BREWSTER – The long and winding public inquiry into the finances and governance of the Cape Light Compact and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative will lead to an audit of the governmental agencies, but not the audit everyone wants.
The county Assembly of Delegates reviewed its subcommittee’s report on Wednesday and voted to request that CLC ask the county auditor do a annual audit of their energy efficiency program and that the Barnstable County audit include a full audit of the (more than $20 million) that the Compact handles in a given year.
That was not what the subcommittee recommended. That five-member panel urged their report be forwarded to the Massachusetts Inspector General’s office for a “forensic audit for the entire operation from inception (1997) to present.”
That met with intense resistance from Cape Light Compact, who declared the term “forensic audit” implies possible criminal charges.
“This gross misuse of a defined accounting term has done irreparable harm to the reputations of CLC board members and CLC staff,” CLC chairman and County Commissioner Bill Doherty wrote in a reply. He recommended the Barnstable County audit of the Compact be expanded.
The motion put forward (and adopted) by Falmouth delegate Julia Taylor essentially echoed this recommendation by expanding the county audit and leaving the inspector general out of it.
“I honestly believe the [governance] issues [raised] have to be resolved by the boards of CLC and CVEC,” Taylor said. “The way to encourage the board members to be interested in these issues is through the town selectmen. The appointed members have oversight. The commission and county government do not have to kind of power to address these issues. Towns are usually responsive to people.”
The selectmen appoint their board members for the two groups. CVEC is a cooperative if 17 municipal groups, including the county and all the Cape Cod towns, and the compact is a municipal aggregator of electricity with delegates from each town.
Then Taylor made her motion for the county audit (which would happen next year).
“I can’t support the recommendation put forth,” said Harwich delegate Leo Cakounes, who was on the subcommittee.
He agreed the CLC audit should be expanded (currently it’s only about one line of the county audit even though it’s budget is nearly the same as the entire county).
“But I don’t support it in lieu of a full forensic audit because that makes sense to go back a few years,” Cakounes said. “I don’t believe this motion really addresses the problems the subcommittee would like a further look into.”
Chris Kanaga of Orleans agreed.
“It doesn’t do anything historically. It doesn’t address the issues raised, the open meeting law, the public documents law, respect for the public,” he said.
The entire inquiry was kicked off when members of the public, mostly opponents of turbine projects CVEC was proposing, were unable to access public documents such as budgets or minutes or trace transfers of funds between the two agencies.
Deborah McCutcheon of Truro, also a subcommittee member, noted that regular audits were required of intermunicipal agencies.
“There has never been an independent audit (and CLC was founded in 1997),” she said.
“I understand Julia’s motion as sort of a conciliatory gesture towards CLC and CVEC,” said Ron Bergstrom of Chatham, a subcommittee member. “But since the initial criticism we haven’t seen a lot of conciliation, we’ve seen denial. It’s none of your business and a lot of righteous indignation.”
“The special committee is never going to be able to implement their actions. This is a call for action,” Taylor replied. “I feel we would be further along if we voted this today.”
“I concur,” said Spyro Mitrokostas of Yarmouth. “The huge question for me is what standing this board has with these organizations.”
He added that the call for a forensic audit was, “tantamount to calling 911. We can take care of these issues ourselves.”
“The idea that the forensic audit is toxic is ridiculous,” Bergstrom answered.
Taylor noted that further action could always be taken if the delegates thought it necessary.
In the weighted vote, 74 percent of the delegates agreed while delegates from Harwich, Chatham, Orleans, Sandwich, Truro and Wellfleet voted no.
Charles McLaughlin, president of CVEC, declined to comment afterwards while Preston Ribnick, one of the citizens who’d battled to obtain minutes and documents, was reflective.
“I see it as a process,” he said. “What astounds me is that when specific information is requested from CLC and CVEC they continue to stonewall.”
The subcommittee will revise their report to respond to CLC and CVEC’s response and Cakounes said he might put forward more recommendations at a later meeting.
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