Does it Fit In? ZBA Rules Tonight on Huge Ceres St Addition Amid PR Battle Over Project Images

Tonight (Wed, Jan 21, 7 pm), the Zoning Board of Adjustment will consider an appeal by abutters and concerned citizens of the Historic District Commission’s approval of a huge addition to the 19th century Frank Jones grain warehouse on Ceres Street.

A PR BATTLE OVER THE DEVELOPER/ARCHITECT’S IMAGES

The ZBA rules amid a PR battle over radically different depictions of the project. Critics object that a faction sympathetic to development interests has run flattering, dolled-up visual images of the project while avoiding showing images of the huge rear addition.

Which caused an upset resident to lament that unlike Portsmouth, the historic City of Charleston (SC) benefits from a family-owned newspaper editorially protective of the city’s historic fiber, and a mayor widely regarded as the nation’s best pro-preservation mayor.

“My God, this could be the last chance to save a small piece of what’s left of the city’s historic waterfront. Where have the HDC and the City Administration been in protecting Portsmouth’s historic character?”

Critics say this enormous addition to  Ceres Street side of project will overwhelm antique building and is too similar to last proposal to satisfy the law

Critics say this huge addition to the projects’ Ceres St side would engulf the 19th C warehouse and violates the law (Developer/architect’s depiction– not a real photo)

Some worry that the latest take on the huge addition proposed for 173-5 Market Street is so big and out of character that it could seriously erode the charm of  quaint Ceres Street

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of this huge addition to the historic waterfront building

Critics complain that the latest version of the addition is not sigificantly smaller than earlier versions shown above.  (Developer/architect’s depiction– not a photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PROJECT: A TALE OF TWO SIDES

Most folks approve the 173-5 Market Street side of the project the HDC approved more than a year ago. But the project includes a bulging addition that would extend 32 feet into Ceres Street, obliterating iconic views and overwhelming the antique building.  Abutters and others worried about the city’s fragile 19th century streetscape appealed, arguing that the hulking new addition would forever change the character of one of Portsmouth’s most quaint, beloved and tourist-tromped waterfront streets.

On Feb. 19, 2014, the Zoning Board of Adjustment reversed the HDC approval, based on the size and scale of the Ceres St. addition. The developer made a few changes, and on Sept 10 (2014), the HDC approved the new plan with an addition shaving only five feet off the last one. Again, abutters and worried citizens appealed, invoking the 1980 Fisher v. Dover NH Supreme Court ruling that a developer can’t resubmit old plans with only minor changes once they’ve been rejected.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Show up tonight. Also, you can urge the ZBA to uphold the law and demand a more appropriate addition to protect Ceres Street and what’s left of Portsmouth’s antique brick waterfront, email them via

llgood@cityofportsmouth.com  and/or

jthwalker@cityofportsmouth.com and address your email to ZBA Chairman David Witham and the Board of Adjustment

Major Issues Before CC and ZBA Tonight & Tomorrow

ISSUE I: City Council Tonight Debate Conflict of Interest & Vote on New HDC, Planning Board Members– If you want your opinion to matter, they need to hear from you.

The City Council tonight (Tues Jan 20, 7 pm) debates a new Conflict of Interest ordinance extending financial disclosure requirements from the City Council and School Board to the Police and Fire Commissions– but letting key players in the city’s growth explosion off the hook. For more details & how to help, see below.

To ask the City Council for meaningful financial disclosure for all key players, email: <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

ISSUE II: ZBA Rules Tonight (Wed) on Huge Ceres St Addition: Tonight (Wed, Jan 21, 7 pm), the Zoning Board of Adjustment will consider an appeal by abutters and concerned citizens of the Historic District Commission’s approval of a huge addition to the 19th century Frank Jones grain warehouse on Ceres Street.

Critics say this enormous addition to  Ceres Street side of project will overwhelm antique building and is too similar to last proposal to satisfy the law

Critics say this new enormous addition proposed for Ceres Street side of project will overwhelm antique building and is too similar to last proposal to satisfy the law (Developer/architect’s depiction– not a real photo)

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of this huge addition to the historic waterfront building

Critics complain that the latest version of the addition is not sigificantly smaller than earlier versions.  (Developer/architect’s depiction– not a photo)

For more details & how to help, see below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To urge the ZBA to uphold the law and demand a more appropriate addition to protect Ceres Street and what’s left of Portsmouth’s antique brick waterfront, email them via

llgood@cityofportsmouth.com  and/or

jthwalker@cityofportsmouth.com and address your email to ZBA Chairman David Witham and the Board of Adjustment

MORE BACKGROUND ON BOTH ISSUES 

BACKGROUND ON ISSUE I, Conflict of Interest: The City Council tonight (Tues, Jan 20,  7 pm) will debate a new conflict of interest ordinance extending financial disclosure requirements from the City Council and School Board to the Police and Fire Commissions.

But critics say the new rules are still way too weak and let key players in the city’s growth explosion off the hook. The state requires elected and appointed officials and department heads to file more detailed financial disclosure forms. And the City Charter legally requires far more transparency after a 1987 City Charter change approved by two-thirds of Portsmouth voters. The new rules exempt the City Manager who runs a tight ship, the City Attorney who interprets the rules at his behest, the City Planner who carries them out, and the land use boards making crucial decisions on multimillion dollar projects across the city.

Mayor Bob Lister is now part of the six-member City Council majority that opposed expanding financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards and other key players in the city's growth explosion. City Councilor Esther Kennedy is part of the four-member minority that voted for increased transparency and extending financial disclosure to key players at City Hall and on the land use boards making decisions about millions of dollars in development

Mayor Bob Lister is now part of the five-member City Council majority that twice opposed expanding financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards and other key players in the city’s growth explosion. City Councilor Esther Kennedy is part of the four-member minority that voted for increased transparency and extending financial disclosure to key players at City Hall and on the land use boards making decisions about millions of dollars in development (Portsmouth Now Photo)

Twice this year, a majority of the City Council (Lister, Spear, Dwyer, Shaheen, Lown) refused to extend financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards, provoking an upset resident to say they belong in the Transparency Hall of Shame. Four others (Kennedy, Splaine, Thorsen, Morgan) voted to increase disclosure.

Public Comment Again Takes Back Seat to Taxpayer-Paid Staff Presentations

“Nobody is saying these folks have conflicts,” an observer noted. “It’s just that citizens have a legal right to know they don’t.” However, it looks like citizens who want to speak during Public Comment tonight will have to sit through a lengthy staff presentation before getting a chance to speak. (City staffers get a paid half-day off “comp time” for showing up at night; but taxpayers who pay their salaries and have to sit through their endless presentations get nothing).

Meanwhile, the City Council tonight (Tues) will vote on three land use board members, two of them already alternates to the Planning Board and HDC (Jay Leduc and Reagan Ruedig), the third a newcomer (Richard Shea) and relative unknown who wants to be an HDC alternate. His resume says he is an architectural project manager for a federal agency, the US Postal Service. The HDC is the crucial board charged with protecting the fragile character of the city’s Historic District. Look around at the big new buildings changing the face of downtown Portsmouth—they got approved by the HDC, most under its current leadership. So the make-up of this key board is crucial to the way the downtown and whole Historic District look and feel and to the tourist dollars the city’s most valuable assets attract.

Critic: Appointment Process Should be Open

However, not all of this crop of would-be land use board members even have their resumes posted on the city website for the public to see. Despite information about some, it is not clear exactly who they all work for and consult for. And because a majority of this City Council refused to extend financial transparency requirements to these boards, taxpayers have no real way of knowing they do not have conflicts.

“This secretive appointment process vetted by the Mayor with the City Council’s quick stamp of approval all the time is outrageous,” objected one resident. “In other communities throughout the nation, nominees to crucial land use boards are interviewed in public by the entire elected body prior to their appointment. Even in New Hampshire, a majority of municipalities follow this procedure. For instance, how do the public and City Council know whether a nominee supports the basic mission of the HDC? We just don’t know.”

1987 Referendum Demanded Tighter Rules

The 1987 Charter Change demanded a new ordinance requiring disclosure of all police, school and city officials appointed and elected.

The ethics section of the City ordinances defines city officials as “every member of the City Council, School Board, Police Commission, Fire Commission, each member of every land use regulatory board, i.e. the Board of Adjustment, Planning Board, Historic District Commission, Conservation Commission, Technical Advisory Committee, Traffic Safety Committee, Building Code Board of Appeals, Recreation Board, Planning and Development Council, and Economic Development Commission, every department head as that term is used in the Administrative Code, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Superintendent of Schools, the Trustees of the Trust Funds and members of the Housing Authority.”

“It’s my understanding that when City Councilors are sworn into office, they are sworn to uphold the City Charter,” said one angry resident. “How can the City Council vote for anything that is not in legal compliance with the City Charter? I think they should ask for an outside legal opinion beyond the City Attorney, who has a clear conflict himself in his role on this issue.”

If you want to help, show up for Public Comment Tuesday night, email or call the City Council. Or do both. 

BACKGROUND ON ISSUE II: ZBA Rules Wed on Huge Ceres St Addition to 173-5 Market St

This Wed, Jan 21, 7 pm, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will consider an appeal by abutters and concerned citizens of the Historic District Commission’s approval of a huge addition to the 19th century Frank Jones grain warehouse on Ceres Street.

Critics say this enormous addition to  Ceres Street side of project will overwhelm antique building and is too similar to last proposal to satisfy the law

Critics say this enormous addition to Ceres Street side of project will overwhelm antique building and is too similar to prior proposals to satisfy the law (Developer/architect’s depiction- not a real photo)

Some worry that the latest take on the huge addition proposed for 173-5 Market Street is so big and out of character that it could seriously erode the charm of  quaint Ceres Street

Some worry that the latest proposal for the huge addition to 173-5 Market Street is not much smaller than previous ones (Developer/architect’s depiction– not a real photo)

 

Most folks applaud the 173-5 Market Street side of the project the HDC approved more than a year ago (Aug 7, 2013). But the project included a bulging Ceres Street addition that extended 32 feet into Ceres Street, obliterating the iconic view down Ceres Street of the salt pile and beyond. (Take a look and see if you want your view down Ceres Street gone forever). Defenders of the city’s fragile 19th century brick skyline appealed, arguing that the hulking new addition would overwhelm the antique structure, forever changing the character of one of Portsmouth’s most quaint, beloved and tourist-travelled waterfront streets.

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of this huge addition to the historic waterfront building

One of the earlier versions of the huge addition to the Frank Jones grain warehouse the ZBA overturned HDC approval of (Developer/architect’s depiction– not a real photo)

On Feb. 19, 2014, the Zoning Board of Adjustment reversed the HDC approval based on the size and scale of the Ceres Street addition. The developer made a few changes, and on Sept 10, 2014, the HDC approved the new plan with a big addition that shaved only five feet off the previous addition. Again, abutters and worried citizens appealed, invoking the 1980 Fisher v. Dover NH Supreme Court ruling that a developer can’t resubmit old plans with only minor changes once a plan has been rejected.

Betty Morton Belcher, co-owner of several antique brick Market Street buildings, and Jane Morton Man, both abutters of the 173-5 Market Street project, are among those who appealed the HDC approval  Market Street project, are among those who appealed HDC approval of the huge Ceres Street addition out of concern for the antique building and the future of the city's 19th century brick skyline. Detractors have described critics as a "fringe" element. Do these worried abutters look like a "fringe element?" (Blogger's real  photo)

Betty Morton Belcher, co-owner of several antique brick Market Street buildings and an abutter of the contested 173-5 Market St project, and Jane Morton Mann are among those who appealed HDC approval of the project. They worry about the huge Ceres Street addition’s effect on the antique building as well as the  future of the city’s 19th century brick skyline. (Portsmouth Now Photo)

Recent Portsmouth Herald depictions of the project show the developer’s glowingly enhanced waterfront depiction of the project and a rendering minimizing the bulk of the Ceres St addition. Critics, who have spent hundreds of unpaid hours struggling to protect what’s left of the historic city, complained that the Herald package mislead the public by emphasizing the developer’s point of view over that of concerned citizens.

Here what the antique building really looks like viewed from the water now.

Here’s what the old Frank Jones grain warehouse really looks like viewed from the water now, with the historic Moffatt-Ladd House in the background. (Portsmouth Now Photo)

One upset resident noted that unlike Portsmouth, the Historic City of Charleston (SC) is blessed with a family-owned newspaper devoted to protecting the city’s historic fiber and a mayor widely regarded as the nation’s best pro-preservation mayor. “My God, this could be the last chance to save a small piece of what’s left of the city’s historic waterfront. Where have the HDC and the City Administration been in protecting Portsmouth’s historic character?”

The developers of 173-5 Market Street argue that their development will liven up Ceres Street

The developers of 173-5 Market Street argue that their development will liven up Ceres Street (Portsmouth Now Photo)

If you want to help, show up for the ZBA meeting Wed night, email the ZBA, or do both. 

City Council To Vote on Conflict of Interest, New Land Use Board Members

The Portsmouth City Council Tuesday (Jan 20, 7 pm) will discuss a new conflict of interest ordinance that would extend financial disclosure requirements from the City Council and School Board to the Police and Fire Commissions. (A Local Government Center lawyer consulted by City Councilors Esther Kennedy and Jack Thorsen long ago said the current requirements fall far short of the demands of a 1987 City Charter change approved by two-thirds of city voters).

