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Backlash over governor's 'bonehead' comment - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Backlash over governor's 'bonehead' comment

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

"A huge slap in the face," said Shelley Martin, the president of the Vermont State Employees Association.

The VSEA union president is talking about a comment Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, made Wednesday in Bennington, calling VTrans workers "boneheads" for attempting to enforce Vermont's billboard ban. The workers want to take down a Bennington sign celebrating the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling team's 25 years of championships, saying it's in violation.

"They're out there in every kind of weather there is. They are the heroes of Irene. I work with those folks on a daily basis and it's just unfortunate that the statement was made," said Jeff Trowt, an AOT worker.

"AOT workers go out on a regular basis to take care of our state and right now we are heading into the winter, and without them we would be totally closed down," Martin said.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter told us VTrans workers are upset about the governor's comments, but also says the governor has repeatedly spoken positively about their work. She added the workers were just being asked to enforce the laws that are currently on the books.

"People here are upset and as I have been explaining to them, you know, I don't believe this is a reflection on how our governor feels about our agency or our employees. You know, I have heard him speak impassionedly on many, many occasions about the great work we do," Minter said.

Although the governor is not required to sign a code of ethics himself, he does expect those who work in state jobs to adhere to a code of respect. The Executive Code of Ethics issued in 2011 states that "appointees shall always treat each other, employees, staff, volunteers, and the public with dignity, respect, and courtesy."

Shumlin declined our request for a phone interview. He is in Washington for the Democratic Governors Association. But he did issue this statement: "I believe that when moms and dads and communities are supporting their kids and celebrating 25 years of winning the state wrestling championship, that's not the time to rain on their parade. Nothing about this disagreement should detract from the high regard I have for my AOT crews and staff, who are the best in the nation. Congratulations to members of the wrestling team for their remarkable championship run.

David Jones, a business professor at the University of Vermont, says when leaders use a word that can be interpreted as derogatory, sometimes they are the ones who can be hurt the most.

"There's overwhelming evidence that when employees feel disrespected by their leader they are far more likely to engage in revenge against that leader, counterproductive behaviors," Jones said.

Even Shumlin's longtime Democratic confidantes are angry about the controversial comment. Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County, chairs the Transportation Committee. He told WCAX News the governor was out of order.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: Were you upset when you heard about it?

Sen. Dick Mazza: Very upset. That's not the way we operate in Vermont. I don't want to see that in the future.

The comments came following AOT regional traffic investigator Joseph Kelly sending an email to Town Manager Stuart Hurd requesting that the sign be taken down "as soon as possible." Vermont's billboard ban has been in effect for 45 years.

Related Story:

Shumlin calls some AOT workers 'boneheads'

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