Armand Brisson stood guard at his condemned building Monday morning and would not let town employees inside, despite a court order allowing them an interior inspection.
Judge Geoffrey Crawford’s order, issued last Tuesday, Nov. 27, also found Brisson in contempt of a previous order telling Brisson to remove fallen brick and rebuild it within 60 days, to erect a tarp over the Main Street building’s west wall and to hire a structural engineer.
Crawford’s order authorized “representatives of the town” to enter the historic building, situated feet from the Route 7 right-of-way, on Monday, Dec. 3 at 10 a.m.
Health Officer Taylor Newton and Ruggiano engineer Cliff Collins planned to enter the building to inspect its structural integrity as part of the town’s ongoing health order enforcement against Brisson. The case began in May when a resident alerted police to bricks falling from the building; it has progressed to a civil lawsuit.
But Brisson, standing in front of a fence at the building’s entrance, wouldn’t allow Newton or Cpl. Jon Centabar inside.
He told The Independent last Friday, “Anyone going in there is supposed to be a professional engineer; if they’re not professional engineers, certified and licensed, they have no business there.”
Brisson said letting the town inside gives it control of the building, where he stays “from time to time,” he said. He’s fearful the town will demolish it.
Town Manager Brian Palaia said the town must now apply for a search warrant, an uncommon move in a civil case: “There’s usually a degree of cooperation [with a court order] short of actually having to go and get a search warrant,” Palaia said.
Though Brisson said Collins could enter, Palaia said the engineer was concerned for his safety and also wanted Newton’s assistance taking notes and photographs. The town believes the building is structurally unstable.
Brisson later said he didn’t understand why Collins didn’t go inside. He thinks town employees’ demeanors were starkly different since he had three witnesses on scene.
“It was less bravado,” Brisson said, adding, “Otherwise, it’s always five or six versus me.”
Palaia said the town will regroup with its attorney, Bob Fletcher, to proceed. He doesn’t expect any quick action, as Newton will have to file an affidavit and Fletcher a supporting motion for the warrant. He also anticipates coordinating with the state’s attorney’s office.
Still, Palaia wasn’t surprised with how the day went.
“[Brisson] hasn’t cooperated so far,” he said. “He likes to pick and choose from what the town asks him to do and what the court asks him to do.”
Monday’s events came just days after the Chittenden Superior Court – Civil Division found Brisson in contempt of its June order to clean up and repair the building at the junction of Route 7 and Main Street.
Brisson was not present, and he later filed a motion for reconsideration. The hearing was originally set for November 15, but it was rescheduled because Brisson was ill. He said he didn’t expect a new date so quickly and so didn’t check his mailbox.
Fletcher, the town’s attorney, told Judge Crawford that while Brisson has made some progress, it wasn’t within the court-ordered 60-day timeframe and is akin to putting “lipstick on a moose.”
“It looks better from the outside, but we don’t know about its internal structural integrity,” Fletcher said.
After looking at photographs entered, the judge admitted, “It’s not going to win the mason’s award.”
The building’s west side is surrounded by Jersey barriers to contain falling brick – and potentially the building if it’s as unstable as the town alleges. At the hearing, Fletcher testified the barriers will impede snow removal, as plows can’t simultaneously enter and exit Ice House Road, the road to the highway garage, which borders the building’s north side.
Fletcher said the Vermont Transportation Agency won’t move them until Brisson removes rubble piles and scaffolding and until it knows the building is safe. Only an internal inspection can reveal that, Fletcher said.
Newton, who said he checks on the building twice a week, testified Brisson’s contractor is not a structural engineer and that he never saw tarps at the scene, as the court ordered.
After 25 minutes of testimony, Crawford jumped in: “It’s a one-sided hearing without Mr. Brisson,” he said, “but the evidence is clear that he’s not in compliance with the court order.”
In addition to the internal inspection and asking Brisson to remove rubble, the court order also says Brisson must pay up $600 in attorney fees in relation to the contempt motion. Fletcher had not filed an affidavit of his charges by press time.
Asked if he agrees he’s in contempt, Brisson said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m doing what they want to get done.”
Brisson’s new motion, handwritten and filed on Friday, Nov. 30, says the town’s allegations that the building is rapidly deteriorating are false.
“It’s not like it’s … going to fall,” he told the Independent last Friday. “They’d like to create that illusion.”
Brisson thinks the town’s filings “begrudge the fact that the brick has been repaired,” his filing reads. The job takes longer than 60 days, he continues, and his contractor plans to next tie the veneer brick to the main course wall.
“The town of Milton has been too quick to log jam this work,” Brisson writes. “This is my home of 63 years, and given my financial problems, I think I have done extraordinarily well so far.”
The parties are scheduled to meet on Monday, Dec. 17 to discuss Brisson’s position.