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Burlington Telecom Seeks Delay in Civil Case (Again) 

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again. And again. And …

For the sixth time, Burlington Telecom is asking Superior Court Judge Helen Toor to delay a civil court case filed by two disgruntled Burlington taxpayers.

Instead of Toor, BT wants the Vermont Public Service Board to weigh in on proposed fixes to its financial and regulatory problems first — fixes the city has yet to propose to the PSB.

The city is expected to update the PSB later this week on its efforts to restructure its finances and potentially find a new business partner.

The civil suit — filed last year — seeks immediate repayment of the $16.9 million BT borrowed from the city’s “cash pool” to prop up the struggling muni telecom. It also names Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold as a defendant, and he is potentially on the hook to repay some of the money. Leopold sought, and was denied, immunity from the lawsuit.

Leopold offered a tempered, and brief, apology to city taxpayers two weeks ago when he announced his resignation, which is effective June 30.

According to its original certificate of public good, BT was required to repay the money within 60 days and it failed to do so. Last year, the city agreed to a court order barring BT from incurring additional debt to the city.

The two taxpayers, Fred Osier and Gene Shaver, argue that the city is currently in contempt of that order.

How so? In December, the city revealed that it paid $227,795 to consultants Dorman & Fawcett to renegotiate BT’s lease with CitiCapital, along with roughly $9000 in other BT-related expenses — all out of the city’s general fund. The city defended those payments, claiming the consultants’ work benefited the city, not just BT.

The taxpayers’ attorney, Norman Williams, disagrees.

“There should be nothing coming out of the general fund to support Burlington Telecom,” said Williams. “BT should stand on its own.”

A hearing on the contempt charge is set for May 23, unless the judge grants the stay. Toor has denied BT’s requests for stays five previous times. BT's latest request was filed April 15. Williams filed his response last Friday.

As Williams notes in his brief asking the judge to deny BT’s request, "Defendants' Motion for Continuance recalls Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: 'Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.'"

Sounds like BT's business plan these days.

A separate criminal review being conducted by Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan is near completion. His office interviewed more than 15 people earlier this year and is now wading through testimony and state law to determine what, if any, laws were broken and if any charges will be filed.

Donovan was handed the case last November, after the previous prosecutor — Orleans County State's Attorney Keith Flynn — was named Vermont's public safety commissioner by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

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Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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