An Indiana Access to Public Records Act request of Henry County government emails seem to show that at least one member of the Henry County Planning Commission would like to have a wind turbine up on her private land.
Following a public records request by New Castle resident and Responsible Wind Executive Director Melissa Elmore, emails from November 2015 between planning commissioner and Henry County employee Olene Veach and former Zoning Administrator Rachel White became public knowledge.
Elmore said she filed a public records request Jan. 31 with the Henry County Planning Commission “to review the procedural documentation available for each wind project our county.”
“After review of the documentation received, the appearance of procedural errors is present, while the question of good governance is also raised,” Elmore said. “The public deserves to be aware of a some questionable emails, concerning appointed or elected officials using the Planning Commission as a liaison for their personal business.”
According to the documents, White sent Veach an email Nov. 24, 2015, explaining that “a company called Calpine is researching the viability of wind energy in northwestern Henry Co.”
The documents appear to show that Veach replied to White from her county email address: “If you talk to them … I might be interested … My farm is in Harrison (Township) and across the road is Jefferson Twp. 2 mi south of Sulphur (Springs).”
Local tax records show that Florence Olene Veach owns several contiguous parcels on North County Road 300 West in Harrison Township.
White forwarded the email exchange between herself and Veach to Derek Rieman, the director of development for Calpine Corporation’s Big Blue River Wind Farm project.
The subject line of that email, also dated Nov. 24, 2015, was “Henry County, IN – interested landowner.”
“One of my board members has land that likely falls in your project footprint, and she would like more information about participating in the project. I included our thread for more background,” White wrote.
In another part of her original reply to Veach, White told the county planning commissioner that “if they approach you as a landowner, you will need to recuse yourself from any Planning Commission deliberations.”
The emails show Veach also asked White if she would only need to recuse herself on matters relating to the Calpine wind farm.
White replied that it would be a situation similar to Henry County Commissioner Ed Yanos, who had previously submitted conflict of interest disclosure statements and recused himself from certain discussions.
Indiana Code 35-44.1-1-4 covers conflicts of interest as they relate to public servants. The statute explains that public servants must disclose any situations or business relationships that exist or could exist from which they could profit.
These conflict of interest disclosure forms are to be filed with the county clerk and the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Indiana State Board of Accounts had no conflict of interest disclosure statements from Veach.
Calpine representatives appeared before the Henry County Planning Commission April 20, 2017, seeking commission-approved uses for two meteorological towers to be placed in Henry County to measure wind speed and direction. This data will be used to determine if wind turbines would be appropriate for Blue River and Harrison townships.
Veach voted in favor of commission-approved uses for both towers.
Olene Veach did not return multiple requests for comment from The Courier-Times.
Disclosures on file for elected officials
All three Henry County Commissioners have submitted and filed conflict of interest disclosure forms with the state.
Commissioner Ed Yanos filed a disclosure Jan. 15, 2016, after a wind farm company tried to contact him.
“As a small business owner, I may do business from time-to-time with vendors who do business, or hope to do business, with Henry County,” Yanos wrote.
Yanos indicated on the form that he did not expect to have any interest in any contract with the county, “but I can’t predict whether a business will extend the same pricing to me that they would absent my county position.”
Commissioner Kim Cronk submitted a similar conflict of interest disclosure form on the same day for “Calpine Wind Turbine and/or any wind turbine company project in west part of Henry County.”
According to his form, members of Cronk’s family had been approached by companies to put turbines on their farmland.
Yanos filed another conflict of interest disclosure March 12, 2016, stating that Apex Wind Energy and NextEra Energy “have indicated interest in leasing ground from Ed & Susan Yanos for the possible construction of a wind farm and County Commissioners have the authority to approve Economic Development, Decommissioning, and Road Use agreements.”
On Dec. 21, 2016, following his re-election to the county commissioner seat, Yanos filed a third conflict of interest disclosure. He stated at the time that there were “no contracts in existence that involve any county or state entity” or any specific vendor or contractor with which he had a financial relationship.
Cronk submitted a conflict of interest disclosure Jan. 11, 2017, similar to the one he had filed the year prior, letting the public know that members of his family were being approached by companies to put turbines on their farmland.
Commissioner Butch Baker has filed multiple conflict of interest disclosures because his wife is a county employee and is a board member of the Henry County Saddle Club, which has a contract with the Henry County Commissioners.
Each commissioner has voluntarily recused himself from official discussion and action about each particular topic that he with which he has a possible conflict.
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