On Friday, after 8 months of deliberation and just three days before the recall election, Land Court judge Piper ruled that Dick McClure has standing to bring suit about the process violations that occurred in the permitting of the “9 North Road” building. This contradicted the Paul Haverty-led argument by the Zoning Board of Appeals that McClure lacks standing to challenge the town. But the judge also ruled that the process violations do not need to be cured and the permits will stand.
Although the ruling has nothing to do with the many ethics violations that make the land deal fraudulent, the Friends Of Eliopoulos are spinning the decision as a ruling that “nobody did anything wrong.” The decision highlights the importance of recalling the selectmen who will not investigate and rectify the graft embodied by the fraudulent land transaction; the current selectmen will never vote to investigate even though the town’s ethics bylaw charges them with the duty and authority to do so.
In its Sunday edition, the Lowell Sun article failed to make it clear that the issues central to the recall, the ethics violations of Phil Eliopoulos and Paul Cohen, and the refusal of the BOS to do anything about them, were not addressed at all by this ruling (and are not the subject of this case). The Eliopoulos violations can only be addressed by the Ethics Commission, which would certainly appear to have an open investigation despite claims to the contrary by town officials; and both the Eliopoulos and the Cohen violations can and should be addressed by the BOS under the town's Ethics Bylaw, but they still refuse to do so. This is ten times more important than the process violations that the judge ruled on, because the ethics violations mean the land deal was fraudulent and should be invalidated.
In any case, the ruling is not the final word and will be appealed. In fact, I don’t understand the judge’s logic that just because the selectmen refuse to act, that it somehow makes the process violations moot. I guess that logic will be tested in the higher court.
The Land Court either cannot or will not deal with the question of ethics violations without the weight of the BOS behind a suit, leaving it to the Ethics Commission, which has five years by law to investigate. That is why the selectmen need to be recalled and replaced with officials who will investigate and rectify.
The Sun article intentionally makes it sound like the judge ruled that the selectmen have not violated the town’s ethics bylaw in their [lack of] handling of the major ethics violations by Phil Eliopoulos and Paul Cohen. Nothing could be further from the truth! This narrow ruling has nothing to do with the ethics violations, and has nothing to do with the selectmen’s responsibilities under the town’s ethics bylaw. This cuts to the central issue of the recall, the fact that the land deal is fraudulent and should be voided due to those violations.
As long as they are in office their decisions will lead to more difficulty investigating and rectifying the graft. For example, their recent premature renewal of Paul Cohen’s contract has already institutionalized a major impediment to investigation for the next four years. And their renewal of the contract for town counsel Kopleman & Paige assures that that law firm’s inherent conflicts of interest will continue to impact the advice that they provide – already shown to be incredibly confusing, costly and poor advice (from the point of view of the good people of the town, not the Eliopouloses) throughout the process of permitting the Eliopoulos Edifice.
On Tuesday we will see whether Democracy is stronger than Oligarchy. Please remind your friends and family to vote Yes!
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew