In a stunning revelation, Burrillville Town Council legal counsel Oleg Nikolyszyn confirmed under questioning from Burrillville resident Jeremy Bailey that the council has been secretly negotiating a tax agreement with Invenergy for the proposed gas and oil burning power plant. Before this revelation, the existence of such negotiations may have been suspected, but were not confirmed. Shortly after Nikolyszyn’s revelation, Councillor Kimberly Brissette Brown questioned whether the item was properly before the Council. Council President John Pacheco III said that the item was not properly before the council, and said that if Bailey wanted to discuss the issue of the Council’s tax agreement deliberations with Invenergy, he would have to put that item on the agenda.
How Bailey would know to put previously unknown secret meetings with Invenergy on the agenda was not discussed.
Nikolyszyn’s admission capped a stressful and difficult Burrillville Town Council meeting, in which council members, aided by legal counsel Nikolyszyn, once again said that they have no power to stand against Invenergy. President Pacheco said that if the Town Council doesn’t remain absolutely neutral about the plant, it may seem that they are unfairly influencing various boards, the members of which the Town Council has nominated. Why this level of neutrality is necessary from the Burrillville Town Council in relation to boards they nominate but such neutrality is not necessary for Governor Gina Raimondo, who nominates the members of the Energy Facilities Siting Board and has taken a position in strong support of the power plant, is unknown.
Burrillville resident Jonathan Dyson later followed up with the Town Council about the tax negotiations with Invenergy, asking if there was any board, regulation or law that forced the tax agreement meetings. Despite saying earlier that the item wasn’t properly before the board, Pacheco answered Dyson and maintained that entering into such discussions was a fiduciary duty of the Town Council. Then Pachco added that these negotiations also include the “potential abutters to the power plant,” that is, people who own property next to Invenergy’s land.
Pacheco didn’t explain exactly what this means, but it seems to indicate that Invenergy is actively negotiating what payments, if any, abutters to the project might receive in the event that the power plant is built.
When Dyson then asked the Town Council “under what conditions would the Town Council say no to Invenergy,” Town manager Michael Wood angrily said, “That is not an agenda item.” But in fact, it was an agenda item 16-106 (b). Wood then said that the item was too vague and would not be discussed, never mind that earlier, Council President Pacheco had complimented Gary Patterson, who requested that item be placed on the the agenda, saying, “Your item on the agenda was properly phrased. I appreciate that.”
Throughout the meeting the Town Council took great pains to tell the people attending that the fix wasn’t in and this wasn’t a done deal. However, to the consternation of most of those present, the Town Council has admitted to secretly negotiating tax agreements and issues of abutment with Invenergy. Worse, theses discussion have been going on for some time, as the earliest discussions seem to precede Oleg Nikolyszyn becoming town solicitor.
By the end of the meeting the public was more angry and distrustful of the Town Council than when the meeting began.
I’ll be writing much more about this meeting in a future piece, but right now, questions remain: How long has the Town Council been in negotiation with Invenergy? Who has been party to these negotiations? The Town Council says that this isn’t a done deal, that the “fix isn’t in” but what other unknown meetings and negotiations are happening without the public’s knowledge?