A candidate for a Brown County Board of Supervisors seat in the April 3 election, who is a county Board of Health (BOH) member, is accused of attempting to erase from the public record comments two citizens made at a BOH meeting last year.
Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy (BCCRWE) has been advocating for county residents who reported serious health issues after commercial wind turbines began operating near their homes. BCCRWE has chronicled illnesses suffered by residents and the decision by some to leave their homes, near the Shirley Wind Farm, operated by Duke Energies.
In October 2014, the BOH, after nearly five years of intensive study, declared the Shirley wind farm a human health hazard because of the health impact on area residents. Since then, Brown County has failed to take action in response to the declaration. Despite that, the BCCRWE continues to bring the BOH new information on the wind turbine issue on an ongoing basis. At the September 26, 2017, meeting, BCCRWE Vice President Barbara Vanden Boogart and William Acker, president of Acker & Associates consulting engineers, made presentations to the BOH on the wind issue.
Vanden Boogart, using supporting documents to make her case, presented the board with information challenging assertions made by Dr. Robert McCunney at a forum on the health effects of wind turbines earlier that month at Bayport High School. (Duke Energy, the operator of the Shirley wind farm, paid McCunney for his appearance at the event.) Acker presented a document called “Recent Court Case Decisions Around the World.” The document covered court settlements covering three different wind farms, some of which resulted in the shutdown of industrial wind turbines.
BOH Secretary Patti Zich included summaries of both presentations in her minutes of the meeting. At the November 14th meeting, BOH member James Crawford presented proposed amended minutes in which he eliminated more than 90 percent of the summary of Vanden Boogart’s and Acker’s comments that Zich had included. Minutes of government meetings are often amended or modified to make grammatical or other technical corrections. However, an audio recording of the meeting listened to by Media Trackers strongly indicates Crawford’s motive was to remove content, statements with which he disagreed. Crawford said:
She (Vanden Boogart) submitted two articles she claims describe a lawsuit against Duke Energy by plaintiffs for hosting wind turbines. Barbara’s not an attorney… I don’t know; you got to talk to the actual plaintiff to know what’s going on. (Vanden Boogart doesn’t claim anything; the submitted articles speak for themselves) So again, I thought it was misleading, it could be misleading, who knows. It’s meant to build a case, but that’s not what we’re here for.
Crawford’s comments indicate that he wanted these comments and many others removed from the minutes because, in his opinion, they were or could be misleading. In other words, he was making a value judgment as to whether comments made at a public meeting should be included in the official minutes of that meeting. Crawford then shockingly suggests that the BOH needs to “fire a shot across the bow” of the BCCRWE by removing the comments:
It’s about time we all talked in public, and not whisper. And I think that we all should agree that we could do this once, and cover it, all vote to change this and let this be a lesson to intimidation. That this board is not going to be intimidated by the anti-wind people. It’s got to stop. And this is a good shot across the bow.
It’s unclear from the audio recording what Crawford found intimidating about letting citizens submit scientific information to a governmental body and then having the information available to the public online in minutes. Approval of his proposed amended minutes failed on a 3-3 tie.
In January, the Brown County Administration Committee addressed Crawford’s actions. Committee members were stunned by Crawford’s attempt. Supervisor Patrick Evans:
“It bothers me and I hope that the public is watching this…We have people who had come to the Board of Health, they had spoke, and he (Crawford) attempted under modifying and approving the minutes…to delete their comments, so delete comments from the public…I can’t go for that…I would actually ask that Mr. Crawford resign from the Board of Health because of those actions.
Pointing out that Crawford is a candidate for County Board, Evans said, “I certainly don’t want to see him on the County Board.” Supervisor Guy Zima said, “never in my 40 years (in government) have I seen anything like that.” Zima pointed out that board members can make technical corrections but “never have we allowed anybody to say we don’t like what this person said or we dispute what this person said or this isn’t accurate information and we don’t want it in the minutes – no, that doesn’t work.”
The Administration Committee, as the full County Board previously had, voted unanimously to have corporation counsel draft a policy for County Board consideration to prevent actions such as Crawford’s in the future.
In addition to almost entirely eliminating Acker’s and Vanden Boogart’s comments, Crawford suggested what they said couldn’t be substantiated and used the word “claimed” rather than “stated” in reference to their comments. Zich’s approved minutes use “stated.” Acker and Vanden Boogart make clear that their statements are substantiated with supporting documents presented to the Board of Health. Beyond that, resolution of court cases Acker referred to are easily discovered in a Google search, despite Crawford’s claim that it couldn’t be substantiated.
Vanden Boogart also rejects Crawford’s label of “anti-wind.” Vanden Boogart says their concerns are exclusively the impact on human health of industrial turbines placed near residences, not the larger issue of the viability of wind energy.
Also at the November 14 BOH meeting, Crawford and two other board members successfully blocked an effort to suspend the rules to allow Acker and Vanden Boogart to speak to the minutes controversy. It should be noted that Media Trackers utilized the official minutes from Zich posted online for this story; something we, or any member of the public, would not have been able to do had Crawford’s attempt to essentially erase the comments prevailed.
In an interview Wednesday with Media Trackers, Crawford continued to defend his actions and, intended or not, made it clear that his intent was to thwart what he perceives as an agenda. He believes Vanden Boogart and Acker are “trying to promote the possibility that they could actually win a lawsuit.”
When pressed by Media Trackers on the point that it is virtually unheard of for a member of a governmental body to delete content from minutes based on his or her opinion of it, he responded: “I think it’s in the public interest to balance their statements as to their perceived truths as to how much water they can hold.” When reminded that this was the same attitude the County supervisors expressed astonishment at, Crawford gave a puzzling response: “They are jumping on the political bandwagon and we’ll see what the voters say. We’re here to serve the voters, not to listen to stump speeches.”
Crawford’s appointment to the BOH by County Executive Troy Streckenbach was approved by the County Board in January 2016, after an hour-long debate and an attempt to delay the appointment failed.
Crawford squares off with Steve Deslauriers for the 20th District Brown County Supervisory seat in the April 3 election. The district includes the Greenleaf and Denmark areas in southern Brown County. The district also contains a portion of the Shirley wind project.