BARRE — The City Council can cross searching for a new chief executive off its to-do list after agreeing to extend City Manager Steve Mackenzie’s expiring contract for another two years.
Tuesday night’s unanimous vote came barely a year after Mackenzie last signaled he planned to retire when his latest contract extension expired this July.
Those plans changed not long after Mackenzie included $10,000 to finance the search for his successor in the budget voters approved a year ago. A short time later Mackenzie said he privately told councilors he was willing to postpone his retirement — a standing offer that explains their lack of urgency in recruiting his replacement.
The fact the council hadn’t publicly discussed initiating an administrative search less than five months before Mackenzie’s last contract extension was set to expire made Tuesday night’s decision somewhat anticlimactic. If the council hadn’t been willing to accept Mackenzie’s offer, the search for his replacement would have been well underway – if not nearing completion – by now.
It isn’t, and, after meeting privately to discuss the terms of Mackenzie’s latest contract extension before their regular weekly meeting, councilors quickly approved it.
Mackenzie thanked the council for what he characterized as a “vote of confidence,” while reiterating his interest in remaining in his current role.
“It’s a challenging job, but I like it, I enjoy it, (and) I’m not ready to stop,” he said, noting he has “the energy continue,” and projects he’d like to advance.
“We’ve accomplished an awful lot, but there’s more to accomplish and I look forward to continuing to do that over the next two years,” Mackenzie told councilors, one of whom – Michael Boutin – was elected to fill the Ward 2 council seat he surrendered to take the city manager’s job in 2010.
Ten years and three contract extensions later, Mackenzie told councilors none of whom – including Mayor Lucas Herring – were serving when he was hired, that he had moved his retirement goalposts for the last time.
“It’s an enjoyable job, but I can’t do it forever,” he said.
Mackenzie said he can do it for two years longer than he previously though and is eager to finish some projects and materially advance others. The latter list includes the planned redevelopment of Merchants row and identifying a long-term solution for the an aging public works complex.
Mackenzie said neither project would be finished on his watch, but he was optimistic meaningful progress could be made.
Mackenzie’s just-amended contract runs through July 8, 2022, but Councilor Jeffrey Tuper-Giles said its not too soon to start thinking about an eventual transition.
Tuper-Giles said he’d like to see a job description prepared in the next six months that the council could take its time tweaking before launching a search next year. He went so far as to suggest filling the position so whomever is selected would have up to six months working with Mackenzie prior to the incumbent manager’s retirement.
Mackenzie said that likely wouldn’t be necessary if the council chooses someone with experience in municipal management. Mackenzie, a consulting engineer, didn’t have that when he was hired to replace former city manager John Craig.
Herring said the council would have plenty of time to discuss the hiring process.
“We’re going to have a much larger conversation about how to advertise the position,” he said.
Mackenzie has been on the path to retirement since taking the manager’s job in the community where he was born, raised and has lived his entire life. It’s just taken longer than he previously thought.
Mackenzie’s initial agreement was essentially a one-year contract with an automatic three-year renewal and a fifth-year option. After exercising that option, the council approved a 26-month extension that ran through Dec. 31, 2017 and the 30-month extension that would have expired in July.
That’s when Mackenzie expected he would be ready to retire before changing his mind.
Under the terms of the new two-year extension, Mackenzie’s base salary will increase to $105,600 in July and he’ll receive an automatic 2.5 percent raise next year. That doesn’t include the potential for a performance-related increase allowed under the contract.
Mackenzie’s benefits are unchanged. The city will continue to pick up 80 percent of his health and dental insurance premiums, provide short-term disability, and cover the cost of a $225,000 life insurance policy.
The contract also includes an annual vehicle allowance – roughly $2,700 – up to $2,500 for professional development, a city cellphone and continued participation in the Vermont Municipal Employees Retirement System.
MONTPELIER — Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Tuesday about a gun control bill that would do multiple things if passed into law, including closing the “Charleston loophole” and requiring those with relief from abuse orders to give up their guns.
The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing at the State House on H.610, a bill focused on domestic violence introduced by Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Washington, and Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-Chittenden. The bill would eliminate the so-called “Charleston loophole” which allows a gun dealer to transfer a gun to someone before a background check is complete. The loophole got its name because it was used by Dylann Roof who got a gun and killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 despite not being permitted to have a gun due to his arrest record.
It would not allow those with relief from abuse orders against them to possess guns, making it a crime to do so, and would allow a judge to issue a warrant for seizure of any guns that are believed to be in that person’s possession. The bill would also allow health care providers to contact law enforcement if they believe a patient poses “an extreme risk of causing harm to himself or herself or another person by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a dangerous weapon or by having a dangerous weapon.”
