Appalachian Basin

The Slottje Selling Spree Continues

The Town of Morris, New York was the site of a forum last week that brought both David and Helen Slottje from the Ithaca based Community Environmental Defense Council (CEDC) to the local high school. This time though, they weren’t giving “pro bono” legal advice.  Rather, they were there for an “educational forum.”  It seems like they were truly following  the definition of “pro bono,” or helping people who can’t afford legal representation to secure it.  If this were really the case it would be refreshing as the Slottje’s previous actions of peddling the Park Foundation’s special interest views on local legislation is not exactly “pro bono” work. Some would argue it is pushing an agenda.  Perhaps the Slottje’s seem to have finally awoken to that fact.  We’ll see following the jump.

So are the Slottje’s changing their tune?  Notice how Helen Slottje carefully describes their task as “educational” now, whereas before it was free pro-bono legal advice.

Members of various landowner’s coalitions came to the  forum. There were numerous residents of the Town of Morris, and surrounding towns, in attendance who support natural gas exploration and want to see it come to the area. They know how much the area desperately needs the jobs that will be created, the roads that will be fixed, and the great economic benefit the area will see, among many other benefits as well.  The Slottje’s, however, have a different agenda.  They have targeted Morris as a community where they might be able to sell the Park Foundation anti-natural gas development snake oil, having been there earlier for that purpose.

The forum began with a presentation titled “Its All About Local Control” that lead into Helen Slottje’s talk.   This presentation was little more than an anti-gas screed that left no doubt in anyone’s mind this was not a forum, but, rather, an orchestrated one-sided sales pitch.

Helen Slottje presented next. For the most part, her presentation mirrored the one we had previously seen in Bethel, New York. The major difference was in how it was presented this time, not as “free legal advice” as it had been before, but now as an “educational tool.”

The main topic, of course, was zoning and Helen basically told the town it could zone the gas industry out of their jurisdiction.  One couldn’t help but notice the emphasis has shifted from banning natural gas development, which hasn’t been received quite so well among towns since the challenges to Dryden and Middlefield bans have arisen, to zoning it out.  Ultimately its a distinction without a difference, but it is fascinating to watch the changes in language.  It’s also interesting to listen as towns consider advice that essentially amounts to an attack on private landowners and the ability to generate income from that land to pay their taxes and keep their land.

After the presentation a question and answer session was held. One man, running for Highway Superintendent in Butternuts, New York, asked Helen Slottje if the town and its officials could get sued by landowners if a ban is passed. The answer certainly couldn’t have comforted him or any other local official or candidate for office. This is why “free legal advice” is risky.

David, who has only been a member of the New York Bar Association since 2010, cut his wife off quite a bit during the question and answer session and answered the questions he felt she couldn’t answer correctly.  Neither, of course, have much experience in representing municipalities or land use law in particular, having been principally occupied over the last several years as owners and counsel to a family dollar store chain.  What was most interesting was that David denied the Park Foundation was a client of sorts.  No, of course not – they just gave the CEDC $25,000 in funding!

Following this, Wayne Leidecker made a very cogent point about the thoroughness of the New York State DEC’s SGEIS document answering most of the concerns that had been raised regarding gas exploration.  Showing how quickly these anti natural gas advocates result to personal attack, Wayne was then asked how much he was paid by the industry to come and speak for natural gas.  The woman who asked is a Josh Fox wannabe who is  making a documentary of her own. Of course, just because local resident’s aren’t all lining up at the trough to drink the anti’s Kool-Aid doesn’t mean they are paid industry “shills”.  This however, like many others, is a fact that is lost on, or ignored, by these folks.

The Slottjes were also asked if they were being paid to attend these forums. They said no but did finally mention they were supported by the Park Foundation.  They were then challenged as to how the legal advice they are giving could possibly be objective when it is funded by a specific organization with a special interest agenda. Once again demonstrating the kind of professionalism exhibited in his “Lawyer Up, Big Guy” threat, he essentially repeated that show for the benefit of every pro-gas attendee.

David, of course, couldn’t quite keep it “educational,” ending the evening with another offer of free help to towns that wished to ban gas development in one form or another without using the word “ban.”

This traveling road show by the Slottje’s is wearing awfully thin.  One could sense that skepticism was pervasive throughout the audience. After all, what kind of attorney threatens to sue his opponents for simply exercising their freedom of speech?  Which leads to a larger question.  What kind of special arrogance does it take to threaten ordinary citizens of different views using the foul-mouthed language he did in the Lumberland case?

I’m not sure why someone would travel town to town bad-mouthing residents they don’t agree with.  I’m also not sure why any town would accept “legal” advice from a person with little direct experience in defending the laws they are pitching while actively avoding representing the towns that take that advice.  The Slotjje’s may be able to change words ever so slightly to hide what they are really selling.  But their smoke and mirrors show is beginning to lose the public’s interest.



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