Condos going up amazingly close to Memorial Bridge were approved by the HDC and the Planning Board extended the approvals by another year after they ran out

Condos going up amazingly close to Memorial Bridge were approved by the HDC long ago. in Oct 2013, the Planning Board extended its building permit after it ran out. If not, the project would have had to start over under the city’s new zoning rules

But critics say the new rules are still way too weak. They point out that the state requires elected officials as well as appointed officials and department heads to file more detailed financial disclosure forms. And the City Charter legally requires far more transparency.

New construction on Wright Ave and Daniel Street looms over the city's older streetscapes

New construction on Wright Ave and Daniel Street looming over the city’s older streetscapes welcomes newcomers to Portsmouth

Worse, the new rules let key players in the city’s growth explosion off the hook. They exempt the City Manager who runs a tight ship, the City Attorney who interprets the rules, the City Planner who carries them out, and the land use boards making crucial decisions on multimillion dollar projects across the city. For more on the 1987 Charter Change, see “Handy Links below.”

Critics say the current form (this one lists Mayor Bob Lister's income and asset sources over $5,000) is insufficient and falls way short of City Charter requirements

Critics say the current form (this one lists Mayor Bob Lister’s income and asset sources over $5,000) is insufficient and falls way short of City Charter requirements, and the new one does too

CITY COUNCIL MAJORITY EXEMPTS KEY PLAYERS IN GROWTH EXPLOSION

Twice this year, a majority of the City Council (Mayor Lister, Spear, Dwyer, Shaheen, Lown) refused to extend financial disclosure requirements to the land use boards, provoking a frustrated resident to say they belong in the Transparency Hall of Shame. Four others (Kennedy, Thorsen, Morgan, and Assistant Mayor Splaine) voted to increase disclosure and accountability.

An award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the national media recognition for protecting its historic assets brings tourists to Portsmouth

An award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the national media recognition for protecting its historic assets brings tourists to Portsmouth

“Nobody is saying these folks have conflicts,” an observer noted. “It’s just that citizens have a legal right to know they don’t.”

THE PUBLIC WILL BE ALLOWED TO COMMENT ONLY AFTER CITY STAFFERS PAID BY TAXPAYERS MAKE A PRESENTATION

However, it looks like citizens who want to publicly air their views about this or any other issues during the City Council’s Public Comment session Tuesday night will have to sit through a lengthy staff presentation before getting a chance to speak. (City staffers get a paid half-day off “comp time” for showing up at night; but the taxpayers who pay their salaries and have to sit through their endless presentations get nothing).

Asst Mayor Jim Splaine's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

Asst Mayor Jim Splaine’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CRITICS OBJECT: THE LAND USE BOARD APPROVAL PROCESS IS NOT TRANSPARENT

Meanwhile, the City Council Tuesday will also vote on three land use board members, two of them already alternates to the Planning Board and HDC (Jay Leduc and Reagan Ruedig), the third a newcomer (Richard Shea) who wants to be an HDC alternate.

The HDC is the crucial board charged with protecting the fragile character of the city’s Historic District. Look around at the big new buildings changing the face of downtown Portsmouth—they got approved by the HDC, most under its current leadership. So the make-up of this key board is crucial to the way the downtown and whole Historic District look and feel.

CC Stefany Shaheen's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Stefany Shaheen’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

However, not all of this crop of would-be land use board members even have their resumes posted on the city website for the public to see. Despite information about some, it is not clear exactly who they all work for and do consulting or other work for. And because a majority of this City Council has repeatedly refused to extend financial transparency requirements to these powerful land use boards, city taxpayers have no real way of knowing they do not have conflicts.

“This secretive appointment process vetted by the Mayor with the City Council’s quick stamp of approval all the time is outrageous,” objected one upset resident. “In other communities throughout the nation, nominees to crucial land use boards are interviewed in public by the entire elected body prior to their appointment. Even in New Hampshire, a majority of municipalities follow this procedure. For instance, how do the public and City Council know whether a nominee supports the basic mission of the HDC? We just don’t know.”

WHAT THE 28-YEAR-OLD CHARTER CHANGE DEMANDS

With the city awash in development dollars,  many residents want the City Council to stand up for transparency and beef up financial disclosure for all elected and appointed city officials and board-members as required by the City Charter

With the city awash in development dollars, many residents want the City Council to stand up for transparency and beef up financial disclosure for all elected and appointed city officials and board-members as required by the City Charter

Portsmouth’s 1987 Charter Change demanded a new ordinance requiring disclosure of all police, school and city officials appointed and elected (more detail below).

And the Ethics Section of the City ordinances defines city officials as “every member of the City Council, School Board, Police Commission, Fire Commission, each member of every land use regulatory board, i.e. the Board of Adjustment, Planning Board, Historic District Commission, Conservation Commission, Technical Advisory Committee, Traffic Safety Committee, Building Code Board of Appeals, Recreation Board, Planning and Development Council, and Economic Development Commission, every department head as that term is used in the Administrative Code, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Superintendent of Schools, the Trustees of the Trust Funds and members of the Housing Authority.”

CC Esther Kennedy's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Esther Kennedy’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

But the City Attorney has repeatedly set all that aside.

 

 

 

HOW TO HELP

If you want to help, you can show up for Public Comment Tuesday night or email or call the City Council. Better yet, do it all 

HANDY LINKS:

City Council Tues Agenda: http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2015/citycouncil/cc012015ag.pdf

State and City $ Disclosure Forms p. 49-54, and land use board applications on p 57-64 of City Council Packet:  http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2015/citycouncil/cc012015cp.pdf

City Council email Contacts:     <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

MORE BACKGROUND ON 1987 CITY CHARGE CHANGE:

CC Chris Dwyer's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Chris Dwyer’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

Portsmouth has a very powerful Conflict of Interest law. Approved by two-thirds of the voters in 1987, it is so strong it is embedded in the City Charter. (Just as the US Constitution trumps all state and local laws, the City Charter overrules all city ordinances, rules and regulations). An amendment to the City Charter (Amendment C – Conflict of Interest) clearly says all city officials appointed or elected must reveal information about their income and assets.

CITY CHARTER IS CRYSTAL CLEAR: ALL APPOINTED OR ELECTED CITY OFFICIALS MUST REVEAL INCOME AND ASSETS

A Charter change adopted by referendum vote on Nov. 3, 1987 clearly ordered the City Council within 60 days to create a Conflict of Interest Ordinance requiring financial disclosure of all elected and appointed city officials. Here, verbatim, is what it says:

CC Brad Lown's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Brad Lown’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

“The ordinance will contain as a minimum, but is not limited to:

  1. Mandatory financial disclosure by all police, school, municipal officials, whether appointed or elected, of current personal sources of income and all capital assets including, but not limited to, stock and real estate holdings and interests, in a sworn statement before the City Clerk at least biannually or before assuming office.
  2. Mandatory review boards and procedures to determine violation of the ordinance.
  3. Mandatory penalties for violations of the ordinance.
  4. Comprehensive definition of such violations, and procedures to be used in reporting, investigating, and correcting the results of violations.” http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/documents/revisedcharter.pdf

    CC Eric Spear's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

    CC Eric Spear’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

The ethics section (Chapter 1, Article VIII, Code of Ethics, p. 27) of  the city’s own ordinances defines city “officers” as “every member of the City Council, School Board, Police Commission, Fire Commission, each member of every land use regulatory board, i.e. the Board of Adjustment, Planning Board, Historic District Commission, Conservation Commission, Technical Advisory Committee, Traffic Safety Committee, Building Code Board of Appeals, Recreation Board, Planning and Development Council, and Economic Development Commission, every department head as that term is used in the Administrative Code, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Superintendent of Schools, the Trustees of the Trust Funds and members of the Housing Authority.”

CC Zelita Morgan's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Zelita Morgan’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Jack Thorsen's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Jack Thorsen’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/ordinances/Chapter1.pdf

 

What Happened to Portsmouth in 2014? A Few Ruminations

New condos block Piscataqua River views at base of Memorial Bridge. Some say the city should have had the foresight to buy the site and annex it to Prescott Park

New luxury condos now block Piscataqua River views from public sight at the base of Memorial Bridge.

What happened to Portsmouth in 2014? From the base of Memorial Bridge to the end of State and Daniel Streets and across the North End, iconic public views of the Piscataqua River and North Church steeple continued to disappear behind new construction.

Here, shown on the right, are just a few of the latest development projects 2014 brought to downtown Portsmouth.

(Some say the city should have had the foresight to buy the former Pier II Restaurant site so it could be annexed to Prescott Park in order to preserve public views of the river forever. It didn’t happen. Instead, going up amazingly close to Memorial Bridge is yet another downtown Portsmouth luxury condo project).

New building on Wright Ave at the end of State Street and in place of the former Connie Bean gym

Can you still see the North Church steeple? New construction on Wright Ave and at the end of Daniel Street in place of the former Connie Bean gym

One of Portsmouth's vanishing unique views: This one along Market Street, unobstructed by the contested bumpout behind the former Carter's Antiques, shows a salt ship looking almost as if it were in the street...

One of Portsmouth’s vanishing unique views: This one along Market Street, unobstructed by the contested bumpout behind the former Carter’s Antiques, shows a salt ship looking almost as if it were in the street…

But the good news is that other views can still be protected.

In late January, for example, the Board of Adjustment will weigh in on legal issues involving the enormous bumpout and addition proposed for the former Frank Jones grain warehouse at 173-5 Market Street.

Legal disputes aside, some worry that the new addition would block much of this eccentric  and unique Portsmouth view (shown here to the right) of a salt ship that looks as if it were literally plopped in the middle of the street.

Will 2015 see more of the same trend?

Or will we see more human-scale development that does not overwhelm the views, the fragile historic “flavor” folks here in Portsmouth fought so hard to protect? (Check out who we just added to our Stalwarts Who Stood Up for Portsmouth page).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Council Poised to Defeat or Water Down Crucial Step Towards Transparency: Tighter $ Disclosure Rules

Alert: The Portsmouth City Council is poised to defeat or water down a move to tighten the city’s very lax financial disclosure requirements for public officials, appointees and city department heads. (The agenda says Mon Dec 8, 6 pm). But you have a say.

YOU CAN CALL/EMAIL THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL & COME SPEAK OUT: MAYOR LISTER PHONE: 431-6577

CITY COUNCIL EMAILS: <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

If you want financial transparency restored to city government (as cities across the country routinely require and good government advocates call for), call or email the Mayor and City Council ASAP. Sign up for public comment Monday, then speak during public comment at the meeting’s start or during the public hearing later. Or do it all.

A PROPOSAL FULL OF LOOPHOLES BUT TIGHTER THAN TODAY’S LAX RULES

The measures up for a vote are riddled with loopholes:

  • They exempt folks now in office from disclosure (Why?).
  • They fall way short of requirements of 1987 changes Portsmouth voters overwhelmingly made to the City Charter (Why?).
  • They let people out of disclosing capital assets of over $10,000 not connected to Portsmouth (Why?)
  • They don’t include all city department heads.
  • They include the Police Commission but not the top brass.

But they’re tighter than current rules, and several amendments add key people with a say over major development projects, like the City Manager who controls the whole city bureaucracy and oversees the regulatory process, and members of the land use boards who have approved hundreds of millions of dollars in new developments in recent years.

SO FAR, MAYOR LISTER AND FOUR OTHER CITY COUNCILORS HAVE VOTED “NO” TO TIGHTER RULES

Municipal best practices nationwide routinely require meaningful financial disclosure from public officials, but the effort in Portsmouth is in danger. On Oct. 6, five out of nine city councilors voted against another plan to expand $ disclosure requirements to all land use board-members and city department heads. Voting “No” was Mayor Bob Lister, who won our endorsement after promising to insist on transparency on the land use boards (including financial disclosure by all land use board members) during the 2013 campaign– and who promised to keep his promises. City councilors Chris Dwyer and Brad Lown made the same promise, but voted “No” to tighter rules. Eric Spear and Stefany Shaheen, who refused to answer our survey, also voted “No” on Oct 6. Now we know where they stand on the issue of financial transparency and accountability.

City councilors who refuse to tighten the rules say they worry about scaring people off volunteer boards and that the privacy of public officials is more important than the public’s right to be protected from conflict of interest and betrayal of public trust.

But folks who want tighter rules say it’s the right thing to do in a growth explosion involving hundreds of millions of dollars in new developments to make sure things are above-board. At a time when good government groups lament a loss of trust in government, cities across the nation have much stronger disclosure rules than Portsmouth, as does the State of New Hampshire. A lawyer for the Local Government Center (the former NH Municipal Association) says Portsmouth fails to obey its own Charter.

MAYOR LISTER PHONE: 431-6577

CITY COUNCIL EMAILS: <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

AGENDA: http://cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc120814ag.pdf

CC MON PACKET (See p. 126 and 240 to 248): http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc120814cp.pdf

-o-o-o-

BACKGROUND– LONG VERSION POSTED EARLIER:’

A whopping 27 years after residents overwhelmingly voted to change the city’s “Constitution” to tighten the rules– in line with a 1987 Charter change and best practices nationwide– the Portsmouth City Council Monday night (Dec 8, 6 pm) will vote on second reading of a tighter conflict of interest ordinance. Also up for a Council vote are three key amendments that would require the City Manager and land use board-members who make crucial decisions about the huge new developments sprouting up across the city to disclose their main sources of income and assets. (If you support financial disclosure, see City Council emails and Monday night speaking opportunities at bottom).

