By: Tom Duggan – July, 2013
According to documents obtained by The Valley Patriot, Carmine and William DiAdamo of the DiAdamo and DiAdamo Law firm are not only the worker’s compensation attorney’s for the City of Lawrence, but the money they made on the city for rental payments of their Essex Street buildings under the Lantigua Administration totals more than $1.25M in Lantigua’s first three years alone.
According to visionappraisal.com the assessed value of the DiAdamo building is $801,200 representing a mere two and a half years of rental payments by the City of Lawrence.
The Valley Patriot still does not have payment records for 2009.
All in all, the City of Lawrence has paid the politically connected attorneys from Andover more than $4M in rental payments since 2001 to house the Lawrence School Department Central Offices.
At last count, the city has taken possession of more than 400 abandoned properties, and still owns and maintains several abandoned city and school buildings, such as the old high school building on Lawrence Street, a building capable of housing the school administration central offices for free.
Lawrence School Committeeman James Blatchford told The Valley Patriot that the Essex Street offices were a “luxury” in the poorest city in the state, which gets more than 99% of its school funding from state taxpayers.
“It’s a tragedy that we are spending so much money housing the administration offices in that building,” Blatchford said.
“We are not only paying rent for the building (to the DiAdamos) but we have paid for millions in renovations over the years and still pay for renovations to the building.”
“We are talking drapes, furniture, carpeting, elevators, and everything else we are paying for to maintain the upkeep of 255 Essex Street. In effect, we are paying to increases the value of a building the city doesn’t even own. This is state taxpayer’s money, and I think we owe it to the people paying the bills to be more responsible with their money.”
Blatchford says that the blame for unnecessary expenditures of millions in rent payments to the DiAdamos, lies squarely on the last administration who signed the ten year lease.
“This is not the fault of the current superintendent or even the current mayor,” Blatchford continued.
“We are currently in the 8th or 9th year of a ten year lease, signed by Mayor Sullivan back in 2004 or 2005. We could have bought that building five times over by now.”
Blatchford says that Superintendent/Receiver Jeff Riley has expressed an interest in moving the central offices, perhaps to a city owned building, saving the city nearly $400,000 a year.
“The Receiver has said more than once that he is already looking at alternatives for the administration offices. He has indicated he thinks it’s a moronic idea to be paying so much in rent and renovations. I would support him in any way I could if we can use one of the city owned buildings like the old high school. We could be paying zero dollars in rent and would only have to pay for upkeep, which we are doing now to someone else’s building.”
Superintendent/Receiver Jeff Riley told The Valley Patriot that finances are not the only factor in making a decision about DiAdamo’s building, he says that with his reduction in staff at central office there is a need for less office space.
“In terms of the lease of 255 Essex Street, because this lease is more than three years old, it is a municipal-related cost, not a school-related cost,” Riley said.
“For next year, the cost of the lease is paid by the City of Lawrence, not the Lawrence Public Schools. Nonetheless, this spring, I alerted the School Committee that, given our efforts to decentralize the schools and reduce the size of central office by nearly 30%, we would need to look closely at this lease and make a recommendation to the city about its continued viability.”
“While we are just beginning this assessment, it’s unlikely we would need as much space in the future,” Riley continued.
“Obviously, there are a number of factors beyond cost that would go into a decision to end the lease at 255 Essex Street, including the economic development impact on the area, available space within the district given the surge we are seeing in enrollment, etc. If such a change is proposed, I will work to ensure a smooth transition for parents and central office employees.”
PLENTY OF CITY OWNED SPACE
“We have the old high school on Lawrence Street which was being used to house students from the Oliver School,” School Committeeman Blatchford said when asked where the administrative offices could be moved. “Those students will be going back to the old Oliver School building next year.”
“I know we used to have the superintendent’s office and the other administration offices on the top floor of the old high school until the early 90’s. There’s plenty of room in that building, and that’s just one of the buildings the city owns. There’s really no reason to stay on Essex Street paying nearly $400,000 a year.”
“Every dollar we are spending on rent we are not spending on books, teachers, and other materials for kids in the classroom. It’s a complete waste.” he concluded.
“We will have at least two new school committee members in January and I think, even though the committee has no legal power, that the receiver should include us in his decision.”
AN ILLEGAL LEASE
Former School Committeeman Mark Gray has long held that the DiAdamos’ ten year lease of the Essex Street building is illegal and never went through the required approval process.
“Well, it’s a joke,” Gray told The Valley Patriot back in 2011. “The lease never went through the approval process the way it was supposed to, but nobody cared. I brought it up a hundred times when I sat on that committee, back when the committee actually had power. We sent the DiAdamos a letter from the committee asking about the legality of the lease. They refused to respond and the mayor refused to let us put the item back on the agenda for discussion, so we could never get his answer or anyone else’s answer as to how this lease was approved without going through the legal process.”
“Everything is swept under the rug. Everything is hush hush, and then attack anyone who asks questions. I still want to know how we can spend millions of dollars in rent payments for a lease that isn’t legal.”
In a guest column Gray wrote in The Valley Patriot earlier this year, he detailed why he believes the DiAdamo lease is illegal.
“By law, the maximum time that a contract can go without a battery of approvals by the city is three years. There can be a contract made up to 10 years but it would have to go through a lengthy approval process … Two of the authorities that would have to approve this 10 year lease would be the school committee and the city council, [both of] which DID NOT approve the contract.”
“Point two, besides ignoring state laws and ignoring approval from governing authorities, on November 20, 2003, the contract was signed which, at best puts the lease up for renewal this year.
But the start date of the contract continued to change as the contract was amended more than once.”
Gray says that apathy and the environment of corruption lead to the illegal lease of the building, saying, “The politicians do what they want, when they want, to hell with the law, to hell with the policies and procedures. If you are you are connected, you can do what you want and you can get what you want and that isn’t going to chance as long as leaders in surrounding communities don’t care. They don’t speak out about how Lawrence wastes their money. They put no pressure on the state reps and state senators to stop the insanity. So, as long as cities and towns like Methuen, Boxford, Andover, and North Andover don’t seem to care, you will never see it change. Lawrence will continue to be the most corrupt city in the state. The people of Lawrence aren’t going to change it. Neither are the elected officials.”
Senator Eldridge Champions Public Accountability in Records Law (February 2013)