At least two selectmen say they find Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano’s efforts to help WIN Waste Innovations to defend itself against a federal lawsuit a troubling conflict of interest.
“It is deeply concerning that the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen would get signatures for WIN Waste knowing that there is a pending Civil Action lawsuit filed by Saugus residents,” Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said this week.
“I also don’t understand why he would sign resident names to the declarations for WIN Waste. As elected officials, residents should always come first. As elected officials, we should be held to higher standards,” she told The Saugus Advocate.
“With this clear conflict of interest along with the Class Action Lawsuit, it would be in the Town’s best interest for the Board of Selectmen not to entertain any additional discussions of a WIN Waste host agreement,” she said.
Selectmen were expected to discuss the Host Community Agreement (HCA) at next Tuesday’s meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the second floor conference room at Town Hall.
The Saugus Advocate reached out to each of the selectmen for comment in response to recent reports of Cogliano acting as an agent for WIN Waste and whether it could affect the ongoing talks between selectmen and WIN Waste on a proposed HCA.
When reached for comment this week, Selectman Michael Serino said he was limited in what he could say because he was away on vacation in Florida and had not yet read the recent federal court documents. “I haven’t had the opportunity to review them yet, but when I do, I will have more to say,” Serino said. “From what I’ve heard, I think it’s a serious situation for a selectman allegedly going around forging signatures on documents in a federal lawsuit,” he said, referring to the recent court papers that mentioned Cogliano.
“His top priority should be the people of East Saugus. He should be protecting their interests and not doing the bidding for WIN Waste,” he said.
“Of course, I have questions”
Selectman Jeff Cicolini said he had reviewed last week’s court filing and Cogliano’s deposition. “At this time, I will only comment on your question if these matters will impact a potential community host agreement with the town,” Cicolini told The Saugus Advocate.
“Obviously, I do not have all of the facts at this time to opine on anything officially. I read the documents and, of course, I have questions I would like answered,” Cicolini said.
“However, based on what I have read thus far, the host community agreement does not appear to hinge on the outcome of the pending class action lawsuit against WIN. Litigation against WIN is nothing new. The lawsuit is ongoing, and in my opinion, the claims in the lawsuit do not preclude me from doing what I was elected to do in my role as a member of the Board of Selectmen,” he said. “That being said, I will do my research to make certain I continue to make decisions that I feel are in the best interest of the residents of Saugus.
Selectman Corinne Riley declined comment. “This is a legal matter which doesn’t concern the Board of Selectmen. I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a comment,” she said.
“A clear conflict of interest”
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian, a former selectman and a longtime critic of WIN Waste, said he believes Cogliano’s involvement with WIN Waste raised some serious questions in the public’s mind. “I am in receipt of Selectman Cogliano’s deposition and have carefully read it. It is clear that Selectman Cogliano has acted as an agent for WIN by soliciting statements and allegedly forging signatures on those statements all to assist WIN’s defense in a class action lawsuit in which WIN is named as defendant,” Manoogian said.
“This lawsuit, filed by the very people he is elected to represent, has occurred concurrent to his efforts to finalize a Host Community Agreement with WIN that would result in 20 more years of ash disposal,” Manoogian said. “This is a clear conflict of interest and should not be tolerated by his fellow Selectmen, and in particular Selectman Cicolini and Selectman Riley, or the residents of Saugus. One must wonder what other dealings Selectman Cogliano has or has had with license holders, would be marijuana establishments, developers, and others seeking permits and approvals for projects such as multi-story apartment buildings up and down Route 1.”
Selectmen last September approved an HCA with WIN Waste Innovations that would enable the company to extend the life of the ash landfill adjacent to its trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 by two decades. But the amended HCA, which selectmen supported by a slim 3-2 vote at the September meeting, included substantial changes – including a provision offered by Cicolini that the Town of Saugus receive free tipping fees for waste disposal over the life of the agreement. Cogliano and Selectman Corinne Riley voted in favor of Cicolini’s amendment which created the current proposal last September. Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta and Selectman Michael Serino – both staunch opponents of any expansion of the ash landfill – voted against it.
WIN Waste Innovations indicated last month that it is willing to accept a revised HCA with the town that would waive the tipping fee. But WIN officials want the contingency clause restored to the agreement, which would enable the company to reduce the tipping fee benefit to the town if the company is required to spend more than $5 million in capital improvements to extend the life of the ash landfill.
At last month’s meeting, a majority of selectmen agreed with Cicolini that WIN Waste needed to present more financial information, and the board voted to table the ongoing discussions until WIN provides more detailed data on how WIN’s proposal would affect the benefits to the town.
A major obstacle to any deal will be whether the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) will allow extending the life of the ash landfill. MassDEP officials have stated repeatedly over the past year that existing environmental laws and regulations do not permit expansion of the ash landfill at the WIN site near its trash-to-energy incinerator on Route 107.
Ultimately, Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree and the Board of Health would be involved in the final decision on any deal with WIN.
Cogliano briefs selectmen
This week, Cogliano send an email to his fellow board members, briefing them on his involvement in helping WIN Waste in defending itself against the federal lawsuit. Here is Cogliano’s statement:
“As you all know by now I was asked by representatives of WIN to speak to Saugus residents to see if they’d speak on behalf of the company in their pending class action lawsuit. I said I would. I made several calls to family and friends and asked them if they have any issue with smell, noise, soot, or any other issues that negatively impact their quality of life.
“If they said no, I asked them if they’d be willing to sign a declaration stating that fact and they said yes. I then signed the declarations on their behalf and submitted them to WIN along with their phone numbers and email addresses so their Attorneys could contact them. I was told by a WIN representative that would be sufficient.
“I was later contacted by their Attorney Richard Ortmeir that they needed to sign the declarations themselves so I went house to house and had them sign and resubmitted them.
“If you have any questions about this matter feel free to email, text or call me. I’d be happy to answer your concerns.