Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Judge Repeatedly Suggests She Be Recused in BC Expansion Lawsuit Case

At Tuesday's first hearing in the case of Galvin et al. v. Boston Zoning Commission et al., Judge Christine M. Roach considered three motions by the defendants in the lawsuit: adding Boston College as a defendant in the case (plaintiffs were unopposed); whether the Boston College Task Force should be removed from the defendants in the case (plaintiffs opposed); and whether the whole case should be moved to land court instead of superior court (unclear plaintiffs position, but I suspect they were opposed).

In the process of hearing the arguments about the task force's status as a governmental body, Judge Roach repeatedly offered up reasons why the attorneys could ask her to be recused from the case: first, that prior to becoming a judge, she was a commissioner in the State Ethics Commission in 2003-5; and second, that she has previously represented the City of Boston (although not the BRA or BZC) when she worked in private practice.

It seemed to me that the judge really wanted to be asked to be recused from the case. It was as if she were saying: Please, please, will somebody ask for me to be recused? Here are all the reasons you could use to justify recusal! I won't be offended!

Judge Roach's ethics background may be relevant because the defendants introduced an opinion letter on Monday -- marked "confidential" -- sent by the legal counsel of the State Ethics Commission that reaches a different opinion on the applicability of the state's Open Meeting Law from the Suffolk County District Attorney's office June 2007 advisory opinion. Violations of the OML by the task force are among the allegations in the lawsuit.

The judge's previous litigation work for the city also may be relevant because two of the named defendants are city agencies (Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Zoning Commission), while a motion being discussed Monday had to do with whether or not a city advisory body -- the Boston College Task Force, an official advisory body to the BRA's Board -- would be kept as a defendant in the case.

The judge added to these reasons by further pointing out that the current year's docket is ending later this month, so that the continuation of the case will almost certainly be passed on to another judge in 2010.

She put a deadline of next Monday for the parties to file motions both on whether or not she should be recused and whether or not she should rule on any of these three motions before the court.

And, no, Jan Schlictmann did not make a court appearance Monday for the plaintiffs.

No Obvious Relief to Task Force Members

During Monday's hearing, Judge Roach suggested that one possible ruling the court could enter would be to remove the task force as a defendant, but still allow the usual discovery process. If discovery later resulted in the task force appearing to be involved in the substance of the case, then they could be re-entered as defendants.

This hypothetical outcome would still seem to entail some kind of testimony by members of the task force during the discovery process, regardless of whether or not they are named as defendants. So removing the task force as a defendant in the case might not necessarily get them off the hook.

Image of gavel by vitualis provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Handel's Messiah for the Holidays

The audio of this snippet -- from the ending of the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah -- has been visually recreated by some kid on YouTube. The original audio was titled, "The organist is on crack."

Via The Rambler.

City Unsuccessfully Sought to Remove BC Task Force From Lawsuit

The City of Boston unsuccessfully sought, in an emergency motion, to remove the Boston College Task Force from the list of defendants of the lawsuit filed earlier this summer by Brighton residents Patrick Galvin and Mark Alford over the city's review and approval of Boston College's institutional master plan.

The city's corporation counsel and outside legal counsel filed a motion on October 19th as an emergency motion seeking to "cure the misjoinder and dismiss as a defendant the improperly named BC Task Force."

The emergency motion was rejected on November 13th with a hand-written notation -- by the judge in the case, I assume, although I cannot read the signature -- on the court documents stating that:
There are no emergencies in this case. And the court will entertain no further emergency motions. Any and all pending motions shall be heard on the hearing date currently scheduled for 12/14/09. The parties may submit any [revised?] pleadings up until 12/11/09.
The original lawsuit named the Boston Zoning Commission, Boston Redevelopment Authority, and Boston College Task Force as defendants. Boston College has filed a motion with the court to enter the case as an additional defendant.

According to that notation, the parties are due in Suffolk Superior Court today for a hearing on the matter. Based on the court documents to date that I have inspected, I expect the hearing to address two substantive issues: whether or not to remove the BC Task Force as a defendant in the case; and whether or not to add Boston College as an additional defendant in the case. And assuming the case goes forward, they will probably also begin to set up a series of substantive hearings on various elements of the lawsuit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BC Files With Court to Enter Lawsuit Over IMP Approval

Boston College filed court papers last month in order to join the lawsuit filed by two Brighton residents against the city of Boston over it's approval of BC's institutional master plan.

Those two Brighton residents, Patrick Galvin and Mark Alford, filed their lawsuit with the city in Suffolk Superior Court in July over the city's review and approval of BC's IMP earlier in the year. The Boston Redevelopment Authority's Board voted to approve the IMP in January and the Boston Zoning Commission voted to approve the IMP in May and June; both the BRA and the BZC are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Mayor Thomas Menino signed his approval of the IMP in June, although neither he nor his office are named as defendants.

BC was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but in the motion they filed with the court on November 9th they seek "leave to intervene as a defendant." They assert in the motion that they meet the requirements "for both intervention as of right and permissive intervention."

No response regarding BC's motion had been filed by the plaintiffs with the court as of last Thursday.

Big Gun Lawyers Involved in Case

BC was represented in the motion by legal counsel from the large law firm Goodwin Procter LLP. In their court filings, Goodwin Procter has at least two partners -- Anthony M. Feeherry and Lawrence E. Kaplan -- involved in the case, as well as two other associates.

I reported on Friday that the plaintiffs are now themselves represented by counsel which includes Jan Schlictmann, the attorney who was the subject of the best-selling book A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr.

The city is in various documents represented by its own Corporation Counsel as well as a smaller firm Rosenberg, Schapiro, Englander, Chicoine & Leggett, P.C -- which appears to have the direct involvement of two of the named partners, Edward S. Englander and Denise A. Chicoine, in the case.

With all those lawyers involved in the case -- particularly the partners -- I would be willing to bet that quite a lot of money is being spent on both sides.

Friday, December 11, 2009

'A Civil Action' Attorney Schlictmann Enters Lawsuit Over BC Expansion

Two Brighton residents, Pat Galvin and Mark Alford, sued the City of Boston earlier this year over the review process and approval of Boston College's expansion plans into the former St. John's Seminary property. The plaintiffs object to BC's plans to construct athletic stadiums and dormitories on the land, as well as the city's review process of the university's institutional master plan which they assert violated the state's Open Meeting Law.

Galvin and Alford filed their lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court pro se, meaning that they were representing themselves.

No longer. As of November 11 -- in documents I saw at the courthouse on Thursday -- they are represented by two lawyers: Orestes Brown and Jan Schlictmann [right].

Yes, that Schlictmann. The guy who was the protagonist of the best-selling book "A Civil Action" by Jonathan Harr and the movie starring John Travolta [left] as Schlictmann.

Schlictmann was portrayed in the book as being so obsessed with the Woburn case that he drove his firm (and many of its employees) to the verge of financial bankruptcy -- just before the court ruled in his clients' favor. The book opens with the scene where Schlictmann's Porsche is repossessed on the morning before the verdict.

More recently, Schlictmann has been in the news on two other high profile, local cases:
But if people thought Schlichtmann might mellow after being immortalized in Jonathan Harr’s classic piece of reporting and the movie of the same name, forget about it. Schlichtmann is still fighting, only now his adversaries include the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority over proposed toll increases, ink and paint manufacturers over a factory explosion that ravaged a Danvers neighborhood, and former colleagues over legal fees.
Schlictmann has not had much success in the turnpike lawsuit.

