Vote for Carina!

It’s likely not a shock to anyone, but I’m supporting Carina Driscoll for Mayor of Burlington.

I went into this campaign with my eyes wide open and in full support of Carina because I’ve worked alongside her when it wasn’t fashionable for some community leaders to support Burlington schools (looking at you Miro), or support keeping Burlington Telecom a public utility, and watched her bring folks together – including immigrant and New American families – after the November 2016 election for a potluck meal and gathering at H.O. Wheeler in Carina-Driscoll-headshot-600x750the Old North End.

Beyond that: Carina offers a clear vision for Burlington’s future and has the proven leadership and management skills to pull it off. Best of all, it involves all of the people who live here. It’s refreshing to see a candidate who believes that power resides with the people, not private interests or self-selected cliques.

Beyond that: She’s smart, thoughtful, thorough, and deeply cares about the city she grew up in and has served as a school board member, a city councilor, and legislator – let alone as a mom and a business owner. In other words, she’s got the skills, vision, leadership, compassion, and heart to not just hit the ground running – but inspire others to get this city back on track.

She, like many of us, has a sense of shared outrage over watching decades of investments in public assets be sold off to the highest bidder. To watch public input – a hallmark of Burlington’s identity as a community – be jettisoned in deference to paid planners, consultants, and outside developers.

I’ve watched the current mayor erode trust in the public, public engagement, and turn to a select few to make decisions … for us, not with us. I’m also tired of hearing this notion that going back to a more inclusive process is somehow a “failed past.” Does the mayor and his supporters not realize that the success they tout today came as the result of decades of Burlington citizens, business leaders, and public servants working together to build a resilient, sustainable community? Perfect? No, but open to adaptation and responsive to change. Today, we’re closer to becoming the amusement park version of ourselves, rather than truly moving forward.

Besides, when I hear the current mayor’s slogan “Moving Forward” I have to ask: Who’s being left behind?

The local economy that was developed over the past three decades is what helped keep gentrification at bay, but in the past six years we’ve seen serious erosion in the core principles that development and new business should first benefit those who live here, not just private investors.

Many of us watched with horror as Burlington Telecom rebound financially – thanks to those of us who stuck with it as much as the folks who work there – only to see it sold to the highest bidder and we get bupkis. We’ll net $2 million – far shy of the $17 million owed to us – and our money will be siphoned off to a right-wing media company in Indiana.

Many of us also watched Memorial Auditorium primed for a vulture capitalist masquerading as a “civic center” for the University of Vermont, and potentially turning over the whole “super block” turned over to private investors. After some of us pushed a petition urging the council make an RFP process open to the public, followed by an incredible response from the city’s NPA’s, the Mayor has almost come around to see it how the people see it, but I don’t trust him. He only came around after the NPAs met and Carina made a campaign issue of it. I’m not convinced that he truly does care about keeping Memorial a public, civic space. Or would follow suit if re-elected.

I watched the creative local business and arts folks behind New Moran have their dream of a bustling building on the waterfront – that would serve local folks! – crushed by the Mayor and CEDO for a reason that I still can’t figure out. The Mayor kept changing the terms of the deal until he yanked the TIF money away from the project, which would have forced the project owners to pony up another $3 million or so just to get the doors open. Why? No one’s been held account for that imperial behavior, nor has there been a public explanation.

I may differ with her on some finer points around the downtown mall redevelopment, but she has been rightly critical of the Mayor’s poor negotiating skills. Tossing TIF money at Don Sinex is a waste of money – the developer should be making those improvements, not taxpayers, especially since the schools will be robbed of that money for 20 years.  I doubt the current mayor will hold Sinex’s feet to the fire around meeting the terms of the community benefits agreement, or inclusionary zoning. We’ve already rolled over.

Finally, like Carina, I have been truly dismayed by the lack of support for our schools coming out of City Hall. Siphoning money from the schools with the PILOT fund and not replacing the money in any way or being more creative to ensure that money supports our kids. The initiatives coming out of the mayor’s office now are too little, too late, and don’t really impact the bottom line of our schools. I know Carina will make this a priority for the city, and we should all be rallying around our schools.

