By Lani Duke
Irish contributions to Vermont recognized
RUTLAND COUNTY—Events in Rutland City, Rutland Town, and West Rutland the weekend of May 20-22 celebrated the role of people from Ireland in shaping Vermont’s history. The event, under the title of Vermont’s Irish Rebels, commemorated the Fenian attacks on Canada in 1866 and the Easter Uprising in Ireland of 1916. Speakers talked of the role Irish men and women played in the American Civil War, featuring the story of local teacher Lt. John Sinnott, fatally wounded at Gettysburg and buried in West Rutland.
Author and historian Liam McKone spoke at the Rutland Free Library and at the Rutland Historical Society. The latter organization opened a display of exhibits on the local Grand Army of the Republic veteran society, following the statewide meeting of its members’ descendants who have enrolled in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
After a commemoration and wreath laying at Sinnott’s grave in St. Bridget’s Cemetery in West Rutland, music, dancing, food, and more history drew individuals and families to the West Rutland Town Hall Auditorium. The music, performed by Craic Agus Ceol and Greenleaf, was drawn from 1798 to the 1860s and included a song from the hand of an Irishman working in the 1850-era West Rutland quarries. Irish dancers came from the Heather Morris School of Celtic Dance. Attendees heard a reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 1916, read worldwide in observance of the document’s centennial.
Office renewal is complete
RUTLAND TOWN—Construction to renovate the Rutland Town office is nearly finished, with a budget overrun that appears to be slightly more than the $50,000 approved by the Select Board for town hall maintenance. The initial contract for $44,000 was bumped up by change orders that included new toilets and sinks as well as fire alarm system upgrades. The building is now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The remodeling expanded offices for both the town administrator and the police department, as well as reworking the restrooms.
Housing homeless veterans
RUTLAND CITY—Rutland City Mayor Chris Louras announced May 23 that he plans to propose the city offer $50,000 in grant funds to aid homeless veterans transitioning from social service agencies to independent housing. Louras indicated he had been unaware that the local community wants to do more to support homeless veterans until he heard critics of the refugee resettlement program say that veterans were more deserving of help.
Collaboration with Open Door Mission Executive Director Sharon Russell and Dodge House Executive Director Chris Morgan yielded a proposal to award $1,850 per eligible veteran, an amount twice the amount of startup funding the federal government will provide newly-arrived refugees. Dodge House works with veterans who are homeless or nearly so, providing apartments while requiring clientele to save 20 percent of their income toward getting into permanent housing.
Louras anticipates creating a small committee to work with the Mission and Dodge House, saying that, according to Russell, about 20 of the veterans staying at the mission may be ready for their own housing if they had funds to help them do it. The mayor had intended to announce the project with the beginning of the November budget process, to keep it separate from the refugee resettlement issue.
Refugee resettlement a “scheme”?
RUTLAND CITY—Investigative journalist and former economist James Simpson* proclaimed the refugee resettlement program to be a “bad idea” for Rutland. Nationally, it is a “cottage industry,” enriching contractors and swelling governmental bureaucracy, he said as he spoke during a May 24 gathering in the Rutland Free Library’s Fox Room. Invited to speak by Rutland doctor Timothy Cook, Simpson said that the organization bringing refugees to Rutland, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, took in more than $41 million of public dollars in 2014 alone.
Simpson used statistics about refugee diseases and sex crimes in North Carolina to validate his concerns about immigrants.
He also spoke on United Nations overreach, such as its 1976 human settlements proclamation toward abolishing private property and redistributing populations, saying it was “true Marxism,” calling for redistribution schemes reaching far beyond mere income and wealth. Simpson is affiliated with the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank focused on researching and exposing jihadist threats to the United States.
Questions addressed by resettlement representatives
RUTLAND CITY—More than 100 individuals joined Rutland City Aldermen to question two refugee resettlement representatives May 25 at an event held at the Godnick Adult Center. The Aldermen met as a Committee of the Whole to ask questions of Stacie Blake, U.S. director of government and community relations with the Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and Amila Merdzanovic, director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
Law enforcement officials were clearly nervous about possible crowd volatility, stationing two city police officers inside the meeting room, another in the hallway, and a fourth near the building’s back door. Board President William Notte explained the proactive approach by saying that Merdzanovic has received threats.
