The greatest minds in town hall have decided that the citizens of Chelmsford are not smart enough to know what they are signing. Tom Gilroy, a vociferous supporter of the selectmen’s right to do as they please, claims that you who have signed a petition providing for a recall election, have been “dupped,” as he puts it. He is joined by Jon Kurland, who states that voters were “deceived” into signing recall petitions. This is despite the fact that every registered voter household received a package including the petitions which they could read, study and research at their pleasure. Mr. Gilroy joins Phil Eliopoulos and other town officials in characterizing the mountain of evidence, including meeting minutes, videos and e-mails presented as exhibits with sworn testimony proving ethics violations, as “misinformation.”
Gilroy goes a step further, stating that an election to allow the residents to vote, which will cost about $18,000 according to the town clerk’s office, is “an abuse of taxpayers money.” This echoes the sentiments of Dennis Ready, George Zaharoolis and so many other town officials that it is not worth spending $18,000 to allow you to vote. It should be noted that Mr. Gilroy never raised his voice when the town manager and BOS decided to spend some $200,000 in studies which indicated that the land behind Center Fire Station was of great interest to the town because it would allow the station to remain in the best location, its current location, while being expanded a bit. Nor did Mr. Gilroy raise his voice in March of 2009 when it was argued that speed was of the essence and it was advisable to authorize and spend $3.1 million as soon as possible for a new DPW site on Alpha Road, in case someone else would swoop in and buy that property, which the owner had paid $1 (One Dollar) for about a year prior.
The property was perfect for the DPW, you see, so the no-bid process that resulted in its purchase was supposedly justified, according to Jon Kurland. It apparently is irrelevant that six special permits had to be issued this year by the Planning Board to move Paul Cohen’s plans for this site forward, including construction over a protected aquifer and violating buffer requirements for proximity of storage to abutting properties. The abutters are suing the town. What else is new with this town manager and BOS?
Mr. Gilroy refers to “disagreeing with an elected officials [sic] vote” as the reason for this recall. Maybe the vote to spend $3.1 million on the DPW site in a no-bid process is the “one vote” that Mr. Gilroy is referring to. Or maybe it was the vote to have Town Counsel move to quash all depositions after the damaging Tom Dunn deposition in January. Or maybe it was the vote to give our corrupt town manager a raise. Or maybe it was the vote that the Eliopoulos Edifice is “small” and “barn-like” and the parking lot comprises “an open space conservation area” last August. Or maybe it was the vote to bring a warrant article changing the recall process to prohibit photocopying of petitions while simultaneously limiting the number of petitions. Who knows? I am fascinated by this “one vote” that Tom Gilroy and Jon Kurland and other town officials continually refer to in pooh-poohing the outrage of their constituents.
Jon Kurland states that voters were “misled” and “didn’t know what they were signing,” when they penned their names to FOUR petitions authorizing them to vote on the status of FOUR different selectmen. Does Jon believe that voters thought they were signing four different applications for the same free banana bread recipe? The vast majority of petitions were only signed on the front, where the petition’s purpose is succinctly stated at the top. That was done precisely so that this kind of nonsensical assertion would be untenable, and the petitions would have to be certified.
Jon Kurland also fulminates that “Paul Cohen did not lie,” and that ”the town acquisition of that land and an antiquated building (the Emerson House) was a non-starter due to, among many other factors the slashing of state aid at that time.” Oh, really? Hmm, the land acquisition account would have been used, and it has nothing to do with state aid. The Emerson House – openly coveted by several buyers – could have been sold off and the land behind Center Fire Station owned by the town for around $50,000 to $100,000. But the BOS – including Phil Eliopoulos, who was directly involved with Eastern Bank negotiations for that same property on behalf of his father Michael Eliopoulos – voted to instead pursue a new fire station at Wilson Street (the ballfield boondoggle) on March 23, 2009. Paul Cohen says that they were briefed, except for Phil Eliopoulos, whom he says he did not brief because that would have raised a conflict of interest for Phil. Except that Paul Cohen knew that Phil Eliopoulos’ family was negotiating for the land, so why did he allow Phil Eliopoulos to vote on the matter without reporting him to the state Ethics Commission?