She has the ability to bring together folks from different backgrounds, beliefs, and to work together on common goals and vision. Getting the endorsement of the Coalition for a Livable City and the Burlington Free Press? Those are some disparate camps, folks. Not to mention Rights & Democracy and Our Revolution members, as well as AFSCME Local 1343 Council 93, who represent hundreds of city and school workers, and the National Nurses Union.

My support for Carina isn’t half-hearted or strategic, but based on the honest belief that she is the best person to lead our city right now at a time of rising inequality and lack of affordability. She’s not afraid to tackle these big topics, or to take on big challenges (like running against a popular incumbent), and our city needs a bit of bold right now and someone who will stand up for us.

Join me in voting for Carina on Tuesday, March 6th.





Not Repeating Mistakes of the Past

Oh, what tangled interwebs we weave.

We hear a lot these days from some politicians – new and old – that when it comes to Burlington Telecom, that we should not “repeat the mistakes of the past.”

I couldn’t agree more.

For those of who have not followed the BT story closely for the last eight years, here is a quick summary of how BT got into trouble. I break it down into these key five reasons:

  • Mismanagement at BT, worsened by a lack of true public oversight;
  • An international financial crisis that stalled a necessary refinancing;
  • Unauthorized actions by Mayor Bob Kiss and CAO Jonathon Leopold to loan $17 million of taxpayer dollars;
  • A City Council that failed to recognize what was going on until long after the fact; and,
  • A City Council that played politics rather than refinance BT’s debt, thus compounding BT’s financial troubles.

There’s very few pols then, and now, who will admit or apologize for their roles in BT’s early troubles. The fact remains, however, that despite a faulty start – BT is healthy, growing, and is primed to expand beyond Burlington under a new, community cooperative ownership.

Given BT’s financial strength today – with a $3 million-plus profit expected this year – it is clear that had the Council approved the refi deal in 2009 that BT would not only have survived, along with the city’s credit rating, but would be larger and much stronger than it is today. Instead, it was left to default on its CitiCapital loan, and then turned over to a private holding company, and placed up for sale.

Now, once again thanks to councilors playing politics, Burlington could lose our telecom; the one we voted in 2000 to create, because we saw it as an important public utility.

How did we get here? Let’s rewind to late 2009.

In November 2009 – two months after I first reported that BT had been “loaned” $17 million by Leopold without truly acknowledging it publicly – the City Council was presented with a refinancing offer that would have bundled up BT’s debt, repaid taxpayers, paid off CitiCapital, and then worked with a new financier to bring itself back to break-even and then profitability.

In a contentious, two-and-a-half hour meeting the City Council, led by council Democrats and GOP allies, shut down debate and killed the proposed refinancing deal.

It was a clear political move, and here’s how it went down (as I wrote at the time):

Led by Councilors Joan Shannon and Ed Adrian, the council Democrats, using parliamentary procedures, split the resolution into two parts and then, blocking debate, approved a repayment clause while then rejecting the refinancing proposal. Which meant, that BT would have to repay its bills out of it’s own cash and not borrow more – from anyone.

In addition:

Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) said the council action could force BT into insolvency. That it can’t borrow money from the cash pool until a refinancing deal is approved leaves BT pretty much hamstrung.

“I hear people saying they are here to protect taxpayers, but you could easily end up leaving people with a huge debt and no Burlington Telecom,” said Bushor. 

Leopold, too, said he was “appalled” by the action, calling it a partisan ploy designed to embarrass the administration. “Do you really want to destroy a $50 million investment and the credit rating of the city?” asked Leopold. “Because that’s what this could do.”

From the beginning of the BT scandal it was clear to anyone paying attention that there was a faction on the city council who wanted to use BT as a political bludgeon against Progressives, and to kill BT slowly in the process.

One councilor who was part of that subterfuge – Republican Kurt Wright – went so far to suggest in 2011 when he was running for Mayor that the city should sell Burlington Electric Department in order to repay BT’s debts, and shore up the city’s pension fund.

Despite the political gamesmanship at the time, in early 2010, the Blue Ribbon Committee on Burlington Telecom—formed after the refi deal was nixed as a way to determine whether BT had a viable future—concluded very simply:

“The Committee does not recommend the outright sale of Burlington Telecom to a third party. Both consultants, HBC and Stratum, advised that the sale of Burlington Telecom was not in the best interest of the community or the taxpayers.”

The consultants also made it clear that, while troubled at the time, BT was too valuable an asset to sell at a “fire sale” price—or at all. And, that even at break-even, BT could meet its debt obligations as well as it investment strategy to expand.

The conditions under which BT was created, and its reasons for existing, have not changed. We, the people of Burlington, should be able to control a key utility that will drive our civic life and economy in the 21st Century.

To be honest, BT has never been served well by politicians.

We should not allow the same political gamesmanship that nearly sunk BT in 2009 be what drives a decision on selling BT in 2017.

Especially since our options are so limited and risky.

If you want to know what happens when you sell to an outside venture capital-funded company, lust look at what happened to Magic Hat.

As BT finances were melting down due to the financial crisis of 2008, an eerily similar predicament was playing out across town at Magic Hat. It expanded by buying another brewery and as a result became heavily leveraged by vulture capitalists who then called in their notes. It led to locally owned and controlled Magic Hat being sold to first one huge beer conglomerate until, two years later, it was gobbled up by an even bigger beer conglomerate. While it’s still here in VT, it’s about as far from locally owned as it can get.

That is BT’s future if we sell it to Schurz or Ting/Tucows.

If you don’t think so, I have a bridge for sale.

Let’s Keep BT Local.

Just Say No to Privatizing Burlington Telecom

In just a few weeks, Burlingtonians will learn the fate of their public telecom utility – Burlington Telecom (BT) – when the City Council makes a final decision on who will be the next owner of BT.

Will it continue to be the people of Burlington or some outside, private company?

There appears to be a lot of insider and consultant pressure on the City Council to privatize Burlington Telecom. In public sessions, a number of “advisors” to the City Council have been dismissive of the coop’s financing plan, it’s cooperative structure, and other red herrings.

A final decision will be made by on Oct. 16, with the current four finalists winnowed down to two on Oct. 2. The names of all bidders will be released this week.

Clearly, the public in support of the Keep BT Local Cooperative’s bid to keep our public utility in the hands of the community.

In less than three weeks, nearly 600 people have signed an online petition urging the Council to work with KBTL to ensure that BT remains in local hands. Another 200-plus people have signed printed petitions asking the same.  Consider signing this petition if you haven’t yet.

In addition, KBTL has raised nearly $450,000 in pledges via Milk Money Vermont. These pledges are from Vermonters who believe in the coop’s vision to buy BT and expand it beyond the Queen City.

Why is fully privatizing Burlington Telecom a bad idea? Here’s three reasons:

Reason 1. Burlington wants a local telecom. The Keep BT Local cooperative is the only bidder that is structured to carry out the original vision of BT – a telecom by and for the people of Burlington.

No other bid truly complies with the City’s criterion for local control. In both surveys and comments before the Burlington Telecom Advisory Board, Burlingtonians were EXPRESSLY CLEAR that local ownership was their Number 1 priority. Not concern about interest rates on loans, but LOCAL OWNERSHIP.

A cooperative offers both local ownership, and a governance structure that is responsive to its members – the BT subscribers themselves.

Reason 2. Privatizing BT will eventually lead Burlington to becoming beholden, again, to Comcast.

Any private investment has an exit strategy in order to make money* on one’s investment, and that almost always means selling out to a bigger company, and this is especially true in the private telecom marker. No private bidder can guarantee that privatizing BT is anything more than a temporary stopping point on the way to Comcast.

Comcast. That’s right – the company now suing the State of Vermont because it doesn’t want to live up to its obligations under state law. Is that what we want to become of BT?

Let’s be clear: BT was and is Burlington’s “exit strategy” from an extractive telecom market that did not, and does not, care about investing in our community, only taking from it.

Reason 3: We, the city of Burlington, should be profiting off of BT’s success.

Any other bid is for the purpose of sucking money out of Burlington, while the coop is designed to keep our money here.

Any difference in payout now is a pittance compared to the long-term perpetual payout that the coop offers – to our taxpayers by way of lower costs to our city and schools, to dividends for our member-owners.

