By Lani Dukes
Jack Russell terrier theft not part of fighting ring, police say
Rutland City police are noncommittal about the theft of service dog Daphni and her subsequent death. Taken from her owner’s Center Street apartment March 11, the three-year-old Jack Russell terrier was found dead near White Park, suffering from bite wounds and a broken neck. However, it seems unlikely that the animal was taken to be a “bait dog” to train fighting dogs, according to both Rutland City Police Commander Matthew Prouty and Rutland County Humane Society Director Gretchen Goodman. The case remains under investigation and tips are welcome.
Good arises from bad
When the Little Free Library (LFL) disappeared from Depot Park in January, Carly Ferro’s family and the Purple Angel Foundation thought its theft was a prank and that the memorial to slain teenager Carly Ferro would soon reappear. It didn’t.
The Purple Angel Foundation has built a new small library. With the help of the Rutland City Parks and Recreation department, the new LFL was installed and bolted to the concrete March 21. Filled with children’s books, it stands next to a purple bench, also provided by the Purple Angel Foundation.
Each book is stamped with Ferro’s name and her favorite maxim, “Be kinder than necessary.” The teen died in 2012, killed by a vehicle driven by a young man high on inhalants. As terrible as her death was, her death led to the formation of Project VISION and other improvements in Rutland, including an effort to quash the community’s tolerance to drug abuse.
City boards reorganize
The City Board of Aldermen re-elected William Notte as their board president during a reorganizational meeting March 21. He was the sole candidate for the position. New Board members Scott Tommolo and Vanessa Robinson were formally sworn in.
Mayor Christopher Louras presented the aldermen with his choices for both Police Commission chairman and commissioner. He chose three-year Commission member and former alderman Sean Sargeant to preside over the Commission, and attorney Tom Valente to be the commissioner.
Sargeant has been a member of the Commission for three years. Being its chairman requires knowing what the police department is doing on a daily basis and approving or disapproving its actions, according to Art Crowley, former alderman and city attorney (Crowley wrote the city charter alterations that established the police commission in the 1980s.)
Also a former Rutland County state’s attorney, Crowley projects that the commission’s top priority for the year is fighting drugs and eliminating drug houses. Sargeant touts the positive changes already made in Rutland, although hard work is still ahead. The city is in the middle of a five-to-eight-year culture change; “the hardest part is making it stick.” Part of that culture shift includes rewarding employees who perform well.
The public is welcome at police commission meetings, held at 6 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the police station.
Shortfall of diversity
When Roger Speid worked as a nursing assistant at Rutland Regional Medical Center, he was subject to racial harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination, according to the suit he has filed against the hospital. He worked at RRMC from 2010 to November 2015.
He says his separation from RRMC occurred on Nov. 5 after Marie Grace and Daniella Gray, both white, tried to have him perform Gray’s assigned work, and he did so after objecting. They told a supervisor that they felt threatened by him; she had Speid escorted from the premises by security personnel. The hospital’s own subsequent investigation apparently did not give credence to the complaint against Speid.
Even though Speid’s removal from work could be attributed to a workplace spat that escalated too far, the single incident is not his sole complaint. His attorney, Patrick Bernal, commented that Speid’s experience challenges Vermont’s self-image of “embracing diversity and welcoming people from all walks of life.”
Speid began working at RRMC in 2010. In September 2015, about the time tension arose between Speid and his co-workers, a noose appeared where Speid couldn’t miss it. Speid said he asked other employees about the noose, but no one knew where it had come from. After several weeks he asked his new supervisor, Jessica Ollis, for her intervention but received no response. Another employee removed the noose in October.
Speid met with Brian Kerns, RRMC’s vice president of human resources, Nov. 6, to learn that he was being put on paid leave while the two women’s complaints were under investigation. At that time, Speid said he told Kerns about the noose and other incidents but those complaints were ignored. Three weeks later, Speid received notification by mail that he had been terminated, but without any indication that the women’s complaints were confirmed, according to his suit. His filing asks for unspecified monetary damages, back pay, legal fees, and a jury trial.
According to Bernal, Speid is a new U.S. citizen from Jamaica who received excellent work evaluations before strife arose with the two co-workers. A married man with two young children, he is studying toward a Castleton University nursing degree.
Downtown special district to vote on direction
Downtown Special Benefits District members are getting set to help determine the direction that the Downtown Rutland Partnership (DRP) and Rutland Redevelopment Authority (RRA) should follow. Businesses and property owners take part in an advisory vote every three years.The vote—one ballot for each business and building in the district—actually is merely advisory, and assesses whether the constituency believes the district and its associated tax should continue. This particular ballot goes farther than saying yes or no though. It is an effort to gather more information than have the ballots of the past.
The nature of the ballot, of necessity, gives more weight to some business owners than others, with the single largest total going to Mark Foley Jr., owning numerous downtown buildings, and subsequently holding 21 votes. In all, there are more than 300 ballots waiting to be cast.
There have been rumors that the survey was a ploy for the RRA to shed the DRP. The RRA contracts with the city to lead economic development efforts; the DRP contracts to market downtown with funds provided by the Special Benefits District tax. However, the two organizations collaborated on both timing and content for the balloting, and their leaders—Brennan Duffy and Mike Coppinger—say they are working well together.
Former Short Stop gas station purchased
The single-story building on the southeast corner of North Main Street and Woodstock Avenue in Rutland has a new owner. Mendick Family Holdings of Pittsford, N.Y., purchased the 1,736 square-foot former Short Stop gas station, located on one of the most congested intersections in southern Vermont. The single-story structure has been vacant for more than 10 years. PJC Realty had the property listed for $576,700; the new owner acquired it for $350,000. The Mendick organization already owns the property to the east, currently rented by Walgreens. Brooks Pharmacy had purchased the Short Stop location for $850,000 in 2004, shortly before Rite Aid acquired Brooks. Brooks is now under the control of PJC.
The purchaser had been in communication with the city and the RRA for more than a year, Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras said; the site and its 1960-constructed building has long been on the RRA’s list of properties that need to be sold and developed.
A deed restriction bars using the property for a pharmacy or a health care service of any kind, although the deed permits a joint driveway with Walgreens but not a shared parking lot. A store installed there may have no more than 5 percent of its business used for “health and beauty aids.” Access issues on the heavily trafficked corner prohibited it serving as home to a Starbucks in 2006.
Ripley Bridge closes
Beginning Monday, March 28, Ripley Bridge in Center Rutland closes to all traffic—from walkers to vehicles to trucks—until October when the new bridge will be complete. Expect to follow detour signs.
Dangerous building ordinance considered in West Rutland
Recognizing that 203 Ross Street seems to have become a derelict, West Rutland’s Select Board is considering adopting a dangerous building ordinance. Fran Lloyd and Wayne Withington said that the property is vacant and deteriorating rapidly. Animals and children wander in and out, and the barn roof has collapsed recently. It was offered at tax sale in 2014, with the obligation paid off by Citi Financial. Town Health Officer Jayne Pratt received no response when she sent the owner a zoning violation. Pratt is collaborating with Town Manager Mary Ann Goulette and the town attorney to explore what the town’s options are about both this property and the drug activity taking place on Harrison Avenue.