Newton, Mass. – The Committee for Responsible Development, a ballot question committee organized to run the referendum campaign against the massive Northland Needham Street plan, issued the following statement today:
The Committee for Responsible Development filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) regarding Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s use of city resources to enlist the assistance of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED) to influence the special election on the Northland development proposal. The special election is necessitated by a successful petition drive signed by over 5,300 Newton residents calling for a referendum on the massive
Needham Street development proposed by Northland Investment Corporation. State regulations issued by OCPF prohibit the use of municipal or any governmental resources to support or oppose ballot initiatives.
On Dec. 12, 2019, Mayor Fuller sent a memo to Michael Kennealy, Secretary of EOHED, requesting a meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the state’s “potential support for infrastructure improvements related to (the Northland project), possibly through the MassWorks grant program.” The Mayor continued, “This meeting is time sensitive as a group of citizens are organizing a ballot referendum to overturn the City Council’s vote.”
The Mayor’s intention to enlist the state’s assistance so that voters would be more likely to approve the City Council’s action is indicated by the fact that Peter Standish, Senior Vice President of Development at Northland, was invited to join the Mayor at the requested meeting. After the requested meeting took place on Dec. 19, 2019, Mayor Fuller addressed a follow-up memo to Secretary Kennealy which stated: “We feel that, given the likelihood of a citywide referendum in March, a signal from the Commonwealth that they also see the tremendous value in this project could be extremely helpful.” The Mayor continued, “As discussed, even an announcement that Massworks design funding would be made available immediately contingent upon the project moving forward, with construction funding to be determined, could make a difference.”
Mayor Fuller has once again used the city’s resources to favor the proponents of the Northland plan. This Committee filed a complaint with OCPF on January 2, 2020, regarding the Mayor’s use of city resources to distribute the “Mayor’s Update” of Dec. 16, 2019 which publicized her decision to vote “yes” on the referendum regarding the Northland plan.
We now know that at the same time as Mayor Fuller illegally used city resources to persuade voters to vote “yes” in the referendum, she was also asking EOHED to announce early action on two infrastructure projects, Pettee Square improvements and the Upper Falls Greenway Extension.
The timing of these announcements was intended to distort the debate regarding whether voters should confirm or reject the City Council’s vote to approve a zoning change allowing the project to proceed. In fact, the Mayor’s latest “Update” on Feb. 7, 2020, indicated that the city had applied for a “$396,000 state grant to pay for design and engineering of two projects in Upper Falls. One project would extend the Upper Falls Greenway… The other project would result in a significant upgrade of Pettee Square.”
“Mayor Fuller’s inappropriate use of city and state resources undermines the democratic election process and sets a dangerous precedent,” said Martina Jackson, Co-chair of the Committee for Responsible Development. “Both Mike Kennealy, Secretary of EOHED, and the Mayor must adhere to political
finance regulations in exerting unlawful pressure on the March 3rd referendum.”