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Solar Contract dispute ‘fixed’
by altering minutes

Richard D. L. Fulton

(10/11) The Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners voted at their October 7 meeting to amend the minutes of a special meeting held September 23 to "legitimize" a contract that had been signed under somewhat controversial circumstances, a move objected to by Commissioner Christopher V. Staiger.

The contract at issue is between the town and Rockville-based Standard Solar, and authorized the company to begin work on a solar energy installation to be constructed at the wastewater treatment plant site. In a separate contract, Standard Solar also agreed to lease ground at the site for the solar installations.

A special meeting of the town commissioners was held September 23 to consider approval of the two proposed contracts

Things began to go awry when, Commissioner and board President Tim O'Donnell stated at the October 7 meeting, O’Donnell mistakenly restated a motion made by Commissioner and board Vice president Clifford L. Sweeney concerning the adoption of the two contracts.

O’Donnell said Sweeney had made a motion to approve both contracts, but when he, O’Donnell, restated Sweeney’s motion to bring it up for a vote, he left out reference to the work contract and only mentioned the lease contract.

The motion was approved, with Commissioner Staiger voting against.

The two contracts were then signed by town administrators, which subsequently led to a series of internal town emails regarding whether or not the contract for the actual work had been legal.

Town accountant Vickie Felix, who prepares meeting minutes, wrote to Town Manager David Haller on September 24, "The way the motion was stated at last night's meeting for the solar project contract only accepted the land lease agreement and did not include the power purchase agreement. Is it ok for me to alter the motion (in the minutes) to include the PPA. Please advise."

Haller responded, "I feel certain the intent was to approve the entire project, since both contracts were signed."

In response to being copied the emails, Staiger subsequently wrote to town staff stating, "I'd be curious to hear what the board president thinks. Regardless, the administration should not be making any changes to the minutes of any board meetings."

On September 25, Haller fired-off an email stating the town could be sued by the contractor if the legitimacy of the contract were to be disputed. "If UGI (UGI Utilities, Inc.) and Standard Solar start the project which it appears you approved Monday night they will suit (sic) the town for any and all damages," to which Staiger replied, "If anybody is getting sued, it's because the mayor signed a contract that wasn't explicitly approved by the board of commissioners."

The board then agreed at their October 7 meeting to alter the minutes of the September 23 meeting to reflect that both contracts had been approved as a result of Sweeney’s motion, with Staiger voting against.

Staiger subsequently told the News-Journal, "Since both contracts were signed when only the lease contract had been voted on, they needed to find a solution," further stating, "Mayor Briggs and Commissioner O'Donnell coached Commissioner Sweeney to invent a second motion approving the power purchase agreement that was never actually made or voted on at the 09-23 meeting."

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