Editorial: Petition undermines council’s majority vote

Sun, 01/13/2013 - 4:28pm

We have had dysfunctional Town Councils in the past and it made the process of governing quite difficult. Candid, informed discussions inclusive of differing viewpoints serve the public well. Once the vote is taken, however, the members should respect the outcome.

With that in mind, we are uneasy about Town Council member Chris Warfel’s petition opposing the proposed wind farm. The fact that another council member, Sean McGarry, has signed it is equally troubling.

That’s not to say elected representatives should not express differing opinions — that is, after all, the heart of democracy.

But, on November 6, 2012, the voters of Block Island elected a Town Council that is, by a 3-2 margin, in favor of the proposed wind farm. The candidates were quite clear about their positions on the farm prior to the election.

True, timing plays a role here. The new Town Council was sworn in just as comments for various state and federal permits arrived on its agenda; so new councilors did not have much of a chance to chime in on the town’s position on the wind farm.

Nevertheless, it’s not entirely clear what the purpose of the petition is. It’s also not clear whether just anyone can sign it, or if it’s only for Block Island residents.

It is not the positions of those opposing the farm that cause concern; rather, it is the principle of respecting the results of a council vote, such as the one it took on December 18 essentially supporting the farm.

But this line, taken from the petition, doesn’t seem to reflect such respect:

“We ask [the Army Corps] to consider any document submitted by the Town of New Shoreham…  supporting the DeepWater Block Island Transmission Cable project as representing only those opinions of the members of the Town Council who signed the document, and in no manner be construed as representing public opinion.”

We applaud any effort to expand the discussion — especially with input from someone who knows as much about alternative energy as Warfel. And, whereas it would be wholly appropriate were he not a town official, the petition seems a step too far within his role as a council member — as if it’s an effort to undermine the institution he’s become a member of.

It’s not as if there hasn’t been a vocal wind farm opposition in place for quite some time. And the public has been free to pressure — through elections or otherwise — the council to act along those lines.

For example, it could be argued that we don’t have a municipal wind turbine at the transfer station largely because of the opposition that made itself clear at council meetings. But when it comes to the Deepwater project, an honest observer would have to say that local opinion is at best split, with slightly more approving than disapproving, which is essentially what the makeup of the council reflects.

In the Supreme Court, provisions are made for dissenting opinions. Perhaps the councilors opposing the wind farm could offer their own dissenting opinion to the various agencies, without trying to build public support to undo something the council they are a part of already did.

Currently our country is being crippled by gridlock in Congress. We hope that dynamic doesn’t travel to Block Island.