Rodney Chayer talked about what it’s like to be a father going through the court system. Chayer said fathers are treated as a doormat, a money bag to steal from and a second-class parent instead of an equal to the mother. He said he can understand why some fathers are reactive instead of proactive.
“You poke any animal long enough, it will bite you,” he said.
Chayer said if this bill passes anyone would be able to accuse another in anger or revenge in an attempt to get their guns removed. He said a mother could make false allegations against the father, robbing the child of the bond formed when the two go hunting.
Ben Hewitt said he’s a gun owner and a hunter. Hewitt said his two sons hunt as well and between them they own 11 guns.
He said most proposed gun legislation measures are “at best feel-good Band-Aids on gaping societal wounds.” But he supports H.610 because last month one of his son’s best friends shot and killed himself.
“That morning, he had filled the tank of his truck with gas. Earlier that afternoon he had texted his mother asking her to buy him a new toothbrush. By all accounts and indications, his suicide was an impulsive decision,” he said.
Birgit Matthiesen is a board member of Steps to End Domestic Violence. Matthiesen said the bill has her strong and urgent support.
“I have seen domestic violence up close and very personal. I am a child of a family of domestic violence and I am a survivor. I have seen and I have felt the red hot rage of the moment of violence. I have seen and I have felt the terror of those violent hours,” she said.
Bob Readie said the bill was one of the worst he’s read. He said it would violate due process, individual rights, property rights and civil liberties.
“This is horrible. Horrible,” he said. “What about constitutional rights? Where does it say in the Vermont Constitution that you have the authority or the power to deny those rights?”
Peggy O’Neil is the executive director of WISE, which serve victims of domestic and sexual violence in northern Windsor County. O’Neil talked about a murder in her community that took place several years ago. She didn’t give many specifics, but said a woman, who was a mother two a 2-year-old, was shot and killed by her boyfriend. She said the victim had been threatened previously with a gun.
O’Neil then told another story about a woman who was with a partner who slept with a gun under his pillow. Not for protection, but to induce fear and maintain control, she said. O’Neil said the woman was able to get a relief from abuse order, to get his guns taken away and had a strong support system.
“While we’ll never know if removing his guns kept her from being killed or injured, what I keep thinking about over and over these last 25-plus years and in this work for nearly 17 years is that if his guns had not been removed that night, I might not be here with you tonight to ask for your support. This young woman was me,” she said.
Tabitha Armstrong talked about statistics in cases of homicide where domestic violence was involved. Armstrong said between 1994 and 2017, there were 148 such cases. Of those she said 82 involved a gun and 34 of the deaths where were the abuser killed themselves or were killed by police.
She said that left 48 deaths in a 23-year period. She pointed out that’s the same amount of homicides over the same amount of time due to stabbing, strangling or blunt force trauma.
She asked, “So are we to believe expanded red flag laws are going to stop an abuser from murdering a victim? How is that when just as many use their hands?”
Kate Root is a member of Courtney’s Allies, a group that formed in Barre after Courtney Gaboriault was shot and killed by a former partner in a murder-suicide in 2018. Root said relief from abuse orders are not obtained lightly or easily. She said the argument that the bill would eliminate due process was false.
She brought up the expression “bringing a gun to a knife fight” to highlight the danger of guns.
“Anytime a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, the likelihood of death resulting increases dramatically. And this is a material fact. Guns are manufactured objects that can be replaced. Courtney’s life and the lives of all other domestic violence victims can never be replaced,” she said.
James Sexton said legislators are experts at using fear instead of logic to pass bills into law, such as calling guns “scary assault weapons.” Sexton said no weapon, tool or implement of any type is capable of creating an assault.
He then talked about how his wife was hit by a drunk driver in December while she was using a snowblower in the front yard.
“It wasn’t an assault car. It wasn’t assault alcohol. It was the driver that created the assault,” he said.
Most of the hearing saw those for and against the bill taking turns giving their thoughts on the bill. But towards the end only those in favor of the bill spoke. It’s unclear if there were opponents of the bill who were in attendance and wanted to speak, but were not called on.
A request for comment from the committee was not returned Wednesday.
MONTPELIER — A Capital City child care center has been saved from closure.
Loveworks, at 24 Mountainview St., was due to close March 13, but will reopen under new management by Montpelier Children’s House on March 16.
