Validity of Castleton bond vote questioned
By Darren Marcy
Staff Writer | October 16,2013
CASTLETON — The status of the $750,000 bond approved by voters last November to renovate the old town office building at 556 Main St. is in limbo for now.
The Select Board discussed the issue Monday after hearing that its bond attorney, Jack Facey, had issued an opinion saying the validity of the vote was questionable as a result of a simple question-and-answer the night before the vote.
Castleton voters were asked whether to approve two bond questions, one for $750,000 and another for $210,000, which would have provided the funds necessary to renovate the town offices.
Selectman Thomas Ettori, the board chairman, said comments he made at a public meeting before the vote may have misled voters.
During the meeting last November, a voter asked the board if both bond questions had to be approved for renovations to move forward.
Ettori, speaking from the point of view that both bonds would be needed for the town to be able to afford the renovation, answered that both bonds would have to pass or the plan wouldn’t continue.
The following day, voters approved the $750,000 bond, but voted down the smaller amount.
Most people believed the issue was put to rest until March when two new board members were elected and resurrected the plan.
But opponents of the renovation say the vote was likely tainted by Ettori’s comment. and Facey told the board that concern may be valid.
Ettori said Monday he was going to schedule a meeting with Facey, but said the issue may not matter.
The town’s current plan is to pursue bids to get a good handle on the costs of the renovation with a $990,000 spending cap, set at a recent board meeting. That would be covered by the bond and a $240,000 gift from a private source.
“In my own way of looking at this — whether it’s right or wrong — we’re going to send this thing out to bid,” Ettori said. “At that time we’ll know what the price is.”
He added, “It may be moot if this thing comes in at over $1 million. Until we get that figure, I don’t know if there’s much sense in pursuing this part of it.”
Selectwoman Cristine Smith asked Ettori what would happen if the bids come in over $1 million.
“Then we’ll have to have a long discussion,” Ettori said.
Smith said she thought the entire board should meet with Facey to discuss the validity of the vote and Ettori agreed.
He said he would set up a meeting with Facey and warn a meeting, but would not allow public comment. This would facilitate board discussion with the board’s bond counsel, he said.
Selectman John Hale suggested the board consider another opinion.
“I think maybe we should get a more senior and experienced bond counsel’s opinion,” Hale said.
Selectman Ed O’Shea asked Hale if he was challenging Facey’s qualifications.
“In consultation with a couple of other attorneys,” Hale said, “Facey is not an expert in the bond counsel field.”
But Ettori defended Facey.
“At some point (in) time we have to trust the lawyer we’ve hired,” Ettori said. “We can go from one lawyer to another lawyer to another lawyer until we get the opinion we’re looking for.”
The old town office building has been empty since June 2011 when mold was found.
Town workers moved to temporary quarters at Castleton State College until November of that year, when staff moved into temporary offices housed in trailers on Route 4A.