Finally, cheerleaders and “experts” for the private telecom industry fought BT every step of the way: it’s creation, it’s source of funding, the services it could offer, and we were told that it could never be profitable and would only be reliant on taxpayer dollars. BT will post a net profit of $3 million this year. Hmm.

These same cheerleaders and “experts” now want us to believe only by privatizing BT (and handing over those healthy profits to them) can we ensure its future. Double hmm.

How about this: We proved these so-called experts wrong once about BT, so let’s prove them wrong again.

Let’s Keep BT Local.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Coop and at one point served on its board of directors.

* Let’s be clear that this mythical return on an investment that is glorified by the private market will be derived from our tax dollars through money paid to BT’s owners by the city and schools, as well as the rates that individual Burlington businesses and residents will pay. That money will simply be siphoned off to make money at the close of a sale, we won’t see any return on that investment – only the new owner will. That would not be the case in a cooperative.

Unite the Right

Author’s note: Several hours after posting this, the site was taken down by Wix after a Twitter follower of mine complained to this website design firm. Thanks to all who read it, shared it, and spread the word. I’m still a little shocked that the GOP in Vermont would let this site stand for so long without comment. But, then again, look who’s in charge. So, thanks for reading, thanks for helping take this site offline. But, stay tuned as I’m sure this site, or something like it, will pop up again.


Woke up this morning to find myself tagged in a blog post on a website with the sole purpose of maligning the name and well-being of a friend of mine, James Ehlers (who also happens to be running for Governor).

parody_postNow, James is no stranger to controversy or courting political enemies. Maybe that’s why we get along.  However, when we put something out on social media, or the Internets, or in print, and we call other people out by name, we at least have the decency to sign our names to it.

Apparently, that’s not everyone’s idea of decency. You see, the people behind this site haven’t identified themselves, other than claiming to be Stan Hardy to Seven Days‘ “Fair Game” columnist John Walters. I suppose Oliver Laurel didn’t have the same ring to it, but I digress.

sevendays_ehlersIt’s a pretty disturbing site, to be honest, even by parody standards. They’ve taken down some of the more toxic elements, such as putting the site’s main address at the psychiatric facility in Berlin. Pretty revolting, but what do you expect with a Fuhrer like Trump at the top of the GOP.

I did a quick online search to find the site’s owners, but the site was registered through a proxy service, who then also registered the domain for them, too. No easy way to trace them.

My guess is that the person(s) behind it have done this before and perhaps learned a lesson or two about putting your name to a fake website. I don’t think we have to look under too many rocks to find them. Since Slappy Whyte, er Scot Shumski, moved to North Carolina, we can possibly rule him out. (As an aside, the Ward 4 school commissioner still votes in Burlington and uses his parent’s home in Ward 7 – sure hope he’s not one of them there voter fraudsters! Don’t let James O’Keefe know!)

Anyway, back to our little website intrigue.

Some of you may recall that Executive Director of the Vermont GOP—Jeff Bartley—was a lackey for Republican Rich Tarrant’s senatorial suicide run against Sen. Bernie Sanders back in the day. And you may also recall that he made a fake news website during that campaign! He was outed by a real journalist who found the domain name registry. Like I said, some people learn their lessons.

Here’s where it gets fun.

Several years later, Bartley also worked for Republican Lenny Britton’s quixotic bid against Sen.Patrick Leahy. He and the “brain trust” of Hollywood wannabes Britton and Bradford Broyles came up with a couple of “funny” skits in their attempt take down ‘ol Sen. Leahy with a little creativity. But, mostly they spent other people’s money. And then sued each other. Britton and Broyles still cuddle up with each other, professionally, at a firm aptly called Public Spectacle Media.

I guess bygones are bygones between this trio now that Ehlers’ campaign is underway, and they’re plying away and bringing the political swampland to Vermont. They even have a nascent Twitter account, @VTDreamteam. Awww, how cute.

Ehlers must have really said something to annoy Bartley, Broyles, and other Vermont Trump lovers (like former Rep. Job Tate) on Facebook to get them to come together like this. Must be Ehlers is onto something.

