BARNSTABLE – County officials on Cape Cod are once again poised to lock horns over two regional energy agencies that have been the target of intense criticism.
The Barnstable County Board of Commissioners has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to decide whether to challenge a vote by the county’s Assembly of Delegates requesting help from state officials in understanding the finances and operations of the Cape Light Compact and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative.
The three commissioners are the regional government’s executive branch. The 15-member assembly is its legislative branch.
The two boards have disagreed not only about the compact and cooperative but also about whether the county has the power to review the two organizations.
The compact was formed in 1997 by the county and towns to buy energy in bulk, provide energy efficiency programs and advocate for electric customers on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. The cooperative was created in 2007 by the compact, county and towns to pursue renewable energy projects in the region.
Critics of the two organizations – primarily driven by opposition to wind energy projects in the region and concerns about open government – have argued for several years that the relationship between the groups represents a conflict. The cooperative, which has developed a series of solar energy projects on the Cape and Vineyard, has been funded almost entirely by ratepayer funds collected by the compact. The two organizations also share legal counsel.
While members of the assembly have questioned the arrangement, the county commissioners have largely supported the compact and cooperative.
Last Wednesday, the assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution asking the Massachusetts inspector general and attorney general for help in understanding how the compact and cooperative function and interact.
At their meeting Wednesday, county commissioners plan to decide whether to act on the resolution, although it isn’t clear they have the power to do so.
“There is a process by which the commissioners decide whether the resolution is a matter that is appropriate for the executive branch to weigh in on,” Commissioner William Doherty said Monday.
Commissioners adopted a protocol in January laying out a four-step process for how the board must respond to assembly actions, including a 10-day deadline.
Doherty, who also sits on the board for the compact, said he will act as chairman of the commissioners for Wednesday’s meeting because current Chairwoman Mary Pat Flynn will participate by telephone from out-of-state.
Typically, if the county commissioners vote to disapprove a resolution or ordinance passed by the assembly, it goes back to the assembly, which must then pass it by a two-thirds majority for it to override the commissioners’ vote, according to the county charter.
Members of the assembly apportioned votes based on the population of their towns. The resolution about the inspector general originally passed with 62.44 percent of the vote.
But even if Orleans delegate Christopher Kanaga – who was absent for the first vote – votes for the resolution and the rest of the assembly is present and votes the same way they did the first time, it would still fall short of the two-thirds required to override the commissioners.
Supporters say they don’t believe the commissioners can overturn the assembly’s resolution.
“I believe that this action is a matter of the Assembly of Delegate’s business because we do have within the charter the ability to perform inquiries into county government,” Harwich delegate Leo Cakounes said.
The request for help from the inspector general and attorney general is simply a continuation of an inquiry the assembly began more than two years ago, Cakounes said.
“It’s a continuation of the business of the Assembly of Delegates,” he said.
Every order, ordinance, resolution or other vote of the assembly pertaining to the business and affairs of county government must be presented to the commissioners, except matters relating to the internal affairs of the assembly or resolutions merely stating an opinion of the assembly, according to the county charter.
“They’re not opining on something,” Flynn said. “They have requested specific action.”
The commissioners would likely seek an opinion from counsel about whether the resolution is an opinion or not but Flynn said she believes it requires action by the commissioners.
It isn’t clear that the commissioners can work with the assembly at all, Flynn said.
The resolution is a communication from the assembly, not from the county, said assembly speaker Ronald Bergstrom from Chatham.
“I don’t know why they’re doing this” he said about the commissioners. “I think frankly it makes them look very bad.”
In any case, the letter to the inspector general and attorney general has already gone out, Bergstrom said.
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