Archive | November, 2015

Speliotis owes taxpayers an explanation on why he helped developer get special treatment

20 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Let’s call it what it is and all agree that it was a questionable deal that allowed a developer to get a no-bid contract to construct a state-of-the-art sports complex on the grounds of the Essex Technical Regional High School in Middleton.

Ted

Ted Speliotis

The developer, a company named Edge Sports, was not only granted the rights to build the $11 million facility on public property, it won the contract with no competition. Instead of following state law, which requires that taxpayer rights be protected through an open bidding process on such projects, Edge was granted the contract through a line item added to a larger spending bill on Beacon Hill, according to the Salem News.

Was that legal? Well, the Office of the Inspector General and the State Ethics Commission will need to decide, and a source tells us that state oversight officials are looking into whether there was a violation here.

For now, though, Ted Speliotis – our State Rep, who co-sponsored the legislation that gave Edge the edge outside of the open bid process – has some explaining to do to the taxpayers he represents in West Peabody, Middleton and Danvers.

Not only didn’t he help his constituents receive the protection of the open bid process, he helped pass essentially an “earmark” that will give Edge Sports the opportunity to lease the property at our vocational school for free.

There is a lot that smells with this deal, and so far, we the taxpayers should not be satisfied with the response from Rep. Speliotis.

According to the Salem News, Speliotis said in a phone interview this week that he did not pay close enough attention when the deal was being negotiated.

“I did go along with it, but it was really my colleagues who amended this thing” to require that the lease be awarded to Edge Sports without a competitive bid process or review by the state Inspector General, Speliotis told the Salem News.

Instead of “passing the buck” on this one, Ted, how about giving the taxpayers you represent a real explanation on how you just didn’t look out for our best interests?

Ethical questions arise over construction of new sports complex at regional voke school

16 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Following the publication of a comprehensive investigative report this morning by Paul Leighton of the Salem News, it might finally be time for the State Ethics Commission to investigate potential political shenanigans on the grandiose grounds of Essex Technical Regional High School.

The latest saga involving the $135 million “Mega-Voke” — which serves 40 communities, including Danvers, Peabody and Middleton — concerns a dubious deal for a new sports complex. Leighton reports that, in November 2013, Essex Tech Superintendent Dan O’Connell suggested – as required when it comes to public projects — that the school board issue a request for proposal (RFP), and put out for bid a plan to build a sports complex on school grounds in Middleton.

But now, two years later, as construction is about to begin on the $11 million facility — with its two ice-skating rinks, an indoor turf field, and an athlete training center — it has come to light that that no bidding process occurred. A developer called Edge Sports Group was simply handed the contract following some questionable maneuvers within the State Legislature.

Ted Speliotis

Ted Speliotis

Contrary to a “strong recommendation” from the State Inspector General that the deal be put out to bid in an effort to ensure “an open and fair deal” for taxpayers, State Rep. Ted Speliotis and Gloucester state Sen. Bruce Tarr sneaked a few lines into a large spending bill on Beacon Hill that gave the lease to Essex Sports.

Not necessarily illegal or unusual on Beacon Hill, but according to Leighton’s report, here are some things that make you go “hmmm” as a taxpayer:

  • According to Leighton, one of the key people behind the passage of the special legislation was Jack McGlynn, a Salem-based attorney and lobbyist who also works as outside counsel to Essex Tech. McGlynn played a significant role in guiding the legislation that created Essex Tech, Leighton writes, adding that, according to state records, the North Shore Regional Vocational School District paid McGlynn $217,000 as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2010 while the merger was being developed.
  • McGlynn, Leighton writes, has been paid approximately $24,000 over the last two years by Essex Tech for his advice on the sports complex and other issues, according to the school district.
  • In 2014, he landed another employer regarding the project – Edge Sports Developer Brian DeVellis. According to state records, Leighton writes, the company hired McGlynn on Feb. 14, 2014, to lobby for passage of the legislation that would specify Essex Sports (Edge) as the developer. Leighton adds that 10 days later, O’Connell and McGlynn hosted a meeting for local legislators at Essex Tech to introduce the DeVellis and Edge Sports Group.
  • McGlynn, Speliotis tells the Salem News, has also contributed to every fundraiser the Rep has held since he was elected in 1997.

