Questions and concerns with the town’s intent to enter mediation with the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) over the cleanup of the property sparked an over hour-long discussion between residents and town officials at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
Medfield’s mediation team, chosen by the Medfield Board of Selectmen to represent the town at the table with DCAM are the following individuals, according to Medfield selectman Osler “Pete” Peterson’s blog:
- John Thompson, SHERC chair
- Peg Stolfa (the town’s new attorney for environmental issues)
- Bill Massaro, PIP member and active resident
- Kristine Trierweiler, Assistant Town Administrator
- Andrea Stiller, an LSP and town consultant on the clean up
- Ann Thompson, the Board of Selectmen chair
“What we’ve done is we’ve appointed people we believe will represent the town well in this process and that’s what gives me confidence, knowing there are people in the room that are going to equip themselves very appropriately and very well,” Peterson said.
On Tuesday, residents asked town officials how the mediation process works and what the projected timeline of the sessions will be.
Assistant Town Administrator Kristine Trierweiler compared the mediation process Medfield’s representatives will enter into to that of collective bargaining.
“I have spoken with the mediator and it operates very similar to the way it does with collective bargaining,” Trierweiler said. “The group that sits down with the mediation group is bound by a confidentiality agreement. The meetings are private. If there is an agreement that is made, the agreement must be brought back to the Board of Selectmen. … The Board of Selectmen can determine whether or not to take the advise of counsel. The selectmen have the authority to enter into a final binding agreement or advise a Town Meeting agreement. … It’s like collective bargaining.”
Trierweiler said the selectmen do have the authority to reject what is brought to them from the mediation team. Board of Selectmen chair Ann Thompson will sit on the mediation team and during that time, according to Trierweiler, she will not be representing the Board of Selectmen. As a result, Thompson will not be able to share any information from the mediation sessions with her colleagues in public or executive sessions because she will be bound to a confidentiality agreement.
Furthermore, all discussions held in mediation between the town’s representatives and DCAM are non-binding. When, or if, something is agreed upon, the mediation team, as a whole, is required to recommend the agreement to the selectmen. If the selectmen, through advisement from town counsel, vote to approve the recommended agreement, then that agreement would become binding. The selectmen do, however, hold the authority, through advisement of town counsel, to call a Town Meeting to vote on the pending agreement and seek public comment.
Selectman Mark Fisher stressed that while mediation will be held in closed session, a decision will not be made behind closed doors.
“[The mediation team] will come back to us and we will then have some public meetings on it,” Fisher said. “The decision is not going to be made until we come back with the ideas to the town. ... It has got to come back here, we’ve got to have a lot of discussions with the folks in Medfield.”
Town Administrator Michael Sullivan added if no agreement is reached through mediation then DCAM and the town will continue to hold discussions outside of the mediation process and that DCAM would be delayed from going forward with its current partial remediation plan.
State Hospital Environmental Review Committee (SHERC) chairman John Thompson explained the preliminary timeline for mediation:
“The mediator is on vacation this week,” John Thompson said. “I would expect there will be contact made with the town next week about a possible date for the parties to first get in a room together.”
Prior to that initial meeting, the mediation team will likely hold an open meeting with the public to discuss the process.
“I think before the mediation group meets, we would have to have a meeting here prior to going into any mediation and I would expect that the public should be invited to that meeting,” John Thompson said. “I think that would be a good exchange for the mediation team to hear from the public on what their thoughts are and what their goals are. For myself, I’m happy to go into any mediation with whatever Medfield wants.”
John Thompson added that he appreciated the public involvement at the March 22 and April 12 PIP meetings with DCAM.
“I was encouraged by the people coming to both involvement meetings,” John Thompson said. “I go to many of those meetings myself and if you don’t speak up for what you want under this process than you will never get it, so it was great to see people come and express their interests for what they want.”
While there will likely be a chance for the public to meet with the mediation team and attorneys before the mediation session begins, there were concerns from members of the audience about mediation being held in closed session.
“I am concerned [that mediation is closed to the public] because I don’t feel like the town is going to be represented [in mediation discussions] and I am not OK with what DCAM is proposing and how do I know what’s happening?” asked Medfield resident and state hospital abutter Jessica Benson.
