he said.  “We were in the hands of a genius.”

When Governor Snelling returned to office after Governor Kunin finished her last term, he called Mr. Patrissi in and demanded 12 great ideas, Mr. Patrissi said.

He liked the proposal for a reparative justice program and, after his sudden death, so did his replacement, Governor Howard Dean.

In order to figure out how to sell the program to Vermonters, the DOC wrote a grant and hired a polling firm to conduct the sort of market research that might be undertaken before a company like Proctor and Gamble launches a product, said Mr. Perry.

After conducting focus groups and an extensive telephone poll, the results were in.  The people of Vermont hated the DOC, they also disliked the state’s attorneys, criminal defense lawyers and judges.  They did like juries, though, Mr. Perry said.

“They trusted themselves,” he concluded.

Vermonters were also very positive about the reparative justice system when it was explained to them.  The polls showed 92 to 94 percent favorability ratings, Mr. Perry said.

“Nothing gets 94 percent favorability ratings,” he said.

The first attempts at operating a reparative justice system were run through the DOC, but it soon became clear that the program would work better if it were handled by community members through an organization outside state government.

That led to the creation of community justice centers.

Over the years, the results of the reparative board have proved the worth of the idea.  A 2007 study was hard to publish, said Mr. Perry, because journals found it hard to believe that recidivism could be reduced in Vermont by 26 percent through the process.

Since the creation of restorative justice programs, Vermont has been frequently visited by representatives from other states and other countries seeking to learn from the state’s experience.

Because Vermont has a unified corrections system, unlike other states with county, city and other government subdivisions running jails, its database is the most comprehensive in the country — a boon for researchers, Mr. Perry said.

Still, he and Mr. Gorczyk said they are not satisfied with the system as it exists.  They feel it is underused.

Mr. Perry said he is pleased to see many schools are beginning to use the principles of restorative justice is dealing with infractions such as bullying.  The results, he said, are very promising.

State law prohibits the use of reparative boards for some crimes, such as domestic abuse.  Mr. Perry said he regrets that and believes the practice can achieve excellent results in those cases, if used properly.

Mr. Gorczyk said he has been pessimistic about the future of reparative justice until recently, but said the new Senate-passed bill is giving him renewed hope.

For Mr. Perry, it’s important to take the long view.

“We’re only 20 years into what will be a 100-year process,” he said.

This is the second of a three-part series on community justice.  The first part was in the February 19 issue of the Chronicle, and can be read here.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages.  For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Murder charges brought in O’Hagan killing

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Keith Baird is brought into the Vermont Superior Court in Caledonia County’s criminal division on Monday to face charges of murder, kidnapping, and burglary.  Photo by Todd Wellington, courtesy of the Caledonian-Record.

Keith Baird is brought into the Vermont Superior Court in Caledonia County’s criminal division on Monday to face charges of murder, kidnapping, and burglary. Photo by Todd Wellington, courtesy of the Caledonian-Record.

copyright the Chronicle March 12, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

ST. JOHNSBURY  — Two men have been charged with the murder and kidnapping of Mary Pat O’Hagan, a 78-year-old Sheffield grandmother who was killed three and a half years before the arraignments Monday, to the day.  A third man has been cited.

Keith J. Baird, 33, who is in jail in St. Johnsbury, and Richard Fletcher, 27, who is in jail in Springfield, pled innocent to the charges, which also included burglary, were assigned public defenders, and were sent back to jail and ordered to stay away from 28 specific people, including witnesses, co-defendants, and members of the O’Hagan family.

Michael Norrie, 23, has been cited for the same charges and faces extradition from a prison in Pennsylvania to face the charges.

All three men are from Sheffield.

