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Monday, October 8, 2012

George Tremblay’s ethical tin ear

“It never occurred to me,” says Tremblay about questions raised about his pending land deal
By Will Collette

In a small town like Charlestown where everybody is into everybody else’s business and only a small percentage of people engage in civic affairs, it sometimes seems hard to avoid potential conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety. After all, it’s usually people with land interests who run for office or join commissions, so sooner or later, they’ll run into a potential conflict.

More than a few Charlestown political careers have been ended by turning a deaf ear to the demands for utmost care when dealing with those potential conflicts. As most Progressive Charlestown readers know, I rarely have anything good to say about CCA Councilor Dan Slattery and think he is a terrible Council member. However, he is very good at avoiding even the appearance of conflicts of interest. At the other extreme is Councilor Lisa DiBello, who seems to think that no laws or rules apply to her.

And now there’s Planning Commission member and CCA Town Council candidate George Tremblay.

While most recent attention has been focused on Tremblay’s outrageous fictional research report on affordable housing and its insulting references to imaginary elderly embezzlers, Tremblay was also working a land deal that came before the Planning Commission without any public notice that he was a partner.

The deal in question is a proposal by Bill Barney to subdivide a large parcel of land he owns off Route 2 near Pasquiset Pond into five buildable lots with a sixth parcel of more than 25 acres – almost the size of the YMCA camp – going to George Tremblay.

The details of the deal between Barney and Tremblay are not in the record. That would be good to know, since it would be even more unseemly if Tremblay is paying less than fair market value for the parcel.

Nor was there any mention in the public notice of the agenda item on the Planning Commission’s agenda for September 26. To find out that Tremblay was a partner in the deal, you'd need to find out who owns AP 23, Lot 8. Here's how the deal is described in the Town Planner's memo:

When you go to the Charlestown Tax Assessor database to look up AP 23, Lot 8, here's what you'll find:

Not only does George Tremblay own that property, but he also gets a very sweet deal on his property taxes under the FFOS program. Compare Tremblay's $295,100 assessment for a 1,910-square-foot house with almost 30 acres fronting on Route Two with your own assessment. We'll return to that subject at a later date.

Sussing out the one other clue to Tremblay's involvement requires a magnifying glass, a good pair of eyes and knowing where to look.

If you look on the last page of the memo attached to the Clerkbase agenda item, you’ll see a map and on that map in the lower right, there’s George’s name listed as a trustee.

Here it is:

During the regular discussion of this item[1], Tremblay muttered that he was recusing himself. Beyond that, there was no further mention of his involvement in the project. 

Town Planner Ashley Hahn-Morris noted that this project could be problematic since it is right on the borderline between being reviewed as a minor subdivision or a major subdivision. Minor subdivisions are those involving five lots or fewer.

Ashley noted that with the inclusion of AP 23, Lot 8, that pushes the proposal over the line into major subdivision territory. And most Planning Commission watchers understand that major subdivisions generally undergo a major subdivision of body parts from the Planning Commission’s version of the Spanish Inquisition.

Except that sixth lot is going to George.

Since this project is still at the pre-application stage, Bill Barney’s lawyer was told to take these factors, especially the sixth lot, into consideration before coming back with a full application. Again, the involvement of one of the Commission members in the deal was not mentioned.

At the very end of the meeting, at the 2 hour, fifty-nine-minute mark[2], [update: here is a direct link to the video] Evelyn Smith stepped up to the podium during the Public Comments section – waving off Tremblay’s effort to get a vote on his motion to adjourn[3] – to challenge the failure to give public notice about Tremblay’s involvement in the Barney project equal in prominence to Tremblay’s prominence in the Barney deal.

Evelyn and Commissar Platner then engaged in a surreal duel over whether or not the public really had a right to know that a Commissioner was a player in what could be yet another controversial project coming before the Commission.

Platner noted this was just the pre-application stage and it was just as well that Tremblay’s name was left out of it. Tremblay himself seemed stunned that this was even an issue. “It never occurred to me,” he said and volunteered that his involvement in the project should be entered into the minutes.

One of his fellow Commissioners then said “it already has,” meaning that by saying it, Tremblay put it into the record.

Based on what sounded like genuine surprise on Tremblay’s part, I’m open to the possibility that he didn’t intend to pull a fast one – although, given the CCA’s sanctimonious positions on open and transparent government, he should have known better. Then there was Tremblay’s obvious eagerness to end the meeting even before working through the whole agenda.

But his statement that “it never occurred” to him that there might be a transparency issue in the lack of public disclosure of his involvement makes Tremblay seem, at best, tone-deaf. Just as tone-deaf as he has been in his attacks on senior citizens.  

[1] It took five days and several complaints by me before the Clerkbase audio/video was posted. In the past several months, there have been a number of Clerkbase failures, nearly all during Planning Commission meetings. Just saying.

[2] (update: here is a direct link) This section of Clerkbase is not separately indexed, meaning that you have to start at the nearest index mark, which begins with a discussion of the Churchwoods affordable housing project and then, coincidentally, of George Tremblay’s poorly done affordable housing research project and then fast-forward to the 2:59:20 point to hear Evelyn speak.

[3] Tremblay actually made several attempts to get a vote on a motion to adjourn well before all the items on the agenda were covered. It almost seemed like he couldn’t wait to get out of there. 

Normally, Commissar Ruth Platner would accommodate her CCA apparatchiks, but she’s also quite devoted to covering every agenda item and is loath to adjourn a meeting until it’s run its full three hours and then some. 

Let that be a warning, Connie Baker. Connie is another member of the CCA 2012 slate. Her claim to fame on the Affordable Housing Commission, aside from being against affordable housing, is pushing a new AHC rule that meetings can only go 90 minutes.