CHELMSFORD, Mass., April 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Residents of Chelmsford are uniting behind an effort to recall four selectmen amongst evidence of corruption and malfeasance. After filing some 1,400 affidavit signatures on Tuesday requesting recall petitions, residents have until May 2 to submit the necessary 2,500 signatures to recall each Board member (10,000 in total for all four).
In Chelmsford, proponents of the recall have provided evidence that former selectman Phil Eliopoulos used his position and influence to keep town officials in the dark while assisting his family to purchase land behind the Center Fire Station that was of interest to the town both as recreational space and to provide an area for low cost improvements to the fire station. After resigning as a selectman at the end of his term, he subsequently represented his family's development corporation before town boards and was granted 8 special permits by the Town's Planning Board, an apparent violation of state ethics laws. The Planning Board also granted a site permit that, according to recall proponents, circumvents a preservation restriction that requires the land to remain an open space conservation area. Under Massachusetts law, only the Board of Selectmen can seek interpretation and enforcement of the preservation restriction in the Courts, which the selectmen have refused to do. The resulting development of a 16,000 square foot office building and accompanying parking lot has incensed residents and has led to multiple independent lawsuits against the town as well as the developers.
There is evidence that Paul Cohen, the Town Manager, knew of selectman Eliopoulos' activities and failed to report them to the state Ethics Commission as required under Chelmsford's ethics bylaw. It is also documented that Mr. Cohen tried to cover up the ethics violations by first remaining silent and then stating in August of 2009 that he was never contacted by the seller of the land, Eastern Bank, about the town's possible interest. Sworn testimony from an Eastern Bank official in January, 2011 and written documentation shows that Mr. Cohen had in fact been in contact with the bank throughout February and March of 2009, and was told that the Eliopoulos family was also interested in the land.
Mr. Cohen has subsequently maintained that he disclosed the information to the Board of Selectmen in March of 2009 in a closed executive session, but there is no corroboration in the minutes of that meeting; the statement also conflicts with his formal statement to the selectmen in August 2009 denying that he had ever been approached by the bank. The State Ethics commission responded to a citizen complaint in January, 2011 regarding Cohen by issuing a letter stating that they lacked jurisdiction to look into the matter. The Board of Selectmen failed to seek Court enforcement of the Preservation Restriction following a public hearing attended by over 500 angry residents in August, 2010. Subsequently, the same Board has failed to initiate a formal investigation of the violations of the Town Charter and Bylaws by the Town Manager, Paul Cohen, and his former boss as a selectman, Philip Eliopoulos, igniting the recall effort.
The recent Chelmsford municipal election on April 5 saw the Planning Board chairman, who publicly defended the granting of the 8 special permits, ousted by a substantial margin. Residents compared what is going on in their hometown of Chelmsford to the corruption in Bell, California, characterized in recent news reports as "the poster child of municipal corruption." In Bell, the city's entire governing council was recalled in early March after it was discovered they had been overpaying themselves for years, costing the city over 5 million dollars.
Chelmsford recall proponents maintain that the financial fallout from the Eliopoulos' purchase of the land behind Center Fire Station, facilitated by the Town Manager, will cost at least that much in increased costs for maintaining or rebuilding the fire station. In addition, the loss of what was supposed to be "preserved" open space due to the scandal is beyond the purely financial damage done in Bell. The Chelmsford selectmen's proposal to build a new fire station at a cost of $9.1 million on a separate open space parcel currently used for recreation, was defeated by voters in the April 5 election. Many characterized their vote as a refusal to accept the land giveaway to a former 12-year selectman.
Further information and evidence of ethics violations by both former selectman Phil Eliopoulos and town manager Paul Cohen can be found on the watchdog group Cheating Chelmsford's website www.cheatingchelmsford.com.
SOURCE Cheating Chelmsford