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.

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