Medfield selectman Osler “Pete” Peterson said he favors open mediation and while this process will be in closed session, expects there to be a lot of public discussion throughout the process.
“I can’t imagine that this process of mediation would happen without constant reporting back to the town,” Peterson said.
Benson, continuing to express her concern, asked how the public can be involved throughout the mediation process.
“Is there any other way to fight this legally and in the court of public opinion, which is essential?” she asked. “How can you fight in the public if it is behind closed doors? Is there any options for having mediation where the public gets a sense of what’s going on? Why is the town completely out of it now?”
Fisher reiterated that none of the discussions the mediation team will have with DCAM are binding and would require public discussion and approval by the selectmen.
Medfield resident John Harney questioned the town’s involvement in mediation altogether.
“I think it is a mistake for the town to be taking this on,” Harney said of mediation with DCAM. “I don’t think the town has clearly thought through what’s involved here and what Kristine [Trierweiler] said gives me even greater concern that this is going to be held in a confidentiality assured environment. … Where is the town? The people of the town in all of this? You know how they feel. They want all of that [waste] out of there. …
"Mediation is supposed to have some give from both sides but there should be no give from our side. It all should come out; at least out to the very point they cannot, for very practical reasons, cannot take out anymore. That is not what DCAM is offering us. … Our position is the right position. So said the congressman that represents us [Stephen Lynch], so says our senator [James Timilty], so says our representatives [Denise Garlick and Dan Winslow] and so says your own board [the selectmen]. What is there to mediate? Tell them to take out the material.”
Peterson responded to Harney’s point, saying the town needs to explore all its options.
“The problem and reason for mediation is it is not certain that the town can force DCAM to take the material out legally,” Peterson said. “My understanding is that legally, their plan meets what is required and if that is in fact the case and we don’t have much legal muscle, then they can just go ahead with what they proposed and our only option would be to litigate. …
“The only thing missing from a full cleanup, that we all want, is the millions of dollars either in federal or state funds. We need to be working on other alternatives if we are not going to get the millions of dollars and if DCAM can go forward and do what they plan to do. If they have that legal right to do it then it does make sense to mediate and see if we can get something better than what is proposed.”
Bill Massaro, a member of the mediation team and abutter of the state hospital property, offered his thoughts on the town entering mediation with DCAM.
“On Feb. 22, the selectmen sent a letter to DCAM and this letter has subsequently been copied to all of our legislatures,” Massaro said. "It’s gone to Senator Kerry, it’s gone to Senator Brown, Congressman Lynch, and it’s gone to Joseph Kennedy III, who is a candidate for [congress]. Everyone has seen this letter from the selectmen.
“The letter says [the selectmen] want a cleanup to the maximum extent feasible and they want no activity or use limitation on the property. This, politically, is what we have told our legislatures the town wants. I do not disagree with anything in that statement.
“We are talking about the maximum extent feasible. We are having discussions with DCAM as to what defines the feasibility. … What we are arguing over is what is the maximum extent other than moving the pipeline. … I’m hoping that something will come out of mediation and all the political pressure we are bringing and out of the discussions I’m trying to get DCAM to have in parallel with Spectra.”
Sullivan said residents will need to have “basic faith” in the mediation team chosen while the process takes place in closed session.
“If you have a mediation session with 100 people in it, you probably won’t get anything resolved and it would generate into a shouting match,” Sullivan said. “You have to have some ground rules, you have to have trust in the people representing you as you do when the school committee negotiates with the teachers as you do when the town’s collective bargaining negotiates with police and fire.
“If you don’t have that trust then you have a basic problem more serious than the state hospital cleanup. The people who have been put on that committee are people who have dealt with this issue over a number of years … they are familiar with the ins and outs of it and I think you have to put some basic faith in them.
“If you don’t trust them then you have a problem. Because they are the people you elected or have been chosen by your elected officials who represent you. You can’t have 12,000 people representing a mediation session. You have to decide who is going to do this for you and you have to have some basic faith in trusting them.”