Agenda item sent back for rewarning in another contentious Grafton board meeting

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Even before the Grafton Select Board could begin revisiting whether it should formally sanction a committee to address possible financial benefits from a proposed wind project, Board member Ron Pilette stopped the meeting cold.

Ron Pilette said one item on the agenda was improperly warned. Telegraph file photo.

Select Board member Ron Pilette said one item on the agenda was improperly warned.
Telegraph file photo.

The Monday night meeting, attended by more than 40 residents, many to hear this issue, listened as Pilette said, “This (issue) has not been properly warned. There is no mention of the wind project and no mention of Iberdrola” on the Select Board agenda.

The committee was proposed by town Treasurer Kim Record last December, creating controversy with some Select Board members who questioned whether it should sanctioned by the board. Since that time, two new members have been elected to the board.

On Monday, resident Don Dougall asked if the meeting was actually improperly warned, to which Board chair Gus Plummer responded, “I agree. We discussed it at the last meeting.”

But Pilette held sway, saying, “It should have said that it (Item No. 8 on the agenda) was the possible wind project. There may be people who would be here tonight and aren’t because they didn’t know it was about the project.” Instead, the item reads: 8. Should Financial Committee be Select Board Sponsored. Click here to see Grafton Select Board agendas.

Board member Al Sands said, “I’d say we have a good turnout tonight and I’d say people understand that they are here to discuss the financial committee.” About 40 people — twice as many as usual — attended  Monday’s meeting.

At this point the discussion began merging into agenda Item No. 9 — Legal representation for Wind Project — when Board member Skip Lisle said that he  had corresponded with an attorney at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. He read the email correspondence aloud. In part, the email said, “I see nothing wrong with an individually elected officer creating such a committee within the purview of their office. …  I would suggest the town pay for its own legal representation … Your board is free to disregard our advice.” Although he had read the text of the email into the record, when asked for a copy, Lisle said that he needed to ask the VLCT attorney if it was alright to turn it over to The Telegraph.

Attempting to bring the discussion back to his point, Pilette interjected: “There are people in town who do not know what this agenda item is about.” He then suggested putting the matter off to the next meeting.

Board member Al Sands objected to rewarning the agenda item. Telegraph file photo.

Board member Al Sands objected to rewarning the agenda item. Telegraph file photo.

But when Plummer suggested tabling the topic and rewarning it, Sands said, “I make a motion that we discuss No. 8 as written.” When no one seconded the motion, Plummer said, “We discussed it last time to put it on. Bring the point of order to vote. Let’s discuss it as listed or rewarn it a different way.”

Following a motion to rewarn the item — and put in on the agenda for the Monday, May 16 meeting — Lisle and Pilette were joined by Plummer in voting to rewarn the item, while members Cynthia Gibbs and Sands remained silent.

Following the vote, Sands said, “So we are effectively delaying hiring a lawyer for a month or deciding the financial committee situation for a month.”

Pilette responded, “We are not in any situation where we have to be rushed. I’m requesting that it be put on for May 16, since I am a select board member who is very interested in this subject.” Pilette will be absent from the May 2 meeting.

Resident Don Dougall then attempted to clear up some confusion about whether Iberdrola, the Spanish company that would build the wind towers, would be making a “gift” to the town if it set up an escrow account for the town to hire an attorney, which Lisle contended it would be.

Atlantic letter to Grafton-2“We cannot touch the account,” said Dougall. “They cannot touch it,” he said referring to Iberdrola. “But as legal fees come in, the Select Board will decide which fees are approved to be paid out. You can hire any attorney you want. Why would Iberdrola do that? They realize that in small towns, the impact of attorneys fees are difficult. They aren’t giving us anything. They aren’t bribing us.”

But both Lisle and resident Anita Siano disagreed, echoing one another, “This is a gift,” before the audience broke out in such loud discussion that Plummer had to call for order.

Resident Liisa Kissel spoke up, saying “This committee has never been authorized by the town or appointed as a subcommittee. They can meet with whoever they wish. They are not authorized to speak on behalf of the town or represent the town. Everyone is putting the cart in front of the horse. We have to wait till May 16.”
Gibbs said that the discussion was “about hiring a lawyer.” And Sands added, “Hiring a lawyer is something we should do and we should do it soon.”

Resident Sam Battaglino said, “Alan, you are making the case that we are late to the party. But there is no party. We have almost three years to negotiate. What is there to negotiate over?”

Board member Pilette said, “My understanding that there are only one or two lawyers who can do this kind of work – in this case it’s to get the project in the ground.”

He then recommended that a letter from Atlantic Wind LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, be redirected from Treasurer Kim Record to the Select Board.

That letter, dated April 18, outlined the establishment of an escrow account, over which, Atlantic would have no control. The letter also stated that any attorney retained would also have no attorney-client relationship with the company. See letter, above right.

His recommendation was approved, again by himself, Plummer and Lisle.

Unity on speed and trash

While the wind project seems to have divided Grafton residents, not so when it comes to speeding along the paved part of Route 121 and an illegal dump on Houghtonville Road.

Board member Pilette asked if a speed study could be conducted by the Sheriff’s Office along Route 121 during a dry period, as opposed to the one that was conducted during a rainy period. “I’m a bit worried that the average speed that they recorded was lower than you would notice” during a dry time.

One resident recalled that this was the second such study done, and both recorded that the average speed was around 35 mph.

Some residents suggested that the speed be dropped to 25 mph along 121 in Grafton, but Plummer said, “Even if we drop it down to 25, people won’t slow down for that either.” One resident suggested that the sheriff would have the opportunity to make some money in tickets if the speed limit were dropped. But Lisa Record, a dispatcher in the Sheriff’s Office, said her department “doesn’t get any kickbacks from the tickets we write.”

There was some discussion of putting up an electric warning sign that clocks speeds. Plummer said that while it is free to borrow, it is also in high demand to reserve. And Lisa Record said that the cost to purchase one would be about $3,500.

In the end, Plummer asked Town Administrator Emily Huff to contact Capt. Robert Lakin about further enforcement.

Houghtonville dump

A recent development is the Houghtonville Hill “dump site” that Plummer said contained “tires, mattresses, old chairs, all sorts of different plastic things” that were tossed over the hill at a turnaround that has a drop-off behind it.

Liisa Kissel suggested erecting a sign that clearly stated the fine would be $500 for illegal dumping.

Road Foreman Danny Taylor said, “I’m sure the landowner wouldn’t be opposed to it. It’s over the bank over town right of way.”

Lisle said the town had the same problem a year ago. “I think the problem is that there is a turnaround spot that makes it easy and comfortable for someone to pull off the road.” And added Sands, “town equipment also uses it to turn around.”

It was decided that the town would look into putting a sign up, but also look into creating a turnaround in a stretch that doesn’t have a dropoff, then closing this one.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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