His presence in the lawsuit of Galvin et al. v. Boston Zoning Commission et al., however, seems to be an indication that the plaintiffs are interested in a no holds barred pursuit of their case at every step of the way.

This case just got way more interesting.

Image of Jan Schlictmann from his page on the Legal Broadcast Network. Image of John Travolta in
A Civil Action from imdb.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Musical Signature of WCRB-WGBH Conversion

Monday morning I flipped through the radio stations and heard the unmistakable sounds of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in a. It was my first indication that 24-hour classical music station WCRB is really being bought by WGBH to continue as a 24-hour classical station -- but with WGBH's broader mix of music, not WCRB's mostly light classical (all Vivaldi and Mozart, all the time).

The Boston Globe reported this morning that the Federal Communications Commission approved the $14 million purchase of the station last week -- although the WGBH format is not supposed to change until December 1 and WCRB announcers have yet to move to the Brighton studios.

WCRB's annoying stamp, er, "branding," on their station was still in evidence Monday: the piano trio's conclusion was immediately followed by a chirpy-voiced, "Casual, comfortable classical."

No. This piano trio is neither casual nor comfortable. It is dark, tragic, dramatic, and pathos-ridden -- written in memory of the great 19th century Russian pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein who had died in the preceding year.

I'll be delighted when WCRB transitions to WGBH musical fare like this piano trio but drops the idiotic branding verbiage.

Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in a, Op.50, 1st movement, played by Sviatoslav Richter (piano), Oleg Kagan (violin), and Natalya Gutman ('cello).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Did the BRA Board Delay Vote Over Charlesview Relocation Proposal?

The Boston Redevelopment Authority announced today that its Board was postponing a vote on the proposed development project to relocate the Charlesview apartments to Brighton Mills.

The BRA's stated reason for the delay dodges the salient fact that local elected officials want the project modified -- a stance reiterated by District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo as recently as last week.

A group of North Allston-Brighton residents had recently written to the BRA Board requesting the delay:
[The residents] said the planning process was “tainted by a project manager biased against the residents of Allston and Brighton,” referring to a number of e-mails recently released by a [Public Records Law] request in which senior BRA project manager Jay Rourke expresses frustration with Allston-Brighton residents for their continued resistance to the proposed Charlesview Development project.
The BRA gave a different reason for the delay, namely, that it had something to do with the future plans of the Brookline Machinery site, which is not part of the current development proposal. BRA senior project manager Jay Rourke emailed today:
The BRA feels that the Charlesview redevelopment project has completed the public process and is ready for consideration by the BRA Board of Directors for approval. Nonetheless, it will be removed from tomorrow night’s agenda because there is no finalized agreement between Harvard University and the BRA concerning the future of the adjacent Brookline Machinery site. The public hearing will be rescheduled and re-advertised once a satisfactory agreement with Harvard has been achieved.
The real reason? The A-B elected officials are not in support of the current proposal without significant modification, such as including the Brookline Machinery lot as part of the project. As I wrote several weeks ago, all A-B elected officials wrote in October to the BRA:
They wrote requesting the BRA and developer to: expand the area of land in the development to include the Brookline Machine building; reduce the number of rental units (those that are beyond the low-income units for the current Charlesview tenants); reduce overall the project's density; increase the number of home ownership units; reduce of the height of the eight-story Telford Street building; express a concern about a "lack of open and recreational space" in the project; increase the amount of retail space; and halt further development of Harvard property in North Allston-Brighton until "significant development of the Holton Street Corridor is realized." Pretty broad stuff which will take a while for the BRA and the project's developers to modify and accommodate.
Councilor Ciommo reiterated his position last week at a meeting of neighborhood residents:
Ciommo supports many of the requests of the ABNNF.

“It better be different than the one that was presented at the last meeting at the Honan Library, or I won’t support it,” said Ciommo.

Asked what would happen if the BRA approves the plan, Ciommo said, “Then they’ve stepped over the community.”
With opposition to the current version of the project coming from both residents and elected officials, the BRA had little choice but to put off the project's consideration until changes can be made to it.

Update (11/17/09): The Boston Globe has an article here. BRA Director John Palmieri told the Globe that he had promised to have a commitment from Harvard about developing the Brookline Machinery site -- which has yet to happen. The Globe concludes that "the move is an effort to placate Allston neighbors, who insisted additional housing be built on that site to help create a more vibrant neighborhood with residences, shops, and Harvard’s planned $1 billion science complex."

Image of proposed Charlesview development from the Charlesview.org website.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Could the Plymouth Rock Studios Fiasco Happen in Boston?

The Boston Globe's Spotlight Team reported today about substantial holes in the developer's plans to build a large movie studio on a former golf course in Plymouth. Several days ago, the developer's $550 million financing fell through, and the Globe's investigative report shows how many of the players have financial backgrounds -- bankruptcies, lawsuits, and jail time for fraud -- that are extensive and messy, even by Hollywood standards.

Could this mess happen here in Boston?

Before addressing this question, let's look at who are the winners and losers in the Plymouth Rock Studios collapse.

Winners. Governor Deval Patrick's administration is a big winner in this mess, having turned down a request for $50 million in infrastructure improvements related to the project because the developers had been unable to come up with private financing to back the project:
The state’s decision in June not to grant the studio $50 million for roads and other infrastructure was a particular blow... Patrick administration officials said last week that the state still wants to aid Plymouth Rock - if the studio comes up with long-term funding first.
The state appears to have learned its lesson after the Columbus Place hole-in-the-ground disaster.

And don't forget the other big winner: the Globe's Spotlight Team for hard-hitting reporting that may well get nominated for an award in the next year.

Losers. The big loser appears to be starry-eyed city officials and town meeting in Plymouth, who have green-lighted the project without doing much due diligence into the developers:
When Plymouth’s Town Meeting convened in October 2008 to pass judgment on Plymouth Rock Studios executives’ grand proposal to bring to town what they called “Hollywood East,’’ the results of the vote were a foregone conclusion...

Soon, it was time for Plymouth’s town meeting members to debate tax breaks and re-zoning a golf course for 2 million square feet of sound stages, office space, retail businesses, housing, and a hotel.

Except there was no debate. Members voted to cut off discussion before it started, and hoots and applause filled the hall.

And the chairman of the Plymouth Board of Selectman didn't seem bothered by any of the financial problems of the lead developer:
[Dick] Quintal has known for some time about Kirkpatrick’s bankruptcy and several of the lawsuits against him. And he accepted Kirkpatrick’s explanations.

“I didn’t pay no attention to that,’’ he said. “That’s none of my business.’’

The utter failure of city officials and town meeting members to vet fully the developers and their financing is the lesson that Boston city officials ought to learn.

Could This Happen in Boston?

Boston itself has been beset by three recent messes of financing and oversight: Downtown Crossing, where city officials approved a development plan and allowed a building tear-down despite the project's inadequate financing; North Allston, where city officials approved Harvard University's proposal for a massive science complex, under the apparently false assumption that the university's vast endowment was more than enough to fund the project; and Columbus Center, where the state approved a development, including a promise of public money that was later withdrawn, despite the project's lack of financing.

All three projects are currently holes-in-the-ground with no short-term prospect for construction.

The Downtown Crossing example is the most worrying, since the Globe reported earlier this year that the Boston Redevelopment Authority "cut corners in allowing half a city block to be torn down," "set aside requirements for key disclosures and agreements," and "did not perform an examination of the developer's financing plans, which are not required under city rules."

Prediction: Flaherty to be Wifi-ed on Performance Bonds

In the mayoral campaign this year, candidate Michael Flaherty pushed the idea of requiring performance bonds for major development projects to ensure that they have adequate financing and complete the proposed work. At least one city official scoffed at the idea, calling it "a bit of political rhetoric."

