Miami County Commissioner Josh Francis instructed auditor Mary Brown by email on Thursday to exclude wind project opponents from being included on future commission agendas, the Peru Tribune has learned.
The email, which was also sent to follow County Commissioners Alan Hunt and Larry West, reads as follows:
Subject: Meeting Agenda
I also do not want any anti-wind people on the agenda. I let them rip me apart for 45 minutes last meeting, and we have let them talk every meeting. I’m not allowing anymore of it. Our meetings are not for the public to come in and threaten and bash us.
UK-based Renewable Energy Systems has said they plan to build 75 wind turbines in Miami County and 150 in Cass County. A 133 turbine project in Fulton County was derailed after public opposition.
RES has said the projects will bring jobs, lucrative leases for landowners and money for schools, among other benefits.
Francis works for RES as a land consultant, according to his business card, and is chairman of the Miami County Commission.
Francis said on Saturday that “until there’s something that has to do with wind on the Conmissioners’ agenda, we do not plan to allow discussion about it.”
Francis said if wind opponents were presenting factual data it would be one thing. “But it’s all emotional … they start attacking individuals and we have other things to consider … it’s time for us to worry about other things.”
However, Francis said that if Commissioners Alan Hunt and Larry West insist that the wind opponents be allowed to speak, he would not overrule them. “That’s what we would do,” he said.
Indina Public Access Counselor Luke Brill said Francis’ directive is not a violation of Indiana’s Open Door Law, but he “thinks it’s bad form not to hear from both sides.”
“There are better ways to regulate [this],” Britt said. For example, those who want to voice their support or opposition could be limitcd to five minutes, he said.
“Keep it on task,” Britt said. “But just to not allow anyone at all is not the best way to do things.”
The Open Door Law does not guarantee the right to participate in a public meeting, he said. “Only to observe and record the meeting.”
“The commissioners can regulate how the meeting is run. It’s their prerogative. They don’t have to have any public comment at all,” Brill said.
Britt said he can understand some of the frustration. “No one wants to have a citizen filibuster or bash,” he said.
Whether Francis should decide who’s allowed to address the commission on the issue – since he is employed by RES – isn’t something that the Public Access Counselor handles, Britt said.
“If a commissioner is benefiting personally in terms of financial interest, that’s more of a government public corruption issue that my office doesn’t address,” he said. “But law enforcement could potentially.”
Commissioner Larry West said he believes that Francis meant that wind opponents would not be allowed on this week’s agenda because it’s full – but that they would be allowed to speak in the future.
“I’m certain he will allow them to talk,” West said.
Pan of the problem, West said, is that wind opponents are saying the same things over and over. “They’ve been to every meeting for the last three months and don’t come up with anything new,” West said.
Not only that, but “they trashed Josh at the last meeting pretty severely,” West said.
In fact, West said, he’s been very disappointed on different occasions “that we didn’t shut them up. When they start getting personal … that’s when it gets out of hand.”
Commissioner Alan Hunt could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Macy resident Becky Mahoney said when she learned about the directive to exclude wind turbine opponents, she thought to herself, “You’ve got to be kidding … The guy is scared. He doesn’t know what to do. I think he’s showing his colors and they’re not red, white and blue.”
Francis has recused himself, she said. “He is not supposed to be in the discussion. That’s a conflict.”
A review of the draft or the minutes from the March S meeting shows that nine residents spoke against the wind project, sharing their concerns about, among other things:
- the potential location of the turbine substation
- the possibili1y of water contamination
- strife being created in the community
- health problems caused by “infrasound” from wind turbines
- a Vietnam veteran’s wife who feared his nightmares would return
- that Miami County is an “agricultural community and not a wind community”
- a man who planned to take before and after photos of his farm
- and a woman who said she had a neurological disorder that she feared would be worsened by turbines
Several residents addressed Francis directly, according to the minutes:
Donna Smith asked Commissioner Francis how much it was worth to him to have his name on the project knowing that the community feels as they do.
Elaine Anderson said she wished Commissioner Francis would take his job out of Miami County. Ms. Anderson further stated that she does not know how he can sleep at night knowing what he is doing to the people in the community who have been here longer than he has been breathing.
Kathleen Mahoney shared that this is her home and as she sat and listened to the tears, pain and frustration over the proposed project she is determined to fight ‘tooth and nail and if they need to get dirty, they will. She also thanked Commissioner Francis for bringing a diverse group or people in the county against the project together due to the way in which he handled it.
Peggy Myers asked Commissioner Francis what other monetary amount he is getting from RES and asked if it was worth the money, creating hatred and turning the community against him. Ms. Myers shared she does not know how Commissioner Francis sleeps at night and cannot see how the monetary amount could ever be worth it.
“We have more important things to do than to listen to that type of stuff,” Francis said.
None or the other commissioners were mentioned by name, according to the minutes – and Jacob Pomasl gave the commissioners three letters of support for the project.
Francis said Pomasl was ridiculed by wind opponents out loud for his position. “No one who comes to a public meeting should be subjected that,” he said.
Becky Mahoney disputed the claims in Francis’· email. “I think that the concerned citizens who have spoken to the commissioners the vast majority of the time have been calm, cool and respectful, even though their homes are being threatened,” she said.
She said her comments were directed to the entire commission at the last meeting. “It’s just a warning, a heads-up. They need to stop this before there’s a bigger mess,” she said. “Now if l did that in my momma voice, maybe he flt like he was in the corner.”
And, in fact, Francis may have “swatted a hornet’s nest,” she said. “There will continue to be people there. They will continue to be recorded.”
She said the Commission meeting was also adjourned without any public comment on Feb. 20.
“We’re not going to stop showing up,” Mahoney said, “even after the wind issue is gone. We have realized we have to watch them like a hawk … they have proven themselves to not be trustworthy.”
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