Last week, the Methuen City Council had the chance to beautify a collapsing piece of public property on Union St., costing city taxpayers absolutely nothing. The state was willing to pay the full cost of the project.
Instead of accepting the contract, however, two councilors harpooned the project, telling the public – and their fellow councilors – that this was “private property”. They grandstanded, saying that they didn’t understand why “we” were paying to beautify something that was “privately owned.”
The fact is, the awning on Union St. at the old Train station is a historic site and not private property at all. The proposal before the council was not being paid for with “city” money.
A quick internet search shows that the Union St. property is owned by the state with a small portion being owned by the VFW, and another small sliver owned by Laborer’s Union Local 175.
Mike Gagliardi, head of the Laborer’s Union Local 175 – who’s building abuts the property – has been repairing the awning next to his building for years, and says he can no longer justify spending more of his members’ money for property they do not completely own.
In fact, Gagliardi actually pulled a permit to demolish the awnings, saying he just wanted to see the structure go.
But, Community Development Director Bill Buckley negotiated a great deal between the VFW, the State, and the Laborer’s Union.
The deal included full state funding, landscaping, benches and public space for a park that Methuen residents could enjoy as part of the Rail Trail.
Yet, city councilors were more obsessed with the fact that former Mayor Sharon Pollard supported the project, than they were with the fact that it would benefit the people of Methuen.
They thought, and one of them even said after the meeting, that they ‘really stuck it Pollard.’
But they didn’t stick it to Pollard. Sharon Pollard loses nothing as the result of their vote. The people they really screwed were the taxpayers of Methuen, and the icing on the cake is that they don’t even care. Engaging in this kind of petty personal politics means that Methuen now has to give back the $200K they got from the state at a time when the city doesn’t have two pennies to rub together. It was stunning to watch.
What’s worse, Methuen taxpayers not only lose the $200K, they now have to pay the full cost to tear down the awning and renovate the property as it has recently been condemned and is a safety hazard.
Even more despicable is that the Methuen contractor – a small business owner, whose company is certified as a disabled veteran owned company – who was slated to do this project, has already gone out and purchased equipment and materials to do the work, banking on the fact that the state has already approved it and given the city $200K.
Did any of these councilors care about the hardship they heaped upon this small Methuen business owner?
As long as Sharon Pollard doesn’t get what she wants, to hell with the taxpayers and the small business owner affected by their vote. To them, this is perfectly acceptable.
Well, it’s not.
It’s totally unacceptable.
The council’s engagement in petty personal politics takes away from their credibility and gives the public the impression that they are only there to get even with their political enemies, instead of advocating for Methuen taxpayers.
And for the most part, that’s not the case. But, you would never know it if you tuned in to the council meeting last week for the first time and watched that vote.
The fact that some Methuen councilors have no problem lying to the public at open meetings should concern everyone.
It should also concern everyone that councilors have no problem shouting down and silencing the only councilor at the table who tries to call them out to correct their misinformation for the public (Jessica Finocchiaro).
They really do believe that if they silence Finocchiaro at the council table, the public will never find out the truth.
They were wrong. ◊