It is not quite back to the drawing board for the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, but the county’s legislative branch will have to retake a vote to look into the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC).
At its July 6 meeting, the assembly narrowly approved the formation of a special investigative panel to look at CVEC—specifically, at its administrative structure and funding sources. The request for an investigation was filed by Eric Bibler, a Weston, Connecticut, resident and president of the Wellfleet-based Save Our Seashore, and Preston G. Ribnick, a Wellfleet resident and founder of the anti-wind turbine grassroots organization WindWise.
Since March the two men have filed multiple requests for CVEC documents, detailing its operations and finances, and appeared at several meetings of the Barnstable County Board of County Commissioners asking for a public discussion on the issue. However, according to Mr. Bibler and Mr. Ribnick, all of their requests have been rebuffed, sometimes rudely.
That prompted their appearance at the July 6 meeting, and it now appears that the assembly’s quick response may have been too quick.
At last week’s meeting Robert S. Troy, the county’s legal counsel, said the July 6 vote was not binding, because it was not a true majority vote. Although the assembly had a quorum, Barnstable Delegate Thomas K. Lynch’s decision to abstain from voting meant that the proposal passed with 29.53 percent approval under the assembly’s weighted vote system; 27.66 percent of the vote was against the study.
Mr. Lynch and Falmouth Delegate Julia C. Taylor, who was absent, comprise more than 35 percent of the assembly’s weighted vote since they represent the Cape’s two largest towns.
Mr. Troy also stated that neither the assembly nor the county commissioners have any direct authority over CVEC or its parent organization, the Cape Light Compact. “You are limited to taking up matters that are within your jurisdiction,” he said, emphasizing that the commissioners’ and assembly’s jurisdiction is “limited to an aspect of the Cape Cod regional government.”
Mr. Troy agreed that the compact and CVEC should be forthcoming with information when requested by the public, but drew the line on the concept of the county taking formal action against “separately constituted governmental bodies…the Cape Light Compact is not listed as one of the subordinate agencies of Barnstable County.”
Mr. Ribnick, who spoke at last week’s meeting, refuted Mr. Troy’s claim, noting that the county’s own organizational chart, last updated in January, lists the CLC and CVEC as part of the county—ergo, the commissioners and the assembly “do have authority over these two organizations.”
Mr. Troy disagreed, comparing the situation to a town’s membership in the Steamship Authority, stating that members participate in the decision-making process, but do not have the authority to investigate the SSA’s operations.
He further stated that even though the CLC receives money through the county’s general fund, the funds it has provided to CVEC in support of its mission “are not part of that appropriation,” but originate from a surcharge that appears on all Cape ratepayers’ electric bills.
However, Mr. Troy framed all his comments as his opinion based on language in the county charter rather than a directive, and said the decision to investigate CVEC was ultimately up to the assembly.
During the last discussion on the proposed study, the delegates were split over whether such an investigation was appropriate. Ms. Taylor said last week she had “no interest in an investigation. I have no doubt of the legality of the actions of the commissioners,” of County Administrator E. Mark Zielinski, who also represents the county on the CVEC board of directors, or of Assistant County Administrator Margaret T. Downey, who is also the CLC administrator.
However, Ms. Taylor said CVEC’s policies were “somewhat obscure to me, and probably more so to the public,” and she supported a more general request for information about the entity’s organizational and financial structure.
Mr. Bibler clarified that his request was not so much for a formal investigation, but for a public disclosure of information. Mr. Troy agreed that it was within the assembly’s purview to request such a conversation, but had no sort of enforcement authority to make it happen.
The assembly will revisit the inquiry request at its next meeting on August 3.
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