by Mike Donoghue
GRAND ISLE — Grand Isle Town Attorney David W. Rugh has declined to provide the public more details about the “Cease and Desist” letter that he sent to Town Clerk and Treasurer Melissa Boutin following a report that she was using a special town rate and not paying taxes to purchase stone for her driveway at home.
The Islander reported last week about the two-page letter the Selectboard voted 5-0 to send to Boutin insisting that she not use her elected town positions to get special consideration while purchasing personal goods and services for herself.
Rugh, representing both ends of the dispute, had released the admonishment letter in response to a Vermont Public Records request by The Islander. Rugh also provided 14 files containing various emails about the incident, but most of them he blacked out claiming attorney-client privilege.
The blacked-out records also included a couple of emails exchanged between Selectboard members.
The Islander requested reconsideration of the excessive redacting and also asked Rugh how he was able to represent both sides in a legal dispute.
Rugh responded this week, but did not budge.
“We respectfully decline your invitation to alter the scope of the redactions in the responsive documents that were provided on October 31st in response to your Public Records Act requests, dated October 26th and October 27th…” he wrote.
It was unclear who Rugh was referring to when he said “we” because the Selectboard did not post any special meetings between the request to reconsider and his response.
Rugh went on to say that he thought, “The material that was redacted is either confidential and subject to the attorney-client privilege and/or were records of intra-departmental communications covering other than factual material and preliminary to the determination of policy or action. As a result, the redactions were proper” under sections of the law he cited.
He did not answer the legal question about representing both the sender of the “Cease and Desist” letter and the recipient of the letter.
Vermont Law School Professor Jared Carter had said last week licensed lawyers are urged in their legal practices to refrain from representing competing interests at the same time during a dispute.
He said the basic principle is to not represent concurrently two clients that have adverse interests to each other.
The town letter was sparked in part by a large load of crushed stone that was picked up on behalf of Boutin and delivered to her home on Adams Landing Road this summer, records show.
“It appears that the stone was invoiced to the Town, but you intercepted the invoice when it was received and paid for the stone you ordered on the Town’s account with a personal check,” Rugh wrote.
“While your conduct in this instance may not rise to the level of a crime, it appears you misrepresented that the stone would be for Town purposes and should be invoiced as such,” he said.
“It is highly inappropriate for an elected official to employ the Town’s resources and discounts for one’s own personal use,” Rugh wrote.
The 5 Selectboard agreed to have the letter sent to Boutin as clerk and treasurer, after meeting behind closed doors with Rugh on Oct. 16 for about a half hour.
The board adjourned that night without disclosing to the audience the specific details nor even the general nature of the proposed letter.
The Islander subsequently filed Vermont Public Records requests with both the Selectboard through its chair Jeff Parizo, and with Boutin, the intended letter recipient. The Islander sought copies of the letter and any relevant related documents.
Boutin used her own personal checking account to pay Beaver Creek Contracting of North Hero $350 for the 20 yards of stone on June 22, the public records show.
Boutin said she wished the Selectboard and town attorney had spoken to her privately.
However, Boutin is independently elected by town voters as both clerk and treasurer and the selectboard has almost no control over the two offices.
The public records disclosed by the town attorney included an audio recording of Boutin calling Beaver Creek Contracting in North Hero and asking for a load of stone that she said would have picked up by a tractor trailer later that day.
When ordering the stone, Boutin immediately identified herself as “Melissa calling from the town of Grand Isle” at the start of the one-minute recorded message. She left the phone number for the town clerk’s office twice and said she would have a tractor trailer arriving later that day to pick up the stone.
“We have done loads in the past and I believe it was at the town of Grand Isle’s pricing,” Boutin said on the recorded phone call.
Rugh, in the “Cease and Desist” letter, told Melissa Boutin it was inappropriate as a town official to seek special treatment.
“We can only assume you did this to receive the Town’s discounted rate for purchase of stone from this vendor for your personal use. To receive this discount, it appears you misrepresented initially that this purchase was for Town business and should be invoiced to the Town, but then misappropriated the stone for personal use,” Rugh wrote.
The bill from Beaver Creek was addressed to “Town of Grand Isle” and was sent to the attention of Brad Sheridan. Sheridan is the town’s road foreman.