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Stockbridge Select Board member Patrick White comments on potential release of Rest of River Committee records

An email exchange between White and the Rest of River Municipal Committee's former Chair Tom Matuszko shows stipulations for making the documents public.

Stockbridge and Lee — On the heels of the Lee Select Board’s unanimous vote on May 21 to pursue a response from all five towns involved in the Rest of River Municipal Committee regarding a requested release of executive session records, Stockbridge Select Board member Patrick White provided an email trail to The Berkshire Edge dating back to December in which he asked to make those documents public. What he received was a statement of the process under which that request could be possible, a high bar for the production of those documents. See the email thread here.

The history of Lee, White’s records release request

The Lee Select Board’s recent action stems from the group’s December 5 vote to request its own board—as well as the select boards of the Rest of River Municipal Committee towns of Great Barrington, Lenox, Sheffield, and Stockbridge—approve the release of documents from the committee’s executive sessions. According to Lee Select Board Chair Gordon Bailey on May 21, the Rest of River Municipal Committee meeting minutes were produced but not the minutes covering the committee’s executive sessions. To date, only Sheffield and Lee select boards have voted on the measure, agreeing to the release, with Great Barrington, Lenox, and Stockbridge select boards not responding to the request.

The request for unredacted records was undertaken to understand how the Housatonic River Rest of River remediation plan unfolded after years of General Electric Company (GE) depositing the now-banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the waterway, Lee officials stated. Under the terms of a 2020 remediation settlement agreement negotiated between the five towns’ representatives, as well as officials from GE, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others, the most toxic materials dredged from the Housatonic River would be sent out of the area while the least harmful materials would be deposited into a to-be-constructed Upland Disposal Facility (UDF), or landfill, in Lee.

The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee was created in 2013, and its members were tasked with pushing for increased cleanup of the waterway. It was dissolved on December 19, 2023.

The process

White’s records show that, on December 22, he requested from the former group’s chair Tom Matuszko “all minutes from Rest of River meetings since the committee’s inception, including minutes from any meetings or portions of meetings conducted in executive session.”

“The five towns’ select boards have an obligation to manage this project over the next decade or more,” White told The Berkshire Edge in a May 24 telephone interview. “I felt that, to make good decisions, I need access to good information, and, therefore, it made sense to me to have access to information that might not be releasable to the public and yet should be released to the executives who not only are responsible going forward but to whom the Rest of River Committee will [pass] it to. So, I thought it just seemed natural that we should have access to this information.”

Stockbridge Town Counsel Donna Brewer and Town Administrator Michael Canales were copied on White’s December and January correspondences.

On January 2, Matuszko replied to White that the matter of releasing the executive session minutes was discussed at the Rest of River Municipal Committee’s final meeting on November 21 and that those minutes haven’t been released “because of the legal constraints” surrounding their release.

Matuszko distinguished between two types of executive session minutes, with the first being the minutes related to the mediation agreement that foreshadowed the 2020 final settlement. That mediation process and its minutes from February 23, 2018, through February 5, 2020, are confidential in perpetuity, Matuszko stated in his email response. He said the executive session minutes compiled during the mediation agreement process and subject to confidentiality requirements could be released if all parties to that agreement approved the release; that is, the five involved towns, GE, EPA/Department of Justice, State of Connecticut, C. Jeffrey Cook, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (heads up the committee), Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Housatonic River Initiative, city of Pittsfield, and Mass Audubon. During their last meeting in November, the committee agreed that, alternatively, the executive session minutes could be released if the content related to the mediation agreement or settlement agreement discussions was redacted, Matuszko stated.

He also identified a second set, or type, of executive session minutes: minutes not subject to the mediation agreement provisions and covered by attorney-client privilege. Those minutes could be released if only the select boards of the five relevant towns agreed to the release as they would be, in essence, releasing the attorney-client privilege covering the documents, Matuszko said. As with the prior set of minutes, he stated that the group agreed that, alternatively, those minutes could be released with the content related to the discussion with the group’s attorney redacted.

Additionally, Matuszko cited the practicality of releasing the executive session minutes, given “119 sets of minutes that would need to be reviewed and redacted, which would be a time-consuming and costly process.”

“I am more than willing to release Executive Session minutes immediately, once the conditions listed above have been met,” Matuszko stated in the email.

White followed up Matuszko’s email with a reply a few hours later, calling “unrealistic” the release of the executive session minutes subject to the mediation agreement. “I think it would be impossible to get the minutes,” he told The Berkshire Edge. “I doubt that all the parties that Tom [Matuszko] listed—which include General Electric, the EPA, the State of Connecticut, individuals, organizations—every single one of them would have to sign off, and I just think it is very unlikely for GE, let alone the rest of the parties.”

White said he doesn’t hold the constraints listed by Matuszko against him because those hurdles were the particulars stated in the mediation agreement. “Here you have volunteers and select boards trying to do the right thing, trying to enter into something,” he said. “I guarantee you that most of the parties to the settlement hadn’t been through a settlement before. No one knew what they were getting into, and now there’s really no access to the decision making that went into this.”

In the email thread, White said his interest in the minutes was to determine whether trains might be a viable option to transport the dredged PCB-laden materials to the UDF or out of the area, with the proposed trucking method long opposed by Lee and Berkshire County residents as not the safest choice. Explaining that interest to The Berkshire Edge, he said he has “no idea” whether trucks or trains were discussed during the negotiations, as well as particulate-matter monitoring and how archaeological sites within the project area would be handled. “I’ll never know,” White said. “Information is power but also information informs what the good faith efforts were to protect the parties’ interests, and we have access to absolutely none of this information.”

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