State orders board to turn over Symmes project information

Chris Loreti, former Redevelopment Board memberRedevelopment Board logo

Rejects plea for disclosure in second case

In two cases that illustrate attitudes toward Symmes project information that some in Town Hall would like to keep private, the state has ordered records be released in one matter and has decided they should remain private in another.

Both issues were raised by Chris Loreti, who was forced from the Redevelopment Board in 2011, an issue that has led to a lawsuit against the town.

Last December, Loreti requested copies of the Symmes proposals that Upton + Partners and Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG) submitted to the Redevelopment Board.

The board turned over the "public" proposal from JAG but withheld all other records, citing an exemption of the state Public Records Law that includes trade secrets.

In a letter of July 12, Shawn A. Williams, supervisor of records, in the Secretary of State's Office, ordered Town Planner Carol Kowalski to review the records, redact where necessary, and provide them to Loreti within 10 days, or provide this office with a more comprehensive response to support the ARB's exemption claim.

Asked to comment Monday, July 16, Kowalski responded the same day: "I have not received the correspondence from the Supervisor of Records but I have forwarded your email of it to Town Counsel for review and to prepare a response, in anticipation of receiving it."

To properly claim the exemption -- which is g under Mass. General Laws c. 4, S7 (26) -- Williams wrote that the custodian of records must meet all six criteria: trade secrets or commercial or financial information, voluntarily provided to a government entity, for use in developing government policy, upon information not submitted by law, and information an assurance of confidentiality; as a condition of receiving a governmental benefit.

"Consequently," he wrote, "this exemption does not apply to information that companies provide to the government in connection with a contract bid or in compliance with a filing requirement."

In a statement sent to various media outlets, Loreti wrote:

"I am grateful to the Supervisor of Record for intervening on my behalf. At the same time, I am disappointed in the response of town officials to my original request, as it demonstrates how the commitment to open government has deteriorated in Arlington.

"The ARB was well aware that the Symmes developer proposals are public documents under Massachusetts law, as shown by the guidance it gave to developers when it first solicited developers for the Symmes site in 2003.

"Instead of acting in accordance with that guidance, or seeking the advice of a disinterested attorney in response to my request, the ARB (and the Selectmen before them) used the incorrect interpretation of the Public Records Law provided by one of the developers pursuing the Symmes site to deny my request. I hope the ARB now understands the law and releases complete copies of all of the Symmes proposals it received in 2011, just as it did with the proposals it received in 2003."

Since Upton + Partners was named the developer last July, the Dedham company has been working with JAG, and construction on the long-stalled Symmes project got underway in April.

In a second Symmes-related ruling issued in June, the state Attorney General's office rejected Loreti's Open Meeting Law complaint filed against the Board of Selectmen last October.

Loreti had sought an unredacted version of memo that may have been sent to the selectmen before a July 2011 meeting. At that session, Brian Sullivan then the town manager, provided YourArlington with a redacted memo recommending Upton + Partners as the favored developer of the Symmes project.

The Attorney General's Office concluded June 1 that only the redacted version of the memo that was used at the meeting.

This story was first published Monday, July 16, 2012.