| Freetown Federal Task Force
P.O. Box 438
Fellow Citizens of Freetown,
In presenting this report, I pray it is received in the spirit in which it is offered; as the culmination of a year-long effort by diverse member of the community to make Freetown a better place to live.
We hope to see our suggestions given serious consideration and implemented.
I wish to thank Judge Saris, attorneys Paul Wilson and Noah Shaw of the firm of Mintz Levin and Attorney Nadine Cohen of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. I'd also like to thank the plaintiffs for standing firm throughout this ten-year ordeal and the members of the Federal Task Force for their diligence and patience in preparing this document.
Pastor Curtis Dias, Chairman
Freetown Federal Task Force
To: Honorable Judge Patti B. Saris
Freetown Board of Selectmen
From: Freetown Federal Task Force
Rev. Curtis Dias, Chairman
Re: Task Force's initial recommendations
Per C.A. No. 03-CV-10804-PBS
United States District Court
District of Massachusetts
Date: September , 2006
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Freetown Federal Task Force respectfully submits these initial findings and recommendations and note that the Task Force was comprised of volunteers who worked for one year to formulate these findings and recommendations. All expenses were paid for by Task Force members.
We wish to thank Police Chief Carlton Abbott, Water Commissioners Robert Ward and Howard Wilbur, former selectman John Laronda, Selectman Lawrence Ashley, Highway Surveyor Charles Macomber and ACE representative Quita Sullivan for their assistance. Regrettably, Selectman John Ashley and Building Commissioner/Health Inspector Paul Bourgeois declined to make appearances.
We request that this report be incorporated into the Annual Town Report for 2006/2007 and posted on the town website and made available at town offices.
Item 1: In business as in life, you either have a plan or you make it up as you go along. The business of running the town of Freetown is much too important to continue making it up as we go along. People's lives and the town's future are negatively impacted by the lack of planning. This town needs direction. This town needs a plan. This town needs a Master Plan. Rather than start from scratch, we believe the town should look to other communities, such as Lakeville, which have successfully implemented a Master Plan and adapt these plans to our own circumstances using the services of a professional consultant who has established a good track record for implementing Master Plans for other communities. To fail to do so is to invite chaos relative to property values, public safety and quality of life.
Item 1, B: The town has an annual budget of over $18,000,000 and an $18,000,000 business cannot be effectively, efficiently and competently run by three part time employees. We believe the town needs a full time professional town manager and full time professional town planner.
Item 1, C: The town should hold in abeyance any plans for re-zoning the town as this should be done as part of a comprehensive Master Plan with input from a town manager*, a town planner* and the general public. We believe the 1996 Zoning Plan was inadequate and does not meet the needs of the town and has spawned litigation by citizens to protect their quality of life from assaults by business interests which are not compatible with residential concerns. This includes an asphalt plant, a concrete plant, and a huge warehouse. Besides noise, light and odor pollution, these industries bring with them a parade of trucks and cars all of which work to erode the quality of life of nearby residents and threaten their health and welfare.
This zoning plan lacked clear zone differentiation and buffer zones between industrial and residential zones. Its provisions for "special permits" are flawed in that they render much of the zoning moot and these could be given to "special people" at any time. It lacked adequate detail and lacked adequate input. From this experience, it should be obvious that the complexities of a good zoning plan are not easily mastered by even the most sincere and well meaning but unqualified people and we do not believe the selectmen have the training and expertise to re-zone the town or fully comprehend the ramifications of their plans. This work is best left to experienced, credentialed professionals.
Item 1, D: The town should not allow extensions of sewer lines from Fall River or New Bedford until the town has a Master Plan, a town manager and a town planner. Private septic systems require larger house lots than would be the case with a public sewer system. This, together with the fact that a high water table in many areas of town make building prohibitively expensive, slows development. This slowed development is desirable because, at present, the town is simply not prepared to deal with the commercial and residential growth that sewer lines may engender. Whatever growth occurs as a result of allowing sewer line extensions must be anticipated and prepared for.
* At present, the town has neither a town manager nor a town planner.
Item 2: Large Stop & Shop directional signs (4' x 6' or larger) should be erected at the exits of Route 24 North and South to reduce the number of large trucks wandering through town, often causing traffic problems. The town should take whatever steps are necessary to secure permission from the state for the erection of these signs as well as cooperation from Stop & Shop. Appropriate directional signage should be required for all businesses anticipating large numbers of trucks on a regular basis. Police Chief Carlton Abbott and Highway Surveyor Charles Macomber should decide where additional signs would be of benefit.