Loveworks announced last month it would close three centers in Montpelier, Milton and Williston. Two other centers, in Essex and Burlington, will remain open, but tuition will increase. The closures were blamed on budget constraints and meeting state requirements for teacher qualifications.
Loveworks was created in 2016 as a new branch of the Heartworks, Renaissance, and Endeavor Schools organization, and the Montpelier center was the first to open in January 2017. Prior to the announcement about the closures, Loveworks and two other child care center operations were acquired by Little Sprouts in November 2018.
News of the change of leadership at the Montpelier Loveworks child care center came from National Life Insurance Group on Wednesday. National Life owns and leases the building to Loveworks, and has been working closely with child care advocates Let’s Grow Kids Vermont to find an alternative to closure of the child care center.
“We understand how difficult it is to find high-quality affordable child care in our community,” said Beth Rusnock, president of National Life Group Foundation, the charitable division of the company. “That’s why we partnered with Let’s Grow Kids to quickly identify the best options for this space, one of which was Montpelier Children’s House.
“They have an excellent reputation and decades of experience. We’re looking forward to welcoming them as a neighbor within the next few weeks,” she added.
Montpelier Children’s House has operated at 41 Barre St. for the past 35 years and was started by Larry Parker.
Parker’s daughter, Samara Parker Mays, has been the current owner of the center for 10 years and is also a director and teacher at the center. The center currently serves 21 families and between 18 and 19 children, aged 3 to 5, a day.
Mays said Montpelier Children’s House had outgrown its space, which is owned by Downstreet Housing and Development in Barre, and needed to expand its facilities and would move its operations to Mountainview Street on July 1. Parents with children at Loveworks would be allowed to remain enrolled in the child care center under new management by Montpelier Children’s Center, which also hopes to expand enrollment at a later date to include infants and toddlers. Mays said both child care centers would continue to operate concurrently until July.
Mays noted that the move would increase limited indoor and outdoor space at the Barre Street site, improve parking and provide access to two playgrounds, woods and trails at the Mountainview Street site.
In a letter to the parents of children at Montpelier Children’s Center, Mays said reopening the former Loveworks on March 16 was contingent on successful licensing of the space through the Child Development Division, which is expected to occur.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity,” Mays said Wednesday. “We’ve been thinking about expanding for the last couple of years with the space we have because there’s no room to grow. ... And I’ve been acutely aware of the need for infant and toddler care in the community, so I had hoped to be able to find some space that would allow us to expand into infant and toddler care.”
She went on: “So, we were looking for available space and this opportunity came up and seemed like this was a good way for us to expand and grow our program, and also retain slots that were in jeopardy.”
Mays said there had been a positive response to the move and expansion of Montpelier Children’s House, and retaining existing child care spaces.
“It’s a problem across the state, and we know it’s particularly acute in Washington County. For every single infant and toddler slot, there’s a waiting list in every program and it’s tremendously difficult to find alternative care, if they find themselves in that position,” Mays said.
Mays also credited Let’s Grow Kids for its work to allow the Loveworks site to continue to operate under new management.
Abram, Nunes, director of operations at National Life, whose 15-month-old son, Cameron, attends Loveworks, said he was “relieved” that the child care center would continue to operate under new management.
“I’m happy that it’s a local individual that’s taking over,” Nunes said. “There are a lot of people who have been working very hard behind the scenes.”
Nunes also noted that the closing of child care centers and the shortage of spaces for children was still a major concern for many parents.
“For us, this worked out very positively, but there hasn’t been any change, as a result of this yet, that has changed the underlying factors, like teachers being under-compensated, the lack of options out there – it’s still a kind of broken system, and this situation kind of shed light on it,” Nunes said.
Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, credited National Life.
“National Life is one of several Vermont businesses that we’ve been working with to help employers find ways to support the child care needs of their employees,” Richards said. “After Loveworks announced it would have to close its Montpelier child care location, we worked with National Life to find alternatives that could prevent families from scrambling to find quality child care.
“Here’s the truth: Kids under six just aren’t at home anymore. We know that 70% of Vermont kids under six have all parents in the workforce and we know that three out of five of Vermont’s youngest children don’t have access to the care they need. ... That’s because the economics of child care don’t work right now,” Richards said. “Families can’t afford to pay more and early educators can’t afford to earn less. We urgently need to invest in Vermont’s early childhood education workforce to start chipping away at this crisis.”
“By way of a different approach, Missouri began offering chiropractic care, acupuncture, physical therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy for Medicaid patients (instead of prescribing opiates) starting last April.”
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