At this point you are likely well aware of the gyrations various town committees and boards have gone through to provide “alternatives” to the simple repair and extension of the Center Fire station, so that the town won’t interfere with the “Epsilon LLC” (Eliopoulos) office building plans behind Center Fire Station. The latest, and perhaps fruitiest, proposal is to buy a lot on Route 4, move buildings onto it, and then build on the space vacated by those buildings – all at a cost of some $9 million or more: http://chelmsfordmassnews.com/another-new-plan-for-center-fire-station-in-works-p2223-1.htm
Testimony taken Friday from an Eastern Bank official shows unequivocally that all of this is a direct result of Paul Cohen violating his fiduciary duty to the town, violating many provisions of the Chelmsford Code of Ethics, and lying about the sequence of events that led to the Eliopoulos’ purchase of the historic Village Green Property behind Center Fire Station. In fact the bank had previously made it crystal clear to Cohen that it was prepared to, in fact preferred to, sell the property to the town for a very low price (as low as $100,000 or even $50,000 for the acre of open space without the Emerson House – everything was negotiable). http://chelmsfordmassnews.com/north-deposition-keeps-disagreements-going-p2234-1.htm
Real Estate decisions are for the BOS and not the Town Manager to decide. Yet, according to Cohen’s own statements, he waited at least thirty-two days after hearing about the bank’s offer on Feb. 5, 2009 to notify the Board of Selectmen. There is no corroboration from any of the selectmen or from meeting minutes that he did actually present the purchase opportunity to the BOS at all. But Cohen claims he at least raised the issue in a closed Executive Session in early March of 2009, and that Phil Eliopoulos was not present. That’s pretty convenient. How did Phil know not to be there? So far the Town Manager’s office claims the minutes cannot be found.
The option to buy the land and refurbish the Center Fire Station was “off the table” according to subsequent public statements by Cohen, and the land purchase was marked “no longer available” in a town committee study report published on or around Feb. 9 – some 4 days after Cohen was notified that the land was available.
Cohen was called several times by Eastern Bank and, according to the bank official, stated that he needed to check with his “superiors” and get back to the bank, which he never did. Cohen, by his own admission and by the testimony of the bank official, knew that the Eliopoulos’ were the ones negotiating to purchase the land. Under the Chelmsford bylaws (Code of Ethics) it is the Town Manager’s explicit responsibility to report to the Board of Selectmen and to the State Ethics Commission conflicts of interest and violations of the Chelmsford Code of Ethics. Phil Eliopoulos was a sitting selectman, yet all Cohen did was make sure that the town was not given an opportunity to purchase the land at a bargain price, perhaps even at no charge in exchange for tax rebates.
After a Slow Growth Initiative mailing in August, 2009 Cohen then lied to the BOS in Executive Session on August 24 that “The Town was never approached by Eastern Bank, the previous owner of the property, to see if the Town was interested in making a purchase.” (Those minutes ARE available.) In any case, he had remained silent about information in his possession for some six months (March through August) while Epsilon LLC proceeded with plans to obtain permits from compliant town boards. And, of course, Cohen recommended to the Board of Selectmen in 2010 to side with the developer against challenges to the permits. As the final insult, the BOS refused to vote to uphold the law and bring the Preservation Restriction on the property before a Land Court Judge for interpretation and enforcement.
This all represents a breach of fiduciary duty that is so massive Cohen deserves to be fired immediately for cause. It’s not just a matter of principle, although Cohen’s multiple violations of state and local ethics requirements would certainly justify his immediate termination in and of themselves. But, as a practical matter, his malfeasance and continued intransigence is directly responsible for some $10 million or more in extra proposed costs for the Fire Station debacle alone.
The BOS still has a very limited amount of time to rectify the situation. Given these new revelations, the BOS has a fiduciary duty to reverse its prior decision and hold a new public meeting and vote to "enforce" the Preservation Restriction, which is the legal interest that you and I and all Chelmsford residents have in that property. By its new vote to enforce the Preservation Restriction, the BOS could then join/intervene in McClure's action as a new plaintiff. The PR requires that the land remain “an open space conservation area,” that any buildings resemble “original structures” and be “small” and “barn-like.” There are other restrictions being violated, including that construction enhance “aesthetics of the neighborhood” (a Historic District) and enhance recreational opportunities. Or the BOS can initiate its own separate motion in Land Court to interpret and enforce these restrictions on behalf of all of us.
If they don’t, they are joining Cohen in a breach of Fiduciary Duty that is set to cost us nearly $10 million dollars according to published reports for construction alone, and more if you consider ongoing costs of maintaining the proposed new facility. It is clearly a better option to fire Cohen, rectify his malfeasance, and uphold the law.
Call or e-mail your Selectmen, and if you want to make your statement in person you can attend tonight’s Selectmen meeting and urge them in open session to remove Cohen and move to uphold the Preservation Restriction in court.
This “Colonial-style building” being built on our village center would forever be a symbol of greed and incompetence but we have a chance to stop it. Urge your selectmen to ignore Paul Cohen’s lies and give this issue its day in court.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew