Rice Speaks at Norwich Amid Protests

 Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at Norwich University.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at Norwich University.

 Protesters gather at the Norwich University entrance.

Protesters gather at the Norwich University entrance.

Protesters sprinkled throughout a crowd yelled, "They tortured people!" and "Condi lied, people died!" during former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's remarks at Norwich University Thursday morning. A standing ovation from the crowd ultimately interrupted the protesters' shouts and they were escorted outside.

Rice, a key leader in the Bush administration who advocated for invading Iraq, told the audience that the U.S. must continue to be a global influence.

"The U.S. has to lead and step up. Why? Because we're the most powerful country in the world," she said. "We also represent an idea. It doesn't matter where you came from, it's where you're going."

She structured her speech around four shocks that she feels have influenced today's politics: the September 11 attacks, the financial crisis of 2008, the Arab Spring and what she called "Great powers behaving badly." She cited Vladimir Putin as an example, calling him a "humiliator and intimidator," and adding: "He's not the only great power behaving badly."

"People have had enough with an authoritarian, dynastic regime," Rice said. "People are seizing their rights. Democracy takes time, we need to be patient with people on that journey as it continues to be a journey for all of us."

A key topic in Rice's speech, a Q&A that followed and the protesters' shouts was Rice's role in pushing to invade Saddam Hussein's Iraq. 

"We did not invade Iraq to bring democracy. We invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't theoretical. He'd used them before," Rice said.

Although much of her talk focused on foreign affairs, she touched on issues including immigration reform and inequality. "The K-12 crisis is the single greatest crisis the U.S. faces today. Education is the key to fixing inequality," Rice said.

Speaking outside, activists were critical of Rice's justifications for invading Iraq.

"Condoleezza Rice, as national security advisor, authorized the attack on Iraq based on lies. There was no weapon of mass destruction, there were no chemical weapons, there were no al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq, there was no authorization from the United Nations, but she was part of the team that approved that invasion," said protester Andy Schoerke, one of those escorted outside.

Dave Ross, one of two protest organizers, disapproved of Rice speaking at a Norwich lecture series. "She's a war criminal, she should be on trial, not being held up as this wonderful, patriotic citizen to the next generation of American military leaders," he said.

Originally published on the Off Message Blog for Seven Days, June 19, 2014.


Meeting in Alaska creates concern

 MWD General Manager answers resident questions during a 2016 board meeting. Stephenson said the scheduled board meeting in Alaska is not a Brown Act violation. 

MWD General Manager answers resident questions during a 2016 board meeting. Stephenson said the scheduled board meeting in Alaska is not a Brown Act violation. 

The Big Bear Municipal Water District could have a potential Brown Act violation after releasing a notice of a special meeting to be held in Anchorage, Alaska.

Two MWD staff members and at least three board members are scheduled to tour the William Jack Hernandez Fish Hatchery in Anchorage at 9 a.m. Jan. 30. General Manager Mike Stephenson, lake manager James Bellis, board president John Eminger, and board members Vince Smith and Bob Ludecke are slated to attend. Board member Mary Ann Lewis declined and board member Charlie Brewster is undecided as of press time, Stephenson said.

Nikki Moore, legal counsel at the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said the Brown Act requires all regular and special meetings of a board to be held within the boundaries of the territory over which an agency presides, according to government code 54954(b). “They are not allowed to do this,” Moore said.

There are seven exemptions to that code, and Moore said none of them apply in this case. One exception allows agencies to leave the governing territory if board members need to inspect property under its jurisdiction that cannot be brought within the territory, she said.

“I don’t think that counts here because even though we’re talking about a fish hatchery, we’re really talking about an operation,” Moore said.

Stephenson said he ran the meeting through his legal counsel and was told it was acceptable.

“All of these exemptions are really saying if you need to go to the next county over,” Moore said. “They’re not saying go to Alaska. Unless they’re going to buy the hatchery in Alaska, there’s no provision that allows them to go hold a meeting there.”

Moore said there is also a potential argument that there is a misuse of taxpayer funds.

