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Cape Vincent attorney, state official say private meeting didn’t violate law

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CAPE VINCENT — A Dec. 9 private meeting with members of the Town Council, a representative from the Wind Power Ethics Group and three members of an advisory committee qualified as an executive session that did not violate the state Open Meetings Law as was previously suspected, according to town attorney Paul J. Curtin.

Mr. Curtin, who presided over the meeting, submitted a letter clarifying the purpose of the meeting that was presented to the public Thursday by members of the Town Council. The letter states that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the potential of litigation regarding the Article X application for Cape Vincent Wind Farm submitted by BP Wind Energy. All nine members at the meeting qualify as Mr. Curtin’s clients in the Article X proceeding, according to the letter, because they have overseen the spending of $82,600 in intervenor funding awarded in May by the state Public Service Commission from BP Wind Energy to the town and WPEG.

That intervenor funding was used to hire six experts. The town received $43,245 to hire three experts, including Mr. Curtin; the town and WPEG jointly received $39,355 to hire three additional experts.

After the 4 p.m. private meeting, a public hearing on the Article X proceeding was hosted by the state Public Service Commission at Cape Vincent Elementary School. BP Wind Energy still hasn’t sold the Cape Vincent wind project to another developer, which it had hoped to do by 2014.

The status of participants in the Dec. 9 meeting who weren’t members of the Town Council was originally unclear when the matter was reported to the Times by Dennis W. Pearson, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for an open seat on the Town Council in the November election. Mr. Pearson, who visited the meeting in person, incorrectly claimed there were attendees who were not protected by attorney-client privilege.

In addition to the five members of Town Council, present at the meeting were WPEG representative Carol A. Simpson and three members of the Article X advisory committee established by the town: Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman R. Dennis Faulknham, Planning Board Chairman Robert S. Brown and former Planning Board Chairman Richard H. MacSherry.

Robert J. Freeman,executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, was initially contacted by Mr. Pearson about the matter. Mr. Freeman inititally expressed concerns about the meeting because it wasn’t known who was present or what was discussed. But after a town board member informed him this week that participants were all involved in the Article X proceeding, he agreed that the closed meeting was legal because of attorney-client privilege.

“Insofar as legal advice was requested and given, I would agree that the attroney-client privilege could have been justly asserted,” Mr. Freeman told the Times on Friday. “And to that extent, the Open Meetings Law would not have applied.”

After all of the facts were revealed, Mr. Freeman “asserted that in his opinion, there was absolutely not violation of state law by any of the individuals present,” Mr. Curtin states in the letter.

After the meeting Thursday, Councilman John L. Byrne said the board is sensitive about abiding by the state Open Meetings Law. Board members attend training offered by Mr. Freeman in New York City every February to ensure they are familiar with the law, he said.

“We try to do everything by the letter of the law, and if we had an inkling that we did anything that was improper, I would not participate in it,” he said. “As far as Mr. Pearson coming into the meeting and making the accusation, anyone could make a mistake and no one can wrong him for that.”

In other business, the board nominated the following officials to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board:

n Hester M. Chase, five-year term reappointment, ZBA.

n Edward P. Bender, two-year reapppointment, ZBA.

nMichael J. Saliby, two-year term, ZBA.

n Rockney E. Burns, five-year reappointment, Planning Board.

n Al Walker, two-year appointment, Planning Board (filled vacancy created by resignation of Robert Cardarelli).

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