Back in May, Seven Days published a controversial cover story about Democratic Chittenden County Senator Ed Flanagan . In the article, entitled “Continuing Ed,”  staff writer Ken Picard  chronicled Flanagan’s peculiar behavior under the Golden Dome — from sorting candies on his committee room desk to laying prone on the floor — in the wake of a traumatic brain injury he suffered in 2005. The article raised questions about Flanagan’s ability to serve effectively as a lawmaker.
Two months later, Flanagan announced his intention to run for lieutenant governor in 2010.
It looks like Flanagan, who served for eight years as state auditor, won’t be campaigning at the local gym. This week the Greater Burlington YMCA  suspended Flanagan’s membership after two patrons witnessed him masturbating in the men’s wellness center — an adults-only locker room that includes a sauna, steam room, showers, whirlpool and a limited selection of fitness equipment.
Y officials told “Fair Game” it’s not the first time patrons have complained about Flanagan’s unorthodox behavior. The latest one to come forward, Tiki Archambeau , agreed to talk publicly about the incident.
Archambeau said he and another Y patron encountered Flanagan masturbating on a bench between the Y’s sauna and nearby showers on Friday. They immediately lodged a complaint with Kevin Hatin, the Y’s director of health and fitness.
“When I first saw it, it freaked me out a little bit,” said Archambeau. “At one point I asked him, ‘Ed, are you all right over there?’ And, he said, ‘Oh, I’m fine I’m just laying down for a few minutes,’ and then he trailed off. That was my attempt to get him to stop. But he didn’t.”
After verifying with another man in the locker room to be sure he hadn’t imagined the incident, Archambeau filed a formal complaint.
“We are investigating the complaint. It’s something we take very seriously,” said Mary Burns, the Y’s president and CEO. “Our goal is to keep our members safe.”
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Flanagan could be permanently banned from the Y. “Our membership policy does state that we can terminate a member for inappropriate behavior,” said Burns.
In an effort to corroborate Archambeau’s story, Seven Days contacted several other fitness center members and a former Y employee.
Alex Nief , a former evening manager at the Y, said members regularly complained to him about Flanagan’s behavior.
“Almost every single night when he was there, people would complain,” said Nief, who left the YMCA in mid-May after working in the fitness part of the facility for more than a year. He now lives in New York City.
Earlier this year, two different patrons — in one day — told Nief they found Flanagan touching himself inappropriately in the men’s sauna.
More concerning — to Nief, anyway — was Flanagan’s safe use of the equipment. Nief recalls one night when Flanagan fell off the treadmill so many times that Nief had to monitor the senator until he finished his routine.
“He would take these really bad falls, but he wouldn’t stop. He was so stubborn and really wanted to finish his routine. But, his footfalls were barely keeping pace with the treadmill,” said Nief.
Burns confirmed that Nief filed an incident report about Flanagan’s inability to stay on the treadmill, but said she was unaware of the other incidents.
Archambeau said he decided to go public because he doesn’t think Flanagan’s actions should be excused, or allowed to continue. No Y member should have to confront that kind of behavior, he said.
“The Y’s been great so far in how they’ve handled my complaint,” said Archambeau. “What Ed did is just not right.”
This is not the first time Archambeau has seen more of Flanagan than he bargained for.
Several weeks ago, Archambeau and others came into the men’s wellness center and found Flanagan on the treadmill. He was wearing shoes, socks, a watch — and nothing else.
“I don’t have any political reason for coming forward. I frankly agree with all of Ed’s votes,” said Archambeau. “I’m not out to bring the guy down, but this behavior was disturbing and not right to be happening in public.”
Several other Y patrons, who did not want to give their names, said Flanagan’s actions made them uncomfortable. Burns acknowledged that Friday’s complaint was not the first about the senator.
In his May interview with Picard, Flanagan dismissed allegations that his judgement is compromised as a result of his accident. His colleagues on both sides of the aisle vouched for his abilities. In light of these recent revelations, I wonder if Flanagan’s supporters will reconsider their blind faith in his ability to handle the rigors of public office without some additional supervision and support.
Minutes before press time, Flanagan told “Fair Game” there is no truth to the allegations. “It’s totally bizarre and untrue,” said Flanagan. “I don’t know where this is coming from. I don’t think it’s political, but I don’t really understand it. I’m not even going to try to understand why this is going on.” He added, “I’m just not going to go [to the Y] anymore. I’m going to go to another gym.”
UPDATE: Flanagan says he's "very sorry" if he offended anyone. Click here for the story on Blurt. 
UPDATE: YMCA sends email to reassure members. Click here for the story. 
UPDATE (by Ken Picard): YMCA management knew about other incidents involving Flanagan. Click here for the story. 
Running Roughshod — A proposal to allow all-terrain vehicles on state lands has put enviros and off-road enthusiasts on a collision course.
At issue is whether ATVs should be permitted on small parcels of state land so riders can connect to trails on private land. Currently, Vermont does not allow ATVs on any public lands, although there have been proposals to do so in the past.
