WINDHAM – In response to public complaints about the Windham town clerk, Secretary of State Jim Condos said Wednesday he has no authority over Vermont’s town clerks except to provide advice and training.
Windham and Grafton both face highly contentious votes Tuesday on the proposed Stiles Brook wind project, which if built, would be the largest wind turbine facility in the state at 84 megawatts.
Iberdrola Renewables wants to build the facility on a ridgeline between Windham and Grafton, with 16 turbines in Windham and eight in Grafton.
Condos, responding to a public letter by Michael Simonds criticizing Town Clerk Jo-Jo Chlebogiannis on Tuesday, said the town clerk works for the people of the town.
“It is the people at the time of their election who decide if (the clerks) continue,” Condos wrote.
“Please understand that my office does not have investigative or enforcement authority under the election law,” he added, referring Simonds to the attorney general’s office if he wanted to file a complaint.
Simonds couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, but late Tuesday said he would withhold comment until after Condos responded.
Simonds, a member of the Windham Board of Civil Authority, had criticized Chlebogiannis, who is against the wind project. Simonds supports the wind project. Chlebogiannis was elected to a three-year term in March.
She said Wednesday she had received a lot of support from people in Windham after news of Simonds’ critical letter appeared.
“The amount of support I received this morning was quite overwhelming,” she said.
She added that she talked with Will Senning, director of elections in the secretary of state’s office, and then removed all pamphlets on the wind project, pro and con, from the town office vestibule.
“I’m doing the best I can,” Chlebogiannis said.
Wednesday marked the end of voter registration for Tuesday’s presidential election, along with the Iberdrola vote. She said there was a snafu involving two new voters, but it was ironed out.
She said the Board of Civil Authority would meet Thursday to add three more people to the Windham checklist, bringing the total to 316. She said 115 Windham residents had already voted by absentee ballot.
Condos’ statement also noted that the town office “becomes, in essence, a polling place during the period of early voting.”
Simonds had raised questions about the display of a small model of a wind turbine in the town clerk’s office, compared against the Windham town church. Chlebogiannis said the model had been in the town office for four years, which predated her position as town clerk.
The model doesn’t necessarily translate into election materials, Condos said.
“Our office will advise the clerk that any materials that could be construed as campaigning regarding any issue or candidate on the ballot should be removed,” Condos wrote. “I must add that just having a scale model of a wind turbine next to a scale model of the town church is not necessarily for/against – unless it included some kind of flier or posting that was for/against. It could be just a model to show the scale next to a prominent building in the town,” he added.
Condos said one of the suggestions by Simonds, that the town clerk “check the credentials of each voter” was “expressly prohibited by law.”
“The clerk is expressly prohibited by law from requesting any supporting documentation or information from any particular applicant or group of applicants, other than the information provided on the form,” Condos said.
“Under this provision, your suggestion that the clerk ‘check the credentials’ of each applicant would actually be contrary to the current law,” Condos said.