Letter: Column failed to disclose Kinder Morgan link

Column didn't disclose link to Kinder Morgan

To the editor:

On Monday, Feb. 29, the Eagle published (and posted online) a column by C. Jeffrey Cook and Donald R. Dubendorf headlined "The pipeline and the Berkshire economy." In it the authors put forth a detailed argument in favor of Kinder Morgan's proposal to run a natural gas pipeline through Berkshire County.

The column describes the public conversation about the project thus far as "confrontational, shrill and highly politicized." The authors characterize opponents of the pipeline as confused and refer to a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office that concluded that the pipeline is not needed, as narrowly focused and flawed.

Their closing includes an appeal to those involved in the decision to take a hard look at "our actual experience with the construction and maintenance of pipelines over many years."

In the end the authors are described simply as "leaders in the Berkshire community," a rather benign phase given the connection to Kinder Morgan money.

Both The Berkshire Eagle's editorial staff and the authors should have disclosed the fact that the authors both serve on the boards of 1Berkshire and that 1Berkshre receives funds from Kinder Morgan. Mr. Dubendorf is the chair of 1Berkshire and serves on both of its boards. Mr. Cook is a founder and currently serves on the 1Berkshire Boards and the affiliated Chamber of Commerce board.

I honor the right of both men to champion a position and, if it is within the law for their particular non-profit entities, for the organization to do the same on issues that effect the Berkshire economy. But such positions must be declared and disclosed with clarity.

By issuing a position on the pipeline jointly, referring to themselves as "leaders in the Berkshire Community," the authors sought to have it both ways and opened themselves and the organizations they lead to scrutiny. At a minimum they should have disclosed their leadership of 1Berkshire, the connection to Kinder Morgan and declared the position as their own. Without such a disclosure the public is left to wonder.

It might be considered little more than an oversight were it not for a similar, highly publicized episode during the inception of 1Berkshire five years ago.

The then fledgling organization received $300,000 from GE in late 2010, and launched a campaign in January of 2011 supporting GE's arguments for low-cost remediation under the name The Smart River Cleanup Coalition. According to a front page article in the Boson Globe (Feb. 27, 2011) the group first denied having any connection to 1Berkshire but later acknowledged that the coalition was an initiative of the new alliance and that 1Berkshire had received $300,000 from GE just months before.

Kinder Morgan, currently listed as an "investor" on the 1Berkshire Alliance website, made a highly publicized contribution in February of 2015. In an article in the Berkshire Edge, 1Berkshire spokesman and Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Jonathan Butler said, "We welcome anybody's investment If they are doing legal business, we accept it just as we would for those organizations who are opposed to the pipeline."

"It's not to our advantage to take positions on things," he added.

Members of 1Berkshire have now confirmed that the board indeed does not share a single position on the pipeline issue.

Over the past five years 1Berkshire has attracted the interest of many individuals and organizations in the Berkshires including several non-profits through its Trend Setter Awards and other activities. Failure to disclose an association to Kinder Morgan in what appeared to be an ordinary op-ed column is a breach of the trust and good will of its members and the community at large. It was this sort of activity that tarnished the 1Berkshire brand right at the start.

If they plan to operate within the bounds of the public trust, those involved in 1Berkshire would do well to hold its leaders to a higher standard, including a strict adherence to a conflict of interest policy and its state-mandated requirements.

Ultimately discussions about issues like the pipeline involve differences among neighbors and ought to be conducted with openness and respect.

John Whalan, Great Barrington The writer was a member of the Creative Economy Council Board during the formation of the 1Berkshire Alliance.


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