A group that opposes wind turbine projects in Seneca and surrounding counties has alleged what they called “alarming” and “concerning” correspondence between county officials and a pro-clean energy organization.
According to a Seneca Anti-Wind Union release, a public records request revealed emails between Seneca County Commissioner Holly Stacy, Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. President and CEO David Zak and Tom Bullock of Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy. The release states the emails, which Zak was carbon copied on, appear to show Stacy allowing Bullock to write and submit her testimony to the Ohio State Senate.
The testimony, which urged the committee to oppose Substitute House Bill 114, that would have changed Ohio’s renewable fuel standards and could have deterred wind projects, was submitted on Seneca County Board of Commissioners letterhead.
Verbal testimony also occurred at the Oct. 18 hearing in front of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Oct. 17, Bullock wrote an email to Stacy at 2:19 p.m. with proposed testimony for her to recite during a Senate hearing. He states in the email that the written testimony is due at 2:30 p.m. Stacy responded at 2:40 p.m. stating if her OK for the testimony was too late, she still would come as a “supportive audience member.”
At 2:55 p.m., Bullock responded to Stacy and said her testimony was accepted and they had submitted it without her approval “in the hopes you’d be OK with it, knowing we could always cancel it if you preferred.” Stacy later responded with an “OK.”
Bullock also states Stacy could add or remove information to her testimony when speaking to the committee.
The written testimony now is on file in the Ohio Senate’s online document archive and it is identical to the emailed statement. The document can be found under opposing testimony for Substitute House Bill No. 114.
Chris Aichholz, a member of Seneca Anti-Wind Union who sent the release, said learning of the emails brought many questions to mind.
“Who is footing the bill for all of the work and consulting this group is doing for Commissioner Stacy?” he stated in the release.“Who has more influence in the currently proposed wind turbine projects for Seneca County, the CICE group or Commissioner Stacy’s constituents? Is the CICE group working in the best interest of Seneca County residents?”
Aichholz said he brought the information to light because he thinks residents deserve to know what happened.
Commissioner Shayne Thomas said Stacy did nothing wrong.
“I have no concerns that Holly did anything that was unethical, unreasonable or contrary to the best interests of her constituents,” he said. “It’s not surprising that we be in common cause with a variety of organizations, it’s just not. We’re happy to be able to work with chamber execs, superintendents and economic development execs to attend these different events.”
Stacy said the information in the letter represented her beliefs.
“I would never say anything I didn’t stand behind or believe in, whether it was prepared by me or my someone else. I wouldn’t lie, I just wouldn’t do that,” she said. “The involvement and the assistance from organizations and groups is the normal process. It’s not different than the legislative service center aiding our elected leaders.”
Stacy said she would not have signed the letter if she disagreed with it.
“Nowhere did I sign an affidavit, there is no rule that you can only give the testimony that you write,” she said.
Stacy said she did nothing wrong.
“It’s a normal process, I’m not ashamed of anything I did. It shows I was busy,” she said.
Thomas said several events were in Columbus, including a press conference and other visits for testimonials, to encourage reasonable legislation related to wind projects. He said the county teamed up with several individuals and organizations with the same goal.
Stacy said by working with other agencies, it allows the county to be a player when discussing state legislation.
“We’re not paying (CICE) anything, the county didn’t pay anything for this,” she said. “That’s just the way the legislative process works. We have to make sure Seneca County is at the table.”
Thomas said CICE helped to facilitate meetings and make trips to Columbus more efficient.
“It wouldn’t be surprising, it would be common practice if there was some level of assistance offered to Holly or myself or any of the participants at any of the advocacy events,” he said.
Thomas said when verbal testimony is to be given to a senate committee, to get on the agenda, written testimony has to be submitted in a specific time period before the meeting.
Stacy said she helped draft testimony that Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry gave during a state budget hearing.
“This is not an unusual process,” she said.
Thomas said a level of collaboration with CICE and other people on the written testimony and for other tasks is common.
“You’re allowed to deviate from that testimony, but they have to know your point of view,” he said. “Oftentimes, we’re working to get that testimony submitted or advanced. Utilizing resources from Columbus to keep us informed in that process so we can participate, it’s vital. You collaborate with Columbus partners to facilitate those kinds of activities.”
Stacy said working with organizations such as CICE allows the county to participate in the legislative process.
“If we care about legislation that’s impacting the county, it’s important for us to participate,” she said. “Sometimes these opportunities come up and we rely on those coordinating efforts for how to participate, how to be involved.”
Thomas said CICE is similar to the County Commissioners Association of Ohio because the group works with officials to make it easier to reach a common goal.
“We don’t have a staff to coordinate speeches, to coordinate schedules,” he said. “We’re at a significant disadvantage being a rural northwestern county. We don’t interact on a regular basis with the Statehouse. We have to rely on folks who are our guides down there. Chambers of Innovation allowed us to piggyback on their events at no cost to us. If we didn’t have (CICE) assistance, it would have taken us 10 days to do what we did in one.”
Thomas said supporting the wind projects is what is best for the county.
“I think the best thing is to allow property owners to develop wind and (CICE) supported me in that effort,” he said.
Commissioner Mike Kerschner, who opposes wind projects in the county, declined to comment.
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