Cogliano said he expects to “be cleared of any wrongdoing”
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano said he was recently contacted by the state Ethics Commission regarding his efforts to help WIN Waste Innovations defend itself in a federal lawsuit. But Cogliano said he doesn’t expect anything to come from the commission’s apparent probe into whether he acted improperly as a public official by gathering signatures for WIN (formerly Wheelabrator Technologies) from Saugus residents whose testimony could challenge the lawsuit’s claims that WIN’s trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 was causing odor, dust and other problems.
“Judging by the questions I was asked, I’m confident I’ll be cleared of any wrongdoing because I’m not paid by WIN and the town is not a party to the suit,” Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate Wednesday night.
Earlier in the evening, Cogliano read a brief statement to fellow selectmen, disclosing that an Ethics Commission representative contacted him last Friday (Feb. 17) seeking answers to two questions. “Number One: ‘Are you employed and get compensation from Wheelabrator?’ The answer was “No,’” Cogliano said.
“Question Number Two: ‘Is the Town of Saugus party to that class action lawsuit?’ The answer was ‘No.’ The gentleman from the state Ethics Commission said ‘Thank you Mr. Cogliano. Have a nice weekend,’” he said.
“So, for those of you who want to make a big issue out of it, best of luck to you. That’s the truth and I guarantee nothing will come out of it.”
Lawsuit cites alleged conflict of interests
A motion filed in U.S. District Court in Boston earlier this month on behalf of Brenda Sweetland and others involved in a 2021 class action lawsuit against WIN over noxious odors and other quality of life issues seeks to have the declarations obtained by Cogliano excluded as evidence in the case. “Despite this obvious conflict of interest between Mr. Cogliano’s role as a public representative of Saugus residents and his support of Wheelabrator, and a new Host Community Agreement that will net the town millions in revenue, Wheelabrator solicited Mr. Cogliano to procure declarations that Wheelabrator intends to use in opposition to this lawsuit,” the court motion alleged.
“Jack Walsh, a subcontractor responsible for community outreach for Wheelabrator, approached Mr. Cogliano to ask if he knew anyone who could dispute the claims against Wheelabrator.”
The motion also alleged that Cogliano “forged” the signatures of family, relatives and friends he knew instead of getting actual signatures from them. Later, an attorney representing WIN asked Cogliano to have the Saugus residents he had initially contacted sign their own declarations, which said that they didn’t experience any problems at the plant.
In his statement to the board Wednesday night, Cogliano sought to explain why he believes the signatures controversy is no longer an issue. Cogliano readily admitted to signing declarations himself, while insisting he had permission from every person whose signature he signed in his own handwriting. “I got their permission to sign affidavits on their behalf and later had affidavits signed by them, and they were submitted to the plaintiff’s attorney,” Cogliano said.
But the affidavits that Cogliano personally signed were not submitted as evidence, he stressed.
“So, the signatures that I put on those papers were not part of any federal court case; they will not appear anywhere,” Cogliano told his colleagues.
“In addition to the attorneys not using the documents that I signed, I also demanded that they eliminate all the signatures that I solicited. All my friends and family members had signed those declarations. They are all eliminated from the court proceedings as well,” he said.
“Not a Board of Selectmen issue”
A federal judge is expected to rule on the motion to exclude from evidence any of the signatures obtained by Cogliano to challenge the claims in the pending lawsuit.
Other selectmen had an opportunity to share their views on the WIN signatures controversy. Only Selectman Corinne Riley, Cogliano’s closest ally on the board, made a comment on the situation. She read the following statement:
“The only matter involving WIN that is in front of the Board of Selectmen now is the Host Community Agreement. First, the Board of Selectmen is not involved in any Class Action Lawsuit with WIN. Nor does that lawsuit have any bearing on a potential Host Community Agreement. So, there is no reason for me to comment on it.
“Second, with regard to the signatures, the only time the Board of Selectmen has any authority is when they are in session. The signatures were gathered outside of session. So, again, it’s not a Board of Selectmen issue.
“Further, Mr. Cogliano is not only a selectman, but like each of us, he is a private citizen as well. Elected officials don’t lose their rights to have an opinion on an issue. So, if he chose to work with WIN, that is his decision, just as any other private citizen gets to make their decision.
“Mr. Cogliano has said that he should have handled it better and has publicly apologized to all involved. I accept that. The Board of Selectmen should move on and go about the business of the town.”
Two selectmen told The Saugus Advocate last week that they found Cogliano’s efforts to help WIN Waste Innovations 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 last week.
Panetta did not comment on the situation at this week’s meeting.
“His top priority should be the people of East Saugus. He should be protecting their interests and not doing the bidding for WIN Waste,” Selectman Michael Serino said last week.
Serino remained on vacation and was unable to attend this week’s meeting.
Selectman Jeff Cicolini didn’t comment at Wednesday night’s meeting. Last week, he declined to talk about matters related to the ongoing lawsuit, other than to say he didn’t think the case would have any bearing on the town’s efforts to reach a host community agreement with WIN.