Item 3: The town should advertise in newspapers, on the town website, the local cable station, bulletin boards throughout town and through enclosures in the real estate tax bills and water bills relative to the availability of positions on various municipal boards and encouraging participation. Candidates should be lined up prior to a vacancy and selected for their willingness and ability to be of service rather than for their own aggrandizement. We suggest a form such as attachment "A" of this report and we request that this or a similar form be incorporated into the Annual Town report and made available at town offices.
Item 3, B: Anyone with an established business in town should be eligible to serve on a municipal board regardless of whether or not they are town residents. Business people have a large stake in the community and could be invaluable assets to our boards, perhaps the next best thing to paid consultants.
Item 3, C: Anyone who owns real estate in town should be eligible to serve on a municipal board regardless of whether or not they are town residents. Should people who pay real estate taxes be told to, "Pay up and shut up," or should they be eligible to participate in town affairs.
NOTE: Selectman Lawrence Ashley has already publicly attacked proposals 3, B and 3, C saying "I am absolutely opposed to people not living in town serving on our boards" but he is being disingenuous as Fire Chief Wayne Haskins, who is a Lakeville resident, serves on three Freetown boards and the town is better for it.
Item 3, D: No town employee should be appointed to a municipal board unless their presence on that board has a relationship with that person's position.
Item 3, E: No one should serve on more than one municipal board if other people are available except as noted in 3, D.
Fire Chief Wayne Haskins and Police Chief Carlton Abbott serve on multiple safety committees, as well they should.
Item 3, F: The town should ascertain if the appointment of a particular person to a municipal board could create a conflict of interest or a violation of state ethics laws.
A resident who serves on multiple boards, including the Conservation Committee, works for two companies which supply goods and services to companies and individuals doing work in areas under the heavy thumb of the Conservation Committee. This may be a violation of state ethics laws, at any rate, we question the appropriateness of this arrangement. Copies of this individual's business cards are included as attachments.
Item 3, G: The chairman of the Conservation Committee recently resigned. The members of this Task Force are unaware of any attempt by the town to notify people of this vacancy or to encourage applicants yet, a short time after the resignation, the selectmen appointed a replacement. This replacement board member is a town employee who already serves on five other boards and two committees. No one can serve on eight boards and be effective. This man has eight titles and a town job. Giving eight appointments to one person denies other citizens the right to participate in town government and is an unseemly concentration of power.
The selectmen hire and fire, determine salaries, benefits, working conditions and promotions. To say that a town employee might make decisions based on what pleases the selectmen is not far fetched. While we are not now suggesting that improprieties have occurred, we are saying that this appearance of impropriety has spotlights on it and this concentration of power is an impropriety in itself. The dictionary defines this behavior as "cronyism." We believe this practice erodes public confidence in our political system and, for the good of the town, must be stopped.
Zoning Board of Appeals
Item 4: If the Zoning Board of Appeals grants a variance and the granting of that variance is appealed by an aggrieved party and the court finds that the granting of the variance was inappropriate or illegal then all the costs of the legal action by the aggrieved party should be reimbursed by the town.
Private citizens should not have to shoulder great expenses if the ZBA is at fault. This is especially true of variances granted commercial interests which can easily outspend the average private citizen.
Compensation for Unjust Actions
Item 5: If a party incurs expenses or suffers losses as a result of actions of the Conservation Committee or any other municipal board or town official and those actions are found by a higher authority such as a court or the Department of Environmental Protection to be inappropriate or illegal, then that party should be reimbursed by the town for all expenses and losses. Likewise, the town should bear responsibility for any municipal board or town official whose failure to act causes a party to incur expenses or suffer losses.
Item 6: The positions of Chief of Police, Fire Chief and Highway Surveyor are too important to be decided by a popularity contest based on the public whim or tainted by town politics and for limited terms. Pre-requisites for these positions should be established and the candidates selected should be given tenure after a probationary period in order to assure them the degree of autonomy needed to perform their jobs without regard to the next election or town politics.
We believe the town is fortunate to have people of the caliber of Police Chief Carlton Abbott, Fire Chief Wayne Haskins and Highway Surveyor Charles Macomber and we believe they have proven themselves and deserve tenure. These department heads are seasoned professionals and they enjoy the respect of the community. Each runs his department incredibly well on an embarrassingly small amount of money.
As a matter of public safety and common sense, we believe that the fire chief and police chief should be members of the Emergency Management Agency, the Local Emergency Planning Committee and the Safety Committee without requiring appointment by the selectmen and these committees should be chaired by either chief.
