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486WVN #389: Meeting Law violation; Town Center loose end

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  • waylandvoters1
    Feb 28, 2011
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The Wayland School Committee violated the state Open Meeting Law 25 times, the attorney general has ruled.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- One more loose end in the long-running saga of the Town Center mixed-use development planned for Route 20. Despite reports to the contrary, the developer still lacks a required wastewater permit.

      -- Tellers are needed for the first Town Meeting in the region to vote electronically.


      -- Monday Feb. 28, 7 p.m. Discussion with the public and the Finance Committee of the April ballot override question to add about $880,000 to town debt.

      -- Tuesday, March 1, 7:15 p.m. Planning Board public hearing on bylaw changes that voters will decide at annual Town Meeting beginning on April 7. Voters rejected an earlier version last fall, pointing out that changes advertised as procedural were in fact substantive.

      -- Board of Public Works vacancy. Eric Knapp has resigned, citing work commitments. Because the vacancy comes too late to be on the April 5 town election ballot, the position will be filled by interview and appointment at a joint public meeting of the BoPW and the selectmen. Anyone interested in serving should send a letter of interest and resume to BoPW Chairman Jon Mishara (jmishara@...) and
      Town Administrator Fred Turkington fturkington@....


      The Wayland School Committee violated the state Open Meeting Law 25 times between May 2009 and June 2010, the attorney general has ruled. The instances involved inadequately specifying the purpose for closed meetings and not taking required roll call votes.

      The violations occurred before the Attorney General's office took over enforcement of the law from district attorneys. Regulations were changed somewhat, but essential elements remain, setting strict limits on what officials may discuss outside of public scrutiny.

      A complaint to the AG was filed by George Harris, an attorney and former Wayland selectman. Britte McBride's Feb. 9 ruling as director of the Office of Open Government acknowledged that the School Committee had initially responded to Harris by saying it intended to comply fully with the law.

      "We appreciate this acknowledgement on the part of the committee and anticipate that it will follow through on its commitment," McBride said.

      At a meeting on Feb. 17 the Committee accepted responsibility for the violation, in effect admitting to carelessness and ignorance of the law. Chairman Louis Jurist said nothing inappropriate occurred during executive (closed) sessions.

      According to the ruling, the Committee failed to follow clearly stated procedural rules on meeting in executive session. This contrasts with egregious July 2010 violations by Wayland selectmen who, before a meeting began and unaware that a TV camera was running, discussed decisions previously made in private about who would be appointed to and removed from public office.

      McBride criticized the School Committee for vagueness in stated reasons for an executive session and failing to take roll call votes before executive sessions.

      "Moreover, on ten occasions the Committee states `personnel' as the reason for entering executive session," she wrote. "However, `personnel' is not now, nor was it ever, an appropriate reason to enter executive session." Closed sessions are allowed for discussion of such things as union negotiations.

      McBride strongly recommended that the Committee amend its minutes to reflect accurately what occurred during the executive sessions and the precise reasons for the sessions. The Committee said it would do so.

      As with the Board of Selectmen, at the time of the violations the School Committee included a lawyer among its members.

      -- Michael Short


      On Feb. 24, a legal notice in the Wayland Town Crier announced a 30-day public comment period for Twenty Wayland's Nov. 18, 2010 sewer connection permit application submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection.

      The public may review the complete file of official documents at DEP's Wilmington office and/or request a public hearing. To do so, or to ask questions, contact Kevin Brander via email at kevin.brander@... or call him at (978) 694 3236.

      A public access information folder containing some of the Town Center developer's application paperwork, including the state's proposed draft permit (but not the larger design plans and specs dated Jan. 5, 2011), is available in the reference section of the Wayland Public Library.

      For years the developer disagreed with the state that it needed a sewer connection permit for its project's wastewater needs. At its Sept. 22, 2010 meeting, the Wastewater Management District Commission (WWMDC) voted 2-1 to sign off on Twenty Wayland's sewer connection permit application.

