Two City officials, including the head of the City’s Transportation Department (BTD), invited specific people to attend an early community meeting of the Casey Arborway project, making sure that there were “no fingerprints” as to their involvement, according to a recently revealed email exchange.
BTD claims the invitations were just outreach to get the best public comments on the project. But it can’t explain clearly why it privately invited seven specific people through a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) employee instead of sending out a mass announcement, nor can it explain clearly why BTD Commissioner Thomas Tinlin used a well-known secrecy metaphor in communications relating to the invitation.
JP resident and Casey project Design Advisory Group (DAG) member Kevin Moloney provided copies of a Sept. 14, 2011 email exchange between Tinlin and BRA Senior Architect John Dalzell to the Gazette, after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for City correspondence relating to the Casey project last year. In that email exchange, Tinlin and Dalzell reached out to seven individuals ahead of a Sept. 15, 2011 public information meeting, where the draft bridge and surface road options were presented.
Dalzell recommended a list of seven people to invite to the meeting, which Tinlin agreed with. After Dalzell confirmed that three of them agreed to speak, Tinlin replied with, “No fingerprints?”
“None,” Dalzell said.
“Good job,” Tinlin replied.
According to Tinlin, BTD was getting comments from community members and wanted to make sure members of the public had a chance to make those comments directly to MassDOT, the decision-making agency for the project. The “No fingerprints” line was meant to indicate BTD’s desire for people to attend without influencing their opinions, he said.
“I should’ve used a different vernacular. What I was saying was, I don’t want anyone to feel like they should be for something or against something. Our intent was to drum up participation,” Tinlin told the Gazette last month.
BTD spokesperson Tracey Ganiatsos also told the Gazette that BTD was “making sure that everybody who was going to be impacted knew the story, knew what the options were and could make an informed decision.”
She could not guarantee that everyone who reached out to BTD was informed of the meeting, though she said, “It was certainly [BTD’s] intent.”
“We were encouraging [community members] to have their voices heard” by MassDOT, Ganiatsos said.
It is unclear why BTD would be concerned about influencing public opinion on the project when it had no stated position aside from emphasizing the fact it would not be making the decision between a replacement bridge and an at-grade street network.
“We went to great lengths to make sure people knew the City of Boston was not the decision-maker,” Tinlin said.
BTD was also unable to explain why those specific seven people—including a DAG member, who would be advised of meetings by MassDOT directly—were contacted, nor why it chose to make individual calls instead of making a widespread announcement. When asked why a BRA employee made the calls instead of a BTD representative, Ganiatsos said that was a question for the BRA.
The BRA declined to comment for this story.
Gazette phone calls to those named community members do not support a BTD bias in favor of an at-grade street network. JP resident Gail Sullivan told the Gazette that she has no recollection of Dalzell ever asking her to share a specific opinion on any JP-based project. JP resident and WAG member Michael Epp said Dalzell just wanted him to know that the meeting was happening.
And long-time member of the Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard (CPCAY), the community advisory group for the Arborway bus yard project, Merlin Southwick said, “In two sentences or less, [Dalzell said,] ‘We want to be sure that there is good community representation. Can you come to this meeting?’ I was not prepped for a position. Different CPCAY members with different opinions were all invited.”
The Arborway Yard is located across the street from the Casey Overpass.
Tinlin previously told the Gazette that since the, BTD and the City have received hundreds if letters or petitions in support or opposition to the project. Tracey was unable to say if each of those correspondents were contacted and invited to join the project process.
It is unclear whether Dalzell, who is a JP resident and has been involved in various initiatives and projects in the neighborhood, including running the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII), was working as a BRA representative or as a private individual when he made those calls.
The FHII was a BRA-led community visioning process that took over two years to outline guidelines for development in the area.
Tinlin and Dalzell were both present at a Jan. 24, 2011 meeting with the project consultants and MassDOT officials where it was decided to “focus on finding at-grade solutions,” according to the meeting notes. Tinlin has spoken favorably of the chosen at-grade alternative in a prior Gazette interview.
The Casey Arborway, an at-grade surface street network, will replace the crumbling Casey Overpass. The Casey Overpass is the State Route 203 bridge over Washington Street at the Forest Hills T Station.
The state Casey project website is massdot.state.ma.us/caseyoverpass.