Those familiar with the McCloud Services District secret contract “negotiations” with Nestle will find this tale of corporate-driven municipal secrecy from the Worcester Telegram eerily familiar.
The Board of Selectman for the rural town of Wekepeke [ed: sorry, search and replace error on Sterling & Wekepeke – all fixed now] Clinton, Maine engaged in talks with Nestle, but hid the extent of the talks from the public by conducting them in executive sessions.
They even destroyed a Memorandum of Understanding (signed by the selectman) in an apparent attempt to mask the extent of the negotiations.
The affair plays out like a low-budget detective movie; the whole unpleasant episode came to light only after a citizens group started asking questions.
From the Worcester Telegram:
A group of residents calling themselves the Committee for Informed Citizens is accusing the Board of Selectmen of backroom maneuvers, public deception and repeated violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
“At first we thought this was just a sloppy administration of communication by the town,” said Doris Bennett, a CIC member. “But we found that the selectmen refused to account” for the board’s actions.
CIC requested that the town address its concerns at its Aug. 20 selectmen’s meeting, but that did not happen. The group has asked that they be addressed in open session at the next selectmen’s meeting on Sept. 3. The most serious issue they ask is “why six executive sessions were conducted in which selectmen discussed the Nestlé project and appear to have been called and held in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law.”
According to CIC, none of the sessions was announced or voted on in open session, and at least half of the sessions concerned information that did not qualify for discussion in executive session. In addition, Nestlé attended at least one of these sessions, they say.
The story is an involved one (and worth a read), but the bottom line is this: once again, Nestle participated in – and tacitly (if not actively) – pushed the Board of Selectman to enter into an agreement without any public review.
Track Nestle’s tactics long enough, and you’ll see patterns repeat – right down to the hiring of “consultants” suffering a clear conflict of interest.
Here, the citizen watchdog group (CIC) rolled out what looks like a smoking gun (with Nestle’s fingerprints all over it):
CIC also presented an unsigned copy of a memorandum of agreement between Sterling selectmen and Nestlé. Ms. Bennett said two selectmen provided conflicting information as to whether it was signed and Ms. Ackerman indicated the signed memo had been destroyed because Nestlé hadn’t signed it. CIC said the existence of the draft indicates that proceedings between the town and Nestlé had progressed much further than selectmen had made public.
The memorandum called for the creation of an escrow account, to be funded by Nestlé, and accessed by Sterling to reimburse itself for payments made to its outside legal counsel to evaluate whether the proposal could be performed under Sterling’s zoning bylaws, and draft whatever zoning amendments and-or agreements needed so that the proposal could be implemented; and payments made to Sterling’s hydrogeologist to review and advise Sterling, which is employed by the same company as the hydrogeologist used by Nestlé.
You’ll forgive me if “escrow account” sounds a lot like a “slush fund” – candy for a cash-strapped rural town.
The rest of the Worcester Telegram’s story reads like a laundry list of predatory corporate behavior; at one point, the consultant hired by the town (with Nestle’s money) turns out to be the same hydrogeologist who works with Nestle elsewhere in Maine.
Amusingly, this “consultant” reviewed only Nestle’s data when advising the Board of Selectman – an environment so biased towards Nestle’s interests that it’s safe to say no real independent evaluation actually took place.
However the residents of Clinton resolve this furball, one thing remains clear; Nestle’s predatory tactics in rural towns are not only documented, they continue to repeat themselves.