School funding a priority for legislators


copyright the Chronicle January 17, 2018


by Elizabeth Trail


Just two weeks into the 2018 legislative session, Governor Phil Scott has given his State of the State speech, but this year’s budget address isn’t scheduled for another week.

Behind the scenes, analysts are waiting to hear numbers from the Governor, even as they scramble to figure out what the new federal budget and income tax reform may mean for Vermont, said Representative Sam Young of Glover, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee.

And lawmakers are up to their ears in committee work that’s left them — so far — with little time to figure out what’s going on outside of their committee rooms.

“We all kind of work in a vacuum, all in our own committees,” Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry said.

Fixing school funding

If there’s one thing that Northeast Kingdom legislators seem likely to agree on, it’s that property taxes are too high, and the current system of funding for education is broken.

Representative Gary Viens of Newport summed it up in a nutshell when he said, “I certainly don’t want to hurt the education of our children, but people are pretty tapped out on taxes.”

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In Coventry, Diaz is out, Barlow is in — at least for now


copyright the Chronicle June 14, 201

by Elizabeth Trail


COVENTRY — After a week of dramatic twists and turns, David Barlow has been appointed to serve as what Coventry Select Board members called a “temporary interim” town clerk and treasurer.

He will serve until the select board can review applications and appoint someone to do the jobs until March, when Town Meeting voters will fill the jobs for the two years remaining in former Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz’ term.

At midnight on Friday, the clock ran out on Ms. Diaz’ chance to line up the bond she needed in order to keep her job. Under state law, the positions were automatically vacated.

It seemed like the end of the road for the embattled town clerk and treasurer, who has been re-elected again and again despite years of questionable audits and complaints about her bookkeeping.

But just hours before Friday’s special select board meeting, the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department served select board Chair Mike Marcotte with a complaint alleging that the May 24 special meeting hadn’t been properly warned.

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Incumbents returned to office  


copyright the Chronicle November 9, 2016,

County votes for Scott, Trump

Despite some hard fought races, Orleans County returned all incumbents to office Tuesday.

The closest contest was the Orleans-Lamoille House race, where Republican Mark Higley fended off a challenge, for the second time, from Democrat Katherine Sims. The vote was 1080-914. Both candidates are from Lowell.

Shortly before midnight Ms. Sims sent out a graceful concession note. “We came up just short but that’s okay, we fought hard,” she said.

In the Orleans-Caledonia House race, Democrat Sam Young of Glover and Republican Vicki Strong of Albany were easily re-elected with vote totals nearly double that of newcomers Matt Eldridge, a Glover Democrat, and Frank Huard, a Republican from Craftsbury.

Republican incumbents Mike Marcotte and Gary Viens also easily won re-election in House district Orleans-2. Mr. Marcotte was the top vote getter with 1,955, a tad more than Mr. Viens’ 1,923. Democratic challengers Ron Holland and Judith Jackson received 1,279 and 903 votes, respectively.

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Congressman Welch visits Orleans County


copyright the Chronicle November 2, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

BARTON — Peter Welch spent half of Monday in Orleans County. He dropped by the Chronicle for a morning conversation before heading up to Newport for a meeting with city officials and legislators.

The state’s lone Congressman is running for a sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives on both the Democratic and Republican lines, although he is a longtime Democrat.

In response to questions about the state of Congress, Mr. Welch said he’s worried about the Republicans.

“There’s an existential split in the Republican Party between the shutdown wing, and what I call the governing wing of the party,” he said.

The governing wing, he explained, “are conservatives who understand, at the end of the day, we have to pass budgets, and you can’t have a legislative body without compromises on legislation.”


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Orleans-2 candidates agree on much


copyright the Chronicle October 26, 2016 

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — It would have been difficult to tell what party the four candidates seeking to represent Orleans-2 belong to just by listening to them at Monday night’s candidate forum. The only clue was how Ron Holland, Judith Jackson, Mike Marcotte, and Gary Viens said they would register their disapproval of Donald Trump in presidential balloting.

The four candidates are vying for the two seats in the Vermont House district that represents Newport City, Newport Center, Coventry, Irasburg, and part of Troy,

Dr. Holland and Ms. Jackson, the Democratic candidates, said they would unenthusiastically vote for Hillary Clinton. Ms. Jackson said she would hold her nose while doing it. Dr. Holland said he picked Ms. Clinton as the one least likely to start a disastrous war.

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Keep small schools, school directors say


Bobby Starr.  Photo by Micaela Bedell

Bobby Starr. Photo by Micaela Bedell

copyright the Chronicle March 18, 2015 

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Legislators from the Northeast Kingdom were told in no uncertain terms to oppose Montpelier’s efforts to shut down small schools and consolidate districts.

That stern warning came from school board members from around Orleans County and was delivered Monday night at a gathering held at the North Country Career Center. About 20 legislators and school board members sat around a big table while another 30 or 40 people sat nearby.

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Governor’s race: County lawmakers lean toward Milne


Scott Milne.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Scott Milne. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle November 12, 2014

by Tena Starr

If Orleans County’s legislative delegation had its way, Scott Milne would be Vermont’s next governor.