“None of the citizens are going to be able to attend this meeting, and that’s the whole point of the Brown Act,” Moore said. “Essentially, what they’re doing is they’re having a closed meeting in Alaska, that’s what they’re effectuating here, which would be in violation of the (Brown) Act.”

Stephenson said the reason he made this an official meeting rather than a committee meeting or staff trip was because he will ultimately need full approval from the board to proceed with a hatchery in Big Bear. He said this was the most efficient and cost-effective way to get everybody up to speed.

“We’re just trying to learn a little bit more about some ins and outs of what it takes to raise fish and if we can afford to and if it’s a cost benefit for us to do it,” Stephenson said.

After they return, Stephenson said he will schedule a committee meeting to go over the information gathered from the trip.

“The cost of fish is going through the roof,” Stephenson said, noting that they are $5 a pound now, up from $2 a pound. “I know I can raise them cheaper than that.”

Stephenson said the public is welcome to attend. There are no arrangements for video, audio or livestreaming the meeting. Stephenson and Bellis will provide minutes from the meeting.

The MWD staff and board members plan to fly out of Ontario Sunday, Jan. 29 and return Tuesday, Jan. 31.

The round-trip flights are approximately $300 each and the hotel rooms are approximately $100 each, Stephenson said. The board members would use their travel expense account to pay for the trip, which Stephenson said has not been used yet this year.

“I convinced them that it was OK,” Stephenson said. “It’s important enough.”

Originally published in the Big Bear Grizzly, Jan. 18, 2017. This article received third place for local government coverage in the California News Publishers Association's 2017 California Journalism Awards in the 4,300 to 11,000 circulation category. 


Transitioning to a better life

DOVES program helps survivors get back on their feet

 Stock Image

Stock Image

Domestic violence survivor Jessica was married to her husband for 31 years. “My husband had gotten increasingly more abusive — verbally and emotionally — and so I hit the deal breaker when he had an affair,” Jessica said.

Jessica was battling cancer at the time and said her husband was a toxic influence on her life. She needed to remove her daughter and herself from the situation.

Jessica is not her real name. Her name is being withheld for her protection.

“We both had to get out of the circumstance because he allowed my son to be physically and emotionally abusive,” Jessica said.

Jessica’s husband would never lift or lay a finger to her but encouraged their teenage son to grab and punch instead. She recalls one time where her husband and son took $5,500 that was supposed to go toward their daughter’s post-grad cruise. When Jessica’s daughter challenged them on the whereabouts of the vacation money, Jessica’s husband scolded her daughter and let Jessica’s son punch her daughter.

Jessica recalled her husband saying to her daughter, “‘That’ll teach you, you’ll never get in a man’s face again.’ Can you imagine a parent doing that,” Jessica said.

When Jessica left, she didn’t know where to turn. She called 211, which provided her with contact information for DOVES, the domestic violence nonprofit in Big Bear.

“They were really warm and understanding, and they set me up to see a counselor for an intake,” Jessica said about DOVES. “I was, of course, emotionally in a million pieces.”

Jessica started driving up the hill to receive counseling, and helped her daughter receive counseling. She then entered the group program, where there were other women who could relate to her experiences.

Jessica was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. That was a tool her husband used to make her completely dependent on him financially. “It’s a slow process, and you don’t see it coming,” Jessica said. “And for some reason they (abusers) make it make sense. I don’t know how to explain that, and you find yourself so vulnerable. And you need to find a way to get out, but it’s hard when you’re not working and haven’t worked for a number of years, and you don’t have information to put on your résumé.”

Jessica married young. She was in her mid- 50s when she started over. “I had given up on my career and my dreams, and his dreams became the priority for the family,” Jessica said.

DOVES’ transitional housing program helped Jessica for more than a year as she got back on her feet. The program helped with rent and also supplemented food and gas expenses.

“They were there for me when I really needed it,” Jessica said. “Because not all women have the support of friends and family, and I didn’t, so they became my support network.”

DOVES offers two options for individuals in its transitional housing program, which lasts for up to two years for each participant. Survivors can opt for the income-based budget program, which subsidizes approximately 30 percent of their income toward rent, utilities, childcare, gas and other needs. This is the program that helped support Jessica during her year and a half with DOVES. The nonprofit organization also leases buildings for individuals or families to rent and is in escrow in its first duplex. In these situations, participants pay a $450 program fee instead of rent.

