Sorting out conflicts of interest isn’t easy.
So when I recently wrote about a slew of officials who stand to make millions from wind farm projects, I expected to catch some flak afterwards.
To catch everyone up, here’s the gist of what I found:
• In Lewis County, 12 public officials who sat on county and town board stands to make a combined $7.5 million from the Maple Ridge wind farm constructed in 2006.
• In Herkimer County, five public officials stand to make $85,000 from the Hardscrabble wind farm spanning the towns of Fairfield and Norway. That project is currently under construction.
I’ve been reading the comments on my story. (Reporters do check those, in case you were wondering.) And I feel compelled to address a couple issues I see have been raised.
Question #1: Why is (Joe Shmoe) listed here? He’s on a board in the town, but that board never voted on the wind project.
Response #1: It’s not just about what happened in the past. Think about what could happen in the future. A town council may have issued permits and approved the project, but that doesn’t mean a zoning board of appeals might not have to get involved in the future.
Now that the turbines are there, think about the regulation and oversight they need. Zoning and codes can change, and someone’s going to have to oversee that.
The Attorney General’s Office brought up this point when I asked about how its code of conduct governing wind farms would affect projects built prior to the code’s enactment in 2008. Regulatory and zoning issues continue to come up where wind farms already exist. Those issues are often brought to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office, a spokesman said.
Question #2: Why is (John Smith) listed here? He abstained or recused himself from votes about the project.
Response #2: Great. That’s admirable. But it’s also not that simple.
First, there’s a difference between abstaining and recusing. Abstaining simply means not voting. That person, however, can still be involved in discussions about a topic. And we all know discussions have the power to influence.
Recusing means that person won’t vote and won’t participate in discussions about the issue. It’s a more overarching way to stay out of the process.
But consider that even when someone recuses himself or herself, that can’t erase from fellow board members’ minds the knowledge that their colleague has a vested interest in the project. Often, these are small boards in small towns and that fact can certainly influence the board’s thinking.
I’m not sure what the answer is here, but these are questions that have to be asked and issues that need to be raised.
Want to take a look for yourself?
Check out the disclosure forms for Iberdrola and the disclosure forms for Horizon Wind Energy. Iberdrola owns the Hardscrabble wind farm. Horizon Wind Energy and Iberdrola co-own the Maple Ridge wind farm.
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