June 11, 2015

Town of Reading meeting - and attorney - overheats

TOWN OF READING, Reading Center, NY - Going to meetings as a journalist is a lot more fun than going as a participant.

I knew this before I went to the Town of Reading Board meeting Wednesday night. But I never envisioned getting into a verbal altercation with the board's attorney - actually telling him that he was "out of order" when he interrupted my comments to the board. (More details on that imbroglio later including an audio file.)

My participation at the meeting as a citizen - as opposed to a newspaper columnist for the Finger Lakes Times - was because a friend asked me to personally deliver 10 copies of my newly released novel Fracking Justice to the members of the board.

Some people seeing this have already finished reading the novel - or are closing in on the explosive ending. Those folks understand the significance of book and relevance to the proposed storage of liquid propane gas in unlined salt caverns adjacent to beautiful Seneca Lake.

At the meeting I submitted a two-page letter of concern to the Town Board members and spoke briefly. I urged them to write a letter to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, reserving the Town's right to ultimately say no to the Texas-based company (Crestwood Midstream of Houston) that wants to cram (under great pressure) 88 million gallons of explosive propane in the salt caverns.

Presenting Fracking Justice to the Reading Town Board
After I spoke, many others opposed to the LPG storage spoke, too.

And the evening wore on. (I've been waiting to write that line forever... So there it is.)

After the last of the public comments, the attorney for the Town of Reading (Thomas Bowes of Painted Post, formerly with NY Congressman Tom Reed's law office) spoke. He started out slowly, sort-of even-handedly explaining the situation legally to the town board. He reminded me of an algebra tutor I had in high school, patient, but losing patience with every word.

Then he went off the rails by referring to Crestwood as if it was a person (a la Mitt Romney's famous quote that "corporations are people, my friend"). He essentially told the Town Board letters to the DEC and the things suggested by the audience were for all intent and purposes, probably moot.

That got a rise out of the audience, prompting me to walk up to the front of the meeting, where I asked the chair to recognize me again, even though the official public comment period was over.

I had barely begun when the Town of Reading's attorney launched into a diatribe cutting me off cold. And so, I told him he was "out of order."

Thomas Bowes
I quickly added that the chair of the Town Board really should be the one to rule the Bowes out of order. My blurting out "out of order" was a complete reflex after God-only-knows how many meetings at my university as a department chair and chair of the faculty.

I ruled a lot of people out of order at meetings in my university career. And they usually deserved it.

But my offhand, out-of-order comment lit the rocket of attorney Bowes. He blew up faster and hotter than I have ever seen an attorney do in a public meeting. Usually when attorneys are sitting as a paid legal consultant to a municipality, they seem so calm, you wonder if they might be on tranquilizers.

Bowes wasn't. Particularly when he barked this at me:
"You can sit down."

I think I might have said "Ooooooooo." Not all that professional of me, either, I suppose. But it just kind of slipped out. I heard a couple of "Oooooooooo" remarks from the audience, too.

I started speaking again, quickly made my point (even as Bowes made grumbling remarks in the background). Then I thanked the chair for allowing me the time to speak.

Outside the meeting, the folks who had spoken - and who were hopeful the board would take a position against the LPG storage last night - were disappointed. The board said it needed more time to ponder the situation before members would make a decision.

That pondering might have included the long, closed-door session with attorney Bowes that occurred right after the regular meeting ended.

I just hope none of the Town Board members stood up without permission.

Standing room only at the Town of Reading board meeting Wednesday night

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