MONTPELIER — A senior state official has responded to concerns about security within the Capitol Complex after reports that a man with a gun entered a state building on Friday that turned out to be a disruptive false alarm.
Secretary of Administration Suzanne Young said Wednesday there is still an ongoing investigation to determine the veracity of the reported sighting.
“We reacted to very credible information that there may be someone with a firearm in a state office building,” Young said.
Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said law enforcement was notified shortly after 11 a.m. that two people witnessed someone with “a long gun,” walking across State Street and entering 133 State St., where the offices of the Vermont Tax Department are located.
“The information that led to the initial response is that everything appeared to be very credible,” Facos said Saturday.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies quickly sealed off the Capitol Complex and closed State Street to traffic between Bailey Avenue and Taylor Street.
Officers wearing body armor and carrying rifles entered 133 State St., and evacuated the building in stages to different locations, with some people walking across the State House lawn, while others used an underground tunnel to reach the Pavilion Building, where the governor’s administrative offices are located.
Gov. Phil Scott was not in the building at the time,” Young said.
The Department of Motor Vehicles was also partially locked down, with visitors only permitted to enter via the rear entrance.
Officers spent several hours twice sweeping 133 State St. and 6 Baldwin St. – which is also connected to the tax department building via an underground tunnel. The Bailey Street facility is home to the offices of the Agency of Agriculture Services, Defender General, Workers Compensation and Prevention, and Buildings and General Services Security Division.
As a precaution, Montpelier schools were placed on “lock-out,” with classes continuing but no one allowed to leave or enter school buildings until the “all-clear” was given.
That notification did not come until 1:45 p.m.
City Hall was not locked down, according to City Manager Bill Fraser.
Despite the risk to state officials and employees and the general public, there was no VT Alert – a Vermont Emergency Management statewide alert system in the event of an emergency. Anyone can sign up for the alerts at www.vem.vermont.gov/vtalert
Young said she was in her office in the Pavilion Building when the alert to state employees went out.
“We were alerted through our emergency procedure for an incident of this nature through a communication from BGS and then the team in the Pavilion followed its emergency operations response plan for lockdowns,” Young said. “The lockdowns means no egress or ingress and you can continue your business in your office, but you can’t leave.
“We have a communications system internal to this building with BGS, so we were constantly knowing what was happening in the Pavilion and at BGS,” she added.
Young said a review of protocols around security in a situation like Friday’s already was under way – and made all the more important by the wave of mass shootings across the nation, including the third in August in Odessa, Texas – the day after the incident in Montpelier.
“I think we all have to acknowledge that we are living in a society where we have to be very mindful of the dangers that we maybe not have to have thought about in the past,” Young said. “Security is very important, the safety and security of the state employees and the general public who are in our buildings is very important. We have taken those challenges very seriously.”
Young said there had been “a schedule of security hardening and upgrades in state buildings” over the last two and a half years, following the shooting death by Jody Herring of social worker Lara Sobel outside the field offices of the Department of Children and Families in Barre in August 2015.
“With any situation like this that occurred on Friday, there already is an after-action review being conducted,” Young said. “There are going to be meetings held, both external and internal, with the law enforcement who responded, with state employees who were impacted, with our emergency coordinators in all of the buildings.
“We’ll review communications and we will get better at this and a critical part of our preparation is learning how a real incident unfolded and where we can do better and what can be improved,” she added.
As for screening people entering the State House, Young said that was a decision that would have to be made by the Chief Matthew Romei and Capitol Police Department, which provides security at the State House, as well as the Legislature.
“I have to defer to the chief of the Capitol Police and the legislature as to whether they feel that’s necessary in light of Friday or just in light of what’s been going on (nationally),” Young said. “I know that’s been part of a perennial conversation there and the desire to keep an open building for the people’s work and providing the right level of security.
It is not a decision to be taken lightly.
“They have their own security advisers and their own chief and we’re happy to join in any conversation or feedback they may want from us but it’s going to be ultimately their decision. Undoubtedly, this will probably prompt that conversation internally in the legislative branch and I would be surprised if it did not,” Young added.
