Westfield has energy controversy
WESTFIELD – There is a clear separation on the Westfield Village Board concerning energy. At Monday’s meeting of the village board, Trustee Dave Brooker brought up an issue in regard to the mayor allegedly illegally entering into an energy agreement.
Brooker said he had previously recommended the village board research energy companies but saw no hurry to switch companies. The current energy provider, Energy Mark out of the Buffalo area, has a contract with the village until this fall.
“At that time I saw no reason to jump ship with our current provider, by the way that’s under contract until the end of October this year, and pay an early termination fee without a thorough investigation into other providers,” he said.
Brooker asked Mayor Michael VandeVelde if he had canceled any or all energy contracts for the village, to which VandeVelde responded “no.” He also asked the mayor if he entered into any contract with another company, which the mayor answered, “yes.” VandeVelde apparently did such action without board approval.
“I certainly felt I had the board’s OK to change two seasonal accounts,” VandeVelde said.
The mayor entered into an agreement with Ambit Energy on March 12, but then on March 18 requested Village Clerk Vincent Luce to cancel the two accounts. VandeVelde said the company’s representative for Energy Mark was not looking out for the village’s best interest and the village is paying more money with the current contract.
“(The representative) continued to slander and said things that were false. So I decided that I would transfer two accounts that are seasonal accounts that would never ever become active in Ambit,” said VandeVelde. “This was a ploy to show this (representative) that no, you cannot just do this stuff.”
Trustee Debra Puckhaber said a conversation involving herself and two other trustees did not give permission to VandeVelde to switch energy companies. VandeVelde entered into a contract with Ambit Energy with two seasonal village accounts – which are canceled each spring, according to VandeVelde – with the agreement later being canceled.
“It is our responsibility as the elected officials of the village to approve any grievance or contract. We have not done that,” said Brooker. “You entered into an agreement with two accounts with another energy provider. The board did not agree to that.”
Brooker also asked VandeVelde about his involvement with Ambit Energy. The mayor used to work for the energy company, he confirmed. According to Puckhaber, VandeVelde should have disclosed his involvement with Ambit Energy previously. VandeVelde said he did not have “substantial interest” in the company, so he was unaware he should disclose his involvement.
Jennifer VandeVelde and Laura Geraci, daughter-in-law and acquaintance of the mayor, respectively, are both involved with the company. Brooker cited a welcome letter from Ambit Energy which was received stating both Geraci and Jennifer VandeVelde were the marketing consultants for the two accounts. To say thank you for the agreement, the company was giving a two-day vacation for two. VandeVelde said he, or his family or friends, would not see any financial gain from the agreement entered into.
The village will stay in contract with Energy Mark through October. Brooker requested the various energy companies attend a future meeting to discuss energy options so the board can make an informed decision.
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