Individuals often cannot afford to leave their abusive partners, said DOVES transitional advocate Becca Flores. “It is such a complex issue that is more than ‘why doesn’t she just leave,’” she said.

Finding enough reasonably priced housing is a challenge for DOVES. With a limited and often costly housing and rental market in Big Bear, demand exceeds supply. “We’re always brainstorming,” Flores said. “This is going to be a need that feels endless.”

Twenty-three families are participating in the DOVES transitional living program right now. Flores works with real estate agents to find possible rentals or homes for those in the program, and is looking into more manufactured homes, which are a cost-effective option. “We need more properties, period,” she said.

As for Jessica, she and her daughter are doing well three years after leaving Jessica’s husband. “We’re really healthier emotionally,” Jessica said. “We’re safe. We have great futures in front of us.”

Jessica’s daughter is a full-time college student, and Jessica has reestablished a relationship with her son, who left her former husband’s home a little more than a year ago. He is no longer violent.

Jessica said the DOVES program was a blessing for her and her daughter.

“I need women to know, like myself, they don’t have to continue to stay,” Jessica said. “They’re worth something. They’re worthwhile. They’re very important, and they don’t deserve all that negativity. They don’t deserve the abuse.”

For more information on DOVES, visit www.doves4help.org or call 909-866-1546. DOVES’ 24/7 hotline is 800-851-7601.

Originally published in the Big Bear Grizzly, Oct. 11, 2017.


 Pastor Dianne Finnecy greets members Feb. 4 during a Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church service.

Pastor Dianne Finnecy greets members Feb. 4 during a Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church service.

Leading the pray

Female voices at the Big Bear pulpit

Most of the 15-plus religious organizations in Big Bear Valley are led by men. But a few women are breaking the mold to serve as spiritual leaders for their congregations.

The Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church and Bear Valley Center for Spiritual Enrichment are two of those organizations with women at the helm.

Pastor Dianne Finnecy guides the 40-plus members of the Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church. With a little more than six months under her belt, she’s relatively new to her church, but she’s not new to male-dominated industries. Prior to this role, Finnecy served as a public defender in San Diego County.

“Literally it is a calling,” Finnecy says of becoming a pastor. “I prayed, and I asked God, ‘what is it you want me to do when I retire?’ I heard very clearly, ‘I need you to become a pastor.’”

That’s not the only calling Finnecy needed to fulfill her destiny. The church itself must call upon a new pastor, and the Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church called upon Finnecy to lead their church. They chose her to be their first female pastor.

Finnecy knows Big Bear is where she’s supposed to be. “I’ve always come to the mountains,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to the mountains.”

Finnecy says the Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church is very inclusive and welcomes everybody. “What I really want is the church to be visible, not just as a church, but as somewhere for people to be welcomed,” she says. “When we get a little bigger, I want to help do more in the community.”

Since Finnecy is used to being a woman in a sea of male leaders, she feels like she’s able to act with authority when younger female pastors struggle with it more. Her main challenges come with being a new pastor and meeting expectations based on the former pastor. “Ten percent of all clergy are women, because a lot of clergy don’t allow women,” Finnecy says.

While Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church is more of a traditional service and religious organization, on the other side of the Valley is the Bear Valley Center for Spiritual Enrichment. The organization focuses on spirituality and offers a cozy, more casual environment. Its Feb. 4 services opened with an acoustic sing-along of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

“Our method of prayer is called affirmative prayer, or prayer treatment,” Nancy Walker says. “It’s different than most Christian traditions, because we don’t ask for something or beseech, or beg for it. What we do is we state the spiritual truth for the person that we know is true for them. Whether that be their perfect health, or perhaps their abundant life that they’re living.”

Walker is a religious science practitioner with Bear Valley Center for Spiritual Enrichment. Walker is relatively new to leading her organization as well. About a year ago she decided to become a practitioner, which means she leads the service. A guest speaker or minister gives a talk, and the practitioner introduces each part of the service. But Walker isn’t done there. She’s studying to become a minister and taking classes through the Emerson Theological Institute.