      Dissenting commissioner David Schofield passed the chairmanship that evening to fellow commissioner Fred Knight. Schofield said at that meeting that he did not want to sign the application until he had had more time to read and understand it. He asked for a two-week delay. Twenty Wayland insisted that the sign-off take place that day. Ultimately, the developer withdrew that application and submitted a new one to the state dated Nov. 18, 2010.

      Swap Filed at Land Court

      Almost two years ago Town Meeting voters approved an article calling for land to be swapped with a larger parcel owned by Twenty Wayland, LLC., to enable the construction of a new $5.6 million plant and then the demolition of the existing plant.

      Many months of negotiations on the terms of agreement for that land swap were conducted by attorneys representing the developer and the Town. At last year's annual Town Meeting, voters were asked to approve paying some of those legal bills, among others, in the 2010 Current Year Transfer warrant article.

      At the Jan. 19, 2011 WWMDC meeting, Facilities Director John Moynihan disclosed that attorneys were still working on the side legal agreement on details and contingencies such as who pays for what in the event the existing building is reused and not demolished, if the town needs to install utilities for the new plant before the project is ready to do so, etc.

      Wayland selectmen signed documents at their Feb. 7 meeting for the land swap that were filed the next day in Land Court. Selectmen took by eminent domain the registered land on which the Raytheon Company controls an Activities and Use Limitation. The terms of a side legal agreement were not mentioned or publicly discussed by the Selectmen.

      The engineering firm that designed the new plant is Tighe and Bond, and the construction company is Waterline. There is no building committee for this town capital improvement project.

      The town recently borrowed money for constructing the new plant at an interest rate of 3.95%. The annual payment for that loan will be about $410,000, up from an earlier estimate of $340,000 based on an optimistic lower interest rate. There is no known escrow agreement to ensure Twenty Wayland's payment of its share of the debt.

      Continuing Wastewater Issues

      A long-standing disagreement continues over plant fees for Twenty Wayland, its biggest customer. The Town Center developer claims it is being overcharged by the WWMDC and wants to be paid back. It is now behind in its payments. Correspondence between attorneys for both sides includes the historical basis for the town claiming the developer is responsible for 70% of the plant costs and the developer claiming to owe 58% or less. Options for the town include placing a lien on the Town Center property, which has been done for others who fell behind in their payments. Other plant customers (who include the town) face sharing the difference if Twenty Wayland does not pay its share.

      Plans for the new plant were initiated when it became clear that the existing plant would not accommodate the needs of the proposed new Town Center development. The existing plant has been operating well under capacity serving the needs of current users. The developer also has lobbied for the town to pay the cost of pumping the project's wastewater up to the new plant, which is being constructed at a higher elevation to keep it above groundwater. Twenty Wayland selected the land parcel for the town's new wastewater plant.

      Depth to groundwater has been studied by various engineering firms over the years, whether for environmental assessment, hazmat cleanup or proposed redevelopment. The developer proposed to add a separate 9,990 gallons-per-day septic system but has yet to submit an application to the Board of Health for permitting that additional septic capacity.

      The wastewater commissioners were told that DEP expects them to issue water conservation regulations, which are still a work in progress. They review their budget at each meeting to try to ensure they will have enough money. Until new plant construction is completed, the WWMDC cannot assess betterment fees. By then the WWMDC hopes to be dissolving, passing its operations and responsibilities to the Board of Public Works.

      A warrant article is proposed for the April 7 Annual Town Meeting seeking voter approval to begin that transition process, which requires an act of the State Legislature to abolish the WWMDC. The text of that proposed legislation can be found on the town's website: http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_Selectmen/April2011ATM

      -- Linda Segal


      Tellers are needed for the annual Town Meeting beginning on April 7, the first in Wayland (or anywhere in the region) to use electronic voting devices.

      Assistant Moderator Dennis Berry says a number of people are required, though if all goes as planned the workload could be light.

      To find out more, attend a meeting at the Town Building at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 7.

      Tellers traditionally count standing votes. In April they may be busy checking handsets and assisting in teller audits of electronic counts. As you might expect, no experience required. The continued session of Town Meeting is expected to be held on Sunday afternoon, April 10.

      You can reach Berry at 508-655-1497, or Dennisj.Berry@...

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor