Jasper board rejects offer for settlementAugust 20, 2013
By CANDY NEAL
Herald Staff Writer
JASPER — The organization that filed a lawsuit against two City of Jasper boards alleging that they violated the Open Door Law has offered to settle the suit out of court.
The offer was rejected Monday night by the Jasper Utility Service Board, which asked its attorneys to pursue negotiations.
The lawsuit and settlement offer originated with Healthy Dubois County, a group that is concerned about the city’s plan to convert its power plant into a biomass-burning facility. The organization’s lawsuit in Dubois Circuit Court against the utility board and Jasper Common Council allege that some executive sessions and meetings held by a volunteer group of city officials leading up to the city’s August 2011 decision to lease the power plant to Twisted Oak Corp. violated the Open Door Law.
Twisted Oak, based in Atlanta, plans to convert the plant into the Jasper Clean Energy Center, which would burn both natural gas and miscanthus grass.
Healthy Dubois County made the settlement offer in a letter dated July 24 that was sent to the city’s attorneys in the case. Bill Kaiser, the attorney handling the lease matter for the city, handed out copies of the letter to the board members Monday as he explained its details.
The settlement proposal
has five points to which Healthy Dubois County wants the city to agree. Those points were read aloud by board Chairman Wayne Schuetter. They call for city officials to:
”¢ Admit that they violated the Open Door Law.
”¢ Pay all legal fees and expenses incurred by Healthy Dubois County and Dr. Norma Kreilein, an officer of the group. The city has not been told how much that amount is, and Kreilein has declined to tell The Herald as well.
”¢ Agree to abandon the conversion of the power plant into a biomass facility.
”¢ Acknowledge that they underestimated the potential health effects of the biomass project.
”¢ Acknowledge that Kreilein and Healthy Dubois County were neither untruthful in the process nor are they a detriment to the community.
“HDC’s actions and message have always been consistent with the primary motives to promote government transparency, to fully inform the public and to protect the health of area residents, not only Jasper citizens,” Kreilein said in response to questions emailed by The Herald. “While government transparency is still a critical issue, as informed, educated citizens, we firmly stand by our allegations and find that although our treatment by city officials was demeaning and deplorable, the necessity of the lawsuit specifically to oppose the biomass plant appears to be lessening. We offered a settlement because it was the right thing to do, just as opposing the plant and filing the lawsuit were and are the right thing to do. We are waiting for Jasper officials to represent all citizens, not just their own interests.”
Kaiser said that he and the other attorneys representing the city have tried to contact Healthy Dubois County attorneys to find out if there is any possibility for negotiation and to find out the total of legal fees and expenses that have been incurred by Kreilein and the organization.
“Unfortunately, we received no response,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser said he could not recommend that city officials accept the settlement. “The city’s position is, and has always been, that the city did not violate the Open Door Law,” he said. “So it would be tough for us to recommend admitting something that you didn’t do wrong.”
Schuetter also said he doesn’t think the board should accept the offer. “I think even if it is an opening, I really don’t see anything there that would be worth agreeing to at this time.”
City Attorney Renee Kabrick recommended that the attorneys try to negotiate, if that is possible.
“If there is a way to settle, it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s worth considering.”
The board agreed and directed Kaiser to try to negotiate with the organization.
Kreilein said she also hopes a solution can be found. “We look forward to a solution that will benefit citizens and hope that this is possible,” she wrote to The Herald.
Contact Candy Neal at email@example.com.
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