There were tears, anger, accusations, offers of forgiveness and just straight up fireworks at the Burrillville Town Council meeting Wednesday night. Town residents came out in force to the first meeting held since the Senate Judiciary Committee very publicly killed the Keable/Fogarty bill that would have allowed voters in Burrillville the opportunity to approve or reject any proposed tax treaties with energy plants in the town.
This bill was important because Invenergy has plans to build a $700 million fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the town, and the residents of Burrillville don’t completely trust the town council to negotiate in their best interests. As the residents of Burrillville descended en masse to the State House to testify in favor of the bill, the town council issued first a a press release then an official resolution opposing the legislation.
Various timelines have been floated as to how this press release/resolution came to pass. On June 9th I sent a request to Burrillville Town Clerk Louise Phaneuf asking for a copy of the video of the June 7 town council meeting. I was informed that there was no video, since the camera was malfunctioning. I followed up by asking for a copy of the minutes. Phaneuf wrote back, “Thanks for your request for minutes. I will forward a draft as soon as I have it ready. However, there was no discussion of the press release at that meeting.”
That’s not what Town Councillor Kimberly Brissette Brown said when she emotionally recounted the story of the press release at Wednesday’s town council meeting. She said that it was at the June 7 town meeting that it was decided to issue the press release. It wasn’t decided by a vote, she said, nor was it an agenda item. The next night, at a regular town council meeting, the council went into executive session and turned the press release into a resolution.
Meanwhile on June 8, the residents of Burrillville were at the Senate Judiciary Meetting, having the press release sprung on them by Senators Frank Lombardi and Steven Archambeault. They proceeded to use the press release/resolution to humiliate the Burrillville residents, providing ad hoc civics lessons on representational government and generally putting the people of Burrillville on the defensive. “It was humiliating,” said Burrillville resident Kathy Sherman.
The way this resolution was produced, potentially without proper public notification, potentially without being properly put on the agenda, and potentially not being voted on properly either in open or executive session, may well be illegal and violations of the Open Meetings Act. As Barry Craig, Burrillville resident and retired lawyer, pointed out, the Open Meetings Act has provisions that allow members of the public to hold the individual members of the town council financially liable for attorney fees if they sue and win, which might become an expensive proposition for them. (See video 01 below)
Craig ended up in a shouting match with Town Councillor Donald Fox, who objected to being characterized as “lazy” for helping to make an end run around the people in addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee and possibly violating the Open Meetings Act. “You violated the law!” shouted Craig, “Does that mean anything to you?” (See video 26 below)
Fox retorted that Craig was “out of order”.
Kimberly Brissette Brown’s address to the people of Burrillville needs further consideration as well. (See video 03 below) She begins by saying that since Invenergy won some forward capacity obligations in the recent the ISO-NE, the company is on the hook for potentially millions of dollars if the plant is not built. One big question: Why should anyone in Burrillville care about bad decisions made by a Chicago based energy company? How is it possible that Burrillville should be liable for Invenergy’s bad business decisions?
It was an unusual night, because individuals on the town council became unusually chatty. Nancy Binns spoke, (See video 15 below) saying that no on on the town council “is wildly enthusiastic about this power plant.” Does this mean that at least one member is moderately enthusiastic?
Steven Rawson spoke (See video 25 below), but only after telling the audience that if they dared interrupt him, he would stop speaking. He then defensively spoke about his years of service for the town, but addressed no pertinent issues.
In fact, every member of the town council said at least a few words, even Michelle Bouchard, who used to be referred to as “the one who never speaks” by some residents when we talked about town council meetings.
Gone was the united front the town council used to show in the past. Gone was the idea that the town’s attorney, Oleg Nikolyszyn, could speak for the council.
It was Debbie Krieg (See video 07 below) who took Oleg to task for a video in which he claimed Cale Keable brought Invenergy to the town. Even if that’s true, said Krieg, Cale Keable has more than made up for it by changing his mind and listening to his constituents and fighting hard to prevent the power plant from coming to town.
Krieg also revealed that that through her APRA request she had learned that high priced consultant Dyana Koelsch, hired to facilitate communications between the town council and residents, was pulling in $200 an hour for her work. Some in the audience audibly gasped. “These are tax payer dollars,” said Krieg. “How long is this going to last?”
“I believe she has a six month contract,” said Council President John Pacheco.
Also discussed was Monday night’s planning board meeting. Residents were extremely unhappy with the performance of the ‘experts’ hired by the town. They were unhappy with the way that meeting was conducted. They were especially unhappy with the idea that opening a well contaminated with MTBE may possibly poison the Harrisville water supply, or that Invenergy might have to draw water from Wallum Lake to cool its generators.
Perhaps the most startling new piece of information to come out of Wednesday’s town council meeting is the fact that Governor Gina Raimondo‘s planned July 18 trip to Burrillville to face residents might not be set in stone. Council President Pacheco said that when he reached out to the governor’s office, he could not confirm the date because her people said her schedule was “in flux” and he was told that the governor’s people were handling all arrangements. (See video 36 below)
The town council ended the meeting by voting to go into executive session, where they could discuss the Invenergy power plant away from the townspeople, which isn’t quite irony, but close enough.
Below is the full video of the meeting as pertains to the power plant.