As a result of the Downtown Crossing approval mess, Mayor Thomas Menino vowed that the city would more closely scrutinize project financing in the future.

I have a prediction on this one: Flaherty will get wifi-ed on the performance bond idea. I suspect that there are city officials, behind the scenes, who are more in favor of the idea than those who have spoken on-the-record. As a result, Mayor Menino will, within six months, take up the idea as his own and push for the BRA to implement it.

Expect Boston College's first proposed project in their institutional master plan -- likely a dormitory on the current site of More Hall -- to be an early test of what I predict will be a new city policy.

Update (11/16/09): I thought about drawing a parallel with the Wampanoag tribe's proposed Middleborough casino, but wasn't up to speed on the exact details of that ongoing scandal. Dan Kennedy, an avowed opponent of the plan, tweets, "Change "Plymouth" to "Middleborough" and "studio" to "casino," and you've got pretty much the same story."

Image of proposed Plymouth Rock Studios development project from the developer's website.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Short-Term Commercial Leases Please Residents -- In the Fenway

While residents of North Allston-Brighton have been complaining for years about swaths of commercial property -- bought by Harvard University over the past two decades -- being left vacant while Harvard considers its long-term plans, the Boston Metro reports that residents of the Fenway neighborhood appear to be benefiting from short-term business leases during the current economic downturn:
"While we have significant long-term plans to build and make it a lively street, this is also not the right time to be creating new buildings," said Diana Pisciotta, spokeswoman for Samuels and Associates, which has already built up much of the [Boylston Street] block but is now securing short-term leases with retailers.

"We thought it was really important to bring in neighborhood-friendly uses to storefronts that might otherwise be empty"...

“We’re very happy that the developers have tried to make the streets active and not let the place look blighted and rundown,” said Bill Richardson, president of the Fenway Civic Association.
Earlier this summer, Mayor Thomas Menino guided a tour bus loaded with retailers and real estate brokers through the Fenway and Newbury Street, pointing out many empty storefronts ripe for new businesses. Last year, the tour went through Dudley Square, the South Boston waterfront, and Downtown Crossing.

Mayor Menino even offered business owners an incentive to open a business on Newbury Street: a free month of advertising on a city-owned space downtown.

As Harry Mattison remarked in July: "Next year please drive the bus down Western Ave" in North Allston-Brighton.

Image of vacant, former VW dealership in North Allston from the blog This Is Harvard used with permission; all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

OMG: Boston Police Cite Bicyclist for Improper Lighting

I am always amazed when the police in any town or city in eastern Massachusetts cite a pedestrian for jaywalking or crossing illegally, an automobile driver for opening a door into traffic, or a bicyclist for failure to stop for a stop sign or red traffic light. These infractions just seem never to be enforced, although they should be.

Which is why I offer a tip of the hat to the Boston Police, working out of Jamaica Plain's E-13 station, for citing a bicyclist for "Riding a Bicycle without Proper Lighting."

State law requires a red light on the rear of the bicycle and a white one on the front whenever in use at a time more than 30 minutes past sunset (until 30 minutes before sunrise). They also require some kind of reflectors, although these can often be provided by the cyclist's attire.

Why did the police ticket this particular bicyclist? It has something to do with riding erratically at 2 am and unlawful possession of a firearm that had its identifying numbers obliterated. I guess that's the threshold for a citation about unlawful bicycle operation.

Image of Red Bike Reflector by sillygwailo provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boston Poet Laureate Leads Open-Mic Event

Brighton's Sam Cornish, Boston's Poet Laureate, will be master-of-ceremonies for an evening of poetry and prose at the Brighton Allston Congregational Church, 404 Washington Street, this Saturday at 7 pm.

It will be an open-mic event, so bring your own fall-colored poetry on the theme, "Thankful People: an evening of prose and poetry celebrating Thanksgiving and the fall season."

The event is free, although donations will be accepted for the church's community supper kitchen.

Image of Sam Cornish from an interview published by Cervena Barva Press.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Khazei Crafty Like a Fox, Part Deux

Several days ago I wrote about how Alan Khazei's campaign for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat was being crafty in their use of social media, by apparently watching another candidate's Twitter following/followers list (Steven Pagliuca's) and following at least one of them (me). I tried tweeting the campaign to ask if that was, in fact, what they were doing, but only got back a perfunctory DirectTweet (you know, a Form Tweet).

Two days later, I'm tweeted by AlanKhazei:
local activists like @michaelpahre in Brighton exemplify Big Citizenship (http://bit.ly/2iJzIX) - will follow and support you as senator
First, I feel weird getting referenced right before a quotation of Mahatma Ghandi. I don't deserve to be in such company.

Second, I now feel deeply guilty for not writing about the Shubow Park cleanup event here on the Brighton Centered blog, and for not attending it. (Real reason I couldn't attend: family commitments. And rain.) Here are the photos from the event.

Third, it sounds to me as though they might have happened to start following my Twitter feed on Tuesday by mere coincidence (although that is still not 100% clear). Instead, Khazei's campaign could have a formal effort to connect with hyperlocal bloggers like me.

Either way, that is still crafty campaigning in the age of new media. Tip of the hat to Khazei and Co.

Image of Shubow Park cleanup event from Alan.Khazei at flickr.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ciommo Over Selvig 64-35% in District 9 City Councilor Race

With 26 of 27 precincts reporting, incumbent Mark Ciommo has defeated challenger Alex Selvig for District 9 City Councilor by a margin of 64-35%.

With 95% of precincts reporting city-wide, incumbent Thomas Menino has defeated challenger Michael Flaherty for mayor by a margin of 57-43%.

Incumbents John Connolly and Stephen Murphy, along with challengers Felix G. Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley, have taken the four City Councilor-At-Large seats.

My predictions were surprisingly on-the-mark, getting each candidates' percent of the vote to within 1-2 percentage points -- although Pressley took 4th place stronger over Tito Jackson and Andrew Kenneally than I had predicted.

Who Did Worst Against "None-of-the-Above"?

For those candidates running unopposed, it is instructive to see how many people didn't cast a ballot in their race or voted for a write-in -- together representing the "none-of-the-above" vote. This is one way of gauging which district councilor is least liked in his or her district, or who might be the most vulnerable two years from now:
  • District 2: Bill Linehan 60.4%, None-of-the-Above 39.6%
  • District 3: Maureen Feeney 66.9%, None-of-the-Above 33.1%
  • District 4: Charles Yancey 64.1%, None-of-the-Above 35.9%
  • District 5: Rob Consalvo 64.0%, None-of-the-Above 36.0%
  • District 6: John Tobin, Jr. 67.6%, None-of-the-Above 32.4%
District 2 Councilor Bill Linehan won over None-of-the-Above with the lowest margin. Ouch.

Khazei Crafty Like a Fox

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix asked rhetorically if Alan is Khazei, like a fox?

I instead think he's crafty like a fox -- in the way his people are using Twitter.

Last night I saw some re-tweets of Steve Pagliuca's original content, so I decided to start following Pagliuca's Twitter feed. Pagliuca is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in December's special primary election. (At some point a few weeks ago I started following Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Congressman Michael Capuano, two other candidates for the Democratic nomination.)

Then the usual thing happened: Pagliuca's people returned the favor by starting following my Twitter feed. Yawn... As if they actually read my tweets.

But then, five hours and 32 minutes later, Alan Khazei, another Democratic candidate, started following me -- even though I hadn't initiated any contact with his Twitter feed.

