Monday, February 26, 2024

Do city officials worry whether the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority broke the law? The case seems clear and citizens have warned repeatedly of illegality, but no one on the other side of the table has bothered to follow up or express concern.

In short, the council took a vote March 19 on a plan by developer “Boston Properties, together with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.” The council now knows the authority had been lacking any active board members for the two years leading up to that Feb. 27 document, but this has not led to a rethinking of its 7-2 vote.

Nor have the authority’s new board members or their legal counsel expressed concern about this, although they are looking with apparent intensity at the details of the Google connector-building plan approved that night. Still, as of their last meeting, June 20, at least two members didn’t know  the council had voted on a plan described as coming from them — or, rather, from the nonexistent board members believed to have existed at the time.

The council

For why the council’s complacency on this vote is surprising, there is no need to look beyond Mayor Henrietta Davis and her predecessor, councillor David Maher.

Davis, who oversaw the March 19 vote, has promoted herself as a stickler for running a meeting by Robert’s Rules of Order, even interrupting speakers to preserve her role as the person who allows permission to speak. Maher, who held a June 5 meeting concerning the authority as chairman of the Government Operation and Rules subcommittee, claimed the same high ground on the importance of rules when he was mayor.

But neither has asked for a revote or mentioned the potential lawbreaking motivating it, even though Maher said April 30 that his meeting would be best time to look into whether the authority had been acting legally. “I’m sure it will be addressed,” he said, but he made no attempt to do so.

It’s a concern to Davis when councillors speak out of turn, but not when they vote to approve a project presented as being from an agency that was, at the time, lacking a single active board member — an agency that is examining the project only now, four months later.

The authority

This would be less of a concern were the authority not operating with a mindset such as that described June 20 by member Margaret Drury:

We have to be concerned with the CRA actions. What the City Council thinks about its actions is really not our concern. They voted to authorize the city manager to enter into something, and obviously for the thing to happen it has to have City Council approval and it has to have CRA board approval. And it has both of those things.

But neither Drury nor fellow authority board member Conrad Crawford were aware that the council vote had been taken after being described as being by developer “Boston Properties, together with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.” Crawford added that chairwoman Kathleen Born had “identified that it wasn’t from the authority, it was as proposed to the authority.”

Not according to what the council saw and voted on.

There’s a similar issue that relates to legality. Instead of a reading of murky origins at odds with a document that has been available publicly since Feb. 27, this is an expansive reading of authority bylaws that seems to grant rights for Executive Director Joseph Tulimieri found nowhere within.

The bylaws of the authority, as provided by its staff April 3, say “The powers of the authority shall be vested in the members thereof” and nowhere in its seven pages are a list or suggestion of what  actions the executive director can take on his own. The role of executive director brings only “general supervision over the administration of its business and affairs, subject to the direction of the authority.”

Tulimieri called his decisions “administrative actions” allowed under the bylaws, and Jeffrey Mullan, the authority’s counsel from the law firm Foley Hoag, agreed “There are a lot of things that don’t require a board vote.”

What are they? Where are they listed? Did Tulimieri’s actions over the past two years fall into those categories?

No answer, no curiosity

Born, chairwoman of the board since May 21, has promised only to to look back at “outstanding issues … where it seems necessary,” and Mullan confirmed he hasn’t been asked to do a legal review and expressed no interest in doing one.

Although Mullan has said he knew authority staff “were generally aware that membership was not able to muster a quorum,” and certainly Tulimieri knew he was acting without a quorum of the board, questioning the legality of actions taken in those two years is, according to Mullan, “presupposing a conclusion that I don’t know is supported by the facts.”

The authority’s state oversight agencies were the Inspector General’s and Attorney General’s offices, he said, but maintained those offices weren’t really able to speak to the legality of authority actions. “No, they’re really not,” he said, “because they’re not going to have enough facts. You would have to provide that person with the facts and circumstances.”

Who, exactly, would gather those facts? “I don’t have an answer for you,” Mullan said.

The authority meets at 5:30 p.m. July 18 at the Discovery Room on the third floor of the Boston Marriott Cambridge, 50 Broadway, Kendall Square.