Because of the overflow crowd, the Town of Somerset reorganization meeting was moved to the courtroom Tuesday.
That was appropriate. Ongoing legal issues were rampant.
The first concerned legal rates paid to the town attorney. Supervisor Richard J. Meyers wants firm fees, not hourly rates, so the town has a better idea of what litigation will cost.
Lawyer Robert S. Roberson, who was sitting in for Town Attorney Edwin Shoemaker, said, “You won’t get it.”
The second spat concerned the Article 78 issue in the potential host agreement with Empire Wind Energy. The town had insisted Empire take out the paragraph stating that the town would waive its right to sue.
Roberson said the town can not give up the right to sue. Meyer wanted to see the law that said that.
The rate debate between Meyers and town attorney Roberson became heated, with the supervisor bringing down the gavel at one point, to make his point.
Deputy Supervisor Daniel Engert lined up with Meyers, who wanted to negotiate a fee for each litigation.
“I don’t think the hourly rate is working for us,” the supervisor said. “We want to look at a fee structure.”
Roberson said that cost cannot be determined the same way they are for constructing a building. “You don’t know what costs are going to be,” the lawyer said.
Meyers pulled out an American Bar Association advisory, slammed down the gavel, and said, “There are ways to do it … I prefer to know upfront. If you can’t, I will find one (a law firm) that can.”
The wind energy issue has been before the board for a year, and Meyers is anxious to get it settled. “We’ve had landowners hang on for some time,” he said. “If we drag our feet, we will lose it.”
Board member April Gow, noting that the Article 78 issue was still in the host agreement, said, “It doesn’t appear to be settled.”
The board insisted Empire had agreed to strike it.
“I think it’s a shady operation, to be honest with you,” board member Dudley E. Chaffee cautioned.
Empire Wind Energy, an Oneida-based company, said that other towns had agreed to not sue under Article 78 . (Article 78 proceedings are used to challenge action by agencies and officers of state and local government. The measure has been in effect since 1937.)
Roberson said, “Just because they do it, doesn’t make it right… Empire is not asking you to waive that for no reason. They think something’s at risk.”
The issues were not resolved. Roberson was charged with finding the law that says it’s illegal for the town to waive its Article 78 rights. Meyer was unhappy that Shoemaker had not provided that information.
By Bill Wolcott
9 January 2008
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