ANTRIM – At tonight’s Select Board meeting, a resident says he will ask the board chair and the town administrator to resign from their posts, citing comments made in an online video in favor of wind energy and Antrim Wind Energy.
A video posted on Eolian Renewable Energy’s website shows Select Board Chair Gordon Webber and Town Administrator Galen Stearns talking about the company Eolian Renewable Energy, which put forward an application for a wind farm on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain in 2013; the project was turned down by the State Evaluation Committee in February 2013. Numerous employees of Antrim Wind Energy helped craft a proposed zoning ordinance amendment to allow commercial wind farms in a petition warrant article that will appear on the warrant this year, said Antrim Wind Project Manager John Soininen.
Three weeks ago, Brian Beihl of Antrim saw the video for the first time on the company’s website.
“It kind of leaves me speechless,” Beihl said in an interview Monday.
In an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Saturday, Beihl wrote about his plans to appear at tonight’s Select Board meeting to ask for Webber and Stearns’ resignations. In a letter, Beihl said he plans to submit to the Select Board, he wrote, “I respect Mr. Webber’s and Mr. Stearn’s right to be passionate about a cause. However, this passion would best be expressed as a private citizens, not as public officials. The current situation at worst is a conflict of interest, and at best is the appearance of impropriety.”
In the video at antrim-wind.com, Webber said, “I’m very impressed with the guys at Eolian and Antrim Wind Energy. … They know what they’re doing.”
Webber was neither a Planning Board nor a Select Board member at the time the video was made, Webber said in an interview Monday. The video was made and funded by Antrim Wind, Webber said, and refers to Webber as a former Select Board member.
Webber said he does not plan to retract these statements, since he was not a board member at the time. “I have not voiced any support for future wind projects in the future,” Webber said. “I’m not going to take a stance.”
Stearns, who was the town administrator at the time the video was made, could not be reached for comment by press time.
In the video, Stearns said, “I am personally in favor of [wind energy] …looking forward to a good and complete project as soon as possible.” Stearns also addresses the company when he said, “They have always presented themselves in a professional and helpful manner.”
From 2008 through 2010, Webber was a member of the Select Board. During this term, Webber spent one year as the Select Board’s ex-officio member of the Planning Board, either in 2009 or 2010, he said. During 2011 and 2012, Webber said he was not on the Select Board, but was voted in as chair in 2013.
Now that he is back on the Select Board, Beihl said the decision-making process may be jeopardized. “He never should have done that,” Beihl said. “Selectmen [shouldn’t] be spokespeople for a private developer.”
At the Select Board meeting tonight at 7 p.m., Beihl will go before the board and ask Stearns and Webber to step down from their town-affiliated positions. If Webber does take steps to fix his mistakes, Beihl said he will not take recall measures. Beihl said Webber should stand up at Town Meeting and say something.
After learning about this situation, State Rep. Richard Eaton (D-Greenville) said in an interview Monday that if Webber spoke as a private citizen, then what he said was his own opinion. If Webber was on a Select Board at the time, Eaton said, he assumes Webber was speaking under the authority of the entire board.
Eaton said he did not know the specifics about what is allowed and what isn’t regarding the town administrator.
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