SUMNER – Selectmen this week postponed taking action on a request to dismiss a member of the Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee until they get legal advice.
Jeff Pfeiffer told selectmen during a two-hour meeting Tuesday night that the committee presented no cause for removing him and the town would need an attorney or two if they illegally fired him for no cause.
“I took an oath to do my best on this ordinance and I am going to keep it,” he said.
In a letter to selectmen, five of the other six committee members threatened to resign if Pfeiffer was not removed.
Selectmen wanted to handle the matter in executive session, but Pfeiffer insisted on the discussion being public. About 20 people were in attendance.
The committee is charged with crafting an ordinance to regulate development of industrial wind power in Sumner. The work is being done during the town’s six-month moratorium on developments. The moratorium expires Dec. 3.
Pfeiffer, a law school graduate, ex-Marine, and retired FBI agent, has vigorously supported a carefully written and legally defensible ordinance. Other members support a less detailed ordinance modeled on those successfully passed in other Maine towns.
“We are not going to make up the law, but follow it,” Pfeiffer said. “A small town going up against a huge wind power developer is like David taking on Goliath – our only defense is our ordinance. We need to cover all contingencies.”
Pfeiffer said that without a strong ordinance, corporations could roll over a small community by threatening them with expensive lawsuits. If the community abandons its ordinance, then the companies only need to comply with the state regulations, which everyone agrees are too weak to adequately protect the community, he said.
“Lawyers are a bunch of ruthless people,” resident Walter Jasniewski said. “We have to draw an ordinance that is tight.”
IWOC members said they find Pfeiffer loud and intimidating and that his domination of the conversation keeps the committee from getting its work done.
“The group is totally exhausted because of one individual,” IWOC member Larry O’Rourke said.
Several committee members said they want a fair ordinance for Sumner, but they can’t work with Pfeiffer.
The five members who threatened to resign are O’Rourke, John Allen, Jessica Doe, Diane Todd and Chairmwoman Kathleen Emery, who signed the letter sent to selectmen.
Lana Pratt is also a member.
Resident Ingrid Erickson and others praised the health and safety section of the ordinance, which was developed by Pfeiffer and Pratt. They said they appreciated the hard work and research put into that section. The section was accepted by the other members with few changes.
However, Erickson said, “We can’t have a clear organized product as long as you two (referring to Pratt and Pfeiffer) are part of it.” The committee has been trying to combine the work of subcommittees that wrote various sections of the ordinance.
“Lana and I would both be happy to resign if it were only about us,” Pfeiffer said. “But there are important issues we are concerned about, especially how the text of the draft ordinance now allows only three members of the Planning Board to waive – ignore – any parts of the wind regulations they want. That would leave the town with a ‘Swiss cheese’ ordinance, full of holes.”
This is the second attempt to get Pfeiffer off the committee. At an IWOC meeting he was accused of having been profane in response to a resident’s question following a public hearing on Oct. 26.
Several witnesses to the Oct. 26 incident said the resident charged Pfeiffer with bias in his work on the ordinance and his comments at the meeting.
When Pfeiffer asked resident Bob Kennelly if he was questioning his integrity, Kennelly said he was, according to witnesses.
Pfeiffer then threatened to sue Kennelly for slander if he repeated that charge.
After the witnesses’ testimony, the committee voted 6-0, with one abstention, not to demand his resignation.
On Tuesday, Cynthia Norton, administrative assistant for selectmen, produced records that showed appointments to the IWOC will expire Nov. 30.
Selectmen then postponed any action on dismissing Pfeiffer until their next meeting Nov. 22. Meanwhile, they will seek a legal opinion from the Maine Municipal Association.
A public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 22 on extending the moratorium for another six months.