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Police make arrests in the murder of Pat O’Hagan

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day.  Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

Mary Pat O’Hagan was a dedicated community volunteer, mother and grandmother, and organizer of the Sheffield Field Day each Labor Day. Photo courtesy of the O’Hagan family

After three and a half years of investigation by detectives and tips from the public with key information; police said citations were issued in the September 2010 murder of Pat O’Hagan. Richard Fletcher, age 27 of Sheffield, and Keith Baird, age 33 of Sutton (Fletcher’s brother); were both cited for burglary, kidnapping, and first degree murder of Pat O’Hagan. Mr. Baird also faces an additional charge as a habitual offender. Affidavits submitted on Friday, March 7, to the Vermont Superior Court, Caledonia Criminal Division were accepted for probable cause. An arrest warrant has been granted for the arrest of Michael Norrie, age 23 of St. Johnsbury who is being charged with burglary, kidnapping, and first degree murder.

Keith Baird is currently being held at the Northeast Regional Correctional
Center in St. Johnsbury for a lack of bail on multiple counts of violations
of conditions of release, habitual offender, and violations of an abuse
prevention order. Richard Fletcher is a Vermont inmate housed at a
correctional facility in Kentucky; although he was recently brought back to
Vermont and is being held at southern Vermont facility center in
Springfield serving a sentence for sexual exploitation of a minor. Michael
Norrie is serving a sentence in federal jail in Pennsylvania on federal gun
crimes.

Baird and Fletcher will be arraigned on the above listed charges on Monday, March 10, 2014, at 12:30PM. The arrest warrant obtained for Norrie will start the process of his extradition back to Vermont.

Pat O’Hagan was last seen on September 10, 2010. Her body was found nearly four weeks later on Horn Road in Wheelock, Vermont, on October 3, 2010; approximately ten miles from her home at 3064 Route 122 in Sheffield.

The Vermont State Police extend their appreciation to the Sheffield
community, Vermonters, and the media for their help and dedication in
keeping Pat O’Hagan’s memory alive.

Questions regarding the case should be directed to the Caledonia County
State’s Attorney. – from Vermont State Police.

To read a related story from past coverage, click here.

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In Newport City: Morrissette elected as alderman

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Neil Morrissette.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Neil Morrissette. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 3-5-2014

NEWPORT—Newport has a new alderman.  Voters went to the polls Tuesday and elected Neil Morrissette to replace former council member Tim de la Bruere who decided not to stand for re-election.

They also returned incumbent Alderman John Wilson for another two-year term, his seventh.  Mr. Wilson led all candidates with 369 votes, Mr. Morrissette had 286 and Corey Therrien finished out of the money with 225 votes.

Mr. Therrien did not go home empty handed, though.  Running unopposed, he won election to an open seat on the North Country Union High School board with 388 votes.

No candidates submitted petitions for a vacant seat on the Newport City School Board, but two citizens ran write-in campaigns.  With 31 votes Mary Ellen Prairie squeaked in ahead of Jacques Roberge, who garnered 19 votes.

Newport voters exhibited their usual generosity, approving all appropriation requests by wide margins.

The city budget request of $3-million was granted by a vote of 354 to 125.  The Newport City Elementary School’s budget had a narrower margin of victory, but it still passed, 279 to 214.

City voters also approved the North Country Union High School and North Country Union Junior High School budgets.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

To read all 20 Town Meeting stories, pick up the paper or subscribe to our digital edition.

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OCSU board picks new superintendent

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Bruce Labs.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Bruce Labs. Photo by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

by Richard Creaser

The Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU) school board has tendered an offer to a new superintendent.

The name is not yet being released pending the candidate’s acceptance, but two final candidates were interviewed in public Tuesday afternoon.  A decision was made after the interviews and a lengthy executive session.

On Tuesday evening OCSU school board chairman Amy Leroux of Irasburg confirmed that the board has tendered an offer to someone to replace Stephen Urgenson.  The two candidates are Bruce Labs of Piermont, New Hampshire, and Don Van Nostrand of Concord.  Ms. Leroux said after an offer is accepted and a final vetting process by the state Agency of Education is done an announcement will be made, probably by week’s end.

