Cambridge Redevelopment Authority should void its locked-door meeting

I have recently learned some of the details arising from an event advertised as a public meeting of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority board on Dec. 19. The meeting had been scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. When I arrived at 5:35, I found the door to the meeting room locked. There was no sign on the door, and no police officer outside to offer information or assistance. I presumed that for some emergency reason the meeting had been canceled. I left and returned home.

Little did I know or contemplate that a meeting was actually going on, behind closed doors, behind locked doors.

Only within the past two days did I find out from Heather Hoffman that there actually was a meeting being held behind those locked doors. Heather Hoffman informed me she left the meeting to take a phone call on her cellphone and had to knock on the locked door in order to get back in.

I see the result of a lockout of the public as being possibly unintended. But once having demonstrated that someone left the meeting and encountered a locked door trying to get back in, there should have been a recognition by everyone that action needed to be taken. A meeting was being held behind locked doors. I worry about the precedent and the possibility that other agencies in the city might attempt a similar technique. After all, we know all too well that the old regime of the authority operated in a similar fashion – illegally – for two and a half years.

Indeed that “old” Redevelopment Authority had gone underground in its business dealings, not holding board meetings … having an executive director resign and then appoint himself to a new position for which he also set his own pay scale. The old authority continued its operations after the executive director had improperly created his own position and pay, and the self-appointed executive director continued to function in an “administrative capacity” without any proper legal authority. Fortunately, this offense of self-appointment was sufficiently grave for the new board to seek Joseph Tulimieri’s resignation, which he offered this fall. Unfortunately, the board has been unable to come to grips with this fact: With Mr. Tulimieri’s self-appointment being so clearly illegal, every action taken by him subsequently in the name of the authority was illegal as well, including key approvals of the Microsoft and Google projects.

The board has also also operating since 2009 without a budget. An attempt to approve a year 2010 budget at the March 17, 2010, meeting was found to be null and void by authority counsel because the board lacked a quorum. Thus the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 have all passed with no approved budget for the authority. This failure immediately raises the issue of how the authority could legally spend a penny during those years. Since the first meeting of the new board in May, I do not believe that any meeting agenda included the word “budget” either for discussion or approval. I have raised many of these issues many times before the current board, with no specific response. On Dec. 19, I encountered a locked door, which prevented me from offering any additional public comment. However, I would expect that at the next meeting of the board – hopefully unlocked – I will have much to say.

We in Cambridge went through two and a half years of secret, underground operations of the authority under the old regime. Now we recognize that an alleged public meeting has been held but the door was locked. Who knows how many other citizens that evening sought to attend and could not because they encountered the same obstacle that I did? How can the operations of today’s board be considered any improvement over those of the old regime?

Most of us are aware of the continuing absence of National Hockey League games, due to actions of the owners in locking out the players. However, the lockout was achieved with a formal announcement and legal action – neither of which occurred with the Dec. 19 meeting lockout. I never thought that I might look more favorably on the actions of a hockey league than I do on the actions of my own Cambridge city government.

There is one appropriate response for the board. Because the door was locked and the room was not accessible by the general public, the meeting should be declared null and void. A similar decision was taken relative to the March 19, 2010, defective meeting of the board. The open meeting law has been violated. The social contract between government and citizen promised in our state constitution has been violated. I expect a full clarifying statement and apology for the actions of the board on Dec. 19 and a commitment to make corrections for the events of that evening, include voiding any votes of the board during this locked-door meeting.

Stephen H. Kaiser, Hamilton Street

Authority chairwoman Kathy Born responded the next day.

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