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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 23, 2008

Citizens grill town board members about private meetings with Sphere

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — Citizens at last week’s town board meeting grilled board members about their involvement with Sphere Development, since Sphere referred to town officials in a letter received with a Freedom of Information Law request and printed in the Oct. 9 edition of The Enterprise.

Zoning Administrator Paul Cantlin said that the officials at the meetings did not tell Sphere, “You ought to come and we’ll buy you cake and ice cream.”

The town board agreed that it could certainly look into the informal meeting process.

Edie Abrams, a member of New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, a grassroots group that opposes Sphere’s plan for a 750,000-square-foot retail mall at the old Bender melon farm, asked board members which “phantom” town officials met with Sphere representatives in private meetings before a public presentation was made. She also asked what those officials might have said to make Sphere representatives think they had town support.

“I suppose Sphere would be one person to ask,” town Supervisor Thomas Dolin said.

Dolin said that he had met with Sphere representatives briefly in December before he was officially sworn in as supervisor, and that no one had encouraged Sphere at that time.

He said that he attended one meeting in February, but that he walked out.

“I didn’t want to participate further, for various reasons,” Dolin said. “I certainly didn’t encourage them.”

Dolin said that there may have been a third meeting or telephone calls.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Abrams asked Dolin why he left the February meeting.

“I’m not sure at this time. I just remember that I left. I’ll think about it further,” Dolin said.

Abrams asked the board to find out who the town officials were and to put the subject on its next agenda to let people know who was involved.

“They really violated the trust of the residents of this town,” Abrams said.

Katy O’Rourke, who lives across from the Bender melon farm, said that there was no excuse for officials not to take notes during an informal pre-application meeting.

In response to public questions, most town board members denied attendance at any meetings.

Baron said that she went to one informal meeting.

“It was insignificant,” she said. Baron, who was Dolin’s court clerk when he served as town justice, said that the town extends invitations to listen to new projects, as it has with the three previous supervisors.

“It wasn’t closed door,” Baron said. She said that no decisions had been made at any early meetings. “I think maybe the Sphere people misunderstood,” she said.

Planning board member Charles Voss told the town board that he, Dolin, Cantlin, zoning board of appeals Chairman William Hennessey, and planning board alternate JoAnn Davies had attended the late February or early March meeting with Sphere.

“Somebody already FOILed [that information],” Voss said, referring to a Freedom of Information Law request.

The board also heard that Planning Board Chairman Robert Stapf attended a 45-minute meeting before Dolin took office.

Resident Christine Galvin, another member of NS4SED, asked the board about Sphere’s October letter to the town board.

“That we got a letter?” Baron said. She said that she was unaware of a letter from Sphere.

Dolin told Galvin that the board could “probably” generate a list of the people who attended the Sphere meetings.

“We want to know who they are and what was said,” Abrams said.

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