22 Aug 2014
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Councilor Rips ARA, Board Members Fire Back

Leaders disagree on whether ARA board members should have made a presentation to the city council and whether the board members gave enough notice saying they would not do it.

Councilor Rips ARA, Board Members Fire Back

Attleboro city councilors did not hold back their frustration Tuesday night when no Attleboro Redevelopment Authority board members appeared for a planned presentation of updates on various development projects. There was disagreement on whether board members gave adequate notice they would skip the meeting, but this did not appear to change the bigger picture that councilors said they should have been there and ARA board members said they had good reason to delay a presentation.

Councilor Richard Conti, the council's liaison to the ARA and chair of the committee on capital improvements & city development, announced toward the beginning of Tuesday's council meeting he had received an email from Judy Robbins, ARA chair and former mayor, the previous day saying she would not be in attendance.

"I'm not too pleased that she is not here, and it raises my concern, and I think it should raise yours as well," said Conti to his fellow councilors.

He added, "There are many things going on in front of the ARA now, and I thought this was an excellent opportunity for us to get [Robbins] in front of us and speak on current issues."

When asked by Councilor Jay DiLisio if he was told why Robbins was not appearing, Conti said, "You'll know when I know." However, the email sent from Robbins to Conti and obtained by Patch does give a reason, and Conti said later during the meeting he had opened the email, although Tuesday afternoon despite it having been sent to him Monday. He said he was too busy to read his council email Monday.

The email states, "I am not going to be able to appear before your City Council committee until April. Too much of the updating of ARA's current issues is still in the 'executive session' category. We fully expect to have better answers for you and your colleagues within a month or so."

ARA Board member Rick Correia told Patch late Tuesday night he also told Conti this information Monday morning when he ran into him at City Hall. He said he was angry Conti made it appear there had not been adequate notification.

"To be thrown under the bus like that without us having the ability to counter was not fair," said Correia, who said he did not understand how "a councilor who walks around with a smartphone took a day to read an email." 

Correia said the decision to cancel the presentation was made by the ARA board at its meeting last Thursday. Robbins gave her reason for taking several days to tell Conti about this in a Tuesday night email to Patch. 

"If you will recall, we had quite a lot of snow last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so Monday was my day to get back to the piles of ARA paperwork," she wrote. "I certainly felt that I notified Councilman Conti in a sufficiently timely fashion considering I had only been asked to bring an update to his committee meeting rather than speak on an immediate issue. I am sorry he felt offended."

Responding to the comments from Correia, Conti wrote in an email to Patch, "I let the email speak for itself, Rick [Correia] should have shown for Judy."

Correia said Conti's response showed he had missed the point; the ARA did not skip the meeting because Robbins could not attend, but rather because the board members were not prepared to make a presentation since some project details were not ripe for discussion outside executive sessions, which are closed-door meetings limited to topics regarding legal matters, real estate transactions and other specific topics allowed by the state.

This excuse did not sit well with councilors Tuesday night. They said ARA board members could have made the presentation, and if some subjects were off-limits, then the board members could have said that. Several councilors also expressed their general displeasure with the ARA, and its perceived lack of transparency.

"I've been asking for more transparency for a year and a half, and I think at this point it is unacceptable," said DiLisio, who said he does not like that monthly board meetings take place during working hours when it is difficult for others to attend.

He added, "There is a lot going on, a lot that we need to be brought up to speed on."

Councilor Jeremy Denlea said, "We've bent over backwards for them. I think we've gone out of our way to financially fund, to fund resources, to fund emotionally, all of these ARA projects. It's very disheartening that no one is here tonight."

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