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

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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>

 

 

 

Correction

Woops! With so many city projects simultaneously hurtling through the land use process and the Historic District Commission’s lengthy and confusing two-week agendas, we mixed things up and reported that six major projects were coming before the HDC this week. Instead, it turns out that tonight’s (Oct. 1) HDC meeting features 13 public hearings including public hearings on changes to Portwalk and Wright Ave. And on Oct 8, the HDC holds work sessions on four more major projects—275 Islington, 40 Bridge Street, Harborcorp and 30 Maplewood, among others.

To ask the City Council to get the land use boards to slow things down and make the land use approval  process more sequential, orderly and transparent, email the City Council 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>

Here’s the HDC’s action-packed  two-week agenda: http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/hdc/hdc100114ag.pdf

 

More Huge Downtown Projects Rush Before the HDC

Note: The dates on this post are corrected: Half a dozen major projects continue their high-speed march before the Historic District Commission Wed night (Oct 1, 6:30 pm) and Oct 8). The HDC will hold public hearings on changes to Portwalk and “minor” changes to Wright Ave (the large development rising in the former Rosa’s parking lot facing Memorial Bridge, next to the former Connie Bean gym) on Oct. 1.

The Wright Ave project facing Memorial Bridge is going up now

The Wright Ave project facing Memorial Bridge is going up now

The HDC will also hold work sessions on 275 Islington Street, 40 Bridge Street, Harborcorp and 30 Maplewood Ave on Oct. 8. Many people feel Harborcorp, which covers three city lots, could be improved by being reduced in mass and making sure it doesn’t tower over Maplewood, already walled off by Portwalk.

Enormous new megadevelopments have sparked efforts to encourage more human-scale development

Enormous new megadevelopments sparked efforts to encourage more human-scale development, but while there’s a lot of talk about “vision,” huge projects are being rushed through at an unprecedented pace

There has been a lot of talk about “vision” for the future of Portsmouth. But while people wax visionary, huge projects are being rushed through that are going to change the real face of Portsmouth. It’s already happening – and with strong support  from the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce  What is obvious to all who can see is that things are happening at lightning speed.

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and some worry it would wall off Maplewood

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and some worry it would wall off Maplewood unless substantial changes are made

The actual decision-makers responsible for the outcome are our City administration, our elected Mayor and City Council, and the land use boards—whose members were suggested by former Mayor Eric Spear or current Mayor Bob Lister, with approvals rubber-stamped by most of our City Council. To contact the HDC, email llgood@cityofportsmouth.com To contact the City Council, 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>

Plaque about Portsmouth, one of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations, National Trust for Historic Preservation, hangs in City Hall

Being on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations list brings in big tourist bucks, but it needs to be sustained

 

 

Request to Allow $250 Gifts to City Employees Incenses Many

Some residents are upset about a proposal to allow city employees to receive gifts of no more than $250. The proposed ordinance is due before the City Council tonight (Monday, Sept 22, nonpublic session starts at 6 pm).

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

Worried about transparency in city government, many residents want the city to enforce the provisions of the city charter that already require financial and conflict of interest disclosure

“If you’re a city employee and someone buys you a cup of coffee or gives you some baked goods, fine. But $250? That’s outrageous! There should be no gifts of money to city employees. Getting tickets to the Red Sox or sporting events worth more than $50 is illegal in Massachusetts at both the state and local level. ”

The most important problem the issue brings out is the dire need for full financial disclosure called for by the Portsmouth city charter and overwhelmingly approved by more than two-thirds of city residents in 1987, the observer added. “Under Portsmouth’s city charter, it should all be publicly reported. There should be no need for this ordinance because full financial disclosure is required already.”

Amid public concern about the lack of transparency in city government, City Councilors Esther Kennedy and Jack Thorsen earlier this year went to Concord to ask the Local Government Center ‘s opinion of the city’s compliance with its conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements. A Local Government Center lawyer responded in a letter that the city of Portsmouth is totally out of compliance with its own charter’s requirements.

The City Council reacted with some talk and what struck many as excuses and obfustication– but no real action.

