Rankled by transfer station overruns, Waller finds Open Meeting Law outlet

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The recent complaint that helped prompt the Attorney General’s Office to order the Marblehead Board of Health into an online refresher course on the Open Meeting Law was not Allen D. Waller’s first.

Waller told the Marblehead News he has filed roughly a dozen Open Meeting Law complaints against town boards over the past three or four years.

“Less than 100, more than 10,” he said.

Allen Waller

Waller is a registered structural engineer who consults on various heavy and marine construction projects and also serves as an expert witness for construction claims.

Waller explained that his motivation for serving as an Open Meeting Law watchdog stems from his service on the committee overseeing the transfer station project, which he says has been mismanaged, costing the town millions.

During his time on the committee, Waller said he tried to object to some of the spending.

“But my voice was not heard,” he said.

Waller said that, until he gets “closure” on the transfer station issue, he will likely continue to file Open Meeting Law complaints.

One such complaint that Waller currently has pending relates to a sharp increase in the commercial waste revolving fund approved at Town Meeting last month.

The sum of $1,485,000 was approved as part of Article 8 for the upcoming fiscal year, up from $550,000 last fiscal year. In advance of Town Meeting, the Finance Committee voted to recommend the increase at its April 11 warrant hearing.

In his complaint to the Attorney General’s Office, Waller wrote that there was never any public discussion of what amounts to a 270-percent increase.

Board of Health Chairman Todd Belfbecker agrees with that statement to a point, noting that Andrew Petty independently researched and devised a solution to complete the transfer station project without having to go back to the town’s voters to ask for more money, which was in his purview as health director.

Belfbecker said that, until Petty brought the proposal forward at the Finance Committee’s warrant hearing, he and his colleagues on the Board of Health had never discussed it.

Waller’s most recent Open Meeting Law complaint drew a response from Special Town Counsel Alexander M. Castro, who suggested that Waller was requesting the type of “broad audit” that the Division of Open Government routinely declines to review.

Castro pressed Waller to specify when he was alleging that the Board of Health had met outside of a duly noticed open meeting so the town could investigate.

Waller responded by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, asking for copies of all correspondence, emails, and supporting materials pertaining to the Board of Health’s revolving fund request among a group of nine town officials, including the members of the Board of Health and Petty, between Jan. 1 and April 11.

Through Special Town Counsel Elizabeth Lydon, the town requested an additional 15 days — until July 19 — to respond, citing the “magnitude and difficulty” of fulfilling Waller’s FOIA request.

Waller, in turn, told the Attorney General’s Office that he would need until July 26 to request further review of his Open Meeting Law complaint due to the town’s “inability to respond in a timely fashion” to his FOIA request.

Belfbecker suggested that Waller is bound to be disappointed with what his FOIA request will ultimately produce.

“There are no secret meetings or anything like that,” he said. “We are completely above board.”

Waller’s prior complaints have changed the way the Board of Health compiles its meeting minutes, Belfbecker acknowledged, referring to an oft-overlooked provision in the Open Meeting Law, G.L.c. 30A, §§18-25, which requires public bodies to list in the minutes the documents to which they have referred during a meeting.

Waller also recently had a pair of his complaints against the Marblehead Select Board resolved by the Division of Open Government.

The Select Board violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to list the documents it had used in its Aug. 25 meeting in the minutes for that meeting, an infraction the division had resolved by “informal action,” AAG Elizabeth Carnes Flynn noted in a June 14 letter.

But Waller waited too long to lodge his complaints related to the Select Board’s review and release of six years’ worth of executive session meeting minutes on which it voted on Nov. 2.

Waller alleged that the board had unduly delayed the review and release of those minutes and that it also did not include in the minutes a list of documents used during the meetings.

AAG Carrie Benedon informed Waller that the 30-day deadline had passed by the time he filed his complaint on Dec. 22.

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