Item 7: A protocol should be established whereby residents are notified if noxious substances are discovered in any local well. Most Freetown residents rely on wellwater and these wells do not draw from isolated aquifers but from common sources. Depending on the nature and source of contaminants, their presence could be localized or widespread. People have the right to know in order to take any precautions they deem fit. In a recent event regarding the presence of MTBE's in a local well, town authorities dragged their feet and did nothing while deciding how to respond to this threat. One selectman referred to doing nothing as "a muted response." The town's reputation as being complacent in response to health and safety issues was the subject of a recent New Bedford Standard Times editorial enclosed as attachment "C." The health and welfare of the general public is not well served by indecisiveness and timidity.
Item 7, B: It has come to our attention that a member of this Task Force discovered a large oil tank buried in his backyard. Federal and state agencies have determined that underground oil storage tanks pose a health threat and must, in most cases, be removed. A local contractor who happens to be a selectman had been paid to remove it by a previous owner but the tank is where it is. A copy of the Herald News article is included as attachments "F" and "G."
This contractor may yet come up with a plausible explanation for this state of affairs and our concern is not to assign blame but to get rid of this and other inground oil tanks in town.
The town does not have a system of accounting for all the inground tanks installed with or without permits. We suggest that Chief Haskins be given the authority and funds to implement a program designed to account for as many as possible of the inground oil tanks in town.
Initially, this program would involve comparing permits for installation of inground tanks with permits and inspections for removal of these tanks. In cases where tanks were removed without permits, Chief Haskins could, at his discretion, order soil tests on the areas where the tanks were located.
Other than these basic suggestions, we are sure Chief Haskins can design and implement a successful program.
Preserving the Aquifer
Item 8: A large brewery will apparently be moving into town. Their representative stated that the brewery will have access to water from Fall River but may develop several well sites. This brewery will use from 500,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water a day. We believe that industrial and commercial entities should not be allowed to develop well sites as a large volume source of processing water. Residents should not have to compete with industry for this resource. Benjamin Franklin stated, "We'll know the price of water when the well runs dry." Let's not prove him right.
Conflict of Interest
Item 9: Using one's position as a town employee or board member to profit financially by way of real estate investment and speculation by virtue of the uniqueness of the position or the information to which one is privy is akin to insider trading and should not be allowed. Anyone can speculate in real estate in town at any time but, if they are town employees or board members, they should resign their positions beforehand if a conflict of interest exists.
The Building Inspector should not be allowed to speculate in real estate in town as the system of controls would then be non-existent and he would be competing against people over whom he could wield substantial authority. The potential for abuse is enormous.
Item 9, B: Selectman John Ashley engages in a business in which he often requires permits and inspections from the fire chief and the building commissioner, both of whom are his subordinates and town employees. This is an awkward situation for both town employees. We question the appropriateness of this arrangement.
Tax Increment Financing
Item 10: The members of the Tax Increment Financing Board (TIFB) should be comprised of all selectmen, the town treasurer, the town administrator, the town planner, the chairman of the Board of Assessors, the chairman of the Finance Committee, and at least one citizen appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Because the last five TIF's involved businesses abutting residential areas, we believe that residents who will be affected by a proposed business should have representation on the TIFB for that specific TIF application.
Aside from zoning, a TIF is the remaining issue to attract or dissuade a business from locating within Freetown. As such, TIF's must be taken very seriously and analyzed in the impact it may have on surrounding area businesses and residents. As part of the due diligence of the Task force, a previous member of the Board of Selectmen quoted that certain TIF's, in hindsight, may not have been as favorable for the town as the original intent they were granted for. With this stated and the relative importance to the long term future of the community at large, we believe a TIFB must be created to ensure that the TIF itself be established by a strenuous set of rules.
The individuals must be trained by attending at least one full day seminar administered solely for the purpose of TIF discussion within the first year of their appointment and to remain current by attending a full day seminar within every three-year period. These individuals will bring together various talents and experience in order to fairly justify the need for a TIF for a qualified business.
When an interested party has contacted the TIFB regarding the possibility of receiving a tax break, the TIFB must have established policies and procedures set in order to justify any tax reduction. These policies and procedures must adhere not only to State regulations but also take into consideration the long-term impact on the town from both an economic and community point of view. These procedures may morph into additional bylaws for the town considering which types of business Freetown wants to attract.
Policies that need to be implemented concern the entities need for a TIF, the type of business requesting the TIF and whether the business is suitable for Freetown. A set of predetermined questions with a rating for each answer would determine the relative amount of TIF offered. These questions would focus on matters such as, but not limited to:
- Where the entity plans to develop
- What resources the company needs to run its operations
- Traffic impact; not only for general operations, such as deliveries of incoming product
and outgoing sales, but also the corporations employees and customers
- Hours of business
- Size of the corporation
- Affect on Freetown's infrastructure
- All TIFs should include employment preference for Freetown residents with adequate
oversight of the hiring process and specific enforcement provisions.
It must also be argued that larger entities may or may not be a good fit for the town. The larger corporation will undoubtedly have a bigger need for consuming resources and will have an adverse impact on neighborhoods in regards to traffic and noise/light pollution. These ramifications lead to increased public safety demands and updating infrastructure to town/state roads or utilities. All too often a large employer is beneficial to a community during its viable years and there's always a possibility the corporation will move to another location it deems to be better suited for strategically or economically once its tax benefits are exhausted. Now the community is left with a blighted, empty warehouse that is more difficult for another corporation to utilize.
Once the "score" from the predetermined questions has been tallied and after careful deliberation, the TIFB would then justify and fairly submit a TIF proposal to Town Meeting.
The main point is what will the landscape of Freetown look like in 10 years and more from now? Will our town be business friendly, will it be a town individuals would like to establish residence in, or will it be both? We believe, with the right foresight, it can be both.
Item 10, B: All voters should be mailed a copy of the actual TIF agreement (not a proposed agreement) several weeks before it is to be voted on together with pro and con comments by TIFB members and these documents should also be posted on the town website. Thomas Jefferson observed, "An uninformed electorate is tantamount to mob rule."
All TIF proposals should stress, "What's in it for Freetown?" and should be honestly represented. In selling the Stop & Shop proposal to the public, it was represented that Freetown residents would enjoy employment preference, however, then selectman John Laronda informed this Task Force that only 35 of the approximately 900 employees at the Freetown site are Freetown residents.
In his appearance before the Task Force, Selectman Lawrence Ashley stated,
1- He did not know how many people worked at the Stop & Shop Freetown site
2- He did not know how many Freetown residents worked at the Freetown site
3- The company does not routinely supply the town with that information but he would make
some inquiries in our behalf and get back to us which he never did
4- He did not know if John Laronda's figures of 35 Freetown residents out of 900 employees
5- There is no provision in the TIF agreement for oversight of the Stop & Shop employment
6- There is no provision in the TIF agreement for enforcement of the employment provisions
When asked if a scant 4% of the workforce being Freetown residents represents a good faith effort on the part of the company to enforce the letter and spirit of the agreement, he stated that Stop & Shop could not be faulted for having so few Freetown residents on the payroll if Freetown residents simply aren't applying for work at the facility.
Some members of the community would disagree with Selectman Ashley on this issue, especially those who claim to have applied for work at the Freetown facility and didn't get as much as a job interview.
At any rate, we believe that Selectman Ashley was not being forthright in his representations.
The TIF agreement with Stop & Shop spells out in Section A, The Company's Obligations, paragraphs 2 and 3 what the employment obligations are. It further stipulates in paragraph 9 that the company "...shall provide the Town with an annual report..." which shall include:
1- the total number of employees at the facility
2- the number of Freetown residents employed at the facility
The Stop & Shop TIF agreement is included in this report as attachment "D."
As of the filing of the Annual Report by Stop & Shop with the town selectman as per the TIF agreement, only 36 employees out of 958 were Freetown residents. If we assume the same employment ratio will prevail with the about to be built Boston Brewery, whose representatives promise 75 new hires, then we can look forward to 3 new jobs for Freetown residents. A hot dog stand could employ more townspeople. The Annual Report of 2005 by Stop & Shop is included in this report as attachment "E."
Also, contrary to Selectman Ashley's statements, there is an enforcement provision in the Stop & Shop TIF agreement. It is found in Section 3, Other Provisions, paragraph 2 wherein the town can initiate a process to revoke the TIF agreement pursuant to 760 CMR, Section 22.08 and M.G.L. Chapter 23A, Section 3 F. A courtroom may be the best arena to decide if 4% of the workforce constitutes a good faith effort to employ Freetown residents.
Additionally, it is our understanding that Citizens' Bank has a business relationship with Stop & Shop wherein their branch banks are located in Stop & Shop stores. We also believe that Selectman Lawrence Ashley is an officer of Citizens' Bank. If this is true, then it appears to us to be inappropriate for this selectman to have had any part whatever in the negotiation and execution of a TIF agreement with Stop & Shop and this may be a violation of state ethics laws.
