Monday, October 26, 2009

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.

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