Stand in opposition to Clear River Energy project
To the Editor:
On January 10 the Johnston Town Council met briefly to authorize sale of water to the proposed Invenergy power plant in Burrillville. Almost two dozen people, concerned that the proceedings might not comply with the State’s Open Meetings Act (OMA), requested a review by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). You ran a very good summary of the Attorney General’s findings on your Facebook page (July 13). I was particularly interested in it because I am one of the complainants.
I’ve experienced a range of local governance styles over time but the January 10 meeting was unusual. It made sense to ask questions and I was truly surprised to hear the Mayor say on NPR that he had read all the complaints and they “are all lies.” As you reported, the AGO took each question in turn and found no violations of the OMA. I appreciate the investigation and accept the findings.
I have learned several disquieting things through this process, though. For instance, the town is not required to post notice of special meetings on their website/calendar, only monthly meetings. The town is not required to provide any amount of preferred seating for residents at meetings vs. non-residents. The mayor, because he is not a member of the Town Council, does not count toward a quorum. He may legally speak with council members in turn regarding a proposal and it will not be considered a discussion by the Council. This is what made a two-minute meeting possible on January 10. A reasonable person might say the mayor serves as a conduit for discussion in that example, but the AGO looked only at the interplay between council members. Finally, according to the affidavits, the Water Supply and Economic Development Agreement was already signed [by the Mayor] prior to being presented to the Town Council for ratification. The town said this is “a common practice” to signify it is a final version. A reasonable person might think this is not a best practice. The combination of no public input, no space for residents, a pre-determined outcome and a pre-signed agreement lends credence to the appearance of a sham meeting.
I’m puzzled by an earlier statement by the mayor to the Sun Rise that no constituents had contacted anyone on the Council about this issue. I emailed the members. My husband called and left messages. Perhaps we were the only ones, but we do count. In all, I did not feel well represented by that meeting.
I believe there are other Johnston residents who feel the same way. For those people as well as myself, I’ve started a petition of affirmation and support. I invite Johnston residents to stand together with 35 of 39 our cities and towns in opposition to the Clear River Energy project in Northern RI.
Irene A. Peloquin