Hmm. After being publicly criticized for that Big Lie, Paul Cohen, in a formal statement to the BOS at the July 26, 2010 meeting stated that “At the end of the Executive Session portion of the March 9, 2009 Board of Selectmen work session, I discussed with the members of the Board of Selectmen the information that I had received from Eastern Bank regarding the possible sale of the property.” Only one selectman at the time, Pat Wojtas, claims that she has even “vague recollections” of such a briefing.
But Mr. Cohen hasn’t lied, according to Jon Kurland. Somehow, in Mr. Kurland’s mind, these two directly conflicting statements are somehow both true. The fact is that Paul Cohen’s statement in August of 2009 allowed Phil Eliopoulos to sidestep an inquiry by the Ethics Commission in early 2010 by claiming that the matter had not been “before the town” while he was a selectmen in early 2009. This is clearly of no consequence to Jon Kurland or any of the other selectmen who are actively opposing any formal inquiry into the matter.
So, $3.1 million was OK (for the DPW) but not $100,000 (to preserve Center Park and allow Center Fire Station expansion). That’s the way the selectmen voted in late March of 2009, including Phil Eliopoulos who had a very obvious conflict of interest. And that conflict of interest was fully known to Paul Cohen at the time.
Jon Kurland states that money was tight for that $100,000 purchase “because of cuts in state aid.” But those cuts in state aid somehow didn’t make it impossible to vote for a $3.1 million purchase of land and buildings for the DPW.
Apparently, once I set foot in town hall, I become the only one who thinks that Paul Cohen’s stories and Jon Kurland’s analysis are not only illogical, but fanciful. Not one selectman has come out in support of accountability for this malfeasance by Eliopoulos and Cohen. Not one selectman has been willing to make a motion to bring the matter before a Land Court judge. They won’t even make a motion to have the narrower matter of the Preservation Restriction brought before a judge for interpretation and enforcement.
Paul Cohen has asked, “Our struggle is, how do we prove our innocence?” It’s simple! Allow formal inquiry, that is, testimony under oath so people can’t lie. They’re called depositions, and Paul Cohen has successfully quashed them every step of the way. Cohen also says that “The charges keep coming, and they keep mutating.” The charges are the same: that Cohen has committed gross malfeasance in facilitating the 9 North Road scandal, and the Board of Selectmen refuse to uphold the law or allow a formal inquiry. What keeps mutating, of course, are Cohen’s stories about what happened. As we debunk one story, he concocts another with different dates and different players. Recently, for the first time ever, he stated that he briefed Pat Maloney of the Permanent Buildings Committee in February of 2009. It’s not clear why he didn’t share that before. And it’s not clear why Pat Maloney would then indicate that he didn’t have a clear idea of the value of the property or whether it was available, during his presentation of the potential acquisition of the property on March 23, 2009 to the BOS. Phil Eliopoulos remained silent during the presentation, and Mr. Maloney said nothing about the Eliopoulos family’s interest in the property. While there was heated discussion about the importance of moving fast regarding the DPW acquisition in case another party might be interested in the land, there was no such discussion regarding the property behind the fire station. Apparently, no one besides Paul Cohen or Phil Eliopoulos thought that there was any immediate interest in the property by a third party.
The one deposition that has been taken regarding the 9 North Road scandal, from Tom Dunn of Eastern Bank in January of 2011, showed unequivocally that Phil Eliopoulos committed major ethics violations both during and after his tenure as selectman, and that Paul Cohen had been lying about what he knew and when he knew it. That deposition was so damaging that Cohen removed all historical minutes of meetings from the town web site for over a week, hampering research. Now that those minutes have been reposted, it’s clear that minutes from some relevant Fire Station Study Committee meetings are missing.
But Jon Kurland – a trained lawyer perfectly capable of examining such exhibits, as well as the testimony of Dunn – maintains that the deposition actually clears everyone and that “nobody did anything wrong.” He appears to agree with Tom Gilroy that we are all somehow being “dupped” into thinking there was malfeasance.
Voters will have a chance to make up their own mind in the recall election, once the date is set by the selectmen at their upcoming board meeting.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew