Loreti asked questions; now he's off Redevelopment Board

Juliana Rice, town counsel
Chris Loreti, former Redevelopment Board member

Term determined to be 3 years, not 5;
cost of public-records requests at issue

Chris Loreti, an outspoken member of the Arlington Redevelopment Board (ARB) who has clashed with Town Counsel Juliana Rice, is no longer a member of that board after Rice learned his term was three years, not five. Clarification about Loreti's term came earlier this year after Rice inquired with the state. That inquiry followed events last fall involving a zoning change, which Loreti had questioned.

A series of events led Loreti to ask selectmen on March 1 for an investigation involving town counsel. There has been no response to the request. Instead, Loreti's ARB term was considered to have ended, and a new member, Christine Scypinski, took her seat on the board on April 25.

The differences between Loreti and Rice appear to continue. Loreti, a Precinct 7 Town Meeting member, is the proponent for Article 24, which seeks a bylaw to limit the fee charged for requests under the state public-records law.

Discussion of the article has been delayed until Wednesday, May 11, after, Loreti says, town counsel had not responded to his request to review a substitute motion by last week.

Loreti made a public-record request related to a zoning issue last fall, but the town estimated the bill to comply would be from $1,000 to $1,500. That led Loreti to appeal the town’s response to the Supervisor of Records in the Secretary of State’s office and then to submit an article seeking the lesser of the amount allowed by the law or 20 cents per electronic message plus $50 per request.

A brief timeline

Here is a timeline summarizing a series of events that led to the current issue before Town Meeting:

-- Last October, Loreti, then chairman of the ARB, questioned the process involved in a zoning change at 39 Dudley St. He called Arlington attorney Robert J. Annese, who he thought was representing the owner of 39 Dudley. A few days later, Annese threatened to sue the town.

-- In December, Rice wrote to the state department of Housing & Community Development, the agency that appointed Loreti in January 2006, seeking clarification about Loreti's term. The agency appointed him for five years, but Town Manager Act adopted by Arlington calls for three years.

-- In February, Christine McClave, counsel for state housing agency, wrote to Rice that the Town Manager Act controls the issue and that all board member should be appointed for three years, not five.

-- In March, Loreti asked that a summary from Rice about 39 Dudley that appeared to include words used by Annese threatening to sue the town be investigated.

-- On April 29, Loreti received a revised cost estimate for the records he first sought last October. The price had come down to $200.

One reason for the original higher price is that, to conduct precise email searches, the town must hire a consultant, who charges $100 an hour. The town has since instituted a system that would make such searches cheaper.

The April 29 letter from Rice says: "Following implementation of a prospective archiving system and limited retroactive application of that tool to existing data, the revised estimated cost to fulfill this request is $200. This figure comprises four hours of the time of the Chief Technology Officer [David Good], who is the lowest-paid staff person capable of performing the work, at an hourly rate of $57.47, or two hours of the Town's consultant's time at an hourly rate of$100 ...."

Why length of term changed 

As to Loreti's ARB term, Rice explained in an email April 27:

"The term of the state appointee to the Arlington Redevelopment Board has been three years, not five, since the Town Manager Act was amended in 1971 to establish the Redevelopment Board as the Town's planning board. Apparently that fact was not known at either the state or local level. I did not realize it myself until last November.

"I cannot say why the term was set at three years in 1971, but I assume it was to bring the term in line with other appointed terms in the Town Manager Act, which are all three years.

Asked what issue led to her looking into the issue, Rice wrote:

"When the Town received notice in late October or early November from Attorney Robert Annese of threatened legal claims against the Town on the basis of public statements made by Mr. Loreti by virtue of his position on the Redevelopment Board, I examined the standards of conduct expected of planning board members set forth in both the state law and the Town Manager Act and noted the discrepancy in the length of the term.

"I then contacted the Department of Housing and Community Development by the letter I just provided, and I received a response in February stating that the Department agreed that Mr. Loreti's three-year term had concluded and that the Department considered him to be in 'holdover' status."
Rice was asked in an interview in March to discuss issues involving Loreti and Annese, but she declined to do so for publication.

Rice provided YourArlington with copies of both letters. Loreti said Rice emailed him copies of the same two letters in February, but he declined to comment on them except to write:

"... ultimately the state used September 22, 2010 as the expiration date of the term. If you check, I think you'll find that the new member's term expires on that date in 2013.

Loreti says he's surprised

"I am surprised to read Ms. Rice's speculation that the discrepancy between lengths of the terms of the state appointee and town appointees was not known at the local level. In my case, both times after I was sworn in at the Town Clerk's office, the appointment materials indicating the length of the term were copied to the Planning Director, Town Counsel, Town Manager, and Board of Selectmen.

"I assume that has always been the case for the state appointee since the time the ARB was formed.

"After I received the letters you sent, I checked with the town's former, long-serving Planning Director Alan McClennen to see if he recalled anyone ever raising the issue of the discrepancies in the terms. He said he had been aware of the discrepancy, noting that the state template for five-year appointments to Redevelopment Authorities didn't seem to recognize that the Town Manager Act specifies three years for the ARB.  He also said he didn't challenge the state on the issue.

"As far as I know, Attorney Rice is the first person in town to do so."

This story was first published Sunday, May 1, 2011.

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