Mar 7, 2013

Searsport: did "independent consultant Neal Frangesh have conflict of interest when advising town on DCP megatank?

In this 3/7/13  letter, activist Nancy Galland summarizes her findings about "independent consultant" Neal Frangesh's background and behavior advising the town of Searsport about DCP, which suggess he has a conflict of interest that marred his value to the town.  This was also published in the Republican Journal 3/6/13

PUBLIC HEARING REVEALS POSSIBLE FRANGESH CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The front page article last week on the final Searsport Planning Board public hearing for the DCP mega-tank was replete with quotes and detailed descriptions of the lively exchanges that night of Feb. 25. I was, however, puzzled by the omission of one very important testimony given early on in the public comment period. I am hoping this was simply an oversight, but “censorship by omission” is not uncommon. Admittedly, the issue has serious implications, and I hope this column will correct that omission.

I was about 10th in the lineup of about 50 who wanted to testify. What I had to say implicates “something rotten in Denmark,” as Shakespeare might say. There is a crack in what appears to be a democratic process. It is of utmost importance that people are aware of this endemic issue.

Here are excerpts from my testimony:

“In the beginning, DCP objected to the idea of the Board hiring an independent consultant. In response, Mr. Probert stated that he wanted someone who knew more than he did about these things to advise the Board. Then he chose Mr. Frangesh, who is an LPG/LNG industry consultant, who had no experience in advising municipal boards, and who has worked for DCP. Mr. Probert decided this was not a conflict of interest. “

I went on to point out that Mr. Frangesh had signed “a conflict of interest avoidance statement, promising that he won’t work for DCP until either (1) project completion (2) project termination or (3) 12/31/14. Clearly, he intends to go back to work for DCP.”

“During these hearings,” I continued, “more often than not, when Mr. Probert asked if there were any questions after testimonies were submitted, only silence could be heard from Mr. Frangesh. His silence frustrated some of the Board members; they weren’t getting what they needed from their consultant, he was too quiet. I have this on good authority.

"But why was the engineering consultant so silent throughout most of the hearings?

And why, when he did have something to say, was it invariably as an apologist for DCP?”

(In fact, when Mr.Frangesh gave his evaluation of the site plan that night, he sat at the DCP table, receiving advice from the DCP lawyers. He found no problems with the site plan. When a member of Thanks But No Tank began to cross-examine the consultant, Mr. Probert gaveled him down, telling him to submit his questions in writing. The public would hear neither these critical questions nor the responses.)

My testimony continued:

“Even though Mr. Frangesh was hired by the Planning Board as an independent consultant, the $25,000 for his services was paid to the town by DCP.

“This is an oxymoron: how independent can a person be when his paycheck comes from an interested party? And how independent can he be when he’s worked for DCP in the past and, as evidenced in his “avoidance” statement, he intends to do business with them in the future?

"To paraphrase E.B. White, “It’s hard to stand up to someone when you know he holds your next paycheck.”

"The Planning Board’s next step is to sequester themselves from all outside inputs while they examine the evidence. They can, however, call upon experts for clarifications or missing information. Neal Frangesh should not be among those experts. He is not independent, he has proven his prejudice consistently.

"I hearby call upon the Searsport Planning Board to dismiss Neal Frangesh on grounds of failing in his duty to perform adequately as an independent engineering consultant to the Planning Board on behalf of the citizens of Searsport. Mr. Frangesh has failed throughout these hearings in raising critical questions about the DCP Midstream proposal and in specific incidences, his only comments have been in defense of DCP’s interests. Thank you.”

For 10 nights of previous public hearings the Planning Board sat implacably, patiently, through up to four hours of testimonies from DCP representatives, intervenors from various organizations, and the general public. The “general public” was always last on the agenda, but the Planning Board’s frequent willingness to extend the time another half hour or so was appreciated: it felt like small-town democracy in action.

Even the most recalcitrant skeptics who believed the Planning Board had been “bought” by DCP were softening. This last night, however, shed a bright light on the underpinnings of undue influence. What are we to think when a key cross-examination is shut down, the voices of the public are silenced, and a clear conflict of interest is unveiled?

Nancy Galland is a resident of Stockton Springs who testified at a recent Searsport Planning Board hearing on the proposal for an LPG tank there.http://waldo.villagesoup.com/p/public-hearing-reveals-possible-conflict-of-interest/970386

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