With Portsmouth flooded with development dollars, proponents argue that tighter conflict rules are needed to make city government more transparent and close the gap between current loose practices and the far more stringent requirements of City Charter changes more than two-thirds of Portsmouth voters approved by referendum way back on Nov. 3, 1987. The goal is to restore trust in city government by helping make sure elected officials, city staffers and land use board-members are really serving the public interest—not profiting directly or indirectly from their positions of trust.

With the city awash in development dollars,  many residents want the City Council to stand up for transparency and beef up financial disclosure for all elected and appointed city officials and board-members as required by the City Charter

With the city awash in development dollars, many residents want the City Council to stand up for transparency and beef up financial disclosure rules for all elected and appointed city officials and board-members as required by the City Charter

The ordinance the Council will vote on Monday would require members of the City Council, School Board, Police and Fire Commissions to disclose capital assets over $10,000 “directly attributable” to businesses in Portsmouth, and sources of income over $10,000. The disclosure form would emulate the far more detailed form the state requires.  But residents concerned about the city’s current direction object that even these changes are not enough. While an improvement, they still let key city officials off the hook in a weakened local media watchdog environment. The changes allow too many loopholes, they fall dismally short of what the City Charter requires, advocates of open government argue. For example, they would exempt anyone elected or appointed before disclosure rules are enacted at third reading. And Monday is only second reading.

Three key amendments would add the City Manager and members of the city land use boards to those required to reveal income sources and assets. But advocates of greater transparency worry that most of the current City Council—including current Mayor Bob Lister and two city councilors who promised to vote for greater disclosure during the 2013 campaign—have shown little inclination to keep their promises and tighten the rules.

The City Charter is the city’s “Constitution” and trumps all ordinances. Although City Attorney Bob Sullivan usually puts a more laid-back spin on it, a careful reading of the 1987 City Charter changes shows that all department heads (including City Planning and the City Attorney and City Manager, for example) and their spouses are required to file disclosure forms. The changes added verification and penalties for wrongdoing. Although a 1988 city ordinance added loopholes, conventional wisdom is that local ordinances must comply with the city charter because that’s the city’s governing “Constitution.”

Critics say the current form (this one lists Mayor Bob Lister's income and asset sources over $5,000) is insufficient and falls short of City Charter requirements

Critics say the city’s current disclosure form (this one lists Mayor Bob Lister’s income and asset sources over $5,000) is way too vague and falls pitifully short of City Charter requirements

Earlier this year, most City Councilors have twisted themselves into pretzels arguing against tightening the rules. A common objection is that tighter rules would scare folks off the city’s volunteer boards or offend well-meaning people who only want to serve the public interest. Opponents of tighter rules have expressed indignation about purported persecution. They have insisted that city taxpayers should just automatically trust the city’s elected and appointed offficials to do the right thing without any verification to protect citizens.

Advocates of greater openness say that in this growth explosion, meaningful financial disclosure is desperately needed, is widely accepted across the country, and shouldn’t scare people with nothing to hide. A Local Government Center lawyer City Councilors Esther Kennedy and Jack Thorsen consulted wrote that the city is totally out of compliance with its own charter. Disclosure requirements are widely accepted as best practices by city governments across the country. Savannah, which thrives financially on historic tourism and has an interest in long-term protection of that city’s historic assets and character, requires members of its version of the HDC who recuse themselves from voting on projects to specifically explain their conflict in writing. The State of New Hampshire’s own disclosure requirements are far more stringent than Portsmouth’s. Ironically, a main concern of many international good government groups is restoring trust in government. “When Americans trust neither government nor each other, public leaders have their work cut out for them,” according to a recent posting on one website.

Here in Portsmouth, the City Council has a chance Monday night to start rebuilding that trust and transparency. For example, 11-year Planning Board member and current chair John Riccci, a real estate developer who has been active in downtown Portsmouth, a professional engineer and  construction manager (see p. 224 of Council packet, link below), is up for reappointment Monday to another three-year term. Ricci is personable and well-liked. But he chairs the board that makes a lot of nitty-gritty decisions about development projects here. Nobody suggests that he has a conflict of interest. But because of the nature of his business, open government advocates say citizens have a right to know that he doesn’t. The same applies to all elected city officials, board appointees and city department heads at least, they argue.

But even if the Council approves the new disclosure rules, a new loophole proposed as part of the package would exempt officials elected and appointed before the change. That means that if John Ricci gets approved Monday night but the new changes pass at third reading later on, he would not have to comply until 2017. And that’s just one example open government advocates give of why the system needs to be fixed.

WILL LISTER UPHOLD HIS CAMPAIGN PROMISE TO BACK DISCLOSURE BY LAND USE BOARDS? WILL LOWN AND DWYER KEEP THEIR CAMPAIGN PROMISES?

In a campaign promise before the 2013 election, current Mayor Bob Lister responded to a Portsmouth Now! survey with a “Yes” to backing more transparency and financial disclosure by the land use boards, including the HDC charged with protecting the city’s fragile Historic District, and the Planning Board, which also make crucial decisions about development in the city. City Councilors Chris Dwyer and Brad Lown also answered “Yes” to the same campaign survey question. But this Oct 6, 2014, Lister, Dwyer and Lown were part of the City Council majority that shot down an effort to expand disclosure requirements to all land use board-members and city department heads. (Former Mayor Eric Spear and City Councilor Stefany Shaheen also voted against expanding Portsmouth’s financial disclosure requirements. They refused to fill out the Portsmouth Now! survey to let us or the public where they stand on issues important to us, so we cannot compare their survey promises with their actual votes).

Voting against more $ disclosure and openness on Oct 6, 2014 were Portsmouth Mayor Bob Lister and City Councilors Brad Lown, Eric Spear, Stefany Shaheen and Chris Dwyer. Voting to tighten disclosure requirements were Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine and City Councilors Esther Kennedy, Jack Thorsen and Zelita Morgan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbF6Zrm3cZc&list=UUXUNd8goAjKxc_aXfvXIKdw

CITY COUNCIL AGENDA:

http://cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc120814ag.pdf

CITY COUNCIL PACKET (See p. 126 and 240 to 248):

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc120814cp.pdf

CITY COUNCIL EMAIL CONTACTS: <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

MORE DETAILED HISTORICAL BACKGROUND INFO ON CHARTER CHANGES

Portsmouth actually has a very powerful Conflict of Interest law. Approved by two-thirds of the voters in 1987, it is so strong it is embedded in the City Charter. A Charter change adopted by referendum vote on Nov. 3, 1987 clearly states that the City Council within 60 days “shall” create a Conflict of Interest Ordinance requiring financial disclosure of all elected and appointed city officials. Here, verbatim, is what it says: “The ordinance will contain as a minimum, but is not limited to:

  1. Mandatory financial disclosure by all police, school, municipal officials, whether appointed or elected, of current personal sources of income and all capital assets including, but not limited to, stock and real estate holdings and interests, in a sworn statement before the City Clerk at least biannually or before assuming office.
  2. Mandatory review boards and procedures to determine violation of the ordinance.
  3. Mandatory penalties for violations of the ordinance.
  4. Comprehensive definition of such violations, and procedures to be used in reporting, investigating, and correcting the results of violations.”http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/documents/revisedcharter.pdf

Chapter 1, Article VIII, Code of Ethics (p. 27) of  the city’s own ordinances also clearly defines city “officers” as “every member of the City Council, School Board, Police Commission, Fire Commission, each member of every land use regulatory board, i.e. the Board of Adjustment, Planning Board, Historic District Commission, Conservation Commission, Technical Advisory Committee, Traffic Safety Committee, Building Code Board of Appeals, Recreation Board, Planning and Development Council, and Economic Development Commission, every department head as that term is used in the Administrative Code, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Superintendent of Schools, the Trustees of the Trust Funds and members of the Housing Authority.”

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/ordinances/Chapter1.pdf

LATER PORTSMOUTH ORDINANCE LIMITED DISCLOSURE AND ADDED LOOPHOLES

A March 21, 1988 Portsmouth city ordinance amended a week later (March 28, 1988) limited disclosure requirements to the City Council and School Board: http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc012114cp.pdf

Instead of requiring disclosure of all sources of income, the 1988 ordinance geographically limited disclosure requirements to “corporate stocks or bonds or any other business interests” involving the City of Portsmouth or doing “substantial” business in Portsmouth. It required financial disclosure under oath only of officials’ “primary” source of annual income and capital assets– and required no disclosure of income under $5,000. Despite the added loopholes, conventional wisdom is that the city charter trumps all ordinances.

Public Input Sought As HDC Weighs North End Behemoth  

Anybody who thinks Portwalk is too massive for pretty Portsmouth will get to weigh in on another North End behemoth during a Historic District Commission work session tomorrow (Wed, Nov. 19, 7 pm).

The latest incarnation of HarborCorp is an 800 foot long behemoth bisected by two tunnels

The latest incarnation of HarborCorp is an 800 foot long behemoth bisected by two tunnels

The HDC has the legal authority to decide the scale, mass and height of buildings in the Historic District. As legal guardian of the district’s fragile character, the crucial land use board has the power to improve the city’s appeal. In fact, some residents feel the HDC should stop all work on development projects until computerized 3-D software is in place to show projects from all angles in relation to their neighbors. “The city shouldn’t approve anything until everybody can see 3-D images of projects from every direction,” said one resident upset about the slow pace of movement on this front. “This is 2014. This is readily available technology. And this is the Ecoast? It’s ridiculous. It’s surprising that the city administration and City Council are either so unsophisticated in the face of development pressures and the push for fast-track approvals or so unwilling to look out for the interests of residents. Why?”

Many are already concerned about the scale, mass ans style of Portwalk, seen here on its Maplewood Ave

Many are already concerned about the scale, mass ans style of Portwalk, seen here on its Maplewood Ave

Harborcorp’s footprint is about 50% larger than Portwalk III. Some say it is the largest building the North End, with the possible exception of the Sheraton. In its latest incarnation, HarborCorp appears to run a whopping 800 feet long bisected by two two-story tunnels. Although the massive structure straddles three city lots merged into one, developer Chris Thompson and other project representatives have said their “program” won’t let them split the structure into three smaller, more human scale buildings. You can email the HDC via llgood@cityofportsmouth.com  Or better yet, show up and say your piece!

HDC veteran Rick Becksted, who inherited the "Dorothy Vaughan memorial HDC chair," consider the development flanking North Church a signal HDC success

Many say the Popovers building project near North Church marked an HDC success and is a welcome development that enhances the cityscape and pleases residents and tourists alike

The HDC work session on HarborCorp will follow work sessions on 275 Islington and 40 Bridge Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the HDC agenda:

http://cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/hdc/hdc111914ag.pdf

Should the City Save Water Views & Green Space For Public Benefit?

With riverviews blocked by luxury condos disappearing from public sight, a participant in this week’s North End Form-Based Zoning  session suggested that the city buy a former dry cleaning place on the North Millpond and turn it into a public park. Others want a public parkway along the whole millpond waterfront, public parks sprinkled across the North End and a pedestrian/bicycle track along the Vaughan corridor, through HarborCorp and above the railroad tracks all the way to the North Mill Pond.

Bridge and river views are disappearing behind a huge luxury condo complex at the base of Memorial BridgeI

Bridge and river views are disappearing behind a huge luxury condo complex at the base of Memorial Bridge

One goal of buying the former Cindy Ann Cleaner’s: to preserve some of the last open water views of the North Millpond for the public’s benefit before it’s too late. Whether the city will have the foresight to do that before someone snaps it up remains to be seen.

The suggestion that the city buy, preserve and/or devote waterfront land for public benefit comes as a huge condo project rises at the end of State Street at the base of Memorial Bridge. In what some residents consider a failure of vision, political courage and foresight on the city’s part, that project is expected to block off much of the river view from State Street, some North Church steeple views from the river, and partly wall off one end of Prescott Park when many feel the city should have bought the property long ago and annexed it to Prescott Park for the public good.

Some say the huge condo complex walling off the end of Prescott Park should have been bought by the city and added to Prescott Park for the public benefit

Some say the huge condo complex walling off the end of Prescott Park should have been bought by the city and added to Prescott Park for the public benefit

Although a local developer lavished praise on the city administration this week, one participant at the FBZ charrette privately expressed regret that the city did not raise the money to buy the former Pier II restaurant site long ago for public use instead of letting it go to a few hulking luxury condos at a gateway to the city from Maine.

Asked what happened to the “riverwalk” project for a public walkway along the Piscataqua from Harbour Place to Ceres Street, Portsmouth City Manager John Bohenko Tuesday explained that the project failed amid concerns about private property-ownership and eminent domain. Although Bohenko insisted that folks can still enjoy public river views from behind the tugboats to a restaurant balcony overlooking a bit of the river, this blogger found it a cramped, unwelcoming space where would-be river viewers were made to feel guilty for not reserving a table to eat an expensive meal.

