Citizens may have called for more communication between town officials regarding the Delano property, but just getting the sides together seems to be difficult.

 

Citizens may have called for more communication between town officials regarding the Delano property, but just getting the sides together seems to be difficult.

That was evident Wednesday as the Duxbury Housing Authority thought it was having a meeting with town officials, but instead ended up attending a work session that not only caused further tension between the sides, but also had at least one member of the housing authority question the validity of the meeting under Massachusetts Open Meeting Laws.

At this November’s Special Town Meeting, voters agreed to indefinitely postpone article four, which sought to remove the housing authority as the manager of the property and make the land “eligible” for development and management by another entity.  Many attendees of the meeting encouraged the housing authority and town officials to work closer together to find a solution regarding an open parcel of land on the property that will be used for affordable housing.

One option for the land, presented by the housing authority, was for a group home for four disabled Duxbury citizens to live and seems to be the direction the group is moving in.

“We’re moving forward on getting the lease signed [for the house currently on the property] and after that, we’ll work on a bid for [the land],” said Linda Garrity, chairwoman of the housing authority.  “The Department of Mental Retardation is supposed to send us a letter expressing their interest [in a house on the land] by the first of the year.”

Garrity added that the Department of Housing and Community Development will inspect the house as soon as the lease is signed to inspect it and recommend any renovations needed before a family moves into the home.

This progress of sorts seemed minor in comparison to the divide witnessed between the two sides on Wednesday night, which had some upset over what constituted a “meeting” to discuss the project.

The housing authority scheduled a meeting of their group in what appeared to be a joint meeting with town officials over the lease of the house and the next steps for the land.  They posted the Wednesday 4:30 p.m. meeting in Town Hall, billed as a “Special Meeting” with no specific location but “Duxbury Town Hall.”

However, when three members of the housing authority gathered for the meeting in the Mural Room, the only town officials present were Conservation Administrator Joe Grady and Planning Director Christine Stickney. 

Housing authority Executive Director Linda Bacci went over to the Town Manager’s office to see if anyone else was coming to the meeting and returned to the Mural Room 10 minutes later saying that the meeting might not occur because town officials were “angry it was posted.”

Minutes later, Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Betsy Sullivan and Judi Barrett, a housing consultant and member of the Finance Committee, came into the Mural Room and said that the room was being used for a subcommittee meeting to discuss the lease.  Sullivan told Garrity that the housing authority could have the meeting they posted at the Town Manager’s office and told a Clipper reporter that the subcommittee meeting was “not an open meeting.”  Sullivan added that the housing authority could send one or two representatives to the subcommittee meeting if they weren’t involved in another meeting.

Somewhat confused, housing authority members gathered in the hall outside the room after Sullivan’s announcement.

Bacci said she was surprised that the meeting was not open to the public given a prior conversation with Sullivan, who she claimed was annoyed that others were present for the meeting.

“[We posted our meeting at Town Hall] thinking it was an open meeting and [Sullivan] said the public would not be turned away so that’s what we did,” said Bacci.  “We didn’t know if we’d have a quorum of our board attending the meeting, so we posted it as [Massachusetts Open Meeting Law] says and I didn’t see the big deal in doing it this way.”

On Friday, Sullivan denied ever telling Bacci such a thing and said that the meeting she was involved with was a work session put together by Barrett to bring the sides together to review the Delano lease.  The housing authority meeting was a separate gathering, one she did not plan on attending.

“I was told it was a work session to handle the lease and figure out the next steps,” said Sullivan.  “I did not call the meeting.  I was invited [by Barrett] to get both parties to the table to get the lease approved.”

Sullivan said usually, the manager of the property would present a lease to selectmen, but she thinks the process “started backwards” in this case because it was selectmen presenting a lease to the housing authority who she said kept making corrections and giving it back.

The meeting, said Sullivan, was basically so that Town Counsel Robert Troy could hand over the lease to the housing authority’s lawyer.

Sullivan said Troy did not arrive to the Mural Room until after 5:30 that night and the group made mostly small talk until then.  The only other thing that was discussed, said Sullivan, was a Section 81x treatment of the plans, which defines areas within the parcel but is not a subdivision.  To be recorded with the registry of deeds, said Sullivan, you must have legally defined areas first and that process was explained in the work session.

“There was no policy discussed, no decision making and in fact, it couldn’t be done because I was the only [selectman] there and there was no quorum,” said Sullivan.

She reaffirmed that she had no intention to go to the housing authority meeting and apologized if she gave the impression that the meeting she closed to the public was seen as that meeting.

“I should have said ëthis is not the meeting of the Duxbury Housing Authority’ as this was a work session to sit around the table and talk,” she said.   “I shouldn’t have said [it was a closed meeting].”

Garrity said she had questions following the Wednesday meeting regarding the open meeting laws and contacted the Town Clerk as well as the Massachusetts District Attorney’s office with her concerns.

She said the clerk’s office told her that subcommittees cannot be used to avoid an open meeting and referred her to the DA’s office for more information. Garrity said that the DA’s office indicated that the situation did not qualify as an open meeting, but if they received a complaint they would investigate the matter.

While saying that the two sides were making progress on getting families housed on the Delano property and in getting more affordable housing on the land, Garrity still questioned the means used in getting things done by town officials given their recent behavior at the meeting.

“There tends to be a trend that there are things that happen outside the public view,” she said.  “Business is done in a convenient manner not always open to the public.  I’m not saying it’s a strict violation of the law, but it’s done conveniently and not necessarily the way to do it.”

Regarding Garrity’s assertions on the meeting, Sullivan said that what happened in the Mural Room was merely a work session and that no policy was discussed and no decisions were made.