Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Foley Hoag report on the recent two years and eight months the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority spent without an active board contains lots of ridiculous stuff, but it turns out the roughly 1,750 words spent talking about it here doesn’t do the ridiculousness full justice.

Here are five more ridiculous things from the report:

Plenty of times the report points to law and bylaw that seems to — but doesn’t quite — back up the notion that executive director Joseph F. Tulimieri was free to act however he saw fit during the authority’s “quiet period.” Lawyers Jeffrey Mullan, Sandra Shapiro and Jesse Alderman do it again when they argue that it was okay there was no Cambridge Redevelopment Authority when Tulimieri presented a project to the City Council.

“According to city officials and contemporaneous correspondence to the council, at least some members of the City Council were aware of the fact that [the] authority has had vacancies in its membership,” the lawyers said.

Let’s dig into this.

That sentence doesn’t mean anything. Saying on page 28 that “at least some members” knew the authority “has had” vacancies is just saying an unspecified number of councillors knew that in the 56 years since the authority was founded, there have been vacancies. Good point?

Maybe the lawyers are trying to say that a whole bunch of councillors knew when they voted that Tulimieri was the whole shebang at the authority — it’s certainly what’s being implied — but they don’t say that. Maybe the lawyers could have found out, but by their own reporting they didn’t bother to make the nine phone calls.

The document is painfully specific on the irrelevant and utterly absent on the obvious. At 113 pages, this report couldn’t afford to go into detail on which city officials testified to the knowledge of the councillors? And it couldn’t mention that on Aug. 22 a live councillor Minka vanBeuzekom walked into an authority meeting and said publicly that “at least some” councillors (including her) didn’t know of the total absence of board members? That brought it down to eight phone calls.

It also, as mentioned, ignores the common-sense question of why Tulimieri and legal counsel Shapiro didn’t raise the alarm about the total lack of active board members. Never mind that the authority’s bylaws say that “regular meetings of the authority shall be held … at least once in each calendar month,” which would suggest they had a responsibility as legal counsel and executive director to actually do what they could to uphold the bylaw. Say you’re a caretaker or baby-sitter and the owners or parents of your charge are supposed to check in every month, but you don’t hear from them for 32 months. It’s not really plausible that it didn’t occur to Tulimieri or Shapiro to act on this, yet there is no mention made of their concern or actions and nothing in the 81 pages of report exhibits suggesting there were any. Seems an obvious question, but at least the report is able to explore such things as the earliest years of the authority and the qualifications of the current board members, which ignores the lawyers’ own charge that “this report covers the CRA’s activities during the [two-year, eight-month] report period.”

In much the same way, the report implies all was aboveboard with the Google connector project that started all this fuss because it concludes that “the CRA’s conveyance of Tract VIII of Parcel 2 to Boston Properties for redevelopment on Nov. 6, 2009, was lawful and done with proper authority … authorized by a quorum of the board at its May 27, 2009, meeting (which occurred before appointment of [Barry] Zevin and before the report period).” Fascinating. But residents have complained about a plan presented to the council Feb. 27, 2012, almost a full three years later, and the lawyers do not really make the case — beyond the implication — that the conveyance of a parcel in November 2009 has anything to do with it. It was a conveyance made in March 2012 that made the Google connector project possible for developer Boston Properties, and the report has no documents or exhibits connecting the two.

It makes a really strong argument for city officials listening to residents, even though that’s totally not what it’s trying to say. Since mysterious “city officials” are cited but not quoted or named, and it ignores the actual testimony of an actual city councillor, pretty much the entire case for how the council totally knew there was no active board when it voted rests on a bit of “contemporaneous correspondence to the council,” meaning one letter to the council from resident Charles Marquardt.

The letter was filed with the council the day before Tulimieri and Boston Properties presented their Google connector project for immediate vote, which means it was presented a month before the vote was taken. It says “the number of members on the CRA board has declined over the years” and that “the lack of a fully constituted board could cast question on the ability of the CRA to enter into agreements” [emphasis added]. It suggests the council ask the city manager to ask the city solicitor to look into the board’s membership and ability to enter into agreements “with the city, its development partners or any parties.”

But nothing like this happens within a month in Cambridge. Pretty much the only thing the council has done in a month is pass the Google connector project.

We also have a pretty good sense of what councillors would have found on their own if they went to ask the authority how many board members there were. We know this because the Cambridge Chronicle asked Tulimieri, and he told the Chronicle’s Andy Metzger there were three members. For the record, here’s Metzger’s account from March 8:

In an interview in his Kendall Square office on Friday, Tulimieri maintained that the CRA has three current members, including the state-appointed Jacqueline S. Sullivan, but according to the Office of Housing and Economic Development, Sullivan was replaced by Barry Zevin two and a half years ago.

Frequent resident writers and commenters such as Marquardt, Tom Stohlman, Steve Kaiser, Heather Hoffman, Mark Jaquith and James Williamson will probably not be too excited to learn that their ignored warnings to city officials are now being taken as justification for the consequences they’re warning against. Residents have been warning for years about the disappearing middle class, traffic, loss of wildlife, flooding, reckless bicyclists, the filling in of recreational pools and conniving developers, but that doesn’t make those things okay just because city officials don’t respond.

It suggests synonyms mean different things. The lawyers support Tulimieri’s actions during the quiet period because the authority’s bylaws (in Section 5) say the executive director has “general supervision over the administration of its business and affairs [and] shall be charged with the management of projects.”

Funny — back in May board member Chris Bator repeatedly minimized the authority’s role in the Google connector review as “ministerial” or administrative because the council had already voted on it.

To Bator, “administrative” was a secondary role, but Tulimieri and the Foley Hoag lawyers are saying it’s a primary role.

It will probably be accepted.