Group Appeals Burlington Telecom Sale to Vermont Supreme Court | Off Message

Group Appeals Burlington Telecom Sale to Vermont Supreme Court


Updated at 2:50 p.m.

A citizens group is taking the city’s Burlington Telecom deal to the Vermont Supreme Court.

The group, collectively known as “citizen intervenors,” on Tuesday appealed the Vermont Public Utility Commission’s February 19 decision to green-light the $30.8 million sale to Indiana-based Schurz Communications.

Sandra Baird, Jared Carter, Dean Corren, Steven Goodkind, Solveig Overby and Shay Totten say the city’s net profit of about $7 million does not fully recoup the $16.9 million owed to city taxpayers. That figure dates back about a decade, when then-mayor Bob Kiss diverted city funds to keep the sinking telecom operation afloat.

The Burlington City Council approved the sale in November 2017, and the PUC issued a certificate of public good to Schurz, operating locally as Champlain Broadband, in February.

The citizens immediately promised an appeal but first filed a motion with the PUC in March. It asked the commission to reconsider its ruling based on the premise that both state law and the Burlington city charter prohibit saddling taxpayers with debt for telecom sales.
“It’s illegal for taxpayers to foot the bill for any of the costs,” said James Dumont, the Bristol attorney representing the group. “It’s not that it’s to be avoided; it’s illegal.”

The group also argued that there was no evidence the BT sale would produce the greatest return to taxpayers as per the city charter. The PUC denied the motion on April 12, saying the charter did not apply in this instance. Rather, it wrote, the sale must only “promote the general good of the state.”

Dumont said his clients appealed because these issues are still unresolved.

In an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Miro Weinberger said the intervenors’ appeals are costly and based on unfounded claims.

“If the intervenors cared about the lost $17 million they would join the councilors, regulators and community leaders who know that the current agreement represents a far better outcome for Burlingtonians and BT customers than anything thought possible seven years ago,” he wrote.

Weinberger predicted the court will uphold the BT deal, which he framed as “a lasting success worth tens of millions of dollars for taxpayers.”