Given the standards set by their Fuhrer in Washington, it’s clear that attacking a Veteran who has dedicated his life to fighting for the environment and the public health is par for the course in the GOP these days.

Seems to me the worst of Washington is now being embraced by Vermont Republicans.

I won’t be holding my breath for our aw shucks ’em golly good ‘ol boy Gov. Phil Scott to step in and say anything either to call off the demeaning attacks. I mean, that would require real leadership.

Give Local, Give Often

It’s Giving Tuesday In the post-Trumpian era of disbelief, worry, and downright fear of the pending hurt that could fall upon some of our most vulnerable members of society, many of us are wondering where to put our money that will most directly help the people in our community, and our state.

This time of year, and especially with this election, many of us are looking to support truly  local agencies who are helping members of our community: ALL members of our community.

With the help of a friend, I’m posting this list of local organizations who are helping support those who are most in need this season, especially with a GOP-led Congress and … well … whatever it is that is taking up residence in the “White” House.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and feel free to add more in the comments and I’ll try to get them on the list as fast as I can.

AALV helps new Americans from all parts of the world (not solely Africa, although this is how they began) gain independence in their new communities through a range of integration services to help them smoothly transition to living and working in Vermont. (AALV is always looking for donations of winter clothing for adults and kids, as well)

Black Lives Matter Vermont is a growing network of individuals, families and businesses invested in the liberation of Black Vermonters, and the deactivation of systemic racism endured by all people of color in our state.

Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, King Street Youth Center, and Sara Holbrook Center all serve children in specific neighborhoods in Burlington and work with many refugee and immigrant families.

Champlain Area NAACP works to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.

Champlain Community Services provides essential supports to people with intellectual disabilities and autism, building a community where everyone participates and belongs. They offer coordinated one-to-one supported employment, home & shared living, school-to-career transition, and community supports throughout Northwestern Vermont. They  also promote and coordinate self-advocacy activities, and offer crisis (24 hour on-call response) and respite (staffing and coordination of additional hours).

Children’s Literacy Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire a love of reading and writing among children up to age 12 throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. Since 1998, CLiF has served more than 180,000 low-income, at-risk, and rural children in 400 communities across every region of the Twin States.

HOPE Works  is dedicated to ending all forms of sexual violence, and provides crisis counseling and advocacy for those whose lives have been affected by sexual violence. Their education outreach work strives to change attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate and condone the cycle of violence.

Huertas (a project of UVM Extension’s Bridges to Health program) builds gardens and distributes seeds and plant starts to Latino/a migrant farmworkers living in rural Vermont. Farmworkers face food insecurity at a higher rate than the general population of Vermont and have particular challenges in accessing fresh, local, and culturally familiar foods.

Humane Society of Chittenden County is a private, independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no city, state or federal funding and is not affiliated with any national organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States. They rely on local donations and program fees in their mission to foster compassionate treatment of animals and to prevent animal suffering.

The Nongame Wildlife Fund helps protect and restore Vermont’s endangered wildlife for future generations to enjoy. More than 100 wildlife species in Vermont are at risk including bald eagles, lynx and bats,

ONE Good Deed Fund believes that acts of kindness toward others are what build community. Often someone is inspired to help others and yet doesn’t have the resources to make it happen, so the fund provides financial support to make those good deeds a reality. This fund primarily serves the Old North End neighborhood of Burlington. 

Open Door Clinic of Middlebury brings healthcare to the uninsured and underinsured, including 270 Latin American migrant farmworkers each year.

Outright Vermont builds safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth ages 13-22.

Peace and Justice Center works on the interconnected issues of economic and racial justice, peace, and human rights through education, advocacy, training, non-violent activism and community organizing.

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England – If you use the donate link on this page, 100% will go to our local chapter headquartered in Colchester.

Pride Center of Vermont advances the community, health, and safety of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Vermonters.

Rights and Democracy Vermont is dedicated to building a popular movement to advance human rights and a real democracy. They work in partnership with community groups, progressive unions, faith communities, organizations fighting for human and civil rights, and environmental and climate action groups in order to transform Vermont and its communities.

