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Attorney General gives turbine opponents until March 12 to file open meeting law complaint

FAIRHAVEN – The Attorney General’s Office that governs the open meeting law has given members of Windwise Fairhaven until March 12 to file a complaint against the Board of Selectmen.

At the selectmen’s meeting Monday night, Executive Secretary Jeffrey W. Osuch said, “The Attorney General’s office says it hasn’t heard from Kenneth Pottel and others who filed the complaint.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Pottel said they had filed the documents with the Attorney General’s office, but didn’t realize they had to submit them directly to the office on open government.

“We’re kind of new to this so we’re not experts on how the process works,” he said.

The first section of the north tower of the two wind turbines arrived earlier this week. Mr. Osuch said because of traffic issues, the parts of the two 1.5 megawatt turbines will be delivered at night this week and next, and will be assembled at the site.

Mr. Pottel said Windwise would be making a 15-minute presentation at the Feb. 15 special Town Meeting, which took place after the deadline for this week’s Advocate.

As for the open meeting law complaint, Mr. Pottel said the documents substantiating their complaint included emails and a DVD of a meeting. He said one DVD shows police barring some members of their group from a meeting room. He said the police said there were no empty seats, while the DVD shows empty seats in the room.

“We haven’t been treated with any fairness at all,” he said of Windwise’s treatment by town government.

Mr. Pottel said the documents provided to the Attorney General include e-mails between Mr. Osuch and the developer in which Mr. Osuch says they want to remain low key about the turbine proceedings.

Selectmen met in executive session to discuss the contract with what became three investors in the $8 million-plus project. Under the open meeting law, they may meet in executive session to discuss contract negoations, personnel issues or litigation.

And there has been litigation. A group of 10 residents is still suing to try to stop the turbines.

But Windwise says the meetings in executive session were not always necessary and that the process lacked transparency.

Town counsel responded to the complaints Windwise submitted to the attorney general. Responding to one of the complaints, Attorney Thomas Crotty said the police chief talked to all four officers who were on detail during meetings and that no one was turned away.

Mr. Crotty also disputed claims that the times and agendas for board meetings were not made public.

Mr. Osuch said the individuals who filed the complaint “swore that certain events took place that could easily be proven not to have happened.”

The letter from the AG’s division on open government was sent by a paralegal, Philip Mantyla, who gave the residents until March 12 to file the complaint directly with that division. On Feb. 8, Mr. Mantyla wrote letters to all of the residents who signed the complaint. He said the AG division begins reviewing complaints only after they are submitted to the open meeting law division directly. He also said the Board of Selectmen had already provided a written response.

In the letter to one resident, Mr. Mantyla said, “Our office currently has no record of a complaint filed by you in this matter. Accordingly, we will presume that the action taken by the public body was sufficient and will close this file unless we receive a request for further review by this office and a copy of the initial complaint by March 12.”

The turbines were approved at Town Meeting in 2007. Windwise has complained that the subsequent decisions regarding the turbine were made in executive session and that when ground broke at the site in November, they were taken off guard. The group’s complaint says there was no reason for “secrecy.”

The three developers involved in the $8 million-plus project are CCI Energy, Palmer Capital and Solaya. Gordon Deane of Palmer Capital said they will sue if the town backs out.

When selectmen entered into executive sessions on the turbine last year, they said they were involved in contract negotiations with CCI Energy. After one such meeting last year, Selectman Brian Bowcock announced they had reached an agreement that would allow the turbines to proceed, but it was many months before ground broke last November. And the turbines were not on the agenda.

At Monday’s board meeting, Mr. Bowcock complained about the legal expense for a complaint. He said town counsel had to review the complaint and respond to it ­— costing the town money during a time of fiscal restraints. Mr. Bowcock said “to some may be amusing, but there’s a legal cost.”

He also complained about the cost of the special Town Meeting held on Feb. 15. “To some, it’s maybe amusing, but to those of us who take government seriously, it’s not very amusing,” he said.

The petition articles that prompted the special Town Meeting include some that affect town government and one that would stop construction of the wind turbines. The ones on town government were proposed by Windwise in conjunction with Fair Action Fairhaven, which has also complained about lack of transparency in town government.