Where did Khazei's people get the idea to start following me?

Sure sounds like they are monitoring Pagliuca's Twitter followers and then following them. Clever. That's what you get when you've got so many wired-in young'uns supporting your candidacy.

(The Khazei-ites did not respond to a tweeted request for an explanation.)

Quick Predictions for Today's Election

Mayor: Menino over Flaherty by 57-43%.

District 9 City Councilor: Ciommo over Selvig, 63-37%. Not too different from Nov 2007 vote, except that Ciommo will win big with elderly Russian vote in 2009 -- rather than split the vote, as he did with Glennon in 2007.

City Councilor-At-Large: Connolly, Murphy easy winners; Arroyo solid 3rd place; too close to call among Pressley, Jackson, and Kenneally for the fourth slot (but lean Pressley after Kerry robocalls -- popular in Boston).

Turnout: 28% city-wide.

Candidate Election Night Parties to be Preceded by Municipal Election

The candidates for District 9 City Councilor will be holding election night parties tonight:
  • Mark Ciommo, incumbent, Corrib Pub, 396 Market Street, Brighton, 8 pm
  • Alex Selvig, Deep Ellum, 477 Cambridge Street, Allston, 8:30 pm
All candidates said their events are open to anyone to attend.

The election night parties will be preceded by the municipal election, today, 7 am to 8 pm. Where Do I Vote in Massachusetts?

Image of Early Voting 2008 by NCReedPlayer provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Unsubstantiated Allegations About Unsubstantiated Allegations

Readers of this week's Allston-Brighton TAB who flip to the editorial page will find a series of endorsements for the municipal election that will be held Tuesday: incumbent Thomas Menino for mayor; incumbents John Connolly and Stephen Murphy, as well as challengers Tito Jackson and Felix G. Arroyo, for City Councilor-At-Large; and incumbent Mark Ciommo for District 9 City Councilor.

In crafting the endorsement of Ciommo's bid, however, the editorial page of the A- B TAB engaged in a bit of mudslinging -- about challenger Alex Selvig's mudslinging:
Ciommo has been on the receiving end of a campaign of mudslinging. We took seriously the accusations that were hurled in his direction by opponent Alex Selvig and some of his followers. Many of the charges have turned out to be distortions and unproven accusations. [emphasis added]
As a frequent reader of the A-B TAB, I was startled to read that the newspaper had unearthed multiple distortions and multiple unproven accusations made by Selvig, because I have not seen any such news analysis printed or online in their newspaper. Nor were any examples given in the editorial itself.

The TAB's allegations about Selvig's "distortions" and "unproven accusations" might be accurate; as far as I can tell, however, they have not substantiated any of these allegations on their pages.

The campaign between Ciommo and Selvig has been lively and, yes, there have been some cases where both candidates -- though noticably more by Selvig -- have stretched the facts a bit to make their point. But to my eye it has mostly been the typical kind of stretching that goes on in political campaigns. Selvig did go negative with a mailing earlier this month, and another one that arrived today. But once again, inspection of the TAB's stories don't substantiate how Selvig's allegations in these negative mailings are "distortions" or "unproven accusations."

A-B TAB editor Wayne Braverman did not respond to an emailed request Friday for examples of stories they have run that would detail their allegations about Selvig. The closest examples I could find, in a news story in last week's paper, look like pretty ordinary and tame campaigning -- by both Selvig, who accurately pointed out a $200 contribution to Ciommo's campaign, and by Ciommo, who incorrectly identified the source of most of Selvig's campaign funds. (The funds were loaned to his campaign by Selvig, not by Elite Rowing -- which would illegal under the state's campaign finance law.)

Until I hear something more concrete, I will chalk up as unfair the TAB's unsubstantiated allegations about Selvig making unsubstantiated allegations.

Other Endorsements in District 9 Race

For an endorsement in the District 9 race that is better reasoned, read the Boston Phoenix:
Also deserving is first-term District 9 incumbent Mark Ciommo, who has a solid understanding of issues facing Allston-Brighton — particularly campus expansion — and took on the difficult role, for a freshman councilor, of mastering the city’s complex budget. As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he managed to hold serious, informative budget sessions in the middle of a fiscal crisis and a mayoral-election year.
The Boston Bulletin also endorsed Ciommo:
Ciommo is a quiet man in the middle of very loud neighborhood debates.

The audible angst in Allston and Brighton is seen as necessary by residents who feel that their neighborhoods are under siege by massive development projects and the impacts that come from the hundreds and hundreds of college students who are their transient neighbors...

We agree with those who think Ciommo needs to be more vocal in his stands on crucial issues. It would be nice to see him act less like a diplomat and more of a fighter on issues like police patrols, ISD enforcement, rats and improving schools. We urge him to make good on this endorsement by taking his work on the council to a higher level.
Note that the Boston Herald did not endorse in this race, and neither did the Boston Globe.

Image of Sometimes I yell at myself by spunkinator, provided through a Creative Commons license.

Youkin' It Up at the Edison K-8 School

Red Sox all-star Kevin Youkilis was in Brighton Monday with Mayor Thomas Menino delivering a batch of books to the library of the newly-merged Edison K-8 School.

The Edison School was previously a middle school, but opened last September as a K-8 school after merging with the students and faculty of the now-closed Hamilton and Garfield Elementary Schools.

The books Youkilis delivered were collected at Fenway Park on July 11th and 12th as part of his "Batting for Books" program run through his Hits for Kids foundation. The program has already passed its goal of collecting 100,000 books for the libraries of Boston Public Schools.

One kid seems to have scored a book on Michele Obama...

Image courtesy of Christopher Horan, chief communications officer of the Boston Public Schools, who also write the All About BPS blog.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Prize for Best Storefront

Brighton Center's business trick-or-treat brought out hundreds of kids and their parents Friday afternoon.

Hands-down prize for Best Storefront With a Halloween Theme -- in the Locally-Grown Skeleton category -- goes to Johnny D's Fruit and Produce. He was also handing out lots of candied apples, as usual -- an amazing treat for the kids.

The big pumpkin on the left is Johnny's annual guess the weight of the pumpkin contest. I predict 367 pounds.

2009 Glennon Award for Least Responsive Candidate in an Election Campaign

Two years ago, I wrote about how Gregory Glennon, candidate for Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor, was so thoroughly unresponsive to attempted contacts by various neighborhood residents (including myself). It was difficult to arrange a candidates forum and debate that year, because he didn't respond to repeated requests about scheduling, related issues, and media requests for comment.

After I wrote that post, even more people contacted me to tell me that I was 100% on target in that criticism, providing their own stories of emails and phone calls that dropped into the netherworld. His non-responsiveness was peculiar, given that Glennon had said during the campaign: "I will always be available. Every phone call will get returned, every email, every letter."

This year, we have a winner of the 2009 Gregory Glennon Award for Least Responsive Candidate in an Election Campaign: Doug Bennett, candidate for Boston City Councilor-At-Large.

When a Boston Globe reporter managed to get him on the phone to ask about why he was seen running a red light in front of the Globe's office building, Bennett abruptly ended the conversation. OK, that's not such a bad thing to do with a pestering reporter, right?

Well, he hung up on a reporter from the Dorchester Reporter in May. He was "snippy and unresponsive" with Boston Phoenix reporter David Bernstein when asked about some details of his campaign finance reports.