CHARACTER-BASED ZONING FOR NORTH END MEANS LITTLE UNLESS CITY CHANGES VESTING

With the kickoff session on Form Based Zoning for the North End coming up Tues. (Sept. 23, 7 pm) some worry that so many huge North End projects are hurtling through the planning process that the effort is moot so long as the city lets projects be “vested” (or grandfathered in under current zoning) the minute a developer files for so-called “design review.” The Planning Board recently rejected a zoning change that would have set maximum building sizes in the North End, so developers there can still cover 95 percent of a lot with one building.

The Planning Board is also moving “at a snail’s pace” on City Councilor Zelita Morgan’s request that it set new parking requirements for conference centers by reinstating the parking formula in effect until 2010. In August, City Planning Director Rick Taintor said he would not report back to the Planning Board on the wisdom of that formula until October.

To contact your City Councilors, 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>

Here are the agendas:

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/citycouncil/cc092214ag.pdf

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/misc/misc092214ag.pdf

HDC’s 3rd Meeting This Month to Focus on HarborCorp

A work session on HarborCorp will cap the Historic District Commission’s agenda when it holds its third meeting this month Wed. night (Sept. 17, 7 pm). A Portsmouth Herald editorial Monday praised the developer for reducing the size of the enormous project by 50,000 square feet, creating a central plaza and more.

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and some worry it would wall off Maplewood

Harborcorp would occupy three city lots and some worry that it would continue to wall off Maplewood

Some folks worried about the city’s direction wonder whether part of the reduction in size the Herald Editorial Board views so favorably includes parking. The project would occupy three city lots, and some fear that it will further wall off Maplewood Ave, and reduce Maplewood’s now shaky pedestrian appeal by orienting its best features towards the Sheraton. The city has already allowed Portwalk to wall off part of Maplewood by orienting its most pedestrian-friendly features towards Portwalk Place.

Some worry that the process started with Portwalk could wall off Maplewood Ave

Some worry that the process started with Portwalk could wall off Maplewood Ave

HDC CHAIR ALMEIDA SUCCESSFULLY PUSHES FOR HUGE CERES STREET ADDITION AND INFILL

Meanwhile, some witnesses are still reeling at the way HDC Chairman Joseph Almeida ran last week’s HDC meeting. The chairman of the board charged with protecting the city’s fragile historic character forcefully lobbied for the HDC to OK the one-year extension for the Conditional Use Permit and final approval for 173-5 Market Street. Opponents through uncompensated volunteer lawyer Duncan MacCallum had argued that the mass and scale of the Ceres Street addition and infill are only five feet smaller than the last incarnation and so similar that it violates legal precedent set in a previous landmark (Fisher v. Dover) case.

Many say the latest version of the addition to 173-5 Market Street would overwhelm the vintage building, violating federal guidelines for adding to antique buildings

Many say the latest version of the addition to 173-5 Market Street would overwhelm the early 19th century building and forever change the character of Ceres St

Almeida and most of the HDC dismissed the claim. Instead, he and vice chair Tracy Kozak insisted that the new plan was very different from the old plan. In tricky procedural moves, Almeida pushed the discussion toward a vote.  For example, he let Jon Wyckoff make a motion before the whole board could fully discuss the issue, then told new alternate Vincent Lombardi (who seemed to have something more to say) that he couldn’t speak because alternates can’t speak after a motion has been filed. Almeida also seemed to try to push another board-member, William Gladhill, into voting for the project when he seemed undecided. And he openly advocated for the project without passing the gavel.

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of a project that would have wrapped much of this  antique waterfront building in new brick and added a huge new addition

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of a project that would have added a huge addition to this early 19th century waterfront building. HDC chair Joseph Almeida claimed that the building is not waterfront and that someone else could build in front of it

The HDC granted both approvals despite impassioned pleas from residents and abutters to reduce the mass and scale of the huge Ceres Street addition and infill next to it.

Despite the developer’s complaint that the project has dragged on too long, abutter Matt Morton pointed out that the plan would have passed months ago if he hadn’t pushed for the huge “bumpout” bulging into Ceres Street. “It changes the whole flavor of this street,” he objected… “It’s outrageous!”

Barbara Ward, curator and director of the Moffatt-Ladd House, said the Society of Colonial Dames of America which owns the historic house across Market Street, still feel “the mass and scale of the additions is too great.”