Those proposals were mostly shot down by Agency of Natural Resources  staff, including Jonathan Wood, the former commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation . Now that he’s ANR secretary, Wood has changed his position: He’s pushing for broad authority to allow ATVs on public land.
The agency has since been flooded with thousands of angry letters from Vermonters who oppose Wood’s logic.
“There is significant illegal riding on private and public land especially in southern Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom,” acknowledged Wood. “I think that’s why you are seeing the negative reaction.”
Wood hopes that by allowing ATVs on public land he will give people a “place to ride legally and bring illegal riders in the fold.” Wood hopes ATV clubs will help the state “curb the illegal land use.”
Interesting idea, but that’s not been the experience in Minnesota. According to a three-part series in the Minnesota Star-Tribune , state officials there opened up thousands of acres of land to ATV use five years ago with the goal of decreasing illegal trail riding. Today, state workers have to devote more and more time to chasing down riders who veer off public trails and trash the surroundings.
As one illegal rider put it after being ticketed for driving in a wetland, “I still don’t think it was a wetland. It was just a trail with mud on it.”
Now, that’s stewardship.
Why put added stress on ANR when already its ranks have been depleted with layoffs?
The Wall Street Journal  recently noted several states are looking to open up public lands to ATVs as a way to boost tourism revenues.
Good plan. We get some green by turning our hillsides brown.
Out of the Public Eye — This week, many Vermont developers and their lobbyists will get a private audience with top state regulators.
But don’t expect to read about it in your local paper.
The lobbying group Associated Industries of Vermont  (AIV) is hosting a “Development and Environmental Regulation Seminar” Thursday at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier. The press isn’t invited.
During the daylong seminar, developers will hear updates on proposed changes to state archaeology rules from John Kessler, the top lawyer at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and Tayt Brooks, deputy commissioner at the Department of Economic Development, Housing and Community Affairs.
As “Fair Game” has noted  in previous columns, some archaeologists believe the changes could jeopardize hundreds of historic sites.
Developers will also hear from two ANR officials, including that agency’s top lawyer, Warren Coleman, about changes to stormwater and groundwater rules.
All of these comfy confabs will be “off the record,” according to William Driscoll, AIV’s vice president.
“A lot of the issues we deal with lend themselves to attendees sharing experiences or problems that can be very helpful to discuss, but folks can sometimes be reluctant to do that if press are in the room (or they don’t trust the agency people there),” noted Driscoll in an email. “I’m sure you can appreciate that.”
Who cares if public officials sit down with the industries they regulate to talk about changes in laws and regs?
I mean, really, what could go wrong?
Shitty Severance — I know, I know: I shouldn’t kick a newspaper when it’s down. We all know it’s been a tough year for the parent company of the Burlington Free Press. Gannett Co., Inc. is saddled with debt that no one seems to want to refinance. Meanwhile, Gannett’s advertising revenues have dropped 32 percent.
So the corporation cut jobs and trimmed costs, finishing the second quarter with a $70 million profit.
This week, however, the New York Times revealed the lengths to which Gannett has gone to shore up the bottom line.
Rather than providing one full week’s severance pay for each year of service, as the media giant did last year to laid-off workers, Gannett is doling out only enough severance pay to cover the gap between a laid-off worker’s unemployment check and their last full paycheck.
In Vermont, the maximum unemployment benefit you can receive is $425 per week.
So, if Gannett is making a profit, why are we taxpayers being asked to shoulder the burden of their layoffs?
And the Freeps likes to bitch about the socialists in Burlington City Hall.
Media Notes — Plenty of comings and goings at Vermont news outlets these days.
On Monday, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus  announced that Steven Pappas was replacing Sue Allen as editor. Allen, who has been running the Argus newsroom since late 2006, is going to be reporting again.
“I’m excited about returning to writing and adding even more community news,” Allen said in a release. She’s been a longtime fixture in the Vermont media, having worked for the Associated Press and Burlington Free Press. Allen also served as press secretary for former Gov. Howard Dean.
Pappas has worked as the paper’s capital city reporter, deputy editor and, most recently, as editor of the Times Argus/Rutland Herald Sunday edition.
The station’s owners, based in Alexandria, Virginia, own a local 24-hour cable news channel, a network news affiliate and the popular political website Politico . All under one roof, too. Sounds exciting.
Last but not least, this week the Vermont Daily News hit the stands — the virtual stands, that is. The online daily “newspaper” is the brainchild of longtime news photog Alden Pellett and a “small group of people.” The goal of the site, Pellett said, is to compete with the region’s daily media — the ranks of which are thinning.
Countdown with Howard — Add TV host to the resumé of Vermont’s ex-Gov. Howard Dean. The former presidential candidate and chairman of the Democratic National Committee is the guest host of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”  Tuesday and Wednesday on MSNBC.
Perhaps if this whole health-care-reform business doesn’t work out, he can audition for his own show.
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