For a second time in less than a month, the Hinesburg Selectboard is seeking legal action against a home that is serving as a commercial operation where it’s not permitted.
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, the board voted unanimously to authorize zoning administrator James Jarvis to consult with the town’s attorney in seeking fines against Jakes Tree Service. An excavator and at least two large commercial trucks are regularly parked at the home of Jake Clark at 88 Charlotte Road, officials say.
In addition, board member Phil Pouech said, lots of times there have been “kind of stinky fires” burning on the property, so he thinks it’s more than just burning brush and more like burning for a business.
The home is right behind Town Hall.
Previously, on Aug. 18, the board voted to pursue legal action against Allen and Andrea Lavalette for what the town alleges is a commercial woodcutting business operating on their Beaver Pond Road property.
Jarvis said he felt the town had been very progressive and sensitive.
“It is not fun enforcing these regulations,” Jarvis said. “I take no joy in doing things that upset people’s revenue streams. On the other hand, it’s a big stick in the eye — it’s a whole pile of sticks next to the Town Hall.”
Jarvis said over time Clark has acted passive aggressively, with conversations where he agreed to make changes that didn’t happen.
Pouech added there’s a very clear history and documentation of actions taken by the town to remedy the situation with Jakes Tree Service.
“It seems pretty clear that not much has been done about it,” Pouech said. “I think the town has been patient.”
There have been at least eight communications with Clark about the violation since 2019, town documents show.
It appears to be “a fairly industrial scale use of the property,” Jarvis said. “If you don’t enforce the zoning regulations, you don’t have zoning regulations.”
Jarvis said, if the court agrees to fines, they could be as high as $200 a day.
Richmond to the rescue with ambulance service
The selectboard also voted unanimously to contract with Richmond Rescue to provide ambulance service from Oct. 1 through June 30, 2022.
The ambulance that’s on order won’t be ready on time, chair Merrily Lovell said.
“St. Mike’s has wanted to stop servicing us for over a year. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they extended it,” she said. “They’re not going to extend it forever.”
Town manager Todd Odit said the chassis won’t be delivered to the ambulance company until February or March, so the ambulance won’t be delivered to Hinesburg until April or May.
Extending the contract through the end of June will give the fledgling Hinesburg ambulance service time to train with the new ambulance, Odit said.
The service will cost Hinesburg $12,000 a quarter or a total of $36,000. Pouech said that is what Richmond Rescue quoted two or three years ago, when the town was considering whether to go with contracted ambulance service or start its own.
New town personnel policy manual
In another unanimous decision, the selectboard approved a revised town personnel policy manual.
The three-and-half-year revision represents the efforts of a number of current and former town employees, Odit said.
“This is a living document, so there are things we’ll find, I’m sure, that we missed or that we want to tweak,” he said. “Adopting it tonight doesn’t mean it’s set forever.”
Part of the policy manual governs town employees’ or officials’ personal use of social media.
The policy says: “Inappropriate postings or repostings will subject employees to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Examples of such posts might include, but are not limited to: offensive posts meant to intentionally harm someone’s reputation; bullying; harassment; threats of violence; posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment; discriminatory remarks based on race, color, religion, gender, familial status, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, sexual orientation, military or veteran status or any other status protected by applicable law; or posts that could result in a loss of the public’s faith or trust in a town employee/official/department.”
Board member Maggie Gordon wanted to know, if an employee posts something on social media that leads to the loss of public trust, if Odit is confident the policy gives the town sufficient tools to deal with that situation.
Odit is satisfied it would, but he said, “Most instances are so fact-specific I can’t say it would cover everything, but I believe the social media policy, as well as some of the general expectations of employees that’s laid out in here, between the two, would give the town the ability to address that.”
Although fire and rescue workers are referred to as volunteers, they are paid, so the personnel policy manual pertains to them because they are considered town employees, Pouech said.
The policy spells out that volunteer fire and rescue members are covered by all the manual except for benefits and compensation, Odit said.
“I hope that they will be made aware, especially of the social media policy, because I’ve heard some things. I have no idea if they are true, but about social media use,” Lovell said.