MONTPELIER — Recommendations to address the most conflicted intersection and other traffic issues in the Capital City were approved unanimously the City Council last week.
The approval followed a mix of presentations and proposals to the council, as well as two public meetings over the past year.
Findings in The Main Street/Barre Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Scoping Study were presented by consultants from Dubois & King, and funded by a $20,000 grant from the VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Program with a matching grant from the city.
The scoping study is named for the Barre Street/Main Street intersection, the most conflicted intersection in the city for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. It also looked at other conflicts on Main and Barre streets.
The Barre and Main streets intersection presents the most pressing problem for the city with the imminent completion of the shared-use recreation path between Taylor and Main streets that will bring more pedestrians and cyclists into conflict with traffic.
Recommendations from staff and the Transportation Infrastructure Committee to City Council approved include retaining existing traffic signals at Memorial Drive and State Street and signalizing the Main and Barre streets intersection.
The council agreed they would like to place a mini-roundabout at the intersection of Main and School streets, instead of a traffic signal.
The Traffic Infrastructure Committee had favored placing mini roundabouts at all Main Street intersections but were not recommended by staff because of a variety of problems, especially a conflict with the railway line at the intersection of Main and Barre streets.
To aid the flow of traffic with yet another signalized intersection at Main and Barre streets, the recommendations propose the use of adaptive signals along Main Street that use real-time videos monitoring traffic to avoid congestion. The recommendations said all new signal phasing should include an exclusive pedestrian phase, similar to other existing traffic signals.
The recommendations also called for the relocation of the crosswalk at Langdon Street to move north to Hazen Place to reduce interference with traffic flow at the Main and State streets intersection.
The council discussed the need to have a painted “cross-hatch” box at the intersection of Main and Langdon streets, to notify motorists not to block the intersection while waiting at a red light at Main and State streets.
The M1 category of proposals recommended unprotected bike lanes along Main Street in the short term, with the ultimate goal of providing protected lanes in the future, although that would require the loss of parking on one side of Main Street.
Corey Line, city project manager for the scoping study, said the first project that the city could undertake would be the shared-use path along Barre Street to connect the new shared-use path from Taylor Street to Main Street, with the Recreation Center on Barre Street where users can link up with the shared-use path on Stone Cutters Way.
Line said it is possible that project could begin in the spring and would result in the loss of 18 parking spaces.
Estimates in the study said the rapid implementation of the Barre Street shared use path would cost $50,000. A more costly option with side path reconstruction, moving stormwater infrastructure and other measures would cost $190,000.
The adaptive signal control cost for the Main and Barre streets intersection – and coordinated with other signals at Main Street intersections with Memorial Drive and State Street – would cost $250,000.
A mini-roundabout at the intersection of Main and School streets would cost $30,000 for a rapid implementation or $175,000 for a more elaborate project that would include curb extension reconstruction, utility changes, pavement markings, traffic control and repaving.
Short-term provision of bike lanes on Main Street would cost $565,000 for repaving, re-striping and traffic control, while a more elaborate buffered bike lane project would cost $1.2 million.
BARRE — More than two months after contracts with a pair of municipal labor unions expired negotiators have backed away from the bargaining table in an effort to make progress.
Characterized by City Manager Steve Mackenzie as “a brief timeout,” the decision was driven by a desire to make meaningful headway in separate negotiations with unionized firefighters and clerical and custodial staff.
“What we want to do is make the next session – and hopefully no more than two – productive,” Mackenzie said, suggesting the city’s negotiating team had “homework” to do following a summer spent negotiating with both unions.
Though there have been some glitches along the way, Mackenzie said bargaining teams for both sides had sought to stick to the every other Wednesday negotiating schedule that was set when ground rules were agreed to in May.
For Mackenzie and other members of the city’s negotiating team that has required a weekly Wednesday afternoon commitment that started on June 5 when they traded proposals with representatives of the firefighters’ union. With at least one notable exception, city negotiators have met one Wednesday with firefighters and the next with representatives of the clerical and custodial staff before repeating that cycle through most of the summer.
However, Mackenzie said this week talks with both bargaining units were suspended last month.
Negotiations with clerical and custodial staff have been on hold since Aug. 7 — the fourth face-to-face meeting with members of that bargaining unit. The city’s negotiating team has met six times with representatives of the firefighters union — most recently on Aug. 14.
Mackenzie said talks with both unions should soon resume.
A Sept. 11 session with firefighters is awaiting confirmation and Mackenzie said he expects to have a date with clerical and custodial staff locked down in coming weeks.
Notwithstanding incremental progress, Mackenzie said the break was viewed as an opportunity to meaningfully move the ball in negotiations with two of the city’s four labor unions.
“We felt it was better to take some more time now and try to put on the table some refined proposals so we can make more progress in the next meeting or two,” he said, suggesting he is optimistic that can happen.
“We find out that we really can’t get close and we have to figure out what the next step is,” he said.
Already two months into a contract year for which projected pay raises and benefits were fixed several months ago, the city is on the verge of preparing a budget for what would be the second year of both yet-to-be-negotiated contracts.
Mackenzie said he is mindful of that uncertainty and hoping to secure settlements with both unions well before the budget season concludes.
Though Mackenzie declined to discuss the substance of negotiations his cautious optimism at this stage suggests agreements could be within reach.
“I’m hopeful,” he said.
At the outset of negotiations Mackenzie predicted it would be clear at this point whether the assistance of a mediator would be required. That remains a possibility, but it isn’t where things stand at this point.
The best-case scenario from the city’s perspective is that settlements are reached with both bargaining units even as negotiations with a third get underway. Unionized members of the city’s public works department are working under a contract that expires Dec. 31. Negotiations with that union could begin as early as next month.
Meanwhile, unionized members of the city’s police department are now in the second year of a two-year labor agreement that was ratified in January – six months after the previous contract expired. That agreement runs through June 30, 2020.
BARRE — A Connecticut man is accused of smashing windshields in Barre for no apparent reason.
Micael S. Bizuneh, 30, of Hartford, Connecticut, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Washington County criminal court in Barre to two misdemeanor counts of unlawful mischief and a misdemeanor count of giving false information to law enforcement. If convicted, Bizuneh faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison. He was released on conditions.
Officer Jacob Frey, of the Barre City police, said in his affidavit on Aug. 28 he received a report about a male who had thrown a rock into a vehicle’s windshield on Brook Street. He said the description of the male matched that of Bizuneh.
Frey said he had cited Bizuneh on Aug. 22 for similar actions. That time he said Bizuneh threw a brick into a vehicle’s windshield.
Frey said he went to the scene of the Aug. 28 incident and found a Jeep Wrangler with a smashed windshield and a rock nearby. He said he spoke to a witness who reported hearing glass smash and looked up to see a man walking away from the Jeep.
Frey showed the witness a picture of Bizuneh and she told him that was the person she had seen, according to court records.
Frey said he located Bizuneh a short distance away from the Jeep and he denied smashing the Jeep’s windshield. He said Bizuneh admitted to smashing the windshield on Aug. 22.
Frey said he told Bizuneh he thought Bizuneh was responsible for other reported smashed windshields and Bizuneh replied he didn’t know what Frey was talking about and smiled. Frey said he asked Bizuneh why he was smiling and he replied he was a “goofy guy.”
Frey said other smashed windshields were reported Aug. 27, Aug. 28 and Aug. 29.
He said Bizuneh is a suspect for incidents in Montpelier where nine vehicles were vandalized.
For the false information charge, Frey said when he questioned Bizuneh about the smashed windshield on Aug. 22 Bizuneh gave him a false name.
Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said Bizuneh is facing felony charges in Maine for similar conduct. Thibault said he had filed additional charges Friday against Bizuneh for other incidents but court staff could not locate the charges Tuesday.
Court records don’t say why Bizuneh was smashing windshields.
“And now it devolves to Boris Johnson, whom the columnist, Butler, considers the very worst man for the job, and who, he argues, presents an existential threat to the kingdom itself.”
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Waterbury Farmers’ Market
Vendors spanning a wide range of products, live music, activities and demonstrations. 3-6 p.m. Rusty Parker Memorial Park, 2 Rotarian Place, Waterbury, email@example.com.