Some residents of Daniel Street and State Street are complaining that their former views of the shipyard are disappearing behind tall condos

Some residents of Daniel and State Streets are complaining that their former views of the river and shipyard are disappearing behind tall condos

“There’s no sign on Bow Street that I’m aware of that points to a public viewing area,” objected one of the disappointed would-be river viewers. “Who knows about it? And then they ask you if you want to pay for a meal!”

This week’s North End “visioning” session comes amid heavy development pressures and concerns about an onslaught of huge, boxy buildings in the North End. Under the accelerated approval process now fast-tracked via design review/vesting and simultaneous land use board-approvals, some worried aloud that the area could wind up looking like the kind of strip mall usually banished from city centers or a grim slice of Atlantic City. Among the challenges for the FBZ team: how to craft a formula that pleases developers and their minions and plain old residents alike. Ideally, the winning formula should not aggravate parking, traffic, and water and sewer problems, but would encourage welcoming public spaces and streetscapes without walling off neighborhoods and water views. The magic formula would provide housing for workers and artists, writers and musicians, bridge the gulf between tall and small, avoid “fake historic” while respecting the North End’s history, add quality structures that “celebrate” our culture instead of anonymous-looking Anywhere, USA-type buildings, leave some natural-looking areas with real trees big enough not to be propped up, and, as one participant put it, create a place where humans can feel human.

Folks at this week's form-based zoning charette expressed hope that the FBZ team will craft a formula that livens up the pedestrian experience on Maplewood Ave instead of walling it off experience on Maplewood Ave

Folks at this week’s form-based zoning charrette expressed hope that the FBZ team will craft a formula that livens up the pedestrian experience on Maplewood Ave instead of walling it off as many say this does

One resident suggests taking a hint from visionary past civic leaders who pushed to create urban parks like Haven Park, Leary Field, and the former Alumni Field, now mostly lost to an “oversized” middle school and a new Connie Bean Center “unfortunately” relocated to a flood plain as sea level rises. Just as the federal government in effect seized the North End from the residents of a working class Portsmouth neighborhood for “urban renewal,” the feds also took 2,600 acres from Portsmouth and Newington farmers to create Pease Air Force Base in the 1950’s.  In 1988, former Portsmouth Mayor and then Democratic State Senator Eileen Foley got a law passed through the legislature and agreed-to by the Republican Governor that if Pease ever closed, the land would revert back to Portsmouth and Newington. “That was tremendous foresight,” marvels one source at the bipartisan effort. Although the state changed course, killed the law and refused to give the land back to the locals when Pease closed, the two communities hired a top-flight lobbyist, an economist and the best Chicago lawyers and won a bitter, expensive, and hard-fought battle to get tax revenue from Pease. The city got its investment back from hiring all those lawyers and experts many times over, plus tens of millions in tax revenues a year, according to a knowledgeable source. Further, the Newington families that lost their land backed the creation of New Hampshire’s first National Wildlife Refuge on 1,100 waterfront acres– and real estate speculators did not get to profit from their loss.

“Let us take a lesson from our community’s history, and not permit that to happen again,” urged one advocate for green space and public water views.

“The city has a legal right to determine its own future and what it looks like,” added another.

TONIGHT’S  HDC AGENDA CONFUSING The HDC holds a work session on changes to 10 State Street at 7:30 pm tonight. But HDC agendas have become increasingly confusing and what the changes are is anyone’s guess.

Here is what the agenda says about what will come up:

DUE TO THE LENGTH OF THE AGENDA, Public Hearings (Old Business) A through D and Public Hearings (Regular agenda items) #1 through #3 and Work Sessions A through C will be heard on Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. Work Sessions D through G will be heard on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 7:00 p.m

As for changes to 10 State Street, the HDC agenda only says the HDC will consider changes to windows and “MEP/FP design.” Asked exactly what the HDC will decide about 10 State Street, city Principal Planner Nick Cracknell, who staffs the HDC, said he believed it is changes to some windows and switching some granite lintels to precast concrete, but he said he’d have to check to make sure.

Look at the agenda and see if you can figure it out:  http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/hdc/hdc111214ag.pdf

If you want the HDC agenda made less confusing and any staff memos to the HDC posted publicly on the city website, email the HDC ASAP via llgood@cityofportsmouth.com

 

 

Conflict of Interest & Disclosure Rules Before City Council Tonight, but is it Enough?

With Portsmouth awash in development dollars, the City Council tonight (Mon Oct. 20, 7 pm) will vote on first reading of a conflict of interest & financial disclosure ordinance that exempts their income and assets under $10,000 and more, and lets key city officials off the hook.  But some wary residents say the new rules are nowhere near enough to convince taxpayers that city government is really transparent, and they fall far short of what the City Charter requires.

Mayor Bob Lister's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

Mayor Bob Lister’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

Amid a growth explosion, the goal is to reassure taxpayers that no elected or appointed official is violating the public’s trust by profiting directly or indirectly from an elected or appointed position, not to mention their spouses. Advocates argue that Portsmouth desperately needs tighter conflict and disclosure rules now, and that folks with nothing to hide should not object. Detractors insist that tighter rules would scare people out of city politics and city government and off the land use boards that are making so many crucial decisions about developments across the city. The current conflict and disclosure rules  only require that City Councilors and School Board members list assets and sources of regular income over $5,000 in one year.  A Local Government Center lawyer consulted by City Councilors Esther Kennedy and Jack Thorsen said these fall far short of the requirements of a 1987 city charter change approved by two-thirds of Portsmouth voters. Conventional wisdom is that any local ordinance must comply with the city charter, which is like the city’s Constitution.

Asst Mayor Jim Splaine's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

Asst Mayor Jim Splaine’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new ordinance would add the Police and Fire Commissions—but exempt key city officials like the City Manager, City Attorney, Planning staff or any of the land use boards. The new rules raise the disclosure threshold to $10,000 in assets and income, but mandate that the form follow the format of the more detailed state disclosure form. By a 5-4 vote, the City Council on Oct 6 shot down an effort to tighten city conflict and disclosure requirements by extending them to all city department heads and land use boards. Voting against stricter disclosure requirements were Mayor Bob Lister and City Councilors Brad Lown, Eric Spear, Stefany Shaheen and Chris Dwyer. Voting to tighten requirements were Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine and City Councilors Esther Kennedy, Jack Thorsen and Zelita Morgan.

CC Stefany Shaheen's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Stefany Shaheen’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc102014ag.pdf

WANT THE CITY COUNCIL TO TIGHTEN $ CONFLICT RULES?