Speliotis, meanwhile, told the Salem News that he was not concerned about going through a public bidding process because there were no other developers willing to build the sports facility. “The RFP process is to make sure you’re not giving a special deal to someone in a marketplace where someone else doesn’t have an opportunity,” he said. “There wasn’t any market for this. I’m confident today that if we could put it out to bid, we’re not going to get any bidders.”

Not a market for this? Does Edge Sports really have a “monopoly” on building sports complexes?

The other sweetheart part of this deal for the developer comes through the actual lease. Essex Sports has agreed to allow all of the voke’s teams to use the facility for its games and practices without paying a fee. But there’s also a catch: Essex Sports will deduct a per athlete user-fee from the rent it will pay to the school district. In other words, the developer will probably end up paying no rent at all.

Great job of reporting by Paul Leighton, and I’m sure he’ll have further details and follow up. Here’s hoping that members of the State Ethics Commission read the Salem News.

Asking our legislators to stand with the people, and stand against Kinder Morgan

10 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

article97

Residents from western Mass. urge legislators to uphold Article 97

BOSTON – Spending my day today in solidarity with the residents of Sandisfield in southwestern Mass., who fill the Gardner Auditorium at the State House to implore legislators to reject bill H.3690. That bill seeks to set aside Article 97 protection so that a Texas-based gas pipeline company — run by the guy who used to run Enron – can essentially jeopardize their scenic Mayberry-like community of less than 900 year-round residents.

Article 97 of the Mass. State Constitution says that lands set aside for conservation cannot be used for any other purposes without a two thirds disposition vote of both the House and Senate on Beacon Hill. It is our only hope as residents of the Commonwealth to fight back against not only Kinder Morgan and its notorious CEO Richard Kinder – who helped create that mess that was Enron – but also a five-person appointed board in Washington, DC, called The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Even though there is overwhelming public opposition to this pipeline — which will slash through Massachusetts and southern NH — FERC is expected to grant approval to build Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline Project.

But back in the Texas offices of Kinder Morgan, they probably should be saying “Houston, we have a problem.”

After all, Article 97 battles are setting up all over the Commonwealth, as KM seeks to take as many as 100 environmentally protected parcels for a project that will be of no benefit to the residents of Massachusetts. Since our Independence Greenway bike path is set aside conservation land, we could end up having our own day too here on Beacon Hill, which is why I’m sitting in the balcony right now listening to compelling testimony from residents who are asking their legislators to please do the will of the people and kill this bill in committee. If we stop H.3690 and stop them from taking Article 97 land in Sandisfield, then we might be able to do the same in Peabody. This is our precedent-setter.

Right now, residents of this beautiful little community, and others, are making a plea before the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, which is co-chaired by our Senator Joan Lovely.

What this comes down to is a battle between residents of the Commonwealth, a company bent on increasing its already obscene profits, and the federal government. Clearly, we’re just a potentially dangerous and disruptive pass through, since it’s become clear that most of the gas shipped in the NED pipeline is destined to be loaded on LNG tankers, and shipped to lucrative overseas markets.

Facts are stubborn things, and the fact is that the NED pipeline, and five other pipeline projects on the drawing board for Mass., will produce five times more natural gas than is needed to meet future demand in the state. Peabody has zero need for additional gas, and the Spectra pipeline currently running through the bikeway area is on most days at half capacity. We assume all of the risk, get no benefit, and KM increases it’s already huge profits.

It’s not about lowering your electric bill, or keeping your home warm. But it is about big energy and big money. H.3690 was filed by a State Rep from Hingham named Garrett Bradley. His district is a 3-hour ride from Sandisfield and Otis State Forest, with its scenic and endangered Spectacle Pond, and old growth forest, yet it was he who brought the bill forward on behalf of the pipeline company. Wonder if he doing KM a solid here has anything to do with the campaign contributions Brian Hickey & Associates – the pipeline company’s main lobbyist on Beacon Hill – made to Rep Bradley’s war chest?

The fact is that Beacon Hill these days is awash in Kinder Morgan blood money. But here’s hoping that our state legislators do the right thing. Are you listening Rep. Ted Speliotis and Senator Lovely?

This needs to be about protecting the quality of life of the residents of the Commonwealth. This should be about doing the will of the people. It’s about the public trust set established when we the people voted to add Article 97 to our Constitution more than 40 years ago.