The Allston-Brighton TAB tried to interview him as part of their reporting and endorsement process, but he couldn't be bothered to respond:
All of the At-large candidates, except for Doug Bennett who was invited but never bothered to return calls or e-mails to schedule a meeting, met with the staffs of the Allston-Brighton TAB and West Roxbury and Roslindale Transcript at different times over the past few weeks.
And when we organized the BAIA candidates forum earlier this month for the Councilor-At-Large race, we were unsure whether he knew about the event -- let alone whether or not he would show up -- until the afternoon of the event, because we didn't get responses to our repeated queries. His campaign website doesn't list a phone number; Bennett never responded to my emailed request for the phone number, so I put his home number in the handout to attendees at the forum.

The Dorchester Reporter was tongue-in-cheek about this whole issue, writing:
Bennett has not returned a voicemail message asking about this odd trend of non-responsiveness.
I didn't bother writing Bennett to ask him to comment on this post.

Halloween Activities in Allston-Brighton

Friday, October 30: 3-5 pm, Brighton Center to Oak Square

Trick-or-treat at local businesses that display one of the flyers in their windows. From D-14 station (which usually has a goodie bag) to Oak Square, where there will be pizza at the YMCA at 5 pm. Not to miss: Johnny D's, who is usually handing out candied apples.

Contact: Rosie Hanlon, Executive Director, Brighton Main Streets, talkhanlon@aol.com, 617-779-9200

Saturday, October 31: 1-5pm, Ringer Park, Allston

There will be Folk Singers and Acoustic Bands, Tons of Treats, Games, Sidewalk Chalk for Halloween Murals, Free Market/Flea Market, Bobbing for Apples, Costume Contest, Scarecrow Making, Pumpkin Painting, etc. - Perhaps a Ghost Walk in the Woods!

Spread the word - It will be Fun!!

Contact: Joan Pasquale, Executive Director, PCBG,Inc. - RPPG, pcbginc@verizon.net

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BRA Ought to Drop the Shovel and Stop Digging

One of the basic rules of crisis management and organizational communications is that when you find yourself deep in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging.

The BRA slipped into that mistake on Monday.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has been criticized during the last few days over a project manager's emails that were viewed as disparaging towards some Allston-Brighton residents. Mayoral candidate Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty, his unofficial running mate Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon, District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo, and Ciommo's challenger Alex Selvig -- as well as Mayor Thomas Menino himself -- all expressed criticism of the BRA's emails on Monday.

The BRA was doing a reasonably good job at crisis management over the issue: the employee was disciplined in response to a Boston Globe reporter's inquiries; the employee offered an apology; criticism from Flaherty was forcefully rebutted by BRA director John Palmieri; etc. Political campaigns are fair game for this kind of back-and-forth; that's what the sport of politics is all about.

All of this followed the crisis management script until BRA spokesperson Susan Elsbree went beyond criticizing mayoral candidate Flaherty's proposals to reform the BRA to point her finger once again at a few Allston-Brighton residents:
Elsbree said [BRA project manager Jay] Rourke has already apologized for his statements and said his comments were not aimed at the Allston-Brighton community as a whole, but rather a product of frustration at “two or three individuals who are trying to stop the relocation of 700 residents” [in the Charlesview redevelopment proposal]. [emphasis added]

Who might she be speaking about? I can think of some.

Four Allston-Brighton residents wrote to the BRA on October 13, 2009, stating that they "support a Charlesview relocation proposal incorporating the following revisions and recommendations." And those were some pretty substantial revisions they requested.

They wrote requesting the BRA and developer to: expand the area of land in the development to include the Brookline Machine building; reduce the number of rental units (those that are beyond the low-income units for the current Charlesview tenants); reduce overall the project's density; increase the number of home ownership units; reduce of the height of the eight-story Telford Street building; express a concern about a "lack of open and recreational space" in the project; increase the amount of retail space; and halt further development of Harvard property in North Allston-Brighton until "significant development of the Holton Street Corridor is realized." Pretty broad stuff which will take a while for the BRA and the project's developers to modify and accommodate.

Who are these obstructionist A-B guys who are "trying to stop the relocation of 700 residents"?

State Senator Steven Tolman, State Representative Kevin Honan, State Representative Michael Moran, and Boston District 9 City Councilor Mark Ciommo. (Cambridge State Senator Anthony Galluccio was also a co-signer of the letter to the BRA.)

That hole just got a bit deeper. I think the BRA needs to drop the shovel again and stop digging.

Image of Digging in the Dark by Wessex Archaeology provided through a Creative Commons license.

BNN Online Video of City Councilor-At-Large Candidates Forum 10/15

The BAIA forum held on October 15th for the candidates for Boston City Councilor-At-Large was taped by Boston Neighborhood Network and can be viewed online from their website. The video is in MS wmv format.

The program was broadcast on BNN around a half-dozen times during the week or so following the original event.

Thanks to BNN and Dan Moore for taking the video and getting it online!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dead-Blogging the District 9 City Councilor Forum

The business trade groups of Allston-Brighton sponsored a forum tonight for the two candidates running for the Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor seat. Incumbent Mark Ciommo and challenger Alex Selvig took questions from moderator Michael McCormack, former City Councilor-At-Large from A-B, and each other.

Here is my attempt at "dead-blogging" the proceedings, i.e., blogging about it after it's over, not "live-blogging."

Candidates Forum
Sponsored by Allston Board of Trade, Brighton Board of Trade, Allston Village Main Streets, Brighton Main Streets
October 27, 2009
7:00 pm
Jackson-Mann Community Center

The Allston-Brighton TAB has their story on the event here.


SELVIG: [offered welcome in Spanish] I have been in area for two decades, four years working on a moving truck, then started own business. "Allston-Brighton's future is hanging in the balance of this election."

Schools: I'll have a child in the public schools; Ciommo doesn't.
BRA/BC: I stood against it, Ciommo stood in support of it.
Liquor licenses and developers: Ciommo received nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions from them, I didn't.

CIOMMO: Respect today's concerns while preparing for tomorrow's challenges. I helped hold down spending, maintain low property taxes, and create a database of information on property owners.

My vision for A-B: I'm the only candidate who is a product of BPS, and will fight for an A-B school zone.

Moderator Questions

Q1: How would you best represent the diverse constituency of residents and businesses?

CIOMMO: I was a youth worker, assistant director here at JMCC. Helped found group with mission to reach out to immigrants. Was director of the senior center, where I hired both Russian and Chinese translators. Been member of the ABOT and BBOT during that time. Socio-economic diversity is in my background.

SELVIG: Many immigrants don't have papers. Spoke to former D-14 captain Genevieve King about not reporting immigrants during police activity.

Q2: What programs would you initiate to engage the local business community?

SELVIG: "local business should be patronized by local people. let's try to spend our money in their stores."

CIOMMO: As a member of ABOT/BBOT, I attended meetings, went to their events. "I would reach out to them, and be accessible and responsive." Example: Harrell's had problem with newspaper boxes in front of the ice cream store; we got them (re)moved and installed bike racks instead. Not just jobs I held, but also in civic organizations I participated in.

Q3: What are your thoughts about phasing out busing, and what to do with the savings?

CIOMMO: I am on record in support for the 5-zone plan. We are spending more than $80 million per year on transportation; 5-zone plan would save $10 million. I spoke to district councilors, telling them that all the savings should go into the underperforming schools in their districts. Glad that the superintendent is still working on how to implement this plan. "It's time has come." When I went to school, A-B was a pilot program for busing, so I got a multi-ethnic experience.

SELVIG: "It is absolutely vital for the health of this community that we have neighborhood schools." You don't have the opportunity to go to Charlestown and East Boston to visit with teachers; too far away. The 5-zone plan is good for A-B. Regarding the money being spent on transportation, "That money is not strictly for racial integration."

