LITCHFIELD — For months, Litchfield town Supervisor Wayne Casler has been berated for what some have called a conflict of interest between his elected position and his work for a paving company that could benefit if a proposed wind farm comes to town.
Now, Casler has said he’s had enough.
After more than two decades in office, he and his wife, Karen Casler, the town’s appointed bookkeeper, will resign their positions at the end of the month, he announced at a Town Board meeting Tuesday.
Wayne and Karen Casler did not return calls Wednesday. Town Board members, however, said the supervisor cited constant criticism and attacks from those combating a proposed wind farm as his reason for stepping down.
“I’m still quite shocked,” Town Board member Jim Entwistle said. “I thought he had a conflict of interest with the wind proposal, and I stated that. But it’s just disappointing that he has to resign over one issue after 23 years of service.”
Resident Pat Christensen, who recently organized the citizens group Litchfield United, has questioned Wayne Casler’s role at the paving company.
“Just because he’s resigned his position does not mean all is forgiven,” Christensen said. “I’m waiting for the hammer to come down. If this isn’t an admission of guilt, I don’t know what is.”
The firestorm aimed at Wayne Casler ignited last year after Albany-based NorthWind and Power said it wanted to build an eight-to-12 turbine wind farm on Dry Hill.
Wayne Casler, whose term as supervisor would have expired in 2011, also is the regional controller for Barrett Paving Materials, a company that owns more than 100 acres of land on Dry Hill. NorthWind has said it is not interested in using Barrett’s land for the project, but the company could be selected to provide materials if it’s approved.
Meanwhile, the town, which does not have laws governing wind farms, then set out to create regulations – a tense process that has dragged on for months and made loud outbursts at town meetings a regular occurrence.
The O-D has reported that NorthWind wrote a letter to Wayne Casler in January suggesting the town adopt height regulations that would benefit its own project. Shortly after, the board was discussing regulations the company suggested. The town also recently hired another Barrett Paving employee as a private consultant on wind noise at Casler’s suggestion.
And at an October board meeting, Casler acknowledged his employment at Barrett could be a conflict of interest. Still, he said, he would continue to work on a proposed wind farm law and only recuse himself from discussions if a specific proposal came before the Town Board. NorthWind has yet to submit a formal proposal.
Sheila Salvatore, who heads Save Sauquoit Valley Views, a citizens group that opposes the project, said the Caslers’ resignations are another example of the polarizing affects wind projects have on small towns.
“The wind industry has come into town and encouraged division with the promise of money,” Salvatore said. “I feel Mr. Casler is just the latest victim. The sooner we rid our area of this destructive force, the better.”
Resident Ken Kotary said he’s known Wayne Casler his entire life and was upset to hear he’s stepping down.
“He’s been a tremendous asset to the town, and he’s taken the blunt of this criticism,” Kotary said. “I told him after the meeting last night, ‘You don’t deserve the abuse you’ve been getting.”
The Town Board has not yet decided how to fill the positions vacated by the Caslers. The board can leave the supervisor’s position vacant or can appoint someone to fill out the remainder of the term, which expires in 2011.
“I’m not sure which way we’re going to go,” board member Kate Entwistle said. “I’m not sure anyone really wants to be put in this position because of the turmoil.”