Board member continues trash talk over legality

Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority board member, Art DuCharme, in the foreground at right, with Anastasia Stevens, attorney for EVSWA at left, at its board meeting last week. Photo by Leota Harriman.

In a contentious meeting that started out with an argument about the legality of its agenda and minutes, the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority’s board is split over whether or not the organization is mismanaged.

One board member, Art DuCharme, continues to maintain that the board is illegally formed, and that an investigation is underway by the state’s Attorney General.

Board president Bill Williams and the rest of the EVSWA board are either neutral on the subject, or say the Solid Waste Authority is well managed, and that no investigation is underway by the AG.

Queried about whether or not there is an investigation, James Hallinan, spokesman for the AG’s office, replied, “The Office of the Attorney General fully reviews every complaint received and investigates where appropriate. It is the policy of this office to neither confirm nor deny an existence of an investigation, in order to preserve the integrity of our investigations and protect those individuals not charged with a crime.”

The first argument of the EVSWA board centered around whether a quorum of the board constituted the board or not. The attorney for EVSWA, Anastasia Stevens, said that accepted practice is that unless the organization specifically defines the board to mean “a majority of all members,” a quorum constitutes the board, which can act.

“I’m part of the quorum today,” DuCharme said. “But the quorum isn’t sufficient.” He represents Moriarty on the board.

After more wrangling, the board then approved the minutes of its last meeting, with DuCharme the only dissenting vote.

The larger issue is DuCharme’s assertion that some board members of the Solid Waste Authority were not legally appointed, which he contends means that actions taken by the board are null and void.

DuCharme sent a letter to The Independent (“Calling legality of solid waste board into question,” Sept. 2-8), which ran along with a response from the executive committee of the EVSWA board, comprised of Chairman Bill Williams, Vice Chair David Saline and Secretary Debbie Ortiz.

Saline said if DuCharme has an issue, he should bring it to the board, rather than contact newspapers.

“The nature of the atmosphere here is ridiculous,” DuCharme responded. “Looking at the emails, which have been held back from public scrutiny, Bill Williams, Debbie Ortiz, not you David [Saline], but they from the start I got on this board were trying to censure me, trying to prevent me from getting information, and they used the legal forces of Keleher & McLeod to do so.”

Stevens offered “Attorneys General opinions going back to 1966” in support of the legality of the board appointments, to which DuCharme retorted, “You don’t have that.”

“I do,” Stevens countered, adding, “I don’t know who you’re speaking to at the Attorney General’s office. None of them have said anything to me. None have come back with a single request. We had to ask them for your complaint.”

Stevens went on, “I’m happy to share the research I’ve done. … The accusations that Art’s making in the paper, that everything that’s been done by this body is unlawful, he said meetings with illegal quorums [were held] and that the acts taken are null and void.”

“That’s what I hear from attorneys,” DuCharme replied. “Not you—from good attorneys.”

“Well I would like to see their authority, because I have not seen a single piece,” Stevens said.

Earlier in the meeting, DuCharme had said, “What I’d like to know is what have I done wrong? What have I done that’s illegal or not part of my reponsibilities even as a board member? Each board member should be questioning [EVSWA manager Joseph] Ellis, should be asking financial questions. … I happen to do that. I think more people should do it.”

Saline agreed that it is the right and obligation of board members to question the manager. “But it is also our obligation when we find something wrong, we should bring it to the board, and have the board address that issue as a group. … That’s why we have 13 members on this board.”

Williams said, “You’ve tried for two years to discredit us with the AG’s office and have them investigate, and you have found anything. You’ve cost us a fortune doing it.”

The board did take actions at its meeting last week, procuring a tire shredder for $198,800 and 40 roll-off containers for $37,552, according to Ellis.

The board also voted to do repairs of one of its trucks at 2nd to None Service, one of several approved contractors for such work, because of a $20,000 dealer estimate for the repair. Saline, who owns the shop, said the repair would likely cost $10,000 or less at 2nd to None.

Ellis also reported that employees will be undergoing training with Torrance County’s emergency first responders, including the fire marshal and the emergency manager.

Saline and board members Joy Ansley and Leanne Tapia will be working on a draft of an ordinance for Torrance County, at the direction of the county commission, for consideration and at least one public hearing.

Saline said the county’s ordinance was passed in 1994 and needs to be updated.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15 at the office of the Solid Waste Authority in Estancia.