2007 Year in Review: Potpourri

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(Host) In every collection of the year’s top stories, some fit neatly into categories. …. This is about politics, that’s a weather story.

Others just won’t slide neatly into pigeon-holes.

VPR’s Steve Delaney reports on some of these stories for our series on the best of 2007.

(Delaney) For years, state employees in Bennington complained that the building they worked in, made them sick. The state never found any problems, but doctors did.

Early in the year they said six and possibly seven of the 200 workers in the state office building had sarcoidosis, a rare form of cancer that may be linked to mold, fungus and mildew. That’s way beyond coincidence.

VPR’s Susan Keese met one of the victims, Terry Hill, on a cold morning at a coffee shop.

(Hill) “I can unzip but you’re going to have to help me take it off. See what I mean? Simple things…”

(Keese) She almost cancelled because she couldn’t get her socks on.”

(Hill) “You know, I can’t do like other people. I have to grab onto my leg (grunts), and it just won’t go. But see, these are things you have to adjust to.”

(Keese)Her own long struggle started as a rash on her nose in 1992. A dermatologist did a biopsy and identified it as sarcoid.

(Hill) “He said, usually, if it’s on your skin it may be in your lungs and lymph nodes. So I had a chest X-ray, and indeed it was in my lungs and lymph nodes.”

(Delaney) Stories like Hill’s gained traction in Montpelier, where Governor Jim Douglas said he wanted all state employees out of that building by the end of March.

(Douglas) “There were a number of delays along the way, some of them perhaps avoidable, some unavoidable. But the level of anxiety in that work force has grown along with the delays. And I want to make sure they have a safe and healthy place to work. And I want to be sure that the hundreds of people who come in that building every day are not concerned about that environment, either.”

(Delaney) The building was, in fact, evacuated by April. And by year’s end, investigators had concluded the illnesses probably came from two sources: soot from a boiler was found throughout the building and “pools” of microbes were found in the air conditioning.

In late October the heart of the town of Middlebury was suddenly evacuated after a train carrying volatile liquids derailed.

VPR’s John Dillon was there, and supplied the details.

(Dillon) "… at 1:54….train was northbound, did go off rails, couple cars tipped over."

(Delaney) Many of those cars held gasoline, and some of it leaked into Otter Creek. A fire caused by the derailment was put out, and fire crews hosed down the leaking tanker cars.

The gasoline was pumped into trucks and driven away. Then the derailed cars were righted, the tracks were fixed, and three days after the accident, rail service through downtown Middlebury was back to normal, although some residents paid more attention than usual to the moving rail cars.

For the past decade, the longest-running unresolved issue at the Vermont Statehouse has centered on the funding of education. The year began with the defeat of an effort to repeal Act 60, the statewide education funding law. It has sparked tax revolt talk in a number of property-rich towns, and has been modified twice by the Legislature.

The latest fix was a last-minute compromise between the Governor’s attempt to impose a spending cap on local school spending, and the Legislature’s effort to control the causes of higher school spending.

Nobody seemed to like the resulting bill, which requires a separate vote to approve higher-than-average school spending. Opponents include Angelo Dorta of the teachers’ union.

(Dorta) “It seems to us that the two-vote mandate, as we call it, absolutely diminishes local control of schools, where its local citizens and local voters know best the programs and staffing levels that they want and can afford.”

(Delaney) Janet Ancel leads the House Education Committee. She says the two-vote system reflects the problems inherent in local deviations from statewide school spending patterns

(Ancel) "Schools are supported with a statewide tax. Decisions in one school district do affect taxpayers throughout the state. And so it isn’t true that schools are really an island.”

(Delaney) Those comments were made months after the Legislature adjourned.

The Governor suggested that more money could be found if Vermont should lease the state lottery.

It’s a certainty that the ever-festering school funding dilemma will be in play again when the Legislature returns to work next month.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Delaney.

Note: Business news is the topic when our review of the top stories of 2007 continues tomorrow.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File

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