Friday, July 12, 2024

A finance report filed quietly in January fills in some details to a very loud campaign from last fall: Save Our Skyline, the group organized to fight a city zoning revamp for corporate signs, took in and spent $441,898.31 between Sept. 31 and Jan. 13 — all but $525 of it from Terry Ragon, owner and chief executive of the health care software maker Intersystems.

Ragon made eight recorded deposits into the coffers of Save Our Skyline, two as large as $100,000 and one as small as $100, with the last one of $6,330.81 made Jan. 13 to pay the law firm of Craig and Macauley the same amount the next day. It came more than two months after the city zoning ordinance was rescinded reluctantly by city councillors.

The council had voted 6-3 in favor of the law Sept. 27, but was forced to reconsider (in an 8-1 vote) by a petition drive run by Ragon’s ballot question committee.

The petition to rescind or rehear the vote had 11,461 valid signatures out of 15,581 that had been turned in, with the valid signatures totaling 18.2 percent of the city’s 62,957 voters, according to the Election Commission.

Councillors rescinded the law Nov. 1 amid bitter complaints that the signatures had been gathered through high-pressure techniques and lies told by professionals flown in from around the country by Brookline-based Spoonworks, a politicking and petitioning company whose website boasts, “We have never failed to qualify a candidate or initiative.” It was said to have paid $2 per signature gathered.

Even councillor and vice mayor Henrietta Davis, who voted against the sign law, called the petition process “appalling” and filled with exaggerations and lies, while councillor Tim Toomey called it “certainly not ethical” and councillor Ken Reeves called it essentially “an attempt to overrun the government by somebody who’s got a lot of money to do that. So we’ll see if in the People’s Republic the people are for sale.”

Although it was Polaris Public Relations that drew most of the fire from councillors and residents suspicious of the high-powered campaign, Karen Schwartzman’s firm earned only $28,104 from Save Our Skyline, according to the public filings.

It was Spoonworks that drew the most money: $319,366, according to the public records kept by the city’s Election Commission.

Law firms also came in for a good chunk of change: $86,533.49 for Craig and Macauley, of Atlantic Avenue in Boston; $2,665 for Kevin Crane, of Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge; and $7,157.06 for Sullivan & McDermott, of Centre Street in Roxbury, for a total $96,355.55.

Photographer Ken Richardson of Somerville got $500, as did Gary LaPierre, of St. Augustine, Fla., whose advertising expertise is cited in the form.

Aside from Ragon, there were few donators to Save Our Skyline. A couple on Coolidge Hill Road in Cambridge gave $500, and another $25 was sent from one or more sources. Reporting laws say ballot question committees don’t have to identify who gives money in amounts below $50.