The Dalton Board of Selectmen on Monday voted against allowing their municipal attorney to have a meeting with the attorney for Casella Waste Systems, saying it would cost the town legal expenses and anything the company wants to say can be said at a public meeting.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Casella said Bryan Gould, attorney for the company, reached out to Walter Mitchell, municipal attorney for Dalton, because selectmen did not respond to a letter sent to them in early March by John Casella, CEO of Casella Waste Systems.
During Monday’s meeting, Jo Beth Dudley, chair of the Board of Selectman, brought up for board discussion Gould’s contact to Mitchell (who informed the board Gould had reached out to him) for the requested conversation between the two attorneys, but said selectmen don’t know much about it and any discussion should be at an open select board meeting.
Selectman Carol Sheltry agreed, and asked why the town should pay an attorney when John Casella himself hasn’t called to make an appointment to speak at a board meeting.
Dudley said it might be more efficient to let the two attorneys have a brief conversation to find out what the company is looking for and what the next steps would be, but she also doesn’t want to pay attorney’s fees.
“We’re trying to control costs with our legal budget,” she said.
Sheltry, Dudley, and Selectman Tamela Swan voted 3-0 to not pay an attorney but to have Casella make an appointment to come to the Board of Selectmen with an outline of what he wants to talk with the attorney about.
A voice mail left with Gould on Wednesday inquiring as to what exactly he planned to discuss with Mitchell was not returned.
Casella spokesman Joe Fusco was asked why Gould contacted Mitchell for a meeting instead of contacting selectmen and what Gould specifically wants to discuss with the town attorney.
“The company, in a letter from John Casella, reached out to the Select Board directly in early March, offering to meet and start a conversation, and to think collaboratively about Casella’s proposed facility,” said Fusco. “The Select Board did not respond to the company.”
Because selectmen did not respond to the company’s letter, Gould was asked to contact Mitchell, he said.
“We were concerned that, in the absence of the Select Board’s willingness to communicate with us, there was speculation and misinformation about Casella’s plans circulating in Dalton,” said Fusco. “We hoped that Mr. Gould could open a professional line of communication with the town’s attorney so that there would be a way to exchange information and avoid misunderstandings.”
Gould contacted Mitchell without first speaking with the Select Board because it is improper for a lawyer to contact a party directly when the lawyer knows the party is represented by counsel, said Fusco.
In a letter to the Dalton Board of Selectmen dated Feb. 26, John Casella gave a status of the proposed landfill beside Forest Lake State Park (it did not include an estimated date when an application might be submitted to the state) and what he said would be free trash and recycling pickup for residents and payments from the company to the town of $166,667 monthly, equating to $2 million a year in property taxes and host community benefits for at least 25 years as long as the landfill is operating.
Wanting to discuss the Casella offer with selectmen is Dalton resident Scott Kleinschrodt, who on Monday said he was planning to be on the agenda for that night after previously submitting his request in writing as advised.
He was not on Monday’s agenda, however, because of what Dudley said could have been a glitch in the town web site.
“I think it would be wise that we start having this conversation about the Casella proposal,” said Kleinschrodt.
On Wednesday, Fusco said, “Mr. Kleinschrodt reached out to us after receiving information about the potential project and was interested to learn more about it.”
Kleinschrodt asked selectmen several questions that include how much the town has in its investment portfolio; if there have been any discussions by the board about improving Internet services in spotty areas, an effort he said would come with a cost to the town; how selectmen plan to deal with the economic crisis from the pandemic; how they plan to transform Dalton from what he called a property poor town to a property rich town; and how they plan to help struggling taxpayers and poor and elderly residents.
Putting the Casella proposal on the agenda is a step in the right direction, he said.
On Wednesday, Kleinschrodt told The Caledonian-Record that he has spoken previously with Kevin Roy, division manager for Casella who was making phone calls last year, and with Brian Mills, a consultant for Five Corners Strategies LLC, a public relations firm enlisted by Casella, but said none of the questions he asked selectmen on Monday came from Casella.
Kleinschrodt said he is not part of the Casella group or an opposition group and said bringing the Casella offer to public discussion is about fairness.
“Once all sides are out, we can have an honest conversation,” he said. “Casella has to be honest and Save Forest Lake has to be honest. Then, residents are educated and it’s a true vote.”
In a special town meeting in July 2019, Dalton residents voted 154-129 to implement temporary emergency zoning in response to Casella’s proposed 180-acre landfill.
The Dalton Planning Board is currently drafting a permanent zoning ordinance that is expected to be presented to voters at town meeting in 2021. If approved, landfill opponents hope it will stop a landfill from being built in Dalton.