NORTH ADAMS -- A volatile debate erupted during Tuesday night's City Council meeting over an order aimed at allowing the city's Redevelopment Authority to hire an outside attorney to represent it during negotiations to privatize Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
"If this is approved tonight, I will go to the [state] Inspector General. I will go to the [state] Ethics Commission," Councilor John Barrett III said, while also calling into question the way a second request for proposals (RFP) for the park's management was handled.
The order, which was approved 5 to 3, is required by the Redevelopment Authority, as City Solicitor John DeRosa's affiliation with the interested parties in the negotiation has come into question. DeRosa is affiliated with the North Adams Development Trust Inc. (NADT), an off-shoot of the Partnership for North Adams, which is looking to take over the park's management. He is also affiliated with Mass MoCA, which is looking to partner with NADT.
"I find it ironic that the solicitor wrote this. I don't think the RFP is worth the paper it is written on," Barrett said. "That RFP calls for a lot of work to be done already. I believe this order was written because of something Councilor Breen brought up last year. DeRosa is the city's lawyer. He's the lawyer for the Mass MoCA Foundation. He and the mayor are part of the Partnership for North Adams ... The city was writing the $880,000 MassWorks Grant for the park when this RFP was issued. It doesn't matter that the money came after the fact ... This group knew about it."
He also questioned why it has taken a year since the RFP had been awarded for negotiations to begin and where the MassWorks grant funds had gone.
"I invite him to go to the state Ethics Commission," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said. "We have the blessing to move forward with this from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation's (DCR) chief legal counsel Doug Rice. Solicitor DeRosa has filed the appropriate forms with the Ethics Commission. The RFP has been reviewed by the several state offices."
He added that negotiations were just beginning now, as NADT had secured a "significant amount of investors" to finance their proposal, which calls for a ground lease payment of $750,000 and the investment of $1.3 million to $1.5 million in the park over the first three years of the 20-year lease.
As for the MassWorks Grant, Alcombright said that funds were recalled by Gov. Deval Patrick prior to the end of the fiscal year, with the promise of being released after the state budget was finalized.
Councilor Jennifer Breen also encouraged Barrett to "write as many letters as he wants" to the state.
"I think we need an opinion to put this issue to rest," she said. "I'm tired of certain people insinuating that something has been done wrong. Prove that it was done wrong."
Barrett continued to object to the overall privatization of the Heritage State Park, saying the ground lease payment was only equivalent to eight to 10 years worth of rent the city would take in.
"Of all the neglected things in this city, Heritage State Park has been neglected the most," Alcombright said. "It would take an investment of $3 million to $5 million to bring it back to its glory. It's an albatross. It's a commercial endeavor that a city shouldn't be involved in. I'm tired of things being delayed. What we're trying to do here is take a non-earning, falling-down asset and create some cash flow."
Barrett responded, "I'm not trying to delay this project. I'm trying to stop it."
Councilors Alan Marden and Lisa Blackmer cast other opposing votes on the order.
Marden voted against the order because he thought it was too general and should name a specific individual. Blackmer voted against it because "there was more to discuss," but the discussion was tabled after Breen called to bring the order to a vote.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve increasing downtown parking meter fees to 25 cents an hour and to extend the parking time limit from one hour to two hours on Main Street. Also approved was an extension of metered parking hours, increasing the Monday to Saturday hours to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., from the previous 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The council also approved the appointment of Lynette Bond to the Planning Board for a term of five years. Councilor David Bond abstained from the vote and Barrett voted against the appointment.
A request to investigate traffic speed on North Street, submitted by Bond, was referred to the Traffic Commission.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email