Monday, December 10, 2012

Renewable energy tax breaks bylaw passes

On Dec. 6th 2012, Article 12 was approved at town meeting. One amendment passed before the final vote. In order to qualify for any tax breaks/relief, the project will need a simple majority approval from town meeting. As originally written, the bylaw required two thirds majority.

We consider this to be a victory for the residents/taxpayers of Carver.

Here is the transcript from my speech at town meeting, in support of this bylaw:

I'm Phil Shannon from Bow Street. I'm a member of some groups that I'd like to mention. I'm the founder of the Watchdogs of Carver, which is a non-partisan grassroots group that is seeking transparency in our local government. We are members of a national group called the Citizens for Open Government, which was created by the Sunlight Foundation. These groups take inspiration from Justice Brandeis’ famous quote “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”

Article 12 is important to me because right now, the process related to these renewable energy projects lacks transparency. 

I've submitted a couple of requests for public information relating to solar projects in Carver. I'll use the route 44 project as an example of why I believe this issue is important. Because of my request, the Town Planner mailed the documents related to this project to me. With the documents, I confirmed that the rules related to the 2009 Stimulus funding were followed. This includes the “Buy-American” and Davis-Bacon requirements. All equipment for the route 44 solar project was made in the USA, and prevailing wages were paid to the workers on this project. This is information that many residents are interested in, there is no reason to make it difficult to access.

During this request for public information process, I exchanged emails with Town Planner Mr. Hunter. At that time, I notified him that I'm interested in more transparency, and suggested that it would be much easier if all documentation related to this project was posted online. On May 21st this year, I received the following response:
"I can’t agree more about transparency I will see if we can put these things on line.  We are pretty archaic around here with the web page, though some changes have just occurred.  My secretary will be in tomorrow and I will ask her what we can do."
Once in a while I check to see if any documents related to any renewable energy projects have been posted online. I checked today, still nothing. Having this data available online to the public will make for a more accountable government. And it's not going to happen unless we make a change here tonight by voting Yes on Article 12.

Government oversight is an expression of the American people's collaborative effort to govern themselves. Article 12 will force the project proponents to be completely transparent with all details of the projects. One consequence of this would be public document sharing. Just like we saw with the Ravenbrook Project, all details were shared with the residents of Carver in an up front and open way. We didn't have to submit requests for Public information for that project. The bottom line is, we will have access to all documentation, once they know that they need our vote for project approval.

Real transparency only happens when the public has the ability to easily access and monitor information about government activity. This levels the playing field between the special interests and the residents, so we all have an equal opportunity to monitor what's going on. Article 12 promotes transparency, and transparency is the cornerstone of a democracy. "Democracies die behind closed doors!" 

It's time we open the shades and let the sun shine in. Please vote yes on article 12.

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