Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Harvard Allston Task Force Chair Will Defy District Attorney's Instructions

The Boston Globe ran an article on Friday that the Suffolk County District Attorney's office wrote a letter to the Boston Redevelopment Authority declaring that the BRA's institutional task forces are subject to the Open Meeting Law. As I blogged on Friday, the June 1, 2007 letter by Assistant District Attorney Janis Noble also directed the BRA to instruct the task forces that they were subject to the OML, and agree to conduct future meetings in public.

We learned at last night's public meeting of the Harvard Allston Task Force that the BRA intends to do neither.

Gerald Autler, Senior Project Manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said that it continues to be the position of the BRA that the institutional task forces are not subject to the OML. He said that he wanted to let the lawyers from the BRA and DA's office sort out the legal issues; in the meantime, however, he would "leave it up to the chair [of the Harvard Allston Task Force] to decide" if they would continue to hold private meetings without public notice or attendance. Strike #1: no instructions to the Harvard Allston Task Force on applicability of the OML. I don't believe he even provided them with copies of the letter, or copies of the OML, or anything like it... he's keeping them in the dark.

Ray Mellone, chair of the Harvard Allston Task Force, said that he would continue to hold meetings closed to the public as he saw fit. "I have no reason to suspect that [we] don't have the right to meet in Executive Session... I am not going to say that we are not going to do it again." He even stated that they would meet privately next Monday, June 18, with Harvard representatives... conveniently failing, of course, to tell the public when and where the meeting will take place. Strike #2: the Harvard Allston Task Force will continue to hold private meetings with the developer, Harvard.

While Autler and Mellone appeared to want the meeting to end on a positive note, a number of attendees of the meeting voice their concerns and objections over this defiance of the DA's instructions.

"District Attorney Daniel Conley is the chief law enforcement officer in this district," said Gregory Glennon, a candidate for Boston City Council and an Assistant District Attorney himself. "To disregard the chief law enforcement officer is outrageous."

Allston resident Tommy Lally offered an explanation for why the community wants all the meetings to be open: "It is not that we don't trust you," he said, speaking directly to task force chair Mellone. "There is a lot of mistrust in this room, but it is not directed towards you. [It is] directed towards the BRA and Harvard."

A solution was offered by two task force members, who said that they saw no reason that next Monday's meeting couldn't allow public attendance (although without opportunity to comment during the meeting). Their suggestion was brushed aside by Mellone.

As Glennon noted, the next step in the process is for the BRA to respond formally to the legal opinion expressed in the letter from the DA's office. Stay tuned.

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