Condemn all efforts to stifle VY discussion

BRATTLEBORO — Unfortunately, I was not surprised to learn of the Department of Public Service's “swift boat”–style, personal attacks on Arnie Gunderson, Senator Peter Shumlin's appointee to conduct the comprehensive vertical audit of Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee mandated by Act 189 that is now under way. (Governor Douglas and Gaye Symington also named appointees to help conduct the audit.)

I, too, have been on the receiving end of the wrath of another member of this merry cast of players. Back in 2005, after serving for eight years as the public relations and development director of Youth Services, one of our area's most esteemed nonprofits, I signed a petition outside the Brattleboro Food Co-op requesting that the Vermont Legislature call for an independent safety assessment of this aging nuclear power plant.

Much to my shock and dismay, several months later I received an irate call from one of Youth Services' board members, who was the co-chair of one of the organization's key special events, our annual golf tournament. Entergy - the event's lead sponsor for years - was going to withdraw the $2,500 in sponsorship money that covered the fundraiser's costs, the voice on the other end of the line barked at me.

Incredulously, I asked why.

“Because of you,” barked the caller. “Because you signed a petition.”

Shortly thereafter, the chairman of the agency's board of directors and the executive director called me into a meeting. They asked me if I had signed a petition. I told them I had. I also told them that I was horrified that something I had done as a public citizen - after hours and on my own personal time - would result in Youth Services being financially penalized.

Having spent eight years working hard to raise money for the agency, and having elevated the organization's fundraising operation and public image and stature considerably during my tenure, I found it very disheartening that Entergy would stoop so low as to collect petitions and pull the names of people like me off them so they could slap us around.   

Nevertheless, I did have the presence of mind to tell the board chair, whom I respected a lot, and the executive director that I suspected that after Entergy had yanked us around and made their point, the company would come through with the corporate sponsorship money. And, sure enough, several months later, that's exactly what they did.

Unfortunately, I know of other nonprofits and individuals that also have been slapped around by Entergy.  I also know of several nonprofits that refuse to take money from Entergy because of the strings they know are implicitly attached.

Consequently, it always strikes me as a pathetic sham when organizations that benefit from Entergy's so-called corporate generosity attend public hearings - after receiving phone calls from Entergy staffers requesting their attendance - and expound on what a wonderful, philanthropic organization Entergy is. Many of us who have worked  - or work - for nonprofits know the risks of speaking otherwise.

Clearly, Entergy employs many good people. I can personally attest to that. As a staff member at Youth Services, I worked closely with several board members who were part of Entergy's management team. They were good people, community-minded people, just like me, and I enjoyed working with them.

But all of us should condemn any - and all - efforts to shut down a free, thorough, and unfettered discussion about whether Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee is a good deal for Vermonters from a fiscal, environmental, and energy point of view. 

I resent the fact that Entergy tried to shut me down. And I resent the fact that the Department of Public Service is impeding Arnie Gunderson's ability to do the job Senator Shumlin appointed him to do. And you should, too.

Because every time one of us gets shut down or slapped around, the discussion of whether extending Entergy's license to operate for another 20 years is in Vermonters' best interest is diminished. All of us need to be able to speak our minds freely and openly - without fear of recrimination - regarding what we believe is in our community's best interest.

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