House candidates debate in Westfield

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copyright the Chronicle October 19, 2016

by Tena Starr

A good 60 people came to the community center here Monday evening to listen to Republic incumbent Mark Higley and Democratic challenger Katherine Sims debate the issues. Mr. Higley has been the Orleans-Lamoille district’s representative since 2009. Ms. Sims challenged him in 2012 as well and lost 920-887. Following a recount, the vote was 924-892. The race is hotly contested, and both candidates are working hard for the district’s one seat.

The differences between the two were not as stark as one might expect in view of the fact that one is a progressive Democrat, the other a conservative Republican.

Neither likes Act 46 or the current siting process for renewable energy projects. The two didn’t even clash on gun control. They did differ on legalizing marijuana and their views of the most pressing issues in the district, which includes Lowell, Westfield, Jay, Eden and part of Troy.

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Lawyers for Stenger tell state to bring it on

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copyright the Chronicle October 19, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Lawyers for Bill Stenger have told the state to bring it on. In a September 7 filing in the Civil Division of Washington County Superior Court, they denied all the fraud charges related to EB-5 visa funded projects sponsored by Jay Peak and have demanded a jury trial.

Mr. Stenger recently settled similar charges levied against him by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the settlement, Mr. Stenger did not admit or deny the charges against him, but he agreed to accept whatever penalties U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles may decide to assess.

Mr. Stenger also promised that he would not say anything that contradicted the SEC charges.

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Editorial

Editorial

VOTER BEWARE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

This has not been a pleasant election year.  At the national level, the discourse, if you can call it that, veers between astounding and revolting.

However, we’re happy to say that, locally the conversation has been largely respectful — even in the hard fought race between Mark Higley and Katherine Sims.

At a public debate in Westfield, one observer walking out at the end of the night said, “You were right, it was civil.”

And candidates in Vermont are generally wise to take the high road.  There have been campaigns, even here of course, that were highly negative.  Most didn’t fare too well, and we sincerely hope that holds true this year.

We are concerned, however, about two things:  The presence of super pac money and the increasing use of social media for campaigning.

Skillful use of social media has been credited with boosting several national campaigns, and as a fund-raising tool, we certainly can see its value.  But as a campaign tool, it’s problematic for both voters and candidates.

Prior to social media, candidates were pretty much dependent on personal appearances and traditional media, in the form of ads and letters to the editor, as well as interviews, or debates, as a means to get their message out.

One of the virtues of that system, for the voter at least, was that both ads and letters are generally vetted for truth.

This newspaper, as do most, tries to find out if letter writers are legitimate and if the content stated as fact is true.  Opinion, interpretation of a candidate’s record, actions, or speech is, of course, up to the voter.  But traditional media does try to present voters with true information so they can make an informed decision.

On social media a person can say just about anything about anyone.  There’s no fact filter.

Be careful this year.  Don’t rely on Facebook when choosing a candidate.  Check out the truth of a candidate’s position before you vote.  Send an e-mail if you have a question, or make a phone call.

We have no doubt that a candidate would be happy to clarify a position rather than have his or her constituents, or potential constituents, voting with false information.

Now, for what it’s worth, we offer our limited endorsements.

The Chronicle’s policy when it comes to endorsements and editorials is that the editorial staff must be in agreement.  Contrary to what might be perception, this crew is hardly in ideological lockstep — on anything, not just political candidates.  Often, if there are six opinions to be had, between us we might hold them all.

However, we are unanimous on the following:

We support Bobby Starr and John Rodgers for state Senate in the Essex-Orleans district.  Marcia Horne has exhibited a woeful lack of information about the issues and is patently unqualified to represent anyone in the Senate or anywhere else.  Eric Collins, from Richford, we know little about.  He was invited to a public debate, accepted, but canceled without explanation four days before the event.  We invited him to submit an announcement of his candidacy for free.  He did, but then withdrew it.

Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Starr have worked hard and effectively for the Northeast Kingdom.  They both understand and love the area, both come from agricultural backgrounds, both have operated small businesses, and both have achieved positions where they do give the Northeast Kingdom a voice in the Legislature, which very much matters.

In the Orleans Caledonia House race, we support Sam Young and Vicki Strong.  They have worked hard, are congenial to, and respectful of, each other, and they have brought a Northeast Kingdom perspective to the Legislature.  Mr. Young brings not only an agricultural background, but also needed expertise in technology.  One of the things he has worked hard on is getting Internet and cell services to the Kingdom.

The people in the Orleans-2 House race are fortunate.  They’ve got four good candidates to choose from:  Republican incumbents Mike Marcotte and Gary Viens, and Democratic challengers Ron Holland and Judith Jackson.  They don’t differ much in their positions, just in how they might go about effecting them, or in their priorities.

Both Mr. Higley and Ms. Sims are also capable candidates.

Another thing this eclectic staff agrees on is that, in Orleans County, at least, party labels can be misleading, or at least not particularly meaningful.  For instance, Marcia Horne’s attempts to paint Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Starr, both Democrats, as tax and spend liberals who toe the party line was patently ridiculous.  If anything, the Shumlin Administration would have preferred to see them both take extended winter vacations in South America to shut them up about all the things they didn’t agree with on more liberal Democrats’ agenda, such as commercial wind, Act 46, stricter gun laws….

For the most part, the legislators currently representing us are a moderate bunch — meaning if they call themselves Republican they’re moderate Republicans, and if they call themselves Democrats, they’re moderate Democrats.  The result being that there often isn’t an awful lot of difference between them.  Many could change the R or D beside their name tomorrow, and no one would notice.

Most of the candidates this year have the Northeast Kingdom’s interests at heart, not those of a political party.

