The Grafton Select Board zipped through the first seven items on its Monday, April 4 agenda with unanimous votes and even some friendly banter, but got mired on the next two, which asked if a lawyer should be hired to represent the town and if the Select Board should send a set of unanswered questions back to wind developer Iberdrola and Meadowsend Timberlands.
Board chair Gus Plummer broached the question of whether it was time to hire a lawyer “to get an agreement down solid before” voters go to the polls to either approve or reject the project.
In answer to a question of how the town would pay for an attorney Plummer said, “We don’t pay for it, they do,” referring to Iberdrola.
An audience member wondered how a lawyer paid for by the developer would not have a conflict of interest. Board member Al Sands said that the town would hire the lawyer and Iberdrola would reimburse the town.
“So we could hire Alan Dershowitz and they would pay for it?” asked former Select Board member Sam Battaglino.
Referring to a committee formed by Town Treasurer Kim Record to look into an agreement with the developer, board member Ron Pilette asked if the Select Board wanted to make the group an official committee or sub-committee of the board.
Plummer quickly answered no, but then he and Pilette agreed that if the board was to make a decision on the question it should be a warned agenda item. Plummer said the issue would be on the next agenda.
Some of the 24 members of the public then began shouting out comments that included a demand that Plummer recuse himself from the vote since he is a member of the informal committee. Others said that hiring an attorney was premature if there isn’t a firm project on the table.
“None of us are remotely qualified to negotiate a contract for this,” said Plummer.
Asked about the committee, Record said, “I asked for a (formal) representative from the select board and was denied.” Following the denial, Record said she felt that she then was under no obligation to report the committee’s activities to the Select Board. The committee, which has only met two times, includes Record, Ginger Ludeman, Cynthia Gibbs, Linda Robertson, Gus Plummer, Keith Hermez, Hardy Merrill and Don Dougall. Gibbs and Plummer are Select Board members, although Gibbs was not when she joined.
Pilette said he was not comfortable with a town employee spending town time working on the committee and board member Skip Lisle said he did not think the treasurer has the authority to form such a committee. But that issue seemed to be settled in December when Record — an elected official in her own right — announced to the board that she had formed the committee.
Sand said, “The idea is to have a contract before you vote, so you know what you are agreeing to.”
“How can you have a contract with a company that won’t tell you what they are applying for,” asked resident Kate Muelrath.
Grafton resident Matt Siano suggested dropping the word “contract” in favor of “proposal.” “No one in town knows how to swim in these waters,” said Siano putting forward the idea of hiring a management company to look at any deal.
“I like what Matt said; hire a management company who will listen to the entire town, not just Iberdrola,” said Muelrath. Plummer brought an end to the discussion saying that the issue will be talked about at the next meeting.
Things didn’t get much more settled as the board turned to whether it should send a list of questions about the wind project back to the Iberdrola or if individuals should do this themselves. “Tomorrow night Iberdrola is going to be here” at the elementary school, said board member Cynthia Gibbs. “The Select Board doesn’t need to be the go-between.”
In an interview on Tuesday afternoon, Laura Hayes of Meadowsend Timberlands the format of the meeting as “a technical workshop with six booths.”
Moving to a vote, Pilette and Lisle voted yes, Plummer voted no and Sands and Gibbs abstained with Gibbs saying that if people wanted answers they should “keep nagging.”
Lisle said it was insulting to the people of Grafton that the developer ignored questions.
“You don’t like the answers,” Plummer shot back.
“No,” Lisle responded. “They didn’t answer.”
On a second vote, Gibbs and Sands weighed in on the no side and the measure fell 3 to 2.
Pilette then said that Iberdrola had not answered questions 7 through 15. Plummer said he would then change his vote and, over several shouts from the audience, the board voted the question a third time, now with three yes votes to send the questions back to Iberdrola for answer and Sands and Gibbs abstaining.
“May I make a comment?” came a voice from the back of the room. “No,” said Plummer, who moved the meeting on to other business.
Route 121 speed study
The board discussed the results of a study of Route 121 around the Fire Station to see if the speed limit should be changed. Plummer told the meeting that the board had just received the study and he had not had a chance to read it yet. You can read that study here.
The board also said that the personnel policy for town employees now included an allowance for 80 hours of compensatory time per year.
The next Grafton Select Board meeting will be held on Monday April 18 at 6 p.m. at the Grafton Elementary School.