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In Newport: An inside look at a chance for redemption

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Terry Collins, Isobel Marks and Ed Brochu (left to right) discuss the contents of Damion’s contract with him (back to camera).  “The most important thing is to show respect,” Ms. Marks said.  “I don’t think the offenders expect that, they think they’re going to be punished for being bad people.”  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Terry Collins, Isobel Marks and Ed Brochu (left to right) discuss the contents of Damion’s contract with him (back to camera). “The most important thing is to show respect,” Ms. Marks said. “I don’t think the offenders expect that, they think they’re going to be punished for being bad people.” Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle February 19, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A slight man with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard walked into a small room at the Community Justice Center here and looked around at the three people who, in the course of an hour’s conversation, could help shape his future.

Walter Medwid, coordinator of Newport’s reparative justice system, had already met Damion (for the sake of privacy, only offenders’ first names are used in this story).  He shook his hand and introduced him to Ed Brochu, Isobel Marks, and Terry Collins, who also greeted the young man warmly.

Having pled guilty in November to unlawful trespass in an occupied dwelling, Damion was reporting to a reparative board, one of the less-heralded parts of Vermont’s criminal justice system.

The reparative justice program is intended to repair the damage to the community that a crime causes, and to persuade the person who committed the act to accept responsibility and make amends.  The program is also designed to let the offender know that, once those goals are reached, he or she is again in the community’s good graces.  It’s intended primarily for first-time lawbreakers who commit non-violent offenses.

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Jay Peak’s plans for rec center remain in limbo

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Jay Peak Resort hopes to build this recreation center on the ski area’s Stateside.  The front entrance is planned to be 14 feet tall and face the Stateside parking area.  The back wall of the metal-faced building would be 22 feet tall and face Route 242.  Inside, the proposed center would have climbing walls, a movie theater, arcade games, and a horizontal ropes course.  Image courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak Resort hopes to build this recreation center on the ski area’s Stateside. The front entrance is planned to be 14 feet tall and face the Stateside parking area. The back wall of the metal-faced building would be 22 feet tall and face Route 242. Inside, the proposed center would have climbing walls, a movie theater, arcade games, and a horizontal ropes course. Image courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

copyright the Chronicle February 12, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

JAY—Jay Peak Resort’s plan to build a recreation center with a 145-seat movie theater and climbing walls remains in limbo.  The Jay Planning Commission and Zoning Board (two bodies with one set of members) tabled the application Monday night until March 10.

The commission came out of a deliberative session that lasted an hour and a half to express its dissatisfaction with the area’s provisions for parking for the new facility and concern about the building’s effect on the views along Route 242.

The planning commission met Monday night to reconsider the project, which had been refused a permit based on parking and public safety concerns after it was first presented in January.

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Farm bill passes U.S. Senate

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Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle February 5, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

The federal farm bill passed the U.S. Senate Tuesday, 68 to 32.

The bill includes a key provision for dairy farmers, called a Margin Protection Plan.  Similar to crop insurance, it allows farmers to buy into a plan that will protect their prices should the federal milk price normally paid to them drop, or should their production costs rise dramatically.

A statement from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy says the hoped-for supply management plan that was in the Senate version of the bill was stripped out.  But as a member of the conference committee, Senator Leahy was able to make a change that will help smaller dairy farmers more than large corporate farms.

Small farms will be able to enroll at lower rates and get higher protection, the statement explains.

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Barton woman given deferred sentence for arson

copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A Barton woman pled guilty to first degree arson Tuesday in the Orleans Criminal Division of Superior Court.

Rebecca R. Ray, 21, apparently settled the score with an informant who helped police arrest her boyfriend for heroin trafficking — by burning down the informant’s house.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen deferred sentencing in the case for three years.

Ms. Ray is the girlfriend of Matthew R. Prue, 34, of Barton who, with his brother Louis A. Prue II, 40, of Newport was arrested on July 10 for selling heroin, said Morrisville Detective Jason Luneau.  The brothers were charged with selling 26 grams of heroin in a controlled buy carried out at the Subway in Orleans, he said.

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