The Gazette has discovered JPNC documents from the 1980s that may bolster its claim in a controversial lawsuit to be a government body. An April 10 court hearing in the dispute concluded without a decision by the judge.
The documents include discussion of a contract between the JPNC and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS) that had at least one JPNC member questioning “the implications of its members being municipal employees” and the Open Meeting Law.
The documents also include evidence that the public property sale process now used by the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) was created in direct collaboration with, and tailored to include review by, the JPNC.
Current JPNC chair Benjamin Day, the lead plaintiff in the JPNC lawsuit, declined to comment on those documents. But he did say, “We’re doing a lot of research regarding the origins, role and status of the neighborhood councils” in preparation for the court hearing and will make them public afterward.
Day, on behalf of the council, is suing developer Boston Residential Group and the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The JPNC alleges that necessary zoning approvals for a controversial apartment building planned at the former Home for Little Wanderers complex at 161 S. Huntington Ave. were improperly granted. The JPNC claims it can sue because it is a government body, which the defendants deny.
The JPNC and other neighbood councils around the city were created in the 1980s by Mayor Raymond Flynn to advise City government.
The JPNC’s government-body claim is based on the ZBA’s long reliance on its advice as well as the JPNC being cited in the local zoning code. The Gazette archives include various JPNC documents dating back to its founding in 1985, some of which suggest connections between the council and City government.
Minutes from the JPNC’s Aug. 26, 1986 meeting show it discussing in detail a planned “contract” between ONS and the JPNC. The minutes do not include the full contract, but discussion of sections indicate it discussed the City providing “technical assistance” and office space to the council—which the City does not do today—and clarifying its role in reviewing developments.
“Has the Council considered the issue of their potential liability, the implications of its members being municipal employees and the potential conflict of interest problems?” the minutes record JPNC member James Greene as asking. “The Council needs to also know more about the open meeting law. The Council is waiting for an opinion on the question of liability from Corporation Counsel [City attorneys].”
Then JPNC chair Sandra Storey, who also founded the Gazette and now writes a column for it, recalled last week that the contract had to do with “trying to agree on what the JPNC’s role is and how it would work with the City.” She said ONS and the JPNC met about it for months, but she could not recall whether it was ever signed.
Around the same time, the JPNC worked closely with the City to develop a step-by-step review process for the disposition of public property. Minutes, letters and other documents from 1985 and 1986 indicate that the review policy was largely written by the JPNC, and that after it adopted by what was then the Public Facilities Department—now the DND—it was largely used to create the agency’s citywide land sale process. The original JPNC policy makes it clear that both “the community and the Council” must receive notice of land sales and the right to review development proposals.