That’s not a surprising decision for the Republicans who represent the county, but as of this week only one of the three Democrats was willing to unequivocally say that he’ll follow tradition and support the candidate who won the popular vote.

Representative Sam Young of Glover said he will vote for Governor Shumlin.

“I think it’s generally a bad precedent if the Legislature starts electing people who didn’t win,” Mr. Young said.

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Minimum wage hike will have ripple effect


min wage webcopyright the Chronicle June 11, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

Local employers say a rise in pay for those at the bottom of the ladder is sure to increase salaries for those on the higher rungs.

That will be good news for many workers, they say, but could come at the cost of increased prices for goods and services.

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise on New Year’s Day 2015 and on each January 1 until 2018. The Vermont Legislature voted to increase it from the present level of $8.73 an hour to $10.50 in four annual jumps.

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GMO bill splits local legislators by party


Wheat at Butterworks Farm in Westfield is grown organically, with no genetic modifications.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Wheat at Butterworks Farm in Westfield is grown organically, with no genetic modifications. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle May 21, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

Orleans County farmers and consumers won’t be immediately affected by Vermont’s first-in-the-nation passage of legislation requiring labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.

The legislation allows two years for the rulemaking process, and potential challenges are brewing in the courts and in Congress in the meantime.

“I’m really proud of Vermont as a state,” said Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Westfield, a leader in the organic farming movement. He said he has always thought those who like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) ought to be happy to include them on their labels.

“Well, if it’s that safe, label it and be proud of it,” he said.

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Newport House district race draws three public servants

The four candidates for the two seats representing Orleans-2 in the state House of Represenatives answer questions.  From left to right sit Newport Alderman Tim de la Bruere, Representative Duncan Kilmartin, Representative Michael Marcotte and Newport Mayor Paul Monette.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 10-24-12

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — It is unusual for challengers in an election to be as well known to voters as the incumbents.  But, in the case of the race to represent Newport, Newport Center and Coventry in the state House of Representatives, each of the four candidates has a high public profile.

Representatives Duncan Kilmartin and Michael Marcotte seek re-election from the two-member Orleans-2 district.  They are opposed by Newport Mayor Paul Monette and Newport Alderman Timothy de la Bruere.

The candidates met Monday night at IROC for a forum sponsored by local newspapers and broadcasters.  Differences between the candidates could be found more in tone than in substance and the discussion was courteous despite the competitive nature of the event.

“I voted for Mayor Monette every time I went to the polls, I will not vote for him this time,” Mr. Kilmartin said with a smile, in what could have been the most contentious moment of the evening.

This was in the context of his introduction, in which he described himself as a retiring criminal lawyer.  Mr. Kilmartin said he hopes to have his final cases done by May.

Mr. Kilmartin said that during his 12 years in the Legislature he has gained a reputation for solid research on issues.  “I like to get down in the weeds,” he said.

“I don’t trade in sound bites, I trade in conclusions based on facts,” Mr. Kilmartin later declared.

Like Mr. Marcotte, Mr. Kilmartin is a Republican.  Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere are running as independents, but each said they would likely caucus with House Democrats in order to get committee assignments.

Mr. Kilmartin described himself as being “one generation off the farm.”  His grandfather, he said, was a dairy farmer.  His father was a pipefitter and Mr. Kilmartin said that he pursued that trade as he worked his way through college and law school.

He has two daughters and three grandchildren, “who can’t afford to live in Vermont,” Mr. Kilmartin said.  Mr. Kilmartin told the forum audience he was at the event at the urging of his wife, even though she was ill and in the intensive care unit of North Country Hospital in Newport.

Mike Marcotte, like Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere, is a Newport native.  A graduate of Sacred Heart High School, Mr. Marcotte now lives in Coventry where he is chairman of the town selectmen.

He was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 and serves as vice chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.

Mr. Marcotte is married and has two sons and one daughter.  He has owned the Jimmy Kwik store in Newport for the past 29 years.

Mayor Monette, a product of Newport’s public schools and a graduate of North Country Union High School, attended Lyndon State College where he studied meteorology.

After graduation he moved to Boston where he worked for Weather Services International, travelling the country setting up weather stations around the country.

Mr. Monette said he became homesick for Newport and moved back.  He took a job with a software company in Richford and, after the company laid him and other employees off, started his own computer business.

Today he works as technology coordinator for Newport City Elementary School and is a partner in Baan Thai Cuisine, a restaurant on Newport’s Main Street.

Mr. Monette is in his second term as mayor, and served on the city council for 12 years before that.

Mr. de la Bruere said that he has been involved in public service for a third of his 30 years.  He dated his interest in working for the community even earlier, to his days as a Boy Scout.

He graduated from Sacred Heart High School and attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he majored in history and Native American affairs.

Mr. de la Bruere has worked as an electrician, as have many of his family.  He currently is employed as a 911 dispatcher.

At the forum he recalled being hoisted atop the shoulders of Governor Howard Dean when he went to Montpelier to be honored for becoming an Eagle Scout at age 14.

He was appointed by Governor Jim Douglas to serve on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs in 2006 and credited both Mr. Kilmartin and Mr. Marcotte with working with him during that time.

