Today was a dark day in Groton. The Town Board, having just lost a seat (and almost two) in the recent election, decided to revive their long-tabled fracking moratorium so they could vote it down before the new board member could take her seat in January. As expected, the vote was 3 to 2, with Scheffler, Gamel, and Clark voting against the moratorium, and Sovocool and Morey voting for it. The 3 – 2 vote means that, if they had waited to vote until January, the vote would have been 3 – 2 in favor of the moratorium, because Scheffler lost his seat to Kelly Smith, who is in favor of a moratorium.
The moratorium had been tabled since November 2012 when the town board decided not to vote on it because they wanted to first form an ethics board to rule on potential conflicts of interest (some board members have held gas leases in the past). The town board then took until August 2013 to establish the ethics board, dragging out the process far longer than many other New York towns.
As was made clear at today’s (December 10, 2013) town board meeting, the ethics board was never asked to consider possible conflicts of interest related to gas leases. In addition, the existing Tompkins County ethics board could have been consulted at any time. Thus the town board could have voted on their tabled moratorium at any time since November 2012. Why delay? They knew that fracking was going to be a hot issue in the upcoming election, and they did not want to go on record with a vote either way.
Delaying the moratorium vote for over a year to allow for an ethics board ruling was clearly a stalling tactic. However, the town board’s hand was forced by their loss in the recent election. They knew they had a 3-2 majority against a moratorium, but the majority would change in favor of a moratorium in January. Thus they held a sham public hearing (at which pro-moratorium speakers outnumbered anti-moratorium speakers by a ratio of 4 to 1) and immediately voted against the moratorium.
The vote was a bald-faced political move by a majority that no longer represents their constituents. It was also a pointed attempt to deny the incoming board member, Kelly Smith, a voice in the debate.
What is the next step in this fight? Find out more at the next GRAC meeting on December 18 at 7pm at Mike and Jen’s house. Contact us if you need directions.