Resident charges Vermont Pure conflict of interest

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(Host) Opponents of plans to expand operations at Vermont Pure Springs in Randolph Center say two members of the local Development Review Board should have excused themselves from the permit process. Last month, after the board approved the expansion, it was revealed that two members own stock in Vermont Pure.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Last summer, a small group of Randolph Center residents fought Vermont Pure’s plans to increase the size and number of trucks used to haul water on an unpaved residential road, where the company’s main spring is located. After two public hearings, the Randolph Development Review Board gave the go-ahead. The plans still need Act 250 approval.

Joan Sax lives along the route driven by the Vermont Pure tanker trucks. At a recent Development Review Board meeting, Sax asked if any board members owned stock in the company.

(Sax) “It just seemed to me that the decision was so one-sided for a number of reasons, that it occurred to me that maybe people there had a financial interest in the outcome. And that’s why I asked.”

(Zind) Two board members told Sax they owned small amounts of Vermont Pure stock. Sax says that’s clearly a conflict of interest.

(Sax) “They should have recused themselves on that decision.”

(Zind) Sax says the board should go back to square one in Vermont Pure review process.

Joel Tillberg has been on the Randolph Development Review Board for eight years. Tillberg says he and his wife own 100 shares of Vermont Pure. The stock is currently trading at about $4 a share. The Development Review Board’s Rules of Procedure state that members should recuse themselves if they have a direct personal financial stake in a matter before the board. But Tillberg says it’s a matter of degree. He doesn’t see a conflict of interest in owing a small amount of Vermont Pure stock:

(Tillberg) “I really resent the implication that I’m willing to sell out my morals or any kind of principles or the laws of the state of Vermont or the rules of Randolph for $350 bucks.”

(Zind) Tillberg was out of town when the board held hearings last summer, but he says he would not have recused himself, and he wouldn’t have thought to mention his shares of Vermont Pure. He says it’s hard to avoid the appearance of conflict in a small town like Randolph.

(Tillberg) “I know virtually everybody who comes before the board to get a permit. Do I need to recuse myself for everything?”

(Zind) Opponents of Vermont Pure’s plans say they’ll meet this week to decide what steps to take in light of the disclosure.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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