, Newburyport, MA

January 24, 2013

NRA is city's most undemocratic institution

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Despite the threatening-to-be-icy weather, several COW members managed to attend the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) meeting last Wednesday. We were expecting them to discuss our attorney’s letter dated Dec. 28 (since at their previous meeting they had put off discussion of it until this meeting), plus the two issues currently being hotly debated in the city, both of which directly impact the NRA — that of the proposed Ale House, and that of the Harbor Commission’s recently unveiled plans for the new and improved Harbormaster’s facility. We were expecting them to do something, anything. What they actually did was nothing.

They did read their mission statement, approved the previous minutes, and paid a couple of innocuous invoices. NRA member Adam Guild then launched into a brief description of the RFP process — I’m not sure why he did this. Was it for our education? Many of us in COW know more about the RFP process than most of the NRA members seem to. One thing was clear — they are just now beginning to realize what a large and involved task they have undertaken.

They then announced their next meeting date and the meeting was adjourned. The entire farce lasted no longer than 20 minutes. And they’re in the middle of a $20 million project with growing controversy swirling about them.

They did mention in passing that much of their planning “business” is being held “behind the scenes.” I asked Adam Guild if he would publish the dates of those meetings for anyone who wanted to attend. Mr. Guild said sure. Chairman Shanley quickly left his seat and came over to correct him and said no. He said the public would not be admitted because the members and their consultants “can talk more freely when the public is not present.” Another COW member asked him if this might violate the Open Meeting Law. He said that their attorney tells them that they are acting legally. I’m not so sure.

At the beginning of the meeting Laurel Allgrove queried: “Have you considered applying for PARC money in the same way as it has been reported that Amesbury did?” Mr. Shanley replied, “Thank you, we’ll take that into consideration” and then immediately went on to another subject.

So, that’s it. That’s the NRA in action. Short and not-so-sweet. I also attend most of the Waterfront Trust meetings. In contrast, they seem to do all of their business during their public meetings. They talk very freely, even with all of us listening. The audience is even encouraged to ask questions throughout their meetings, and without registering in advance.

I realize that most Newburyporters refuse to attend NRA meetings like this, and for good reason. They are boring, unproductive and their perfunctory nature leaves the impression that “the public be damned.” The unfortunate thing is that important business is being conducted here, most of it behind closed doors. The NRA, as currently run, is probably the most undemocratic institution ever seen in this city.

Sandra Small

Newburyport member,

Committee for an Open Waterfront, Inc.