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Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Holiday helpers

DCF’s Amanda Grearson, left, and Alona Tate, right, organize hundreds of donations from Green Mountain United Way’s annual Tatum’s Totes holiday toy drive on Tuesday in Barre. The donations, which will go to foster families in the Barre, Newport, and St. Johnsbury DCF districts, are a big help for families during the holiday season.


News
Racial Justice
Panel makes suggestions to reduce racial disparities

A 10-page report presented to the Legislative Joint Justice Oversight Committee on Tuesday by members of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel makes several recommendations for responding to what the panel clearly calls “white privilege.”

The report calls both white supremacy and white privilege “awful terms” but say they describe the “truest nature of the problem that all Vermonters face.”

“These are terms that in their fullest essence describe not merely simple costuming and the burning of crosses but rather a system of unequal interaction that causes great and real pain to Vermonters. We call upon all persons of good will to do their best to rise above feelings of discomfort, alienation and pain to address white supremacy and white privilege and their effects,” the report said.

Etan Nasreddin-Longo, chairman of the racial disparities panel, on Tuesday called the report “18 months of hard work.”

“I know we’re all hoping it’s going to go much further than just today,” he said.

Nasreddin-Longo said he expects the legislative committee will invite the panel to talk with them about subjects that weren’t detailed in the report like “use of force” and the juvenile justice system.

“I mean, I’m not kidding myself. That’s a huge amount of culture change that report contained, and it’s not realistic to think it’s all going to happen overnight,” he said.

The Legislature, which created the advisory panel in 2017, charged its members with creating a report that would address at least three specific issues. The report, dated Dec. 4 and reported out to the legislative committee addressed all three points.

The report recommends the Human Rights Commission, or HRC, be the home for the “public complaint process to address implicit bias across all systems of state government.”

For the HRC to fill that role, more staff will be needed, the advisory panel suggested.

There are also many communities where the HRC are unknown, which would require greater outreach. A similar push was recommended for the 211 phone line system which could be involved in directing callers to available resources for issues of racial disparity.

For the second goal of preventing racial profiling, the report suggests first responders work with behavioral health experts to screen for mental health issues or substance abuse.

The public should be given more opportunities to learn about their own rights and how individuals might report racially disparaging incidents.

The report suggests the expansion of community policing across Vermont.

“The community policing model helps to break down barriers between law enforcement and the communities they serve, resulting in improved information exchanges, more transparency and less susceptibility for implicit biases to influence decision making,” the report said.

The final question the advisory panel was asked to address was whether race data should be collected beyond traffic stops.

The report said the members of the panel “spent a great deal of time” talking about the collection of racial-identification information.

“The panel agrees that increased and improved data collection is necessary to combat racial disparities in our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our current data collection system is not sufficient to understand the reasons why our systems produce unequal outcomes on the basis of race. Available data does show, however, that disparate outcomes exist,” the report said.

A system that includes data collection from the judiciary and state prosecution and defense attorneys as well as an office to aggregate, analyze and centralize the information are also recommendations.

Nasreddin-Longo said what he heard from the legislators who heard the presentation of the report was a desire to hear more about mechanisms of accountability.

“We’ve got 12 really, really smart and dedicated people in that room. I want to know what the brain trust comes up with,” he said.

Many of the recommendations would likely be productive but require the use of new systems and new staff and therefore would require more state funding.

“It’s going to be a tap dance, I think. What can they do that actually does something in the real world that gives Vermonters of color and allies a sense of motion but is still fiscally responsible? That’s a hard question,” he said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com


Jpkuckens / Josh Kuckens / Staff Photo  

Public invited

Justin Sell, left, guides his older brother Christian Sell, center, as the Central Vermont Pioneers sled hockey team invited the public to join in at the Norwich Men’s hockey practice on Monday night in Northfield. Sled Hockey is a challenging sport that allows for participation from both able and differently abled persons, such as Christian, who lives with a rare genetic disorder, Mowatt-Wilson syndrome.


Local
Maple Corner Store
Maple Corner Store shareholder buyout nears finish line

CALAIS — The finish line is in sight for a shareholder buyout of the Maple Corner Store.

Officials involved in a yearlong effort to attract supporters of the project said they had received enough pledges to buy the business from owners Artie and Nancy Toulis. A closing on the transfer of ownership was set for Tuesday.

A “Pass the Torch” celebration of the community drive will be held at the renamed Maple Corner Community Center on Saturday, from 4 to 7 p.m. with music by The Larkspurs and final bidding on a silent auction to continue raising funds for the project. Last-minute shares in the store will be available to fund additional needs at the store, such as an expanded septic system and new kitchen equipment.

Officials said they had received enough pledges towards the $450,000 needed to close the deal, which will cover the $375,000 asking price plus inventory, closing costs and attorney fees.

The Toulises bought the classic country store from Bob and Diane Cleary in summer 2007. Since then, it has remained a popular pit stop and social center for locals.

It is where local children board the school bus, people make a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and a place to find both groceries and a selection of wines. It also offers a range of home-cooking style foods, including freshly made pizza and sandwiches and the bar features “pub grub.”

The Whammy Bar opened in October 2012 as a small, intimate pub and live music venue in the back of the store. It became an immediate hit, and has been described as the “Cheers of Calais, where everybody knows your name.”

The store also generates income from a rural post office on-site, and there is a second-floor, two-bedroom apartment with loft space and a large deck overlooking a waterfall and stream.

News of the $490,000 sale first emerged in a posting by the Toulises on the Calais Front Porch Forum website in July 2017. The Toulises said they also posted it on the store’s website and Facebook page, but did not engage a Realtor to help sell the business.

More recently, customers and friends were worried the Toulises might close the store when no buyers emerged.

The first thoughts of staging a shareholder buyout of the business came during a conversation in the store a year ago between local residents Anne Marie Shea and Chris Miller. Shea has worked in the store for more than a decade. Miller is a renowned artist in granite and wood, whose most recent creation was the new Ceres statue atop the golden dome at the State House.

Discussion led to the formation of the Maple Corner Country Store Committee and the formation of a C corporation, a legal structure for a corporation in which the owners, or shareholders, are taxed separately from the entity.

Following the successful fund drive, thoughts are now turning to the management of the store after it changes hands. Shea will become the general manager and Caity Kaye and Jamie Moorby will be assistant managers, all responsible for the day-to-day operation of the store, which is open seven days a week.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Shea said. “We raised a lot of money in five months and it speaks volumes about how the community cares for itself and each other.

“The party on Saturday will be the culmination and a lot of fun and breathing a sigh of relief that we actually did it and its moving us towards the closing date,” she added.

Shea credited shareholders with making a commitment to investing in the business “with no foreseeable return,” although it is hoped the businesses would eventually be able to pay dividends. Shea also credited the tireless work of the committee.

“They were totally willing to do whatever needed to be done,” Shea said.

Housekeeping details include securing the necessary licenses to operate the business that cannot be transferred.

Moorby, a member of the fundraising committee, said that after the closing on Tuesday, the store and bar would be closed through Thursday of next week, with a grand reopening of both on Dec. 20.

“I’m just so inspired by and proud of my community,” Moorby said. “They have unified with one loud voice the importance of the store and Whammy Bar in community building and strengthening.”

Moorby said it was also a relief to know that the store across the street where she grew up would remain open.

“It’s really important to all of us that it remains this incredible resource. It will live on,” she said. “It’s funny coming full circle, because I started working in the store when I was 14.”

Artie Toulis was still a little nervous before Tuesday’s closing, hoping that all pledges would be honored.

“Unless something very strange and unexpected happens, it looks like Tuesday is a go,” Toulis said.

Toulis said he also had “mixed feelings” about reaching the end of his time running the business.

“It’s been an amazing job, it’s great to be part of the community, having (daughter) Halle grow up here was incredible — I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world — but not having some of the constant day-to-day things that are involved in owning a store... it will be nice to be free of that for a while,” Toulis said. “We’re staying in Maple Corner, indefinitely. I can’t say for sure what’s going to happen down the road, but it looks for the short-term, we’re staying here.”

Toulis, who is an accomplished guitarist, said that he and his wife, Nancy, planned to take a trip to visit their daughter in Nashville.

The Toulises also hope to start a small production company that would support music events and theater productions in the region.

To bid on the silent auction to raise funds for the store, visit www.maplecornercommunitystore.org and click on Silent Auction.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


Spotlight

This holiday season, help prove to a veteran there is no shame in needing a hand up by supporting them at whatever stage of life they are.

