hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires





Vermont agency under fire after children’s deaths


Vermont officials moved last month to shake up the local office of the state’s child welfare agency after an investigation into the death of a 2-year-old Poultney girl in February.
The state Department for Children and Families announced June 20 that the director of its Rutland office would be transferred to the department’s central office in Essex Junction and replaced with a new leader. Department officials said, however, that this personnel shift was not a disciplinary action.

The department has been the focus of legislative hearings and other public scrutiny since the deaths earlier this year of Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski. Both children had been under the department’s supervision, and their deaths both were ruled homicides.

The Rutland Herald reported that the personnel shift came on the heels of a report from the state attorney general’s office that found significant problems in the handling of Dezirae’s case, including a lack of communication among social workers, the courts, law enforcement, medical personnel and others.

Police say Dezirae was killed by her stepfather, Dennis Duby, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in the case.

The Herald also reported that a Vermont State Police probe concluded the Department of Children and Families had collected evidence suggesting Duby had abused Dezirae when she suffered two broken legs last year. But State Police said that evidence was never turned over to prosecutors, and Duby was not charged with any crime at that time. Instead, prosecutors charged Dezirae’s mother, Sandra Eastman, with child abuse for neglecting to get medical care for the girl’s injuries.

The change of leaders at the local Department for Children and Families office initially drew praise from some of the agency’s critics.

But the change soon became the focus of a new controversy after Dezirae’s aunt, Lisa Eastman, pointed out that the new director of the Rutland DCF office, Lynne Klamm, is the wife of Kevin Klamm, a deputy state’s attorney who handled the prosecution of Dezirae’s mother. Lisa Eastman said the prosecutor is one of the people she blames for failing to pursue Duby in the earlier abuse case.

The Herald reported, however, that Vermont Human Services Secretary Doug Racine and Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre both said the relationship between Lynne and Kevin Klamm did not pose a conflict of interest for their professional responsibilities.

In other news from around the region in June:


Stefanik wins GOP line for U.S. House
Republican voters in New York’s northernmost congressional district have chosen Elise Stefanik to be their candidate in November.

Stefanik, a former White House aide under President George W. Bush, defeated Matt Doheny in a Republican primary June 24. She’ll face Democrat Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello in November for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

This year’s race in New York’s 21st Congressional District, swing district that stretches from Washington County to the Canadian border and west to Lake Ontario, is expected to be one of the most hotly contested in the nation. The district has more Republican voters than Democrats, but Owens has managed to keep the seat in Democratic hands since 2009.

Stefanik, a 29-year-old Harvard graduate who cast herself as a fresh voice for the district, won the GOP primary with more than 60 percent of the vote against Doheny, an investment fund manager from Watertown who was the Republican challenger to Owens in both 2010 and 2012.
Although Stefanik and Doheny shared standard conservative policy positions on most issues – both favor repealing Obamacare, for example – their primary campaign was bruising at times and featured plenty of television attack ads.

In particular, American Crossroads, a political action committee co-founded by the Republican strategist Karl Rove, spent more than $750,000 on ads opposing Doheny. The group had supported Doheny in 2012.

The primary campaign may have left a bitter taste for some Doheny supporters, and North Country Public Radio reported that Doheny alluded to the attack ads in his concession speech.
“We were outspent in total ads six or seven to one, and it obviously made the difference,” Doheny told his supporters in Watertown. “It just did. The reality is my opponent had a good night, and Karl Rove had a good night.”


Greenwich votes to remain a village
Voters in the Washington County village of Greenwich have rejected a proposal to dissolve their village government, despite estimates that the move could have saved them hundreds of dollars a year in taxes.

The debate in Greenwich was part of a larger push to consolidate municipal governments across New York, discussed in the cover story of the June Observer. The village of Salem, 12 miles northeast of Greenwich, also will vote on a dissolution proposal later this summer.

In Greenwich, the vote was 281-203, or 58 percent to 42 percent, against a June 24 ballot proposal that would have started the process of shutting down the village government and turning over the responsibility for most of its services to the surrounding towns of Greenwich and Easton.

The Post-Star of Glens Falls reported that, just days before the vote, a consultant hired by the village estimated dissolution would save a village resident with a $100,000 home more than $720 a year in taxes.

But Greenwich Mayor David Doonan campaigned hard against the proposal, arguing that the village could still save tax dollars by entering into shared-services agreements with the surrounding towns without losing its identity and local control.

Under state law, supporters of dissolution cannot force another vote on the issue until at least 2018.

-- Compiled by Fred Daley