By Jaime Heins
I’d like to introduce myself to many of you and briefly explain why I voted in favor of the decision to appeal the Dec. 7, 2017 U.S. District Court’s decision issued by Judge Sessions in the Vermont Railway, Inc. v. Town of Shelburne matter.
We chose to move to Shelburne to live and raise our school-aged children surrounded by the natural beauty of Vermont. I am an avid user and steward of our beautiful outdoors, but also a strong advocate for economic growth, having worked in senior roles for two local industry leaders, Burton Snowboards and Keurig Green Mountain. While I cannot legally share all the information I am privy to as a selectboard member, I will try to summarize my rationale to place you as best as I can in my shoes.
The Law and the Facts. In deference to the court, I think it’s inappropriate and unprofessional for me to publicly comment on Judge Sessions’ decision now. Based on counsel from the town attorney, independent research, and communications with other attorneys experienced in federal appellate work, I believe that the legal merits of the appeal are sound. The federal judiciary is structured to provide for this very scenario allowing for a secondary layer of review and scrutiny to validate a trial court’s decision. Judges aren’t infallible. They make mistakes. One can never have 100 percent confidence in any litigation, so to suggest that a decision to appeal should only be made if we have 100 percent confidence in the trial court’s decision being overturned simply doesn’t reflect reality.
Local Control. As my voting record and activities on the Planning Commission show, I have always been an advocate for local control. For example, I helped draft and enact Shelburne’s solar siting ordinance that is designed to address overreach in state and federal legislation to give the town more of a voice in where solar generation facilities are sited on the landscape. I believe that it’s important to develop and enforce local regulations and ordinances to protect our natural resources, public welfare and our overall quality of life, and to address the potentially negative impacts of unfettered land development activities. We who live in this beautiful town should have more say over a facility that poses a threat to the health of our LaPlatte River and Lake Champlain ecosystems.
No Fiscal Impact to the Town. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision to accept the Vermont Natural Resources Council’s $20,000 donation for purposes of the appeal, the fact is that the funds in question were accepted by the selectboard in a public meeting and there is zero fiscal impact to the town associated with the decision to appeal. The town’s attorneys have capped their fees at $20,000. In other words, if they exceed that amount, the town won’t be charged a dime. Spending taxpayer money on this appeal was a non-starter for me. I think there are reasonable positions on both sides of the decision to accept the VNRC funds. In my mind, it’s analogous to accepting any other donation for a town asset (such as the new library, accepting a donation-in-kind of bullet-proof vests for the Police Department or, as is common practice in other towns, naming a municipal multi-purpose facility such as an ice skating rink in memory of a donor). In this case, the town “assets” are the LaPlatte watershed and resident quality of life. VNRC’s December 18, 2017 donation letter states that “our donation is strongly for the public purpose of supporting the Town.” It’s worth noting that prior to making a decision to accept the VNRC donation, the selectboard confirmed the legality of the town accepting such funds with the town attorney and the Vermont League of Cities and Town’s legal staff. If and when future third party funding situations like this arise, I’m comfortable with the five elected selectboard members (whoever they may be) making such decisions in the best interest of the town.
I look forward to discussing this and other issues with the community.
A former Planning Commissioner, Jaime Heins was appointed to the Shelburne selectboard in November.