Commentary, A4

In the news

A local artist is working on a dance performance in a Barre Town quarry next summer to help people see the quarry in a new light. A3

Local family-run restaurant Positive Pie celebrated its 20th anniversary in Plainfield on Saturday. A3

A well-attended pre-bid conference was a good sign for sewer project planned in Berlin. A3


BTA Hotspot

Thursday

Gingerbread Festival

Prizes for the best sustainable-themed gingerbread houses and serving cocktails on us. Register or RSVP. 4-7 p.m. Caledonia Spirits, 116 Gin Lane, Montpelier, erin.rocheleau@suncommon.com, 802-398-7118.


Local
Spaulding High School
Committee will explore busing Spaulding students

BARRE — A School Board committee is ready to launch a conversation about student transportation that could lead to buses stopping twice a day at Spaulding High School.

That would be the first in the history of a high school that was founded on Washington Street in 1890, moved to its current Ayers Street location in 1965, and earlier this year became the anchor of the two-town, three-school Barre Unified Union School District.

The state-ordered merger of the previously autonomous Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding school districts rekindled interest in an idea that has never managed to get any traction in the past.

It may now, because members of the district’s facilities committee recently requested and received permission to take on transportation and were urged on Monday to think bigger than debating a recent shift from chains to studded tires for school buses.

Spaulding Assistant Principal Luke Aither delivered the nudge while acknowledging providing “district-wide transportation” sounded much simpler than it is.

“It’s a huge can of worms,” he said.

According to Aither, it could require tinkering with start times at the district’s three schools and may entail a discussion of whether Spaulding students should ride on the same buses as their younger counterparts destined for centralized elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town.

That said, Aither suggested the absence of transportation for high school students contributes to truancy at Spaulding, which is a long walk for many city students and miles away from those who live in the town.

While many of those students drive to school and many others are dropped off by parents, none arrive on one of the familiar yellow buses like those that transport students to and from Barre City Elementary and Middle School and Barre Town Middle and Elementary School.

While taxpayer-funded transportation could have helped some families with students at Spaulding, it would have created a significant new expense for that district prior to the merger.

There may still be an added cost, but committee members agreed it is one worth quantifying now that Spaulding is part of a single school district that has one transportation contract with a company that provides buses that pick up elementary and middle school students in the city and the surrounding town.

Some of those buses currently cross paths, prompting some to suggest a more efficient route structure could yield savings that would cover the cost of an expanded service.

School Director Guy Isabelle was one of them.

“I think it’s time we at least take a look at it,” he said of providing busing for Spaulding students.

Isabelle suggested the committee also evaluate providing transportation for middle school athletic programs in Barre and Barre Town. Though Spaulding provides transportation for its sports teams, neither of the elementary schools do.

“It’s an equity issue and a safety issue,” he said.

Chairman Giuliano Cecchinelli II agreed to invite the busing coordinators from both elementary schools to attend the committee’s January meeting to solicit their feedback.

“That seems like a natural starting point,” he said, noting most other pre-K-12 districts provide busing for all students.

“It’s not impossible,” he said.

Administrators, like Aither and Facilities Director Jamie Evans agreed there were both operational and financial issues to consider before any recommendation is made.

“It’s a big discussion to be had,” Evans said.

With major summer projects at all three schools already identified for next year and lead testing mandated by the state, all but complete, the committee has time to talk about transportation.

Evans briefed the committee on each of the three projects during Monday’s meeting.

One will reconfigure the bus loop at Barre City Elementary and Middle School. That project contemplates eliminating an existing island and the cherry blossom trees planted on it to create an expanded visitors’ parking area.

“It will upset some people to see the trees go, but it will create a safer bus loop and much more visitor parking,” Evans said.

Meanwhile, Evans said once-deferred plans to remove a structurally compromised canopy at the entrance to Barre Town Middle and Elementary School and replace a leaking underground line that runs from the wood chip-fueled heating plant at Spaulding to the school’s gymnasium will be completed next summer.

The latter project will involve tearing up portions of the school parking lot. The failed line was taken out of service earlier this year and the gymnasium is being heated with a backup oil furnace this winter. Though a short section of line that runs from the heating plant to the school is not leaking, Evans said it will be replaced at the same time. That pipe supplies heat to the vast majority of the school and will be replaced as a precaution.

david.delcore @timesargus.com