An independent attorney plans to report next week on whether it is a conflict of interest to weigh in on legislative measures likely to have a direct impact on an extended family member or business associate.
Chris Mason of Salisbury is reviewing participation by Somerset County decision-makers involved in a process to decide on proposed industrial wind turbines in the county.
Critics say members of the Somerset Planning and Zoning Commission ignored expert opinions on health or safety risks and pushed through zoning recommendations that benefit relatives or business associates leasing land to a wind firm for the project.
The firm, Pioneer Green, proposes a wind farm of an initial 25 or more turbines across southwestern Somerset County. The project has drawn criticisms over, among other things, turbine height and distance to neighboring properties.
Also at issue is whether Somerset County Commissioners with family or business ties to turbine leaseholders should be involved in the decision process. County Commissioners also appoint members of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Safe For Somerset, a grass-roots group that formed to challenge aspects of the controversial wind project, requested in January that the Somerset Ethics Commission investigate potential conflicts.
Kirk Simpkins, for instance, is an in-law to a leaseholder, and Mason said the solicitor excused himself from conducting the factual investigation because of a potential conflict.
Mason expects to present an initial when the Ethics Commission meets Wednesday.
“There were multiple claims, and I want to get to the bottom of the issue to see if there is a conflict of interest,” Mason said. “I will present my findings to the ethics commission, and they will make a decision.”
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