Thursday October 11, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

POWNAL -- State’s Attorney Erica Marthage will take no action following an investigation by Vermont State Police into the removal of boards from the town-owned Bartels Lodge by Pownal Select Board Chairman Stephen Kauppi.

Took boards in 2006

Kauppi removed the boards in 2006 and a complaint was filed against him with the state police in March 2012, which was well beyond the time limit the state had in which to charge Kauppi.

"I didn’t go any further than that because it doesn’t matter," said Marthage.

She said she decided to take no action two weeks ago and had been looking at the case as a possible larceny charge. She said the statute of limitations would have been either three years or six years, depending on the value of the boards, but Marthage said she didn’t get to that level as both limits are expired.

In March, Pownal resident Ray Shields asked Kauppi if he had taken anything from the vacant Bartels Lodge. Kauppi said that in 2006 he got permission from three other board members to remove a number of 9- to 10-foot loose boards from the building’s attic, which he has since added to his house and a camp he owns in Wells.

The lodge was bought by the town in 2005 for $60,000 with the intent of using it, or at least the land it sits on, for a new town office. Considered historic by many, the building has been at the center of heated arguments between those who wish it to remain standing and those who feel it would be better either moved or torn down. The building caught fire not long after it was bought and since then the elements have taken a toll. It sits near the end of Center Street and is part of a state historical district.

Shields said he was the one to file a complaint against Kauppi with the state police, a move Kauppi said was politically motivated. Since the investigation commenced the board has been under advice from its attorney not to discuss the lodge in open session, and threats of legal action have been made by citizen groups should the board take action to remove the lodge.

Kauppi, who has advocated removing the lodge because of its condition and the high cost of restoring it, said the police filing was done with the intent to have him removed from the board. He said he determined this through conversations with VSP personnel conducting the investigation. He said he believes Shields and members of the Taxpayers Association of Pownal and Concerned Citizens of Pownal, which are among various loosely organized citizens groups that have formed in recent years, have been attempting to have him removed from his position.

"If I thought these people held the consensus of the town, I would resign immediately," he said. "But being I don’t believe that’s the case. I won’t let these people walk across me."

Kauppi said the method he used to obtain permission for getting the boards was not correct, but it was what he was led to believe was proper and was how the board had done things in the past. Kauppi said what the board did is only allowable for emergency matters, otherwise it needs to be done in an open meeting.

Shields said he was glad to see the matter resolved.

"I just wanted to see it drawn to a conclusion," he said.

Shields denied the complaint he filed was political in nature. "I was concerned about things being taken," he said.

Kauppi said he plans to ask the Select Board tonight if it will schedule an informational meeting on the lodge to clear up what he said is misinformation about the costs and repercussions of removing the lodge. He said he hopes to have the meeting held at the Pownal Elementary School. "I’m sure that will be wild," he said.

VSP Detective Sgt. Helaine Gaiotti, who investigated the matter, said she would not comment on the investigation because it is closed.