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Sumner board extends wind power ban; closed session challenged

SUMNER – The Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday night to extend the moratorium on wind power projects another six months and reappointed all members of the Industrial Wind Ordinance Committee.

The decisions came after an executive session which was challenged by a member of the committee, other residents and a reporter for the Sun Journal.

At a previous meeting, selectmen announced they would hold an executive session at their Nov. 30 meeting to ask committee members if they could continue to work together to complete writing the ordinance.

The committee is charged with writing regulations industrial wind power developments in Sumner while there is a six-month ban on such projects. That moratorium expires Saturday, Dec. 3.

In a letter presented to selectmen Nov. 8, committee Chairman Kathleen Emery and members Larry O’Rourke, John Allen, Jessica Doe and Diane Todd threatened to resign if Jeff Pfeifer was not removed from the committee. They said he is loud and intimidating, and his domination of the conversation keeps the committee from getting its work done.

There was an effort at that meeting to have the discussion in executive session, however Pfeifer demanded it be public.

Maine law permits executive sessions in some situations, for example, if material being discussed has the potential to harm someone’s reputation. In that case the individual being discussed has the right to have an open meeting.

When challenged that asking the committee if they could continue to work together would not damage anyone’s reputation, Chairman Mary Ann Haxton wrote, “… Executive Session is a personnel matter for the purpose of conducting a meaningful performance evaluation of the members of the IWOC Committee. …”

More than a dozen residents were present Tuesday night when Haxton moved to go into executive session, specifying the personnel exception to the Maine’s Open Meeting Law. She said meeting in public had the potential for damaging the reputation of IWOC members attending. She said they would review the duties and responsibilities of the committee and its performance as a whole, not as individuals.

Haxton failed to address how any individual’s reputation would be harmed if they were not going to discuss individuals.

Committee member Lana Pratt presented the board with a written demand for an open meeting. She also delivered a similar demand from Pfeifer, who was out of state for a medical appointment.

A reporter presented a written demand for an open meeting on behalf of the Sun Journal and one as a resident of the town. Other residents voiced their objection to the closed session.

Following the executive session, the board voted to extend the moratorium on wind power for six months.

The board also decided to reappoint all committee members and possibly add some. Selectmen are specifically looking for a facilitator or moderator who can help the committee meet deadlines. Any other new members would need to be quick studies, they said, so they can cover the work already done, or persons with special skills or knowledge that will help the committee.

Volunteers should contact the Town Office by Dec. 13.

Michael O’Donnell, who serves as town assessor, will be at the Dec. 13 meeting to discuss property valuation questions. Questions need to be submitted in writing by Dec. 6.

The Town Office will be closed Dec. 2 for training and Dec. 23 for Christmas weekend.