To encourage the City Council to go for more government transparency and genuine financial disclosure for all department heads and land use boards, email them ASAP at:

 

<rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

CC Chris Dwyer's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Chris Dwyer’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN CASE YOU WANT MORE BACKGROUND DETAILS, FYI, THE CITY CHARTER CLEARLY REQUIRES ALL APPOINTED OR ELECTED CITY OFFICIALS TO FILE FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE

Portsmouth actually has a very powerful Conflict of Interest law. Approved by two-thirds of the voters in 1987, it is so strong it is embedded in the City Charter. A Charter change adopted by referendum vote on Nov. 3, 1987 clearly states that the City Council within 60 days “shall” create a Conflict of Interest Ordinance requiring financial disclosure of all elected and appointed city officials. Here, verbatim, is what it says: “The ordinance will contain as a minimum, but is not limited to:

  1. Mandatory financial disclosure by all police, school, municipal officials, whether appointed or elected, of current personal sources of income and all capital assets including, but not limited to, stock and real estate holdings and interests, in a sworn statement before the City Clerk at least biannually or before assuming office.

    CC Esther Kennedy assets and income sources over $5,000, current form

    CC Esther Kennedy assets and income sources over $5,000, current form

  2. Mandatory review boards and procedures to determine violation of the ordinance.
  3. Mandatory penalties for violations of the ordinance.
  4. Comprehensive definition of such violations, and procedures to be used in reporting, investigating, and correcting the results of violations.”http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/documents/revisedcharter.pdf

    CC Brad Lown's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

    CC Brad Lown’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

However, a March 21, 1988 Portsmouth city ordinance amended a week later (March 28, 1988) manifestly does not comply with the City Charter’s conflict of interest requirements. Despite the Charter’s (the city Constitution’s) clear stipulation that these apply to “all” municipal officials “appointed or elected,” the 1988 ordinance limits that definition to the City Council and School Board: http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc012114cp.pdf

CC Zelita Morgan's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Zelita Morgan’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

In stark contrast, Chapter 1, Article VIII, Code of Ethics (p. 27) of  the city’s own ordinances clearly defines city “officers” as “every member of the City Council, School Board, Police Commission, Fire Commission, each member of every land use regulatory board, i.e. the Board of Adjustment, Planning Board, Historic District Commission, Conservation Commission, Technical Advisory Committee, Traffic Safety Committee, Building Code Board of Appeals, Recreation Board, Planning and Development Council, and Economic Development Commission, every department head as that term is used in the Administrative Code, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Superintendent of Schools, the Trustees of the Trust Funds and members of the Housing Authority.”

CC Eric Spear income and asset disclosure over $5,000, current form

CC Eric Spear income and asset disclosure over $5,000, current form

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/cityclerk/ordinances/Chapter1.pdf

LATER PORTSMOUTH ORDINANCE LIMITED DISCLOSURE AND ADDED  LOOPHOLES

Instead, the 1988 Conflict of Interest/Mandatory Financial Disclosure ordinance strayed from the City Charter and narrowed the city’s financial disclosure requirements.

CC Jack Thorsen's income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

CC Jack Thorsen’s income and asset sources over $5,000, current form

Instead of requiring disclosure of all sources of income, the 1988 ordinance geographically limited disclosure requirements to “corporate stocks or bonds or any other business interests” involving the City of Portsmouth or doing “substantial” business in Portsmouth. It required financial disclosure under oath only of officials’ “primary” source of annual income and capital assets– and required no disclosure of income under $5,000. And it turns out the city is not even enforcing the requirements of its watered-down 1988 ordinance—the ordinance that clearly violates the City Charter. The simple form adopted under the 1988 ordinance only asks for income and assets, and the resulting information seems almost meaningless. The last City Council financial disclosure forms reveal only very limited financial data about the city’s top elected officials.

“Most of them own houses. Some of them own businesses. What does that tell us?” asks one unhappy taxpayer. “So what?”

Conflict of Interest and Financial Disclosure before City Council Tonight

Amid concerns about city government transparency at the height of a growth explosion, the Portsmouth City Council tonight will discuss adopting an ordinance proponents say would bring the city closer to complying with the financial disclosure requirements of a 1987 city charter change more than two-thirds of city voters overwhelmingly approved amid similar concerns 27 years ago. City Councilors Esther Kennedy, Jack Thorsen and Eric Spear put their names to the motion. Earlier this year, Kennedy and Thorsen took constituents’ concerns about the issue to the Local Government Center, where an LGC lawyer informed them that the city is totally out of compliance with the financial disclosure/conflict of interest requirements of its own charter.

In the interests of transparent city government, many citizens want the city to enforce the provisions of a Charter change requiring financial and conflict of interest disclosure

In the interests of transparent city government, many residents want the city to comply with provisions of a 1987 Charter change requiring stricter financial disclosure to avoid any conflict of interest by elected officials, board-members and city department heads

Up for discussion tonight, the first choice (Option A) would require only the City Council, School Board, Police and Fire Commissions to disclose their income and capital assets—ie. stocks, bonds or business interests directly linked to an entity doing business in or with the city of Portsmouth. Option B would require all of the above plus all members of the city land use boards and commissions and the City Manager to disclose sources of income or assets. Whether that would include the City Attorney is not clear.

However, both options outlined by City Attorney Bob Sullivan would exempt income and assets below $10,000. Another question is whether they would apply to assets outside the City of Portsmouth. Last, anyone reading the actual language of the 1987 charter change would say that it included the City Attorney and all city department heads, including the Planning and Inspection departments.

To encourage the City Council to go for more government transparency and financial disclosure, email them ASAP at: <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>

The proposed changes start on page 123 of the City Council packet: http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc100614cp.pdf

MORE MAJOR PROJECTS BEFORE HDC AGAIN THIS WEEK

The HDC will also hold a public hearing on proposed changes to Wright Ave, and work sessions on  40 Bridge Street and 30 Maplewood Ave this Wed. (Oct. 8, 6:30 pm). There has been a lot of talk about “vision” for the future of Portsmouth’s North End.

Onlookers worried about Portsmouth track HDC work session

Many worried about Portsmouth worry that projects are being rushed through so fast that zoning changes will be meaningless by the time they are enacted

But huge projects are being rushed through at such speed that many want the city to slow the process down and return to the land use approval process in effect a few years ago when land use approvals were sequential instead of simultaneous. Many worry that Character-Based Zoning for the North End and Islington Street will not be meaningful unless the city gets rid of “vesting” by which projects are eligible for approval under prior zoning even if zoning changes. Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine said he would bring the issue up Monday night.

To contact the HDC about approving projects on a more human scale, email llgood@cityofportsmouth.com

To urge the City Council to get rid of vesting and tighten up its conflict rules, email: <rjlportsmouth@yahoo.com>,<jimsplaineportsmouth@gmail.com>,<lown@nhtrialattorneys.com>,<stefanyshaheen@gmail.com>,<esthersmarina@gmail.com>,<jdt@mind.net>,<zelita.morgan@gmail.com>, <cdwyer@rmcres.com>,<ericspearportsmouth@gmail.com>