By MADELINE HUGHES
Notorious public records requester and Vermont Republican Party Vice Chair Brady Toensing has filed a formal public records request with Shelburne Selectboard member Dr. Josh Dein related to Vermont Railway Inc.
At Tuesday night’s Selectboard meeting, Dein announced that he had received a written request asking for all of his emails pertaining to the Town of Shelburne’s legal case with Vermont Railway. Dein did not say who made the request.
Dein asked if anyone else on the board had received such a request.
No one answered.
After the meeting, the Shelburne News asked Dein to share the request, which he did.
In an email to Dein dated Sept. 10, Toensing wrote: “I request all communications with or related to David Wulfson, Vermont Railway or Barrett Trucking, and any communications received from or sent to (including blind copied to) any email addresses with the domain @vrs.us.com.”
Reached Wednesday morning Toensing told the Shelburne News: “Railways have always been of interest to me.”
He declined to comment further to explain what he might be seeking in Dein’s emails.
Wulfson is president of Vermont Railway. The railroad and the town have been in a prolonged legal battle since 2016 when the railroad decided to build a large storage and distribution center for road salt in Shelburne west of U.S. Route 7 and north of Shelburne village. The railroad did not seek local permitting review citing its federal privilege to be exempt from such scrutiny and the town in turn filed suit in federal court.
Two years later, the case is still ongoing with an appeal before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, filed in January by the town after U.S. District Court in Burlington found in favor of the railroad in December.
The court said an ordinance regarding handling and storing hazardous materials adopted by the town a year ago did not apply to the railroad.
The court also said the ordinance appeared to have been written to thwart the railroad’s operation that now has grown to two salt storage structures that together can hold up to 80,000 tons of road salt delivered by train and then trucked to customers around Vermont.
Town officials opposed the development for its lack of scrutiny and their concerns along with environmental advocates that the salt facility could harm the environment. The site is adjacent the LaPlatte River, its nearby marsh and Lake Champlain.
Dein has been on the Selectboard since March 2016. He became the target of his fellow board members’ disapproval in early 2017 when he was accused of divulging confidential information from the town’s legal strategy to the railroad.
The matter landed in Vermont District Court in February 2017 with three of the five board members calling for Dein’s removal from the Selectboard. That case was resolved with Dein remaining on the board with the understanding that he would not participate in any board business pertaining to the salt-shed project and Vermont Railway.
Since the dispute with other Selectboard members was settled, Dein has been excluded from closed-door meetings that the rest of the board has had with town lawyers about the case.
Dein has not voted on any matters before the board pertaining to the case, leaving the town with just four members of the five-member legislative body to make decisions about the town’s ongoing legal maneuvers.
“Since I probably know the least amount about this, I find it puzzling,” Dein said to the board.
A familiar strategy
Toensing made national news by requesting emails delving into past financial dealings by Jane Sanders – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.’s spouse – when she was president of Burlington College. He also focused on former Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s emails, a case that went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court. The high court ruled that public officials’ emails and text messages that pertain to public business but are sent on private channels are public records.
Dein uses a private gmail account for Selectboard business. Toensing requested documents from that and any other account Dein may have used in his role on the board.
Selectboard Chair Jerry Storey said Wednesday morning that the request has been forwarded to the town attorney. “The rest of us will learn the recommendation of how to proceed,” he said. “No one else received such a request. It’s a little mystifying.”
Town Attorney Claudine Safar said she received a copy of the records request on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning, she said she was not prepared to address the request when contacted by the Shelburne News.
Other Selectboard action
• Library demolition is set to begin any day. The town is “waiting for the bulldozer to get done with whatever it is currently bulldozing,” said Ruth Hagerman, chair of the Pierson Library board of trustees.
• The Ethics Committee presented to the board the final draft of the Conflict of Interest Policy for all town public officials. After it is reviewed by the town’s lawyer, the board will hold a public hearing on it.
• A public hearing on a proposed stormwater fee structure will held during the Sept. 25 Selectboard meeting.
The board has made appointments to several municipal committees:
• Patricia Fontaine to the Social Services Committee.
• Caroline Weaver to the Bikes, Pedestrians and Paths Committee.
• Roz Graham to the Dog Park Committee, made at the Sept. 4 meeting.
Shelburne News reporter Lisa Scagliotti contributed to this report.