Blake acknowledged the lack of transparency around the issue has been “experienced as a slight” and said there is now “real desire here to build partnership.”
Merdzanovic outlined the differences among refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, saying a refugee has crossed an international border fleeing persecution based on race, religion, social group, ethnicity, nationality, or political opinion. She cited Vermont’s claim to having second lowest unemployment in the nation as underlying the choice of Rutland as a resettlement site.
Other communities that asked for refugees were turned down, Alderman Sharon Davis noted. Federal criteria include safe and sanitary housing availability, employment, transportation, support services availability, and support from social services and the community, Merdzanovic responded.
Each refugee would arrive in Rutland with $925, a one-time federal bestowal of “welcome money,” and support from an employment team that requires all employable adults (ages 18-64) to accept the first job offered, Merzdanovic told her audience. She said on average 85 percent will be considered self sufficient eight months post placement.
Alderman Christopher Ettori moved that the Committee of the Whole recommend the Board of Aldermen establish a select committee to engage the community in helping steer the process and “claiming ownership.” A voice vote rejected the motion.
It turns out that the purpose of the Wednesday meeting was not clear even to the Aldermen themselves. During the meeting, Alderman Ed Larson made a point of order, describing the meeting as intended to be a “question and answer session.” Not so, according to Board President William Notte; the meeting was to be an update.
Continuing discussion as a more informal Committee of the Whole gives the entire Board a voice rather than putting discussion in the hands of only a portion of the group, Davis said.
Fed money benefits college, theatre
RUTLAND CITY—The College of St. Joseph is receiving $170,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for equipment in its radiological sciences laboratory, currently under construction. The lab is being built in the school’s former carriage house, long used for storage.
College spokesman James Lambert said the new lab will have both an X-ray machine and an ultrasound unit; he anticipates it will be ready for use in the fall semester. In its first year, the radiology science has been holding classes in existing classrooms and rented off-campus lab space.
Downtown, the Paramount Theatre received $33,300 toward upgrading its sound system, planning to install a line array system. Theatre Executive Director Bruce Bouchard noted that the upgrade is long overdue. Because some highly desirable acts perform only with newer speakers, the Paramount has had to spend $16,000 annually in rental fees.
Bouchard is applying for an additional $30,000 from the Vermont Arts Council and raising $32,000 privately to make what he describes as “our largest single capital purchase.” He hopes to have the new system installed by October 1. The saving on rentals would pay for the purchase in less than six years.
Sullivan to appeal conviction
RUTLAND CITY—Christopher Sullivan will appeal his conviction and sentencing for the 2013 death of Mary Jane Outslay on June 21. He is asking the Vermont Supreme Court reverse his conviction and four- to ten-year sentence for driving under the influence resulting in death and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
Appellate Public Defender Josh S. O’Hara wrote in an appeal brief that the trial instruction did not require making the connection between Sullivan’s alleged intoxication and Outslay’s death, and that a medical doctor testified on the cause of the accident. The state’s reply, written by Assistant Attorney General David Tartter, said that instruction is “not a reasonable reading” and that the doctor had sufficient knowledge to testify that the driver’s intoxication caused him to hit the pedestrian.
Although Sullivan admits to having consumed several alcoholic beverages, he denies being drunk; his fear caused him to continue driving after the accident and the state abused its discretion in denying to pay for a mitigation expert who could explain his reaction.
Bomb hoax evacuates school
RUTLAND CITY—Northeast Primary School was one of an apparent string of schools affected by automated bomb hoax phone calls May 23. The calls caused evacuations of schools in 17 or more states as well as several in the United Kingdom. According to the Vermont Intelligence Center, it appears the Northeast Primary call was the only one of its type in the state. Students were evacuated to a safe site after the 10:50 a.m. call, then bused to Rutland Intermediate for the remainder of the day. A search conducted by city police and a state police explosive detection dog cleared the building.
*James Simpson was originally reported in this report as an “investigative journalist and former economist” as was the title Fred Haas used in a May 22 press release about Simpson speaking about Refugee Resettlement at the Rutland Free Library on May 24. It was brought to our attention that this title was self-proclaimed and inaccurate. He is a right-wing speaker and author and the The Center for Security Policy, with which Simpson is affiliated, has been called “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.