Monday night’s Grafton Select Board meeting could have gone the way of many meetings in the past few years, turning into a pitched battle of finger-pointing and legal arguments, but board chair Ron Pilette wasn’t having it.
Pilette moved the meeting forward, setting aside an ongoing ethics complaint against board member Al Sands and concentrating on the non-binding survey of all voters and property owners on the Iberdrola wind project and putting information gathering committees to work.
At its last meeting, the board decided to poll all registered voters and second-homeowners simply asking three questions: Are you for the project, against the project and or are you undecided. The board also decided to leave space open to explain what other information they would like to have.
At Monday’s meeting, that plan was almost waylaid when board member John Turner, who was assigned the task of creating and managing the details of the survey, wondered if it would be best to just ask if people were for or against and to leave out the “undecided” answer since he thought many people would opt for that. Fellow board member Skip Lisle agreed and said he liked the idea of the survey being more “simple.”
However, the original survey idea was reaffirmed by the board on a 4 to 1 vote, with Lisle voting nay, and a special meeting was set for 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19 at Town Hall to begin the process of hammering out the details.
The audience at Monday’s meeting offered input into how what those details may include:
- Who gets to participate in the poll? For property owners who are not registered voters, does the name on the deed or the person paying the taxes get a survey?
- How do you ensure one-person, one-survey if a registered voter has a home but also owns another piece of property?
- How will the surveys be authenticated so that only one person gets to fill out one survey?
- How do you protect the identity of the survey participants?
- Will the surveys be color coded to differentiate between registered voters and second-homeowners??
- What will the survey cost?
Wind project impact committees
The Select Board also announced the names of volunteers who will be on the three wind information gathering committees. The meetings of the committes, said Town Administrator Emily Huff, are subject to state Open Meetings Laws and therefore must be properly warned, agendas must be issued and minutes must be taken.
The committees, Pilette said, should gather information quickly and from not only Iberdrola and the anti-industrial wind Grafton Woodlands Group, but from other sources.
Pilette also asked for a single Select Board volunteer for each committee.
But when he suggested member Cynthia Gibb for the Economic committee. Gibb, who has vast budgeting experience, refused saying that she had “too much on my plate.” And when Pilette urged Sands to sit on the Environmental panel, Sands said he wanted to but had to disappoint since he would not be available for much of September.
The committees and their members are:
- Joe Pollio
- Rich Thompson
- Noralee Hall
- Al Yuspeh
- Select Board member Skip Lisle
- Charlene Case
- Chris Wallace
- David Acker
- Joe Montecalvo
- Select Board member Ron Pilette
- Peter van der Made
- Brian Case
- Hardy Merrill
- Bob Donald
- Select Board member John Turner
The board continues to attempt to bring together experts for a forum on an industrial wind project’s potential impact on hydrology.
The Sands controversy
And finally, the Select Board had scheduled to have two letters read into the record – one from Town Attorney Robin Stern and one from a private attorney hired by a group of Grafton residents.
Both address whether Al Sands violated the town’s Code of Conduct by meeting with Iberdrola representatives and failing to disclose the details of that meeting.
But as discussion got under way about reading the letters, Pilette, who is becoming the loudest soft voice in the room, said, “I don’t want to deal with this at every meeting.”
Sands then addressed the contents of the letter from Town Attorney Robin Stern, which you can read here.
He summed up Stern’s letter by saying that 1. there is a process started by the complaint to the Select Board; 2. Grafton’s current Code of Conduct is not clear and the Vermont League of Cities and Town agrees; and 3. four of five members of the board can’t participate in the process because one is the accused and three are accusers.
Pilette added that he agreed with Stern’s assessment that “going forward with the complaint process is a real mess and there is nothing to gain from this. I think it is time to move on.” But he also read from Stern’s letter in which she wrote, “… It is appropriate for Mr. Sands, if he has not already done so, to advise the Board of the nature of the meeting with Iberdrola, certainly prior to consideration of a specific agreement.”
Sands then told the meeting that the “primary purpose was to meet Walt Meisner who was to work with Jenny Briot (the renewables manager at Iberdrola) and that he would be in town periodically. A question was raised if the Select Board was not interested in talking with Iberdrola would committees from both Windham and Grafton be.” In explaining his reluctance to talk about this earlier, Sands alluded to an accusatory climate in the town.
In an interview following the meeting Pilette, who has been on the opposite side of several issues from Sands, said, “It’s just time for us to move on to more important issues. It would be a mess to continue. It has divided us. It’s personal. Trying to pursue the Code of Conduct issue is much more trouble than it is worth.”
Sam Battaglino, a complainant against Sands, said, “I don’t have a problem with moving on as long as it is all disclosed. It just took so long for (Sands) to disclose.”