LINCOLN — Town Councilor Rod Carr recused himself from a 4-2 vote awarding First Wind of Massachusetts a 20-year tax break Monday after he was accused of a conflict of interest in working as a paid lobbyist for landowners who would benefit from the project.
Carr looked down, stonefaced, as attorney Lynne A. Williams read a one-page letter to Carr dated Monday in which she wrote that H.C. Haynes Inc. and W.T. Gardner and Sons had paid $3,000 and $2,000, respectively, in 2008 “for your lobbying on behalf of their interests.”
Carr’s lobbyist registration statements indicate that he expects to receive $5,000 in 2009, Williams said during the council meeting at Mattanawcook Academy on Monday. Those companies own a portion of land on which First Wind seeks permits to build 40 1.5-megawatt turbines along the Rollins Mountain ridgelines that run through Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn as part of its $130 million project.
Williams represents the Friends of Lincoln Lakes group, which opposes the Rollins Mountain project.
“We believe that there is no doubt that it would be unethical for you to exercise your vote on this matter, as it was to vote on the TIF in March,” Williams said Monday. “If you do vote on this matter on April 13, it will, of course, be up to the Penobscot County district attorney and the attorney general to decide whether you have violated a criminal law by so voting.”
Carr denied any unethical conduct, saying that he was “really disappointed” at being accused after more than 20 years of honest public service to the town. He recused himself after a 15-minute recess in which he unsuccessfully attempted to telephone his attorney for advice.
Carr’s work for Gardner and Haynes, he said, involved “only advising and assisting” on forestry issues — not lobbying for First Wind.
“I never discussed First Wind in my discussions with them,” Carr said. He called Williams’ letter something “done to embarrass me, and it did.”
Council Chairman Steve Clay called the letter “character assassination.
“My reaction has always been that I don’t get involved in their mudslinging and I have let their arguments go, but there comes a time where enough is enough,” Clay said. “What they did tonight to Rod Carr, who has been a public servant for 30-plus years, has always done the right thing, has always been honest, I think is a sign of desperation.”
Williams defended her letter as an attempt to shed light onto dealings surrounding the project. She said that there was “at least a need to discuss the potential conflict and then let people decide.”
“He [Carr] did not disclose to the council his relationship [with Haynes and Gardner] and then he voted on it,” Williams said in reference to the council’s first try at a tax increment financing deal for First Wind. The council deadlocked in that 3-3 vote on March 9 with Carr voting in favor of the TIF.
Clay said he wasn’t “specifically” aware of Carr’s relationship with Haynes and Gardner until Monday.
“Do I think it matters? No,” Clay said, reiterating his belief in Carr’s honesty. Also, he said, if the TIF had been rejected again Monday night, First Wind likely would have reapplied for another TIF, as the vote does not deny reapplications.
Under the first TIF agreement — a proposed 60-40 split over 20 years between First Wind and the town of the taxable value of First Wind’s estimated $50 million investment in Lincoln — First Wind would have received $8.8 million in sheltered tax money over 20 years, while the town would have received an estimated $9.8 million in TIF funds over 30 years.
Under the version that passed, the 60-40 split lasts 10 years, with a 50-50 split over the last 10, which adds about $600,000 more to the town’s coffers, officials said.
Clay and Councilors Thora House, Clay’s brother Samuel Clay and David Whalen voted for the TIF. Husband and wife Councilors Michael and Marscella Ireland opposed it.