Public can do much better than this CAC

July 10, 2009
By

No one should take seriously any comment, statement, demand or decision made by the current Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). The CAC, officially appointed by the mayor, is charged with advising the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) regarding the complicated, multi-phase, multi-million-dollar development planned for about 10 acres of land, much of it publicly owned, at the border of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.

Although some members of the Jackson Square CAC seem to have conducted themselves responsibly at times over recent months, it appears many of them have gradually been worn down, pushed aside and their voices drowned out under pressure from other CAC members. The CAC has shown by its inappropriate behavior since January of this year—culminating in some very strange actions beginning April 23—that it is not competent to advise any-one about anything.

All year, the Jackson Square CAC has treated some members’ repeated strong statements of dislike and dis-dain for an entire, diverse profession in our society as a “reason” to discriminate against, harass and try to intimidate a small, local group that has a legitimate, established role in the process.

The Orwellian actions of the Jackson Square CAC over past months happened to be about news media in general, focused on the Jamaica Plain Gazette—the only media outlet trying to cover it. Obviously, the same sorts of unreasonable actions the CAC took on this subject could be taken with any party on any topic any time. Specifically, the CAC did the following:

1. Disrupted its own and the public’s business of considering Jackson Square development by focusing a lot of attention and emotion, including one meeting, on this side issue.

2. Took significant votes without a quorum and treated the outcomes as valid.

3. Took significant votes that resulted in ties that were declared by leadership to mean the motion to take action won.

4. Refused to allow Gazette staff to speak or participate in any discussion about the press or the Gazette. Several times and for three meetings banned the Gazette’s presence. Declined many offers from the Gazette be-ginning in mid-March to sit down and talk about working together—and with any news media—constructively.

5. Made statements that showed a lack of basic, useful knowledge about how newspapers work—after indicating that the CAC didn’t want or need to know anything before forming opinions and reaching conclusions.

6. Took a vote regarding the JP Gazette on June 2 based on:

• some members’ individual interactions with the Gazette that the CAC was not a party to.

• past correspondence and other materials that members did not have in front of them and most members had never seen.

• events at previous meetings that not all members voting had attended.

7. Failed to obtain and consider additional information and materials obviously related to the vote it took on June 2. In fact, the CAC banned the Gazette—which it had to know would have the complete, accurate informa-tion and materials—in writing beforehand.

This kind of dysfunctional behavior by the CAC—supposedly representing and serving the public but acting as if it is accountable to no one—is embarrassing and disempowering for the whole Jackson Square community.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, state Reps. Jeffrey Sánchez and Liz Malia and City Councilor John Tobin, among others, have spoken out against CAC actions. The Jackson Square CAC’s behavior even prompted the BRA on May 12 to state a citywide policy that it had never articulated before: BRA staff will not attend CAC meetings or any part of a CAC meeting closed to the public, including the press.

A CAC that operates this poorly regarding one simple topic cannot be trusted to act properly regarding anything else. There’s no way this CAC can objectively and responsibly manage information about issues and organizations as copious and complex as those involved in the development of Jackson Square.

The Roxbury and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods—and the public in general—deserve much better than this. And they can have it.

Real community input

A great deal of community input already went into the existing Jackson Square plans over a period of years. Members of Jackson Square Partners (JSP), the designated development team, are local and very accessible. Three are non-profits with community-based staffs, constituencies, members and boards of directors.

A typical CAC is composed of community people who are strangers to some big outside developer that brings in plans to review and monitor with the BRA. The homegrown Jackson Square enterprise is very different. Creat-ing and managing a traditional CAC to monitor Jackson Square development turns out to be both awkward and un-necessary—as recent events illustrate. One BRA CAC size and type doesn’t fit all.

Regular and as-needed, well-publicized, well-managed, informative community-wide meetings with specific, announced agendas, sponsored by the BRA, should be more than sufficient for community members to ask ques-tions, voice concerns and advise the BRA on Jackson Square development as it progresses. There is no better advisory committee than a committee of the whole.

When the last two Jackson Square CAC meetings were closed to the full public (i.e., the Gazette was banned), the BRA stuck to its word and wisely stayed away from those meetings. JSP followed suit. Now it’s time for everyone to stay away permanently. The current Jackson Square CAC needs to be disbanded.

Sandra Storey

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