Solidarity Healing GoFundMe – Help local clinical mental health counselor Vicki Garrison open a private practice that provides culturally competent, racially informed, and empowering mental health counseling for people of color.

Spectrum Youth and Family Services serves young adults ages 14-24. About 30-40% of youth who use their Drop-In and housing are LGBTQ, while Spectrum’s Multicultural Youth Program works specifically with youth of color, including refugees and immigrants.

Steps to End Domestic Violence‘s mission is to assist in the transition to a safe, independent life for all those who have been affected physically, sexually, emotionally, or economically by domestic abuse and to promote a culture that fosters justice, equity and safety.

Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom is a grassroots organization that works to ensure women have the right to control what happens to their health and bodies, this includes access to abortion.

Vermont CARES is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life of HIV-positive individuals, create compassionate communities, and prevent the spread of HIV by educating our youth and community on general.

Vermont People with AIDS Coalition serves is a community of peers who seek to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS through mutual support and empowerment, exchange of information, and advocacy.

Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program supports refugees who are relocated to our community. VRRP is currently accepting donations for basic such as mattresses, coats and winter boots for adults and children. People can either donate money and earmark it for winter gear or donate their gently used coats or boots to VRRP. [We hope to post a full list of needed goods to this blog. Stay tuned!]

Here is the link to the items that are needed: welcome-kit-and-kaboodle-two-pager

Vermont Worker’s Center is a democratic, member-run organization dedicated to organizing for the human rights of the people in Vermont. Founded in 1998, members have fought for livable wages, healthcare for all, and more here in Vermont and beyond.

Vermont Works for Women helps women and girls recognize their potential and explore, pursue, and excel in work that leads to economic independence. They have three strands of programming: Moving women into employment success; investing in girls, the next generation; and, advocating for large-scale culture change for women & girls.

Just Say Whoa

It’s time to Just Say Whoa.

We’re down to the final days before election day, and I thought I’d recap why Burlington should vote down ballot items #3 and #4 and say “Whoa” to a project built on false promises, false fears, and false information.

I’ve always lived by the belief that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And, this project smacks of it:

While I understand that any new taxes raised within the TIF can’t be used for anything but what’s located in the TIF, I still question greatly the pre-determined spending of the money to benefit one developer. And, I question whether leaving new taxes unspent until the end of the TIF is a bad idea for Burlington schools, and schools throughout the state.

Given how much money is at stake from our wallets (and the state education fund’s wallet) – I think state lawmakers should enact legislation to loosen the TIF’s restrictions on what kinds of infrastructure we can spend on.

If we’re worried about bonding to rebuild our own crumbling schools: Why not make improving schools and school buildings (to care for those new kids) an allowable public infrastructure investment?

If we’re worried about how to afford more, permanent low-income housing: Why not make creating permanent, affordable housing (i.e., subsidized units to keep them perpetually affordable for truly low-income, senior, and disabled residents of the city) an allowable public infrastructure investment?

The $22 million, or most of that, we’re being asked to spend on a couple of streets would (if not for the TIF) go to the state education fund when the TIF expires. And, guess what? Despite the fearmongering by some of the proponents, a significant chunk of that money comes back to Burlington – for property tax relief, and for direct aid to pay for our schools, etc.

And, can anyone explain to me that if the TIF is supposed to keep our taxes from going up while it’s in place, why our taxes have gone up in Burlington despite having two active TIFs – one downtown and one on the “waterfront.”?

I could go on, but this project – as it stands – and the unknown, negligible or negative effects on our community (as it’s currently planned)  are too risky a scheme.

If someone wants to develop one of the most prime commercial real estate parcels in Vermont, and is asking for this many special favors from us – a change in zoning, $22 million of our tax money, and an expedited approval process, then we should be getting more out of this than we are. So either the folks in the city are the worst possible negotiators, or they just don’t want to try.

Let’s be clear – the project “benefits” that are being touted by proponents are the bare minimum standards that we as a community have set for development – inclusion of affordable units, reconnected streets, etc. Minimum. Yet, this developer wants more than the maximum we already offer in terms of how, and what, he can legally build.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Finally, let’s do away with the “this is our only chance” bullshit. Personally, I’m tired of the fearmongering and Chicken Little-esque statements from so-called “leaders” in this community.