He was elected to the North Country Union High School board in 2007 and to the Newport City Council the next year.  He is currently serving his second term as alderman.

The forum, which was moderated by Tod Pronto of NEKTV and WMOO radio, produced little in the way of major differences between the candidates.

All four candidates said they would be able to work with people of all political persuasions should they be sent to Montpelier.

Mr. Marcotte cited his experience on the economic development committee.  After the crash of 2008, he said, the state unemployment fund appeared to be in danger of bankruptcy.  Attempts in the Legislature to craft a remedy went nowhere and a summer study committee was appointed.

When it appeared that nothing was being accomplished Mr. Marcotte said he called then-Representative Michael Obuchowski, a democrat.  Together they worked to develop the outlines of a plan that was made law, Mr. Marcotte said.

Mr. Kilmartin said his reputation in the Legislature is that he works to make bills he favors, better.

Those bills he feels neutral about, Mr. Kilmartin said, he tries to make better crafted.  And with bills he dislikes mildly, he works to make sure they achieve their stated objectives.

Mr. Monette said he has worked with a city council that embraces varying shades of political opinion and helps work as effective force for the public good.

An unsuccessful attempt to see a ban on disturbing unmarked graves enacted into law, was recounted by Mr. de la Bruere.  He said that he expected that a bill granting respect to all cultural and religious traditions would be embraced by all sides, but was disappointed.

“I may not have won the battle,” Mr. de la Bruere said of his efforts to bring Legislators together, “but, at least I tried.”

The most startling information that came out was the in that while all oppose industrial wind projects, three of the four would favor siting a nuclear power plant in the Northeast Kingdom.

Mr. Kilmartin, and Mr. Marcotte and Mr. Monette each expressed enthusiasm for the idea, but acknowledged that practical considerations make the construction of such a plant impossible.

Only Mr. de la Bruere said he would not support a nuclear reactor.

Mr. Kilmartin said that an engineer working for General Electric told him there is not enough water available in the Kingdom to cool such a plant.

Mr. Marcotte said that if such a plant were to be built he would like to see it use a European design to minimize the amount of radioactive waste produced.

Mr. Monette said he initially supported large-scale wind power, but after seeing projects built on local ridgelines has changed his mind.  He said that he has solar panels mounted on the roof of his house and supports all sorts of small-scale renewable energy.

Addressing an issue that has been in the news lately the four men applauded Bill Stenger of Jay Peak for his proposal to spend more than $500-million in projects intended to bring 10,000 jobs to the area.

Mr. Kilmartin, though, expressed concern about possible negative effects on Newport residents.  About 30 percent of the city’s Grand List is non-taxable properties, he said.

He noted that more than 500 drivers could be commuting each day to and from a biotechnology plant planned for the former Bogner building.

How, he asked, will these workers navigate the three-way stop at the intersection of Main Street and the Lake Road?  Mr. Kilmartin suggested that the resolution of the problem may be up to the federal government because Main Street is also Route 5, a federal highway.

Mr. Monette responded, saying that Newport has plenty of capacity for growth.  He pointed out that the city has, in the past, boasted a population 2,000 souls greater than today’s number.

He said that transportation issues will be important in Newport’s ability to deal with the new jobs as will affordable housing and good child care for workers.

The addition of between $100-million and $300-million in new investment, is likely to bring new tax income to Newport, Mr. Monette said, which may lower the tax burden on property owners.

Mr. Marcotte said that while development in Newport is important “we can’t forget outlying communities.”

Newport Center, Coventry, Barton and Charleston will all feel the effects of the new investment, he said.

“We have to make sure everybody is at the table,” he said.

On the issue of plans to reform the state’s health care system the four men’s opinions ranged from highly skeptical to strongly opposed.

Mr. de la Bruere said he had spent time while a fellow of the Snelling Center studying the plan with one of its architect and said “I came away more confused than ever.”

He said he would have preferred it if state officials had tried to mend the current system rather than tear it down to build a new one.

Mr. Monette said he has spoken with Claudio Fort, chief executive officer of North Country Hospital, who says he fears the new system will force his organization to cut services.

The state ought to open the health insurance market to all comers, as is done with car coverage, Mr. Monette said.  He suggested the result would be lower rates.

Mr. Marcotte asked if large corporations and state workers will be included in the pool for an eventual single-payer system.  If not, he said costs will be much higher for everyone else.

Saying that he has been further in the weeds than ever before on the issue due to his wife’s health problems, Mr. Kilmartin said Vermont’s claim that it can improve health outcomes for its citizens while reducing costs, makes no sense on its face.

He said everyone ought to be charged something for the medical care they get “because people don’t value what they don’t have to pay for.”

The forum was one of a series sponsored by the Chronicle, Vermont’s Northland Journal, the Orleans County Record, the Newport Daily Express, WMOO, NEK TV, IROC and the East Side Restaurant.  The full forum will air on NEK TV, which is channel 15 on Comcast cable.

Both the House district forums will air on Wednesday, October 24, at 9 a.m., Thursday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m.  They will be rebroadcast at other times as well.  For more information, see

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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