Above all, vote.  It looks like there will be some very close races next week, and your vote matters.  — T.S.

 

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Missing documents found in furnace room of Coventry town clerk’s office

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copyright the Chronicle October 12, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

COVENTRY — When selectman Scott Morley and auditor Jeff Graham walked through the doors of the Coventry town office early Monday morning, they saw Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz headed into the furnace room carrying a tub and a box of papers. She came back empty handed, Mr. Morley said.

The sight stuck in Mr. Morley’s mind all day. After Ms. Diaz left, he and Mr. Graham went to the furnace room and found what she had left there — a pile of Coventry tax and financial documents, including some that Mr. Graham, a forensic accountant, has been requesting for the past year.

Mr. Graham snapped a picture of the items sitting on the floor just inside the furnace room door.

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Glover parents question Halloween ban

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copyright the Chronicle October 12, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

GLOVER — The October lunch menu at the Glover Community School said that Halloween lunch would be spider bellies, spider legs, and bones.

A day later the school sent a corrected menu home with students. This time, lunch on October 31 was scheduled to be chicken tenders, french fries, and celery sticks.

Then parents learned that the school’s traditional pumpkin carving contest had been canceled.

And students won’t be allowed to wear costumes to school.

“We need to keep religious celebrations and holidays out of schools,” said Angelique Brown, the new Glover principal.

Before coming to Glover, Ms. Brown was assistant principal at a school in Groveton, New Hampshire.

That school eliminated in-school holiday celebrations at least five years ago, she said. And most other areas don’t allow them.

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Orleans-Caledonia House candidates debate education, guns, taxes

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copyright the Chronicle October 12, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

BARTON — A conversation Monday evening between three candidates for the state House of Representatives from the Orleans-Caledonia district produced a civil, serious discussion of issues facing the state.

Incumbents Vicki Strong, a Republican from Albany, and Sam Young, a Glover Democrat, were joined Monday night by Republican challenger Frank Huard of Craftsbury at a forum sponsored by the Chronicle, Building Bright Futures, NEK-TV, and the Orleans County Record.

Democrat Matt Eldridge of Glover did not attend the forum, which attracted more than 20 people to the Barton Memorial Building.

After the three candidates introduced themselves, Tod Pronto, who moderated the forum, posed questions to the group. Each was given two minutes to answer.

Mr. Pronto started by asking the candidates to name the three most pressing issues facing the district.

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State could end dispatch service

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copyright the Chronicle October 12, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

After a summer of discussions among emergency service providers and state officials, the Public Service Department plans to ask the Legislature to allow it to stop dispatching except for state agencies.

In an interview on October 6, State Police Captain Thomas Hango, commander of emergency communications, said the study committee is made up of police, fire, and ambulance service representatives as well as state agencies and emergency responder union delegates.

The group has been talking about possible changes to the dispatch service system, he said.

At present, Captain Hango said, some communities pay the state for dispatching services, some have their own dispatchers, and some get services from the state at no charge.

Communities in the Northeast Kingdom are among those that have received dispatching from the state without paying for them.

Many people think that’s not fair, and something needs to be done to correct the situation, he said.

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Montreal man starts hemp farm in Holland

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copyright the Chronicle October 5, 2016

by Paul Lefebvre

HOLLAND — A former construction worker from Montreal with dual American-Canadian citizenship is hardly the kind of farmer one would expect to find here cultivating a crop still deemed to be illegal by the federal government, in a field only a little more than a stone’s throw away from the border.

But Morgan Laurent is among a handful of farmers in Vermont who want to break new ground with the plant they are growing and turn industrial hemp into a legitimate crop.

Standing among row after row of bushy green plants that smell like, and dangerously resemble, the illicit weed marijuana, Mr. Laurent is growing industrial hemp in the spirit of a visionary. Rather than grow a crop used to make rope or paper, he is growing a plant that produces medicinal oils and are used to make people feel better, without getting them high.

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” he says, after pointing out one of his premier specimens with buds thick and sticky enough to earn the moniker “Juicy fruit.”

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Auditor calls for asset freeze in Coventry

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copyright the Chronicle October 5, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

COVENTRY — The accounting firm involved in trying to untangle Coventry’s financial records is recommending that the town freeze the movements of all of its assets as soon as possible.

The select board agreed at its meeting Monday to send letters to Community National Bank and to three firms involved in the town’s investments stopping any transfers, sales, or withdrawals without the written consent of the select board.

“Jeff Graham sees an opportunity for assets to move without our knowledge,” selectman Scott Morley said. “And he sees the potential for that to happen.”

Mr. Graham is the president of the accounting firm Graham & Graham, the auditors hired to look into Coventry’s finances. He’s a certified public account (CPA) who is certified in financial forensics, the accounting specialty devoted to investigating fraud.

He’s been trying to untangle Coventry’s books and has said he suspects he will find missing money.

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Police mystified by disturbed infant grave

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copyright the Chronicle October 5, 2016

by Tena Starr

BARTON — Police are mystified by a peculiar incident at the St. Paul’s Catholic cemetery here.

In early September, the family of an infant who died more than three decades ago visited the grave and found that it had been disturbed.

“There was dirt where there should have been grass, grass where there should have been dirt,” said Chief Deputy Phil Brooks at the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department.

The family reported the matter to St. Paul’s pastor, the Reverend Tim Naples.

Later, Father Naples and the cemetery commissioner took a look at the grave and agreed that something was odd.

Chief Deputy Brooks said they were concerned that someone had been buried there illegally, so they started digging where the earth had been disturbed.

They were digging soft gravel, and it would not have been soft gravel if the ground had been undisturbed for 34 years, the chief deputy noted.

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