YARMOUTH — Progress on a town solar energy proposal was delayed last week because of a potential conflict of interest.
During Town Council discussion April 12 about establishing a Renewable Energy and Sustainability Task Force to be charged with several tasks – including a group solar purchasing program – Councilor Jim MacLeod questioned whether a disclosure should be required after learning Councilor April Humphrey’s brother works for ReVision Energy, a company that frequently works with municipalities on group solar purchasing agreements.
MacLeod said Humphrey mentioned the relationship to him during an energy fair earlier this month.
In January, the council rejected Humphrey’s original proposal for a “Solarize Yarmouth” program that would have provided a joint purchasing option for solar panels from a selected provider for residents and businesses. Last month, she came back with “Solarize 2.0,” which would select multiple installers to participate in the program, rather than just one.
On March 1, Humphrey said the next step, if the council opts to advance the program, would be establishing a task force to facilitate the program and also look at other sustainability options in town, which was the item on the April 12 agenda.
“It was my understanding the ReVision Energy is or would be a serious contender to anything to do with Yarmouth and solar, and it’s also my understanding that ReVision has done work for the town in the past,” MacLeod said, later noting that the council had just spent four months reviewing their rules and addressing conflicts of interest and disclosures.
Humphrey said she had no problem making the disclosure and had intended to, but wasn’t sure when it would be appropriate.
“I assumed that the appropriate time to make that disclosure was when it was time to talk about selecting a company or a range of companies,” Humphrey said. “… It’s not something that I’m hiding (or) afraid to disclose.”
Humphrey said her brother works in a warehouse; MacLeod pointed out the company is 100 percent employee-owned.
In an April 16 email, Chairwoman Pat Thompson said she thought Humphrey should recuse herself from voting on the proposed resolution, which “establishes a task force charged with the responsibility of creating a solar purchasing program consisting of certain, selected solar-installation vendors.”
“It is precisely for situations like this that this Town Council recently added the conflict of interest provision to our council rules,” Thompson said. “Additionally, state statute requires that where there is a pecuniary conflict or the appearance of a conflict … a person should first disclose the conflict to the council and recuse himself or herself from any action that gives rise to the appearance of a conflict.”
Councilor Richard Plourde said he was bothered by the timing and thought the conflict should have been raised during initial discussions of a solarize program where a single provider would have been selected.
Humphrey apologized for not raising the issue sooner, but said she felt it wasn’t necessary to abstain from the item on the table, which was approving the establishment of a task force.
“I don’t think I should have to recuse myself from (everything) solar-related because I have a sibling who works for a solar company,” she said.
Councilor Tim Shannon advised the council to proceed with caution because under state law, a vote is voidable if a councilor or family member has a pecuniary interest in a matter.
In order to seek guidance from an attorney on the matter, the council tabled a vote on forming a task force to a meeting in May.
Town Manager Nat Tupper said guidance would be sought from an attorney, but not the town’s attorney because she is married to the owner of ReVision Energy.