At Wednesday night’s Town of Delaware Board meeting, the issue of potential conflicts of interest for board members being asked to make decisions about the hot-button issue of gas drilling arose. I wish I could say the response by the board and town attorney Kenneth Klein gave me confidence that they knew where the lines need to be drawn.
Councilman Harold Roeder Jr. declared that if anyone on the board benefits financially from drilling, we all benefit indirectly, since that money is taxed, and spreads out, or trickles down—or perhaps leaks is a better word in this case—to the rest of the community. But I don’t think that is what New York State’s General Municipal Law means when it says that no municipal officer shall enter into an agreement, either express or implied, that involves any matter before any agency of his municipality, or that it is what the attorney general meant when he advised that local officials with possible conflicts of interests should not even debate such issues, let alone vote on them. If Klein knows about these laws and opinions, it’s puzzling that he didn’t mention them when asked to define conflict of interest. If he doesn’t, then perhaps it’s fair to say he did not provide the town with the best legal advice in this instance.
I don’t have any idea who may or may not have a conflict of interest, but the issue is a valid one, and people have a right to raise it and be taken seriously.
Town supervisor James Scheutzow deserves credit for running a respectful and mostly civil meeting, given the high stakes, although at least once he allowed Roeder to shout down a citizen who had begun to speak. A gavel would have been more appropriate than his silence. Perhaps this is related to the board’s adoption of what it calls “neutrality” with regard to drilling. Neutrality means not taking sides. But taking sides is not always about doing something. It can also be the result of doing nothing.