Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nestle Attempts to Disqualify Zoning Hearing Board Chairman at First Special Exception Permit Hearing

The number of Solictiors in the Eldred Township Fire Hall outnumbered the entire membership of the Zoning Hearing Board, including its the two alternates.  The hearing lasted 3-1/2 hours, with little accomplished other than watching lightning lick around the edges of the fire hall, qualification of the standing of several residents, a desperate effort by Nestle to disqualify Zoning Hearing Board Chairman O'Donnell, qualifying Nestle's engineer to testify, and setting the next two meeting dates.

Several Attorneys, Representing Several Entitites
The legal representation included two attorneys on behalf of Eldred Township, Jordan Yeager and an associate, Monroe County Asst DA Chad Martinez representing the Zoning Hearing Board, Jim Preston representing Objectors, Tim Weston representing Nestle, and Marc Wolfe representing landowner Ricky Gower.  Update 2/27 - It is believed that another attorney at Mr. Wolfe's law firm, Robert Kidwell, was also present to represent landowner Gower.

It remains an unanswered question how the law firm of Newman, Williams, Mishkin, Corveleyn, Wolfe & Fareri can represent both Gower and Eldred Township (Fareri is the CJERP Solicitor, partly contracted by Eldred Township), given that in the pending court appeal these two are adverse parties.  Hey, its Monroe County - anything goes.

Update 2/27 - At CJERP's monthly meeting the following evening (2/25),  Mr. Wolfe's partner and CJERP Solicitor Fareri announced that he has advised CJERP to not discuss any of the facts surrounding the 2014 amendment review and adoption process.  He was questioned by Eldred Township CJERP representative Bob Boileau whether he has a conflict of interest since his partner represents the landowner, and Mr. Fareri's reply was "since CJERP and landowner Gower are both of the belief that the 2014 amendment was properly adopted, they are on the same side of the issue, and there is no conflict of interest."  A recommendation was sent to CJERP on February 26 to replace Solicitor Fareri's law firm.

Sharon Solt was not observed at tonight's hearing, to see more of the fallout of her actions in 2014, when as Township Secretary she forwarded the unauthorized water extraction amendment to the Monroe County Planning Commission and the Eldred Township Planning Commission that had not been authorized by the supervisors.  Personally, I'd be too embarrassed to attend if I were she, but having seen this person in action this is highly unlikely the explanation.  Nor do I believe the double-barreled single finger salute of the last meeting was related - I think that slid off her back like a crushed tomato off an oil-coated sloth.

Unwavering Dedication of Residents
The room was full of dedicated Eldred Township residents - dedicated to seeing that Nestle leaves town as soon as possible, from this reporter's view.   It is both heartwarming and heart wrenching to see these citizens turn out meeting after meeting, sitting attentively and looking for the first sign that this nightmare may come to an end.  There are obvious strong bonds withing the community, and these residents are unified in their opposition to this project.  The tension in this room, which has become a regular meeting place due to the community backlash, is often palpable, broken by occasional smiles and knowing looks exchanged between people across various spans of the room.  In this gathering place, where a visitor imagines a wide variety of community activities are held, for the foreseeable future these solemn gatherings will be repeated at least twice more.  The next two Zoning Hearing Board meetings are scheduled for March 30 and April 20.

Attempt to Disqualify Chairman O'Donnell 
for Using Commonly Used Descriptor of Nestle/Deer Park
It was not a surprise when Nestle Solicitor Weston launched into an attack on Mr. O'Donnell, because within the community it has been discussed that a bitter and manipulative passed-over candidate for the Zoning Hearing Board tried to use words in a letter Mr. O'Donnell had written to a environmental organization to argue that he should be disqualified from the Nestle hearing.  Perhaps she dreams they will haul her down to the Fire Hall and appoint her to hear this case - or perhaps she is just vindictive - or perhaps she's trying to do a solid for someone.  It boils down to O'Donnell referring in September 2015 to a possible Nestle operation in Eldred Twp to being a potential nuisance.  Sounds like common sense, but Mr. Weston made it sound like Mr. O'Donnell would not have an open mind.  He grilled Mr. O'Donnell so much that a guy nearby said "that attorney is going to rip the old guy to shreds."  Mr. O'Donnell's explanation for the source of the term "nuisance" was simply that he saw that description of Nestle in the newspaper. Reality bites, eh?  Mr. O'Donnell held up well, and then Mr. Weston made the mistake of an exaggeration that everyone in the room caught - after droning on and on about case law and ethics and the appearance of impropriety, in an authoritative tone he then stated that Mr. O'Donnell made this comment while Nestle had a pending application - which totally misstated the facts.  Nestle filed its application on December 30th. This misrepresentation was identified immediately by Mr. Yeager.  Mr. O'Donnell stated quite succinctly that he has not yet seen any evidence, has an open mind, and will make a decision once all the testimony is complete.

Mr. Weston's motion to have Mr. O'Donnell's disqualified will be briefed by attorneys prior to the next hearing, and Mr. Martinez will issue a ruling prior to commencement of testimony.  If you ask me, this is little more than the result of a bitter passed-over woman trying to influence the makeup of a Board.  I've been rejected from serving on my town's Zoning Hearing Board, and felt I was more qualified than the person chosen.  It's not that hard to move on with life - not so hard that you have to go sand bagging people.

More dirty tricks by government, or "oversight"?
Residents who believe they have standing were requested to fill out a form in advance, with their justification.  A resident who owns property along the target site's property line - whose standing is thus unquestionable, reports that she submitted her form yesterday at the township building, to supervisor and disgraced former Secretary Sharon Solt.  The form was not in the pile when she arrived at the hearing.  Naturally, this presented no problem, since the form was merely to accelerate the vetting process during the hearing.  This resident was qualified immediately when she presented herself at the hearing.  Salute!

The next meeting should be more productive, with this one spent mostly on housekeeping.

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