Q4: What do you think are the pros and cons of institutional expansion?

SELVIG: Pros: building trades. "The key to this development has to be a neighborhood that is livable. It is important that we preserve the quality of life for this neighborhood." We have a whole planning department, but there is no city plan.

Downside is that you get ad hoc planning and have problems with your infrastructure. Our traffic problems get worse without a blueprint from the BRA.

CIOMMO: "Our community is inundated with institutional expansion," although a number of other neighborhoods have it to some extent, too. Pros: construction jobs, permanent jobs. St. Elizabeth's MC opened new ER; waits are now down to an average of a half-hour.

The colleges need to house more students. "On Harvard side, we have no development, we have a pause." That's not good for the community.

Q5: How are you going to advocate for commuter rail in A-B, and which stop(s)?

CIOMMO: Previously: studies said that A-B could not support a commuter rail stop. Now: I've attended all EOT meetings, they now see the need. I joined with colleagues (elected officials) to support Everett Street stop pending further study. Guest Street corridor has many vacant commercial buildings that are ripe for development.

SELVIG: "Commuter rail is a shovel ready project that qualifies for federal stimulus money." We should advocate for more than one stop, like Newton has. There are also smaller trains (than commuter rail trains) that could be used instead on the same tracks. With Harvard's buildout we'll have 12,000 more people working in North Allston but who have no way to get them there.

Q6: ISD is supposed to ensure property owners maintain their property. How will you hold ISD accountable in doing this?

SELVIG: Ciommo and the mayor's budget this year cut ISD funding by $300,000. That money could easily have been found elsewhere. $3 million could have been saved by eliminating fire call boxes -- something that people have been talking about eliminating since 1994. I would've increased ISD's budget.

CIOMMO: I started to do that [ensure ISD enforcement] by creating property owner database with instantaneous contact information. We respond to every call. Just did it two days ago -- called a property owner who had an overgrown lot to get him to clean it up. This year, we got $140 million less in state aid -- but we were able to balance the budget by not laying off any ISD person, firefighter, or police officer. If you see a problem with properties, call my office, ISD, DPW [department of public works], or the community service office [at the police station].

Q7: What plans would you initiate to deal with the rat problem in the neighborhood?

CIOMMO: The entire city of Boston has a problem with rats, not just A-B. We have a program ready-to-launch, but it has been delayed. "when you see a rat sighting, please call my office." As well as call ISD and the Mayor's constituent service hotline. Everyone in A-B will be getting a secure-lid recycling bin, once we launch this program.

SELVIG: Going back to the previous question: I think it is a fairly easy decision to remove all the fireboxes to save money. That would give $300,000 back to ISD, $200,000 back to elderly, [and something else].

[Back to rats:] "It needs a real effort to take care of a serious public health problem in Allston-Brighton." Residents told me that they are afraid to allow their kids to play in their backyard. I'll roll up my sleeves to deal with this problem. There are only seven companies licensed to trap/remove rats in the entire city of Boston -- [a disgrace].

Q8: What are the first three initiatives you will implement if you are elected?

SELVIG: 1. Space in local schools for every A-B child. 2. Involve the community in helping ISD address absentee landlord and party houses. 3. Promote home ownership in A-B -- our city services suffer as a result of too low owner-occupancy. Planning process to address low owner-occupancy rate. Also, we have less greenspace than the city of Boston -- we need to build more.

CIOMMO: 1. State $600 million shortfall in this year's budget needs to be dealt with. End of last budget we had a $30 million budget gap we addressed. 2. Continue to advocate and support the 5-zone BPS plan. 3. Creating a constituent service response team, including people from the district councilor's office, ISD, Mayor's ONS/hotline, DPW to work together effectively.

Q9: What is your stance on late hours for bars and liquor licenses?

CIOMMO: With the BAIA and ACA, many establishments ask to extend from 1am to 2am closing hours. "I have never supported one; not one has passed while I have been in office." "I will not support any new [increased number of] liquor licenses in our community."

SELVIG: Pretty much on same page as Ciommo. Our neighborhood is impacted by drunkenness. I opposed extended hours as treasurer of the BAIA.

Candidate Questions for Each Other

SELVIG asks Ciommo: In 2007, you promised you would reform the BRA. In the last debate, you supported an external audit of the BRA. Will you call for a hearing to push for these reforms?

CIOMMO: I will call a meeting -- and ask the chair of that committee to call for a hearing.

CIOMMO asks Selvig: In your campaign press releases, you have said that you worked to improve the schools, which you have said elsewhere that you haven't done [because your son is not yet enrolled]. Why is your campaign saying this?

SELVIG: "That was an oversight in our press releases." The work I've done is landscaping, improving appearances. The press release wording has been corrected -- thank you for pointing this out.

SELVIG asks Ciommo: Absentee landlords and drunkenness are problems in our neighborhood. Why have you taken $20,000 in contributions from liquor interests, [developers, and absentee landlords?]

CIOMMO: "I have never been motivated by money." Lots of those donations to my campaign come as $10, 25, or 50. I give the same priority to those who do and don't donate to me.

CIOMMO asks Selvig: During 2007 campaign you referred to your business selling boats. Why have you not participated in the BBOT?

SELVIG: I don't do a retail business [like those members in BBOT] -- my customers are all over the country and in Canada. I would be happy to be a member if they asked me to join.

SELVIG asks Ciommo: The night before the preliminary election, Wallingford Road voters received flyers under their doors giving direction as to how they should vote for mayor, councilor-at-large, and district councilor. 70% of those votes were exactly as on that flyer. Would you support an inquiry into what's going on over there?

CIOMMO: We all canvas and drop off campaign literature under doors like that. They support me because of my work for the elderly. How would you explain the vote in Ward 22/Precinct 5 [location of Selvig's campaign office] which voted for me at the same rate? The Wallingford Road voting places were investigated several years ago, and I believe that they were cleared.

CIOMMO asks Selvig: How would you split your time between your business and your work as an elected official?

SELVIG: I will not do both.

The last two years I had to spend a lot of time down at City Hall. the Zoning Commission meeting [in May] lasted until 1 am. Ciommo spoke in favor of the BC institutional master plan, then went home at 7:30 pm. When you get a petition of 600 signatures, I will be in that meeting room until 4 am to support them.


CIOMMO: I know how to do this work, because I've been doing it for decades. In the past two years I've launched a "fight-the-blight" program. I worked with EMS -- and a concerned resident -- to improve ambulance response times in A-B. I brought parents, BTD together to improve traffic around the Gardner Pilot Academy. I got the field house opened up for the Brighton High School football team at their practice field.

SELVIG: The more we are involved, the better things will be in our neighborhood. The key is that we call city hall when we have problems. "We are in a tough situation and, frankly, it hasn't gotten better." This whole neighborhood might become a big college campus unless decisive action is taken at city hall.

Half of the property in Boston is tax-exempt. The burden is then on the other half -- us -- someone needs to represent us. The BRA is very powerful -- I want to change it. And I won't take donations from liquor interests or absentee landlords.

Image of [left-to-right]: Alex Selvig, Mark Ciommo, and Michael McCormack.

District 9 City Councilor Campaign Finance Reports

The two finalist candidates for Allston-Brighton District 9 City Councilor have sent in their campaign finance statements. Their forms were due October 26th covering the period September 5 - October 16, 2009.

Both candidates provided their forms electronically, even though district city councilor candidates in Boston file their campaign finance forms on paper with the city clerk. The candidates' generosity saved Mattison and I from having to schlep down to city hall and pay $0.20 per page for photocopies.

Boston's city clerk has begun posting online scanned versions of the district city councilor campaign finance report; at the moment, that is being done voluntarily. Starting January 2010, city clerk's will be required to post the reports electronically within 30 days, a result of legislation passed as part of the state ethics reform overhaul last summer.

The previous campaign finance reports for the period covering January 1 - September 4, 2009 can be found here.


Substantially more money has been spent on this campaign to-date (over $120,000) than was spent at the similar point in the 2007 campaign for the open seat up to the same reporting period (over $102,000). That is very unusual for a race with an incumbent.

Challenger Alex Selvig has outspent incumbent Mark Ciommo to-date by around 20% (approximately $62,300 vs. $52,000).

Ciommo raised all his money from more than 400 donors to-date, while Selvig mostly self-financed his campaign with loans totally $66,500 this year (and another $11,000 loan carry-over from the 2007 campaign). Selvig continues to be the hands-down winner of this year's "John Corzine--Michael Huffington--Mitt Romney Award" for self-financing in an election campaign.

Mmmmmm... Pizza

Ciommo's campaign workers appear to be partial to pizza from Imperial Pizza in Brighton Center -- down the street from his campaign office. Nine different orders over a five-week period. Selvig's interns favor Big Daddy's Pizza near to their campaign office in North Allston-Brighton.

Expenditures for Preliminary Election Under-Estimated

Selvig's 10/26 campaign finance report includes more than $10,000 in reimbursements paid during the reporting period on 10/6 for expenditures made during a prior reporting period, i.e., during the campaign leading up to the preliminary municipal election. The receipts include more than $7,600 for printing (presumably mailers) between 7/7/09 and 9/14/09, dates that all were before the preliminary election. My prior estimate for the total money spent on the preliminary election, based on the 9/14/09 campaign finance reports, was therefore a substantial underestimate of the true expenditures at that time.

Both candidates are expected to spend more money between the end of the reporting period (10/16/09) and the election itself (11/3/09), which will not be reported until the end of the year.

2009 Allston-Brighton District 9 City Council Municipal Election
Reporting period: 9/5/09 - 10/16/09
CandidatePreviousRaised# ofOwn MoneySpentEnding

Mark Ciommo $16,117.87$12,425.00139
$0.00$19,190.04 $9,352.83
Alex Selvig

Notes: "Own Money" includes both loans and "In-Kind" contributions paid for by the candidate. "In-Kind Contributions" from a person other than the candidate are not included in the table. Personal loans have been removed from the "Total Receipts" (Schedule A) and instead included under "Own Money". Number of contributors is for itemized contributors. It is not necessary for the campaigns to itemize contributions under $50: Ciommo itemized all receipts, while Selvig lists $75 in non-itemized receipts.

** Selvig lists an ending balance that is a net debt. My impression is that the debt is in addition to the outstanding liabilities on the campaign account due to personal loans totalling $77,500 made by Selvig during 2007-9, but I could be wrong.

Links to individual reports (at Mattison's Allston Brighton Community Blog):

Image of "Money Grab" by Steve Wampler provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Flaherty, Yoon, and Selvig Decry BRA Attitude Towards Neighborhood

Mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty, currently a Boston City Councilor-At-Large, came to the Brighton Mills shopping center this morning to decry the negative attitude expressed in email by some city officials towards Allston-Brighton residents over the proposed Charlesview relocation development project. He was joined by his unofficial running-mate, Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon (together, "Floon"), as well as District 9 City Councilor candidate Alex Selvig (together, "Floonig"?).

Flaherty noted at the press conference that he and Yoon "work for you, and Mayor Menino works for you, [and] the BRA does, too. But you would never know it from the emails. One of the things we don't need to be doing is disrespecting [residents of] the neighborhood."

"The residents of Allston-Brighton deserve better than this," added Yoon. The emails "communicate a message that the people [of Allston-Brighton] don't matter."

"What we're up against is resistance, what we're up against is contempt," said Selvig. He said that their campaigns are about trying "to build us a city hall that will fight for us... instead of rich and powerful developers."

The Boston Globe published extracts Saturday from internal emails written by Boston Redevelopment Authority officials -- particularly by senior project manager Jay Rourke, who is in charge of the BRA's review of the proposed project -- which were disparaging towards a number of people in the community. The emails were obtained by North Allston resident Harry Mattison in response to a request for documents under the state's Public Records Law, and were published by Mattison on his Allston Brighton Community Blog.

The Globe article states that the BRA last Thursday, in apparent response to their reporter's inquiries, issued a verbal reprimand to Rourke and a letter in his personnel file. Rourke also issued some kind of apology to the neighborhood. “These are internal e-mails," the Globe quoted him saying. “They are my comments to staff members and should not reflect on the agency."

Flaherty said that he, as a city-wide official, wanted to apologize to the neighborhood residents on behalf of the city for the "disrespectful" language of the emails, even though he did not author them.

Candidates Propose Change in Development Process -- Including for Charlesview

The press conference was held at the site of the proposed Charlesview relocation project, which would construct 360-units of low-income rental and market-rate home-ownership housing.

In response to several questions about the development Floon flailed a bit, not appearing to be knowledgeable about controversial aspects of the project -- such as an allegation that the project entails economic segregation by spatially separating the low-income housing units from the market-rate ones. Selvig was well-versed on the project, however, and noted that the proposed development only includes far less than the city-wide average of green space and a lower home ownership rate than both the city-wide average and Allston-Brighton itself.

Both halves of Floon pointed instead to broader deficiencies in the approval process itself, and the BRA's role relative to Mayor Thomas Menino, in describing how they would have approached the Charlesview project differently.

Yoon said that the development process works better starting with community input and a blank sheet of paper, rather than have the BRA run it based on a developer's proposal. Yoon's community-led process "respects [the community's] integrity. It's doable. It's been done. It's not happening now." It's ironic that he didn't seem to realize that a group of residents of North Allston-Brighton obtained the services of a city planner to do exactly what he envisioned by creating an alternative development plan for the Charlesview relocation.

Flaherty took a more direct tack. People need to "realize the mayor is the BRA," said Flaherty. "The whole sham needs to be disclosed. They make decisions unilaterally." He was also deeply critical of the BRA's public meeting process.

He repeated his proposal that developers should submit to a "performance bond," whereby they would "commit to doing what they promised to do." He broadened his criticism to the mayor's handling of Harvard's expansion into North Allston-Brighton. "I wouldn't have sat on the sidelines while Harvard used straw buyers" to purchase many acres of land.

Added Selvig: "Harvard has really done wrong to this community. The Charlesview plan is only good for Harvard."

Councilor Ciommo Responds to BRA Emails

Reached by telephone later in the day, Councilor Mark Ciommo had some choice words to say about the BRA emails.

"Without question, totally unprofessional, disrespectful, and inappropriate," said Ciommo of Rourke's emails. "It just doesn't help the public discourse or process."

When asked whether he thought that Rourke's verbal reprimand and letter in his personnel file was an appropriate punishment, Ciommo responded that he as a supervisor ascribes to a procedure of "progressive discipline action."

"If [Rourke] had no other prior issues," then this would be the appropriate first step of discipline, he said. "I hope he's learned a valuable lesson from this."

As for whether these emails indicate that the BRA is responding to community input, Ciommo noted that, between the Charlesview project's first filing in 2008 and its revision in 2009, the emails as a whole indicate that the BRA was pushing the developer to modify the project to be less dense and have more home ownership. Both were issues voiced by neighborhood residents and the elected officials -- although Ciommo acknowledged that it is difficult to identify exactly whose input the BRA was being responsive to. Ciommo also noted that he assisted Mattison in obtaining the emails from the BRA without the cost that the agency had originally proposed to charge.