Freetown residents are ill served by vague, poorly worded TIF agreements heavily weighted in favor of the companies and this underscores the need for professional input and better oversight of the TIF process and suggests that town residents were sold a bill of goods with this agreement.
Item 11: The citizens of this community have no place to air their grievances and no one in their corner. There is no protocol wherein a citizen can complain about or seek relief from what they perceive to be problems brought about or exacerbated by the action or inaction of town officials.
A case in point is the problem of a Narrows Road resident, Kim Railsback, who began complaining to and asking help from a Zoning Enforcement Officer/Health Inspector in 2000 about what she believed to be an illegal dump operating as a business abutting a residential area. The resident claims to have gotten a run-around for six years, even after MTBE's were found in her wellwater. It wasn't until she turned to the Task Force and got media coverage that the Conservation Committee arose from its slumber and was prodded into issuing an enforcement order. The state Department of Environmental Protection is also now involved in resolving the problems at that site.
No one should have to wait six years while their health and welfare is under threat. Had the resident followed normal procedures in this town, she would still be waiting. Furthermore, Ms. Railsback claims that she was rudely treated by the very officials she turned to for help. Illustrative of this claim and the dereliction of duty displayed by town officials, the Conservation Committee chairman, in an interview, attempted to ridicule Ms. Railsback for her impatience (after all, she's only been waiting for six years) by saying that the problems at that site have existed for thirty years and, inasmuch as he drives by this site several times a day, every day. To add insult to injury, the Zoning Enforcement Officer/Health Inspector refused to appear at a Task Force meeting where a dozen Narrows Road residents were hoping for answers to the problems at that site.
The Task Force members understand the frustration felt by residents when faced with this official arrogance. Accordingly, we believe the Task Force should be made a permanent user-friendly board helping residents deal with the town.
Item 12: We note that former selectman and outsider John Laronda, who was a big help to this Task Force, is being made an example of by the Conservation Committee for violations so petty that several of his neighbors have done similar work with impunity. A Fall River Herald News article details part of this saga and is included as attachment "H." Their zeal is in sharp contrast to their moribund response to serious violations of long standing which this Task Force is aware of such as 55 Narrows Road where the Conservation Committee was shamed by media coverage into taking action after 30 years of violations and which the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is now investigating and 16 Braley Road and 66 Braley Road where over 8 acres of wetlands were filled in and about which the Conservation Committee did nothing. It took the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop and rectify the violations on that site. We view this as selective enforcement. Accordingly, we request that the provisions of the No Retaliation clause of the settlement agreement of C.A. NO. 03-CV-10804-PBS * be extended to protect Task Force members and town employees who have cooperated with them.
* No Retaliation
The Town, its employees and agents, and all those acting in concert with them, agree not
to take any adverse action of any nature against any of the Plaintiffs, and not to harass,
disparage, intimidate, coerce, threaten, interfere with and/or retaliate against them in any
manner whatsoever as a result of their initiation, prosecution and/or settlement of this lawsuit.
Respectfully submitted by the Freetown Federal Task Force, Rev. Curtis Dias, Chairman.
- Town of Freetown, Board of Selectmen
- Representatives: John Quinn
-State Senator: Joan Menard
-Senators: Edward Kennedy
-Congressmen: Barney Frank
-Law Firm of Mintz Levin:
Atty. Paul Wilson
Atty. Noah Shaw
-Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights:
Atty. Nadine Cohen
-Civil Rights Enforcement Justice Coordinator:
James Younger, EPA
-Department of Environmental Protection:
Dave Johnson, Regional Administrator
Atty. Quita Sullivan
-Law Firm of McGregor & Associates
-New Bedford Standard Times
-Fall River Herald News
Attachment A: Sample volunteer form.
Attachment B: Business cards.
Attachment C: New Bedford Standard Times, Freetown can be proactive on health, June 30, 2006.
Atttachment D: Tax Increment Financing Agreement between the Town of Freetown and the Stop
& Shop Freetown Distribution Center (S&S Freetown LLC), Dec. 16, 2002.
Attachment E: 2005 Annual Report by Stop & Shop Freetown Distribution Center Director of
Warehousing Jerry Pimental concerning Freetown residents employed at the facility,
Sept. 16, 2005.
Attachments F & G: Fall River Herald News, Freetown man uncovers oil tank, Sept. 2, 2006.
Attachment H: Fall River Herald News, Selectman apologizes over pipe, Aug. 15, 2006.
Return to main page