In an opinion issued Friday, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled against agroup of citizens who challenged the sale of Burlington Telecom. The decision effectively ends the years-long litigation in the case.
The state's highest court unanimously affirmed the Vermont Public Utility Commission's February 2019 decision to approve the $30.8 million sale of the city-owned telecom to Indiana-based Schurz Communications, which does business locally as Champlain Broadband.
Six citizen intervenors — Sandra Baird, Jared Carter, Dean Corren, Steven Goodkind, Solveig Overby and Shay Totten — had argued that the deal failed to recoup the $16.9 million in taxpayer funds that city officials improperly spent to keep the telecom afloat. The group appealed the PUC's ruling last October, asking the Supreme Court to either undo the sale or to require Champlain Broadband to reimburse the city the lost $16.9 million.
The court's 13-page ruling said either of those options "would be tantamount to rewriting and effectively unwinding the sale agreement that the PUC determined would promote public good." If the court forced Champlain Broadband to pay up, that would significantly reduce the "city's portion of the net proceeds of any future sale," according to the order.
James Dumont, a Bristol-based attorney who represented the intervenors, said Friday afternoon that he'd only skimmed the ruling and was "not in a position to give any useful comment." Dumont said he hadn't yet discussed the ruling with his clients.
Carter, one of the intervenors, said he was disappointed in the decision.
"I think it's a loss for the city in a lot of ways," he said. "I just hope that now that the tragedy is closed in the legal sense that at least the city can move forward and use the funds to invest and make sure it has a voice at the table."
Indeed, the city has until March 11 to use its proceeds from the sale to purchase a membership interest in Champlain Broadband. The city council will discuss the matter at a meeting Tuesday.
In a Friday afternoon press release, Mayor Miro Weinberger hailed the ruling as "the final word."
"The decade-long Burlington Telecom crisis is over, and our solution promotes the public good by preserving high-speed internet choice for Burlingtonians and saving BT users and taxpayers many millions of dollars," he wrote.
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood said in an email that "we are very happy" with the decision.
"This ends 10 years of litigation and uncertainty for BT customers and employees and recovers a portion of the City taxpayers’ investment, while finalizing the resolution of any liability to Citibank," she wrote.