Media Coverage of Event

Monday's press conference was attended by a number of media outlets, including NECN, Fox25 News, the Boston Globe, WBUR, the Allston-Brighton TAB, and the Boston Bulletin.

The Globe received no comment from the Menino campaign, but NECN did:
The mayor says the BRA has done a good job, both in present projects and in the future. Menino bristles at the accusation that the BRA is a failure of his administration. He acknowledges the poor taste of the e-mails, and says action has been taken.
John Palmieri, director of the BRA, responded angrily to Flaherty's salvos:
"It's more a reflection of a desperate campaign than the way we try to conduct business at the redevelopment authority," Palmieri said. "I found it insulting"...

"[Rourke's] lapse doesn't reflect the authority's point of view in how we deal with the neighborhood," Palmieri said. "On the contrary, we make every effort to maintain our balance and integrity with how we deal with these neighborhood issues."
BRA spokesperson Susan Elsbree echoed these comments to the TAB, pointing at frustration with “two or three individuals who are trying to stop the relocation of 700 residents." She also criticized Flaherty's performance bond idea:
Elsbree called the plan “a bit of political rhetoric” and questioned how the Flaherty administration would replace the BRA, which currently has a $50 million operating budget generated by leased properties throughout Boston. She also stated the BRA has requested Harvard reactivate empty business properties throughout the neighborhood, but did not set any deadlines for the school to make these locations available.
There were a lot of hugs offered, too, at least metaphorically.

BRA's Rourke a Familiar Name in Mayoral Campaign

Followers of the mayoral election may remember Rourke's name as having appeared in the Boston Globe last month. A Hyde Park resident and Menino campaign contributor, Rourke bought a city-owned parcel of land for 5% of its assessed value -- one of around 600 such far under-market-price sales of city land over the last 16 years:
Another property, which McCrea highlighted during the debate, went to James Rourke, who works for the city’s development agency. He and his Hyde Park neighbor got a 10,000-square-foot property for $5,000 in June. It was assessed at $99,400.
Then-mayoral candidate Kevin McCrea brought this property sale arrangement to the public's notice during a mayoral debate and on his blog.

All 13 members of the Boston City Council, including Flaherty and Yoon, voted unanimously on November 2, 2008 to surplus the land at 0 Prescott Street to the city; Mayor Menino subsequently signed the surplus order on November 10, according to the deed for the property on file at Suffolk County Registry of Deeds.

Rourke this year contributed $200 to Mayor Menino's reelection campaign on June 19th -- ten days before the city concluded the sale to him of the Hyde Park parcel. He also contributed to Menino's campaign in 2005 and 2006.

Earlier this year, Rourke appeared to be uninformed about statutory requirements of the state's Open Meeting Law which permit public videotaping of a public meeting held by the BRA as part of the regulatory review of the Charlesview relocation development proposal submitted to the city.

Rourke was also the project manager several years ago overseeing review of St. Elizabeth's Medical Center institutional master plan amendment to construct a new emergency room -- and approving a neighborhood-opposed access road alongside an historical monastery building. The access road encountered its own roadblocks in subsequent review at the state level, and was never built.

Saturday's Globe article noted that Rourke lived in Allston for 27 years when growing up.

Image of, left-to-right, Michael Flaherty [blue jacket], Harry Mattison [blue shirt], Alex Selvig, and Sam Yoon.

Update (10/27/09): Added comments by Elsbree from TAB article.

Indictment of the BRA's Public Meetings

During the Floon press conference this morning, I was busy taking some photos when Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty, candidate for mayor, launched into a hard-hitting criticism of the way that the Boston Redevelopment Authority runs its public meeting process as part of the review of proposed development projects.

Fortunately, Michael Levenson of the Boston Globe got the quotation:
“A lot of the community meetings you reference -- I got to be honest with you -- they're dog-and-pony-shows,” Flaherty said, jabbing his finger in the air. “The cake is baked. The decisions have been made. They’ll comment out there and 'yes' you to death. But most of your concerns are never, ever reflected in the final submission of a project. So you can go to a hundred community meetings and you'll be banging your head up against a wall because that's the way development works in the Menino administration."
Flaherty's soliloquy was offered in response to North Allston resident Paul Alford's criticism of Flaherty's and Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon's spotty attendance record at community meetings in A-B. Brent Whelan offered a defense of Yoon, mentioning a two-hour tour Yoon attended with neighborhood residents (including me) a while back to give him a visual layout of the area.

I have in the past obtained pages and pages of sign-in sheets for BRA public meetings as part of finding out which candidates for public office have been involved in the community in this particular way. Flaherty's office (whether him or his staff) have fared poorly, while Yoon (mostly his staffers) have been a bit better. Alford's criticism is not inaccurate.

Yoon's retort in the form of a question -- How many BRA public meetings has Mayor Thomas Menino attended? -- was met with the Socratic answer: zero, i.e., fewer than either Flaherty or Yoon. (It should be acknowledged, however, that a member of the mayor's staff, the Allston-Brighton coordinator in the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, is a regular attendee.) None of the three has a particularly good record of attendance at community meetings, while Yoon noted that Mayor Menino is a regular attendee instead of ribbon cuttings all over the city.

Flaherty's impassioned statement shows the frustration that he feels at the public process in these development project reviews.

And Flaherty's response is a dead ringer with dozens and dozens -- if not hundreds -- of identical comments that I have heard repeatedly expressed by Allston-Brighton residents about the BRA review process. Literally -- I'm not exercising hyperbole here. I have heard such comments so often that I don't write them down anymore. Flaherty's words could've been spoken verbatim by many of the residents lined up behind him who have been at all those community meetings, week-after-week, month-after-month, year-after-year.

Alford can raise Flaherty's absence at public meetings as possibly indicating that Flaherty's new-found involvement in North Allston-Brighton is a campaign ploy.

But while Flaherty may have been AWOL, his summation of the BRA public meeting process makes it clear that he has heard, and taken to heart, repeated complaints by Allston-Brighton residents.

Video of District 9 City Councilor Candidates Debate

Video of the debate between the two candidates for District 9 City Councilor is now streaming online to a computer near you.

You can watch it below or at this link on Vimeo.

I would like to thank two people for their extensive effort in putting together this video and getting it online: Abigail Furey, who took the video last Tuesday night; and Galen Mook, who loaned Furey the equipment, and then did all the processing/uploading to put the video online. Such work is a great public service, because the video allows the debate to inform a much broader than the audience of 80-90 who showed up for the event itself.

District 9, Boston City Council Debate, Oct 20 from Galen Mook on Vimeo.


Candidates Debate
District 9 City Councilor

Sponsored by the Brighton Allston Improvement Association

Location: Brighton Elks Lodge
October 20, 2009, 7:40 pm
Runtime: 84 minutes

  • Mark Ciommo, incumbent [right-hand-side]
  • Alex Selvig, challenger [left-hand-side]
Moderator: Michael Pahre

  • Introduction: Donal Carroll, president, BAIA
  • Explanation of the format: Michael Pahre, moderator
  • Opening Statements: 2 minutes each
  • Questions: response 90 seconds for first and second candidate, then 60 second rebuttal for the first candidate
  • Closing Statements: 2 minutes each
  • Conclusion: Pahre and Carroll
Questions were three types, interspersed: moderator-prepared; audience-submitted; and candidate-written.