CMS Building Committee Votes to Request Interim Funds from BET, Town Attorney Appears to Invalidate Vote

The Central Middle School Building Committee met on Tuesday morning and voted to request interim funds from the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) for construction of a new school.

Back in February 2022, the school was condemned by the town’s then building official Bill Marr. Students were dispersed to other schools for two weeks while the CMS was made safe. Students were allowed to return, but the work done to shore up the school was not permanent and intended to last no more than five years. That was a year ago.

On Tuesday the building committee’s vote to request interim funds was later deemed invalid by the Town’s Legal Department.

During the meeting, Building Committee Chair Tony Turner advised his Committee of an impending legal opinion coming from the Town Attorney’s office regarding their ability to request the funds. But, in the moment, having no opinion in hand, the Committee voted to proceed, despite the misgivings of Chair Turner.

The Building Committee then voted and passed a motion that read:  

“Subject to legal review, the Building Committee, as required by the Town Charter, request interim funding for the project and further, request that the Board of Estimate and Taxation budget committee and the full Board of Estimate Taxation place the interim funding request on the September 12 and September 18 scheduled meetings, respectively, or hold special meetings as necessary in order to provide their decision on granting the interim request before the Representative Town Meeting scheduled for September 18, 2023 at 8:00pm.”

The Building Committee’s “subject to legal review” motion passed 5-2-0. 

Yes: Poccia, Rossetti, Kostin, Klair, & Kilgallen 

No: Arora and chair Tony Turner

Late Tuesday afternoon, at 3:40pm, a memo was disseminated from First Selectman Fred Camillo along with a five-page law department memorandum regarding MI approval from Town Attorney John Wetmore, Special Counsel, dated Aug 31.

The opinion of Attorney Wetmore referred to Section 99 of the Greenwich Town Charter that governs Municipal Improvement approvals by the Planning & Zoning Commission.

It states: 

“Section 99 of the Charter provides:

a. After the passage of this Article, no action, other than the making of studies or surveys, shall be taken by any Town Agency, the Board of Education or the Housing Authority on any proposal involving;

(1) The location, relocation, major redesign, extension or abandonment of any street or sewage disposal plant;

(2) The acquisition of land for, or the location, relocation, abandonment, sale, lease or major redesign of public real property or public buildings, including schools;

(3) The extent and location of transportation routes and terminals whether publicly or privately owned; or

(4) The location of public housing projects.

Until such proposal has been submitted to and approved by the Commission or has been approved by the Representative Town Meeting as herein provided.”

Mr. Wetmore further opined, “In Section 99 of the Charter, the term ‘no action’ has been interpreted to mean that no appropriation in furtherance of a particular project can be approved until such time as an MI has been granted.”

Laura Kostin, the Board of Education’s representative to the Central Middle School Building Committee disagreed with Attorney Wetmore’s interpretation of the Charter, saying “no action” has historically meant “you cannot go and start construction before you have MI approval.”

She further noted that Mr. Wetmore’s interpretation did not comport with the Town’s past practices, pointing out that “while inadequate, Central had already been appropriated $70m, a sum that was reviewed by the Town and approved by the Board of Estimate and Taxation in April.”

Additionally, she noted that in the case of Old Greenwich School, the BET met to consider an appropriation in June with no MI, and that other capital projects now completed had also been appropriated ahead of MI. 

“Either the Town has been making mistakes for years and repeatedly, erroneously appropriating funds in excess of $100m of dollars or the Town Attorney’s opinion has been rendered in error and both are a sign of gross incompetence,” she said.

In this memo, Mr. Camillo stated he would work with the various Town bodies whenever necessary, but “Nothing will be gained by looking back, but together we all will benefit from looking forward.” 

As for the Building Committee’s vote, Town Legal advised the Committee, “additional funding requests cannot be made without MI approval.”