Commenting as a resident, Ward later quoted the ZBA reversing the original HDC approval saying “the elephant in the room is the mass and scale” of the new addition. This “obliterates the original building” and takes away its original character,  she said. As for the developer feeling put-upon by the lengthy process, Ward said “this is not personal. It’s about the way the city should be developed. The waterfront is of enormous benefit to us—do we really want to take away from the character of the city—the quality of the city—to sell a few condominiums?”

During the only comment he was allowed to make about the project, alternate Vincent Lombardi, Mayor Lister’s latest appointee to the HDC, said the size of the bumpout was “shocking” to him. He said the old building “looks like it’s being eaten” by the new house—it’s engulfing it. I find it very uncomfortable. I don’t think it fits.”

Waterfront condos and the HDC-approved Wright Ave project are due to block this view of North Church steeple block

Waterfront condos and the HDC-approved Wright Ave project are due to block this view of North Church steeple now visible from the water

In the end, only two HDC-members voted against the final approval. City Councilor Esther Kennedy and Planning Board member William Gladhill praised the Market Street side of the project but voted against it based on the scale and mass of the Ceres Street addition and infill. Daniel Rawling, whom Mayor Lister recently named a permanent HDC member, voted to approve it and the CUP extension, as did Jon Wyckoff and even alternate Reagan Ruedig, a board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society voting in the absence of HDC-member George Melchior.

http://cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/hdc/hdc091014ag.pdf

Future of Portsmouth’s Antique Brick Waterfront in HDC Hands 

With what’s left of the city’s historic 19th century brick waterfront hanging in the balance, the Historic District Commission continues its hectic weekly pace of meetings this Wed (Sept 10, 6:30 pm) offering yet another bite at a waterfront project, provoking some to ask: what’s the rush?

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of a project that would have wrapped much of this  antique waterfront building in new brick and added a huge new addition

The ZBA overturned HDC approval of a project that would have wrapped much of this antique waterfront building in new brick and added a huge new addition

“They’re really shoving them through,” groused one observer. “It’s terrible.”

The HDC will hold two public hearings Wed. night (Sept. 10, 6:30 pm) on the controversial Ceres Street development known as 173-5 Market Street. Eport Properties  1, LLC, wants a one-year extension of the Conditional Use Permit for the former Carter’s Antiques. The HDC approved the CUP last Aug. 7, 2013. But critics worried about the waterfront’s historic character so prized by tourists say the HDC should not extend the CUP because the City Council has repealed it, it is a defunct tool, and the addition and adjacent infill building are way too tall for the antique structure.

Many say the latest version of the addition to 173-5 Market Street would overwhelm the vintage building, violating federal guidelines for adding to antique buildings

Many worry that the latest version of the addition to 173-5 Market Street will overwhelm the vintage waterfront Frank Jones grain warehouse

In a separate request, the developers  want the HDC to approve the massive addition proposed for the waterfront side of the building. But critics say it’s just  way too big. In a formal objection, several worried residents and abutters (including this blogger) represented by unpaid volunteer lawyer Duncan MacCallum, contend that the latest proposal violates a basic tenet of New Hampshire land use law because it is too similar to a previous proposal the ZBA shot down. Under state law, petitioners cannot return before land use boards with a substantially similar project.

DEVELOPERS WANT HDC OK FOR TEARDOWNS TO MAKE THEIR NUMBERS WORK

The HDC will hold a work session on a request by the developers of 275 Islington Street for HDC to tear down existing buildings including a poorly-maintained New Englander to make way for multi-family buildings. Some critics object that letting a little building that contributes to a neighborhood’s human scale be demolished so a developer can make the “numbers work” violates the HDC’s role as last-ditch protector of the city’s historic character and sets poor precedent.

Some say 275 Islington is too big and stylistically monotonous

Some say 275 Islington is too big and stylistically monotonous for a proper rebirth of Islington Street

Some neighbors recently expressed dismay about the latest take on the project, adding that the proposed buildings are too large and stylistically monotonous for a proper rebirth of Islington Street. Although others argued that Islington Street has already been scarred by aesthetically unappealing development, so the HDC should allow more of it, some insist that past mistakes