Come on – like no one is going to want to develop the most prime piece of commercial real estate in Vermont in a way that the community wants? That’s why we have zoning standards, and it’s what our elected officials should be telling developers. If Sinex can’t do it, it’s because he’s a shitty developer. In fact, I’d just as soon see the city buy it off his hands if he keeps whining about it, and then put the project out to bid. Let’s see what other, local developers could do with that property.

It’s time to say No to #3 and #4, and Whoa to this strong-armed process being put forward by the Mayor and a select few. If (or when) this ballot goes down — leaders on both / all sides of this debate NEED to come together and work toward creating a better project and a community vision for this prime commercial parcel of real estate so that it benefits EVERYONE in our community, both today and into the future.

We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.

And, if these ballot items do pass, I would highly recommend that the supporters not gloat and ridicule, but find ways to incorporate the many, and legitimate concerns, into a public benefits agreement, and the final designs for the project. Doing that will go a long way toward healing divisions in the community, and put us on the path toward making the next big development project — Memorial Auditorium perhaps? — less of a battle, and more of a true community dialogue about what’s best for ALL city residents.

#NCHIMBY (No Corporate Handouts in My Back Yard)

There’s a lot of spin out there from boosters of the downtown redevelopment and the tax scheme to siphon $22 million of the public’s tax money and hand it over to a Wall Street developer.

Despite spending thousands on a well-paid lobbying firm with almost zero ties to Burlington to come up with fake sloganeering and fake supporters, there’s little that can be done to spin a taxpayer ripoff masquerading as a TIF masquerading as a “unity” project masquerading as a last gasp to save a “dying” downtown.

Setting aside the problematic zoning issues, poorly managed public engagement, this is why voting for the TIF is a bad idea. It’s because voters are being asked to:

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer to do work that we as a community said must be done (reconnecting streets, among other items) in order to build in the downtown core.

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer and wait 20 to 30 years to reap the reward of additional taxes while developer Don Sinex will most certainly be reaping profits for himself from day one.

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer, and as such taking needed money from funding education, or bonds to improve the safety and energy efficiency of our schools.

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer who is only making the minimal investment in truly affordable housing, while expecting to charge high(er) market rents for other apartments (doing nothing to stem the rising cost of housing).

• Hand out $22 million in taxpayer money to a Wall Street developer who is going to be privatizing more of downtown, and making minimal truly public spaces accessible to all residents.

Good grief. And, people thought Burlington Telecom was a bad deal – at least it ended up being a public benefit that could pay for itself and has been credited with creating good-paying jobs ( and an emergent tech sector in the Queen City.

To reiterate above, though: boosters of this Wall Street development conveniently omit the fact that the TIF makes it such that our tax rates won’t truly benefit until 20 OR MORE YEARS FROM NOW when the TIF expires and any new monies go to the city or school coffers. That’s right – 20-PLUS YEARS. Not next year, or even in five years – but almost a generation away! By then inflationary costs will likely chew up any perceived benefit we’re told about today.

And, while the money might not be directly helping Burlington schools, floating this TIF funding and the $50 million bond will only make it harder for the schools to ask taxpayers to fund long overdue classroom and building improvements in the coming years. That, too, will have a ripple effect that will negatively affect the next generation of Burlington students.

You can call it what you will, but this is a corporate welfare—using our tax money for one person’s private gain with an incremental, if nonexistent, gain for us, the chumps who forked over millions in our taxes for someone else to make money on while we sit there, hands in pockets, waiting on a reward. If Sinex were asked to fund these required improvements himself, then we could see a more immediate impact on our city’s coffers and we could use the new revenue to make improvements throughout the city and lessen the burden on homeowners to pay back the other bonds we’re being asked to approve.

If you’re not fond of corporate welfare or putting corporate interests before those of the community—then it’s simple. Vote NO against the TIF on the November ballot.

We need to step back, truly examine our city’s infrastructure needs for both city and schools, and then determine  what needs public funding and what can be leveraged from the private sector.

We face too many challenges as a city right now to be doing this in such a piecemeal, knee-jerk fashion.

If you’re interested in an additional take on the TIF, check out this previous post.