The following is a letter to the editor by Paul Cully. Letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the views of WestfordCAT or its Board of Directors. To submit your letter, e-mail [email protected]
If Jodi Ross, Westford’s Town Manager, is committed to openness and transparency in the running of the town as she asserts in her recent letter-to-the-editor, why does she ignore portions the State’s law regarding open meetings, and why did she work so hard a year ago to suppress a citizen’s petition that would correct those violations and make town government more open and transparent? In this matter her actions speak louder than her words and she totally misrepresents her actions and her administration of town government. I have letters and emails, and the town committee meeting minutes, all of which combine to completely substantiate what actually happened and repudiate the Town Manager’s version of this issue.
Regarding the dedicated CPA affordable housing funds, let’s set the record straight. As a member and eventually the chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, I first became concerned that the CPA funds dedicated for affordable housing were not accounted for in any public record to which I had access. The CPC allocates funds via Town Meeting, and by examining past Town Meeting minutes and annual reports as well as the reports the town submits to the State once a year regarding the disposition of CPA funds, I was unable to find sufficient Town Meeting approvals that allocated all of the CPA’s affordable housing funds to some visible, verifiable account or expenditure. I began looking beyond the public record to find answers. I first asked persons in town who had a long history of trying to advocate for, and promote, affordable housing in Westford. They were unable to account for the dedicated funds. Next I approached the town’s staff that dealt with financial information and while I initially got some information from them, when I asked for more, the Town Manger informed her staff not to provide it – not to spend any more of their time on it. Subsequently I approached the Affordable Housing Committee members and shared what I did know with those who were willing to take a look at the work I had done. None of them provided answers either. Eventually, not seeing any other approach that would reveal the whereabouts of the funds, I hired, using my own funds, an attorney to help me prepare an open records request, which I submitted to the Town Manager. The response I got from her was that I had wasted many hours of town staff time, and if I wanted the records, I would have to pay the town out of my own funds more than $3200 to obtain copies of the documentation I requested in my open records request. I declined to do so – I felt it was incumbent on the town to provide this information to the Affordable Housing Committee, and that to use my personal funds would set a dangerous precedent that the Town Manager would use to suppress other information to other residents that sought answers on other issues. Ultimately, the Town Manager refused to honor the request from the Affordable Housing Committee to fully disclose an accounting of CPA funds dedicated to affordable housing. Did the Town Manager “borrow” these funds temporarily for some other use? Did the Town Manager use these funds, deposited in the Town’s bank account, to falsely bolster the Town’s financial picture to keep the bond rating up? What has actually happened to them and why, if the Town Manager has nothing to hide, is it nearly impossible to get the answer?
The town absolutely NEVER presented to either myself or the Affordable Housing Committee an accounting of the funds, and I was absolutely NEVER offered an opportunity to “go through all the documents and files”, even though I explicitly offered to do that. To assert otherwise, as the Town Manager has done, is to make a blatantly false statement. The reports that Town Manager claims are “audited by an outside firm every year” do not include any verification that specific funds are where they are claimed to be. That is the truth of what happened, and again town meeting minutes, emails, and letters fully substantiate this true account of what transpired, and refute the Town Manager’s bogus version. I challenge her to present verifiable evidence to prove otherwise.
Many have asked me why I didn’t pursue these and other matters with State agencies. The simple fact of the matter is that I didn’t want the town seen in a bad light – one that might cause the cessation of State aid and matching CPA funds, and might lower property values. I felt, and still do feel, that if local townspeople, for whatever reason, are not involved enough and willing to resolve this locally, then so be it. This is the downside of “home rule” – it opens the door to immoral, unethical, even illegal, behavior. Nevertheless, I will not stand silent and let a mere town employee denigrate my character and make false statements about me and what I have or have not done.