Stunned and Busted Flat in Smithville
The Town of Smithville, New York, Chenango County held its April town board meeting early this week. The board began the meeting by promoting the “Stopping Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling at the Municipal Level” conference sponsored by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The supervisor said he would attend and invited the other board members to go as well. This certainly set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Slottje Sales Pitch Scheduled
David Slottje, the Park Foundation funded attorney, will be visiting Smithville next month hoping to gain at least one moratorium in Chenango County. As of today, not one town in the county has fallen for the scheme. The town will allow him thirty minutes to give his presentation and then the board will ask him questions. While this meeting is open to the public, the public will not be allowed to ask any questions.
The town planning board reported it had begun updating the 2007 comprehensive plan for the Smithville. It appears one of the purposes of the update is to address natural gas issues. One gentleman discussed what he thought was a huge problem, the fact the comprehensive plan was based on an old survey and might not accurately represent the views of citizens currently residing in the town.
He then continued saying the town should educate the public on the pro and anti sides of natural gas exploration. He further suggested the town board members hold a public meeting to let citizens “testify” on the issue before any decisions are made. He wanted the public hearing to be transcribed and saved for the board to review as needed.
The town supervisor proposed doing a survey through the mail. The Town of Guilford tried this but the mail surveys generated a poor return rate and many constituents were unhappy with the results and the idea of basing a comprehensive plan on such a small percentage of a town. Surveys are just one method of public input and tend to be answered by those with agendas.
Moreover, the fact someone wants to “preserve rural character” doesn’t mean they are opposed to natural gas exploration. Therefore, interpretation of results is fraught with risk, even when the surveys are random and objective, and these surveys tend to be neither.
Dorsey Dims the Lights and Raises the Roof
The Smithville Town Clerk also gave her report, not something we’d normally report, but this time was different. She opened by acknowledging natural gas advocate Sue Dorsey’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for information related to the town’s deliberations on the moratorium issue. The clerk said she felt she had answered Dorsey’s request with one exception.
Dorsey was put on the agenda and given five minutes to speak on her FOIL request. She spoke flawlessly, pinpointing every single thing the board did, documenting a thorough lack of professionalism in the way her request had been handled. She started by noting she was told she would have ten minutes to speak but, when she arrived at the meeting, the board allotted her only five minutes instead. Watch her whole speech below. It was a very strong, compelling case, as anyone can see for themselves.
Yes, you heard that!! The town clerk gave the information to someone else who then posted it on several different anti-natural gas exploration websites looking for help on how to avoid giving Dorsey public information! Can you believe it? Dorsey’s question was simple. Why did followers of anti-natural gas websites know of her FOIL request before she even heard back from the clerk? There was no answer.
Dorsey noted one of the documents requested in her FOIL was a petition that had been circulated and submitted to the town, on which were, supposedly, 515 names. The clerk said she wouldn’t give it to Dorsey because the petition had addresses and phone numbers on it. However, petitions are signed with the understanding they will be entered into the public record. The addresses, names, and phone numbers are voluntarily given with any petition and it is all a matter of public record.
Busted Flat in Smithville!
The supervisor was stunned and, quite clearly, knew this was wrong. He could barely even respond, let alone answer any question Dorsey had asked. You can see how unorganized his response was below as he complains about Dorsey’s tone after the town clerk has just tried to circumvent her FOIL request by conspiring with anti-natural gas groups.
Toward the close of the meeting the town board returned to a matter tabled at the last meeting. The Town of Ulysses had asked Smithville to support them in an “Amicus Curiae” brief that signed onto the concept of natural gas bans by local law. The board wisely decided to wait and see what the Department of Environmental Conservation had in store for New York in the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement before they jumped on this bandwagon. It was a sign the evening’s events may have brought a little caution and wisdom to the table.
Sue Dorsey was the MVP of the night! She stood up for her rights and held the board’s feet to the ethical fire! The board didn’t quite know how to respond to someone speaking truth to power, but they got a good lesson in the danger of special interest politics of the sort that opposition to natural gas development has produced in some towns. You can’t run a town on the basis of denying someone’s rights, or you just might get run over by one of those folks and end up busted flat in Smithville.