City Council Must Stop Playing Games and Follow the Law (opinion)


By: Michael Sweeney (December, 2007)
Lawrence Planning Director


“Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.” -President Abraham Lincoln

 Good call there by President Lincoln. Unfortunately, under the weak-armed rule of Patrick Blanchette, truth has been replaced in the city council chambers by slander and personal attacks.

 The truth is a powerful concept. Thanks to the Inspector General’s Office, we now know which city agency is incompetent, and it is not the Planning Department.

 In a harsh rebuke to the lack of leadership on the city council, the Inspector General’s Office let Councilor Blanchette know that in no uncertain terms, he was not following the spirit and letter of Massachusetts General Law c.30B. Despite repeated warnings from the Planning Department at both the Housing subcommittee and at the full City Council, the law was ignored concerning the disposition of city-owned property at 128 Newbury Street.

 (Inspector General’s Letter to the City Council)

 The City Council has completely derailed the disposition of property here in Lawrence, costing the taxpayers of Lawrence and the Commonwealth. Earlier this year, the council believed it had disbanded the Real Property Task Force, which was responsible for reviewing all bids received in response to Request for Proposals for city-owned land. For over a decade, the Real Property Task Force reviewed bids properly without once drawing a stinging reprimand from the Inspector General’s Office.

 However, when the Planning Department refused to cave into the political pressure and personal attacks launched by a few members of the City Council, the City Council placed the entire review process in their own hands. What taxpayers got was bickering and backroom dealings replacing the legal process.

 Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan wrote in his letter, “this office found no evidence that the comparative evaluation criteria was properly considered by the Council or its Housing Sub-Committee” (emphasis added).

 Telling the Council to remand the disposition of 128 Newbury Street back to the Housing Sub-Committee, the IG’s Office cited a letter sent to the Council by the Planning Department warning them that they were in violation of fair process and that the legal demands of M.G.L. 30B were not being followed.

 Inspector General Sullivan went on to remind the Council that, “[t]he hallmark of M.G.L.c.30B is fairness in the interests of fairness, this office recommends that the [city council] now go back and follow its rules” (emphasis added). Fairness and following the rules are concepts that children in kindergarten learn.

 Simply put, the City Council has been engaging in a pattern of inappropriate actions concerning the sale of city-owned properties. Their blatant disregard for the process and fairness was a slap in the face to taxpayers and individuals placing bids.

 Still, hope is on the horizon. Councilor Nilka Alverez-Rodriguez has been trying to right the ship.

 I honestly believe that Councilors Jorge Gonzales and Grisel Silva also want to do the right thing. Additionally the city will benefit from the professional leadership of newly elected City Councilors David Abdoo, Michael Fielding, Frank Moran and Roger Twomey.

 Now I wonder if I can get the State Ethics Commission and the Attorney General’s Office interested in what happened regarding Providence Street. To be continued…

 Michael Sweeney is the planning director for the city of Lawrence, a former member of the Lawrence City Council and School Committee. You can e-mail Mr. Sweeney at