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Originally published in the Rutland Herald on July 18, 2012.

Rutland County GOP Chairman Rob Towle’s offensive Facebook post has become a national news story and sadly has brought the ugly, racially charged rhetoric currently at play in parts of the Republican Party home to Vermont.

While the post was eventually removed after commenters from all sides decried it as racist and offensive, Towle’s half-hearted non-apology only drew more criticism. By Tuesday, Towle found some better words and apologized in earnest for his “bad judgment,” calling the post “stupid and insensitive.”

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Rutland City Police investigate a shooting on Cleveland Avenue shortly before 4 p.m. Friday. (Vyto Starinskas/Rutland Herald photo)

[UPDATED (5/1/12): The shooting on Friday, 4/27/12, was accidental and not a drive-by]

(Published in the May 2, 2012, edition of the Rutland Herald) Before we respond to last week’s shooting near Cleveland Avenue with hopeless despair over Rutland’s further decline into darkness, let’s count to five and put things into perspective.

Early reports labeled the incident as a drive-by shooting. Further investigation revealed that it was, in fact, accidental. While this development changes how the shooting is classified, the public’s initial response was no less real.

As word of the shooting went viral on social media Friday afternoon, the tone was dire. Across the Rutland, people clucked their tongues and shook their heads lamenting the loss of town they once knew.

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Photo by Cassandra Hotaling Hahn / Rutland Herald

Originally published in the April 19, 2012, edition of the Rutland Herald.

Last week, Rutland was witness to something unique: A Chamber of Commerce mixer that people were actually talking about. Wales Street became a spectacle as scores of people crowded inside the large tent to mix, mingle and enjoy the complimentary food and drinks.

Donald Billings, chef-owner of Roots the Restaurant — which co-hosted the mixer with Earth Waste Systems — threw down with a menu dominated by locally sourced food. The centerpiece, a pig roast, helped build anticipation as it cooked slowly in Roots’ driveway — its smoky scents wafting through all of downtown a full day ahead of the event.

The buzz around the mixer was unprecedented for these typically humdrum Chamber gatherings. Clearly, the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce knew it had something special, as it was especially effusive in its promotion of the mixer via email, print ads and social media.

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Vyto Starinskas / Rutland Herald photo

In a city so notorious for its potholes, you’d think the road to the Board of Aldermen would be a little bumpier. Yet, again this year, the contest, while robust in number, was lacking in excitement.

Now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That, for the most part, our local politics have been able to hold negativity at bay is something we should be proud of. Certainly, outside the rail, rancor and vitriol rear their heads on occasion — all towns have their naysayers — but the board, at least through the last several terms has managed to work together with respect if not always accord.

But come on; it’s campaign season. Where’s the fire? Where’s the feistiness?

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A version of this story appears in the Feb. 16, 2012, edition of the Rutland County Express.

“For a state with so many hills, Vermont is pretty flat.”

This sentiment was expressed by a colleague of mine recently after a visit to the Vermont State House in Montpelier. And while this realization is nothing new, a day spent wandering the halls of our state government really drives it home.

At a time when the average citizen feels increasingly powerless — at the mercy of governments, corporations, banks, churches and other institutions that seem more concerned with self-preservation than with the public good — it is refreshing (and comforting) to know that Vermont’s government is still accessible, democratic and equitable.

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Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Jan 12, 2012.

In a recent post on Slate.com   entitled, “Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller,” technology columnist Farhad Manjoo posed an interesting and somewhat convincing argument: in this world of Amazon, with our iPads and Kindles, independent bookstores are inefficient, inconvenient and expensive.

Manjoo writes, “Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store … offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for and a dubious recommendations engine.”

Needless to say, such an argument does not go unnoticed or unpunished. Calling bookstores “cultish, moldering institutions” is sure to irk a few ires. Refutations came pouring in from all sides — the literati, the buy-localistas and various other well-meaning, indignant Luddites (as Manjoo might like to characterize them).

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Rutland County Express on Dec. 29, 2011.

Two thousand eleven is almost behind us, and it’s a year I think almost all of us are happy to put in the rearview. But before we ring in 2012, let’s take a moment to look back. Borrowing from Twitter, I’ve compiled my list of the biggest stories trending in #RutVT in 2011.

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