“I love to learn and grow,” Walker says. “I think that’s why we’re here on this planet in the first place. We’re born creators, and as long as we’re expanding and growing, and we’re excited about it, we’re going to stick around.”

Walker doesn’t believe she faces many challenges as a female religious leader. “But that’s probably just me,” she says. “I’ve never really seen any gender bias at all. There’s a lot of women ministers in our faith.”

She says the more liberal way of thinking that goes along with her faith contributes to the opportunities for women in the organization. “I think women have a natural sense of being nurturers and helpers, and wanting to help people through whatever is going on in their life,” she says. “I think it’s a natural reaction, where it might not be the first reaction for a man, I don’t know.”

For those who want to get involved, just show up to any of the events. “We are an all-inclusive community, so we always say yes,” Walker says.

The Center for Spiritual Enrichment’s celebration service is Sundays at 11:30 a.m. at the center, meditation Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at a practitioner’s home, and a Buddhist monk-led meditation at the center from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit www.bvcse.org.

Bear Valley Center for Spiritual Enrichment is at 578 Bonanza Trail, Big Bear Lake.

The Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church holds its weekly services at the Seventh-day Adventist Church, hosts weekly Coffee with the Pastor gatherings Thursdays at 10 a.m. at Moonridge Coffee Company, and hosts Simple Suppers the first and third Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. at the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For more information, visit www.facebook. com/sopbigbear.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is at 349 East North Shore Drive, Big Bear City.

Originally published in the Big Bear Grizzly, Feb. 7, 2018.


  The mural at the Crate Escape, Too in South Burlington

The mural at the Crate Escape, Too in South Burlington

Daycare With a View: A Muralist Goes to the Dogs

A daycare center for dogs might not seem like an obvious location for artwork, but the Crate Escape, Too in South Burlington is upending expectations. Soon "Champlain Valley Pawnorama," by local muralist Tara Goreau, will greet canines and their humans along a 140-foot wall in the facility's playroom. It will open for public viewing this Saturday, June 28.

"It's a great wall, and there is so much room to paint in there," says Goreau. "I was surprised because at first I thought the main audience would be dogs, who are possibly colorblind. But after being there for a while, I noticed that [the mural] might just brighten the space."

The decision to add the artwork came about during a series of updates and renovations at the Crate Escape, Too. "I knew that there could be a lot of growth in this business — especially if you add ... beautification projects to a dog facility," explains facilities manager Colin Dunn. "You know, dogs don't want to look at cement. Dogs want to look at what we want to look at."

The mural actually spans five walls in the main playroom at the daycare and depicts four seasons of Vermont — somewhat like the mural Goreau painted earlier this year at the entrance of Burlington's City Market. In this one, of course, plenty of dogs roam the scene.

  Artist Tara Goreau in her studio on Pine Street

Artist Tara Goreau in her studio on Pine Street

Goreau says this is the biggest mural she's ever created. It's painted on a series of 4-by-8-foot wooden boards so that, if the company ever changes locations, the owners can take the mural with them.

"Instead of just putting in drywall, [Dunn] installed panels that can be easily removed, just in case," she says. "It is a bit of an investment." Goreau was paid "around $4,000" for her work.

Although the two had only planned for the four-seasons mural, Goreau had some extra time and added a Burlington sunset. "I think my favorite part is the sunset scene and Burlington skyline," she says. "I usually don't do sunsets, and I was just kind of having fun."

Goreau normally uses house paint, but to make the work dog-friendly, she added "basically a floor varnish, just to protect it," she says.

Dunn, who is all too familiar with messes dogs can make, is pleased. "You can spray it with whatever you want; it's super durable," he notes.

Aesthetically, Dunn says he just thought that having some art on the walls would be a good idea — "first of all for the dogs, second of all for everyone that works here, and third, just to get everyone interested in the Crate Escape," he says. "It's a great way to show that we are involved in where we live."

Tara Goreau's mural will be revealed at an open house on Saturday, June 28, noon to 5 p.m. at the Crate Escape, Too, 5 Green Mountain Drive, in South Burlington.

Originally published in Seven Days, June 25, 2014.