House votes to make Vermont Life editor a political appointment

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(Host) The Vermont House has decided to make the editor’s job at Vermont Life magazine a political appointment, instead of a position protected by civil service rules.

But the bill may face opposition in the Senate.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Vermont Life is the state’s award-winning travel magazine. Four times a year, it tells the story of Vermont in words and pictures.

The editor of the magazine recently retired after 20 years on the job. And now the Legislature wants to make the position one that the governor can hire or fire at will.

As the House debated the issue, Progressive Representative Susan Davis argued for keeping politics out of the editor’s job.

“(Davis) Currently the editor reports to the publisher. This would be two high-level positions that would serve at the pleasure of the governor. I feel that would highly politicize the position. And when we have a turnover of governors, that could be two high-level positions that would be replaced. And that would be a problem for business continuity.”

(Dillon) The technical change moves the editor’s job from a “classified” civil service position, to one that’s exempt from civil service status.

Donna Sweaney, who chairs the government operations committee, said the change was meant to follow the lead of the private sector.

“(Sweaney) We felt with Vermont Life, exempt positions being at will mirrors the private industry, and what happens out there in the publishing world.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas backs the change as well.

“(Douglas) I think it makes sense. Several former editors agree. There needs to be accountability. Most major department heads, many division heads are exempt appointees.”

(Dillon) But the bill will likely face opposition in the Senate. Senator Dick Sears chairs the Judiciary Committee. He says editors need to be protected from political influence.

“(Sears) I’m concerned once you go down this slippery slope of taking this position that has always been classified, that you will have editorial comment coming from way up above.”

(Dillon) Sears says he’ll try to change the bill when it reaches the Senate.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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