By Juhi Varma
Following their return from holiday break, the 2013 Malden city council, led by Ward 7 Councillor Neal Anderson, began their first session possibly lacking holiday spirit. One of the orders on the docket, which was introduced by Ward 6 Councillor Neil Kinnon, called for the release of the minutes and associated materials of the contentious Executive Session of October 23. The matter was eventually tabled and will be revisited by the council next week.
It was at the October 23 meeting that Mayor Gary Christenson first discussed creating a potential new DPW yard, signaling the start of his ongoing disagreement with Councillor Kinnon on the issue. Christenson is in favor of moving the yard to the 96,000 square foot Boston Steel-owned parcel on Eastern Avenue and reinventing it as a “City Hall Annex” by relocating a handful of departments from Malden’s City Hall.
Kinnon has stated publicly that he does not believe the plan is financially and operationally sound, and has accused the mayor of violating Open Meeting Laws.
The mayor, in turn, has called Kinnon’s objections “premature” and has filed a complaint against the councillor with the Ethics Commission. The mayor is of the opinion that since the Boston Steel parcel abuts the athletic field of a school founded by Kinnon, he should have recused himself from all discussions about the parcel to avoid a conflict of interest.
“I contend that since the Requests for Proposals were already opened, there can no longer be a reason to not disclose, as they cannot defeat the purpose of the Executive Session,” said Kinnon at Tuesday’s city council meeting, referring to the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Guide. “I’m asking the council to vote for their release. I had sent this to the solicitor for a ruling as well.”
“The issue is, will the city’s bargaining power be diminished by its release?” the solicitor said when he took the podium. “It seems to me that the information—in the minutes that I looked at—has already been publicized. There was a display at the last city council meeting, and it’s been in the newspapers. I’m of the opinion there’s no secrets anymore. The RFP’s been opened.”
Ward 3 Councillor John Matheson, seconded by Ward 2 Councillor Steve Ultrino, called for the order to be tabled. That motion passed.
“If you don’t have anything to hide, then what’s the issue?” said Kinnon after the meeting. “I think, when those [materials/minutes] are released, a lot will come to light about what I’ve been saying. I don’t think it will happen in seven days. Here’s what’s going to happen… The prediction is this, the head solicitor is going to come down and say there is a problem with releasing the minutes because it would harm negotiations. But there are no negotiations—they’ve been opened. We’re going to take a vote on it next week, and I’m hoping the council will do the right thing and release these to the public. And if they don’t, there is a process with the Secretary of State, which I will follow. I’m trying to give the council the opportunity to follow the law.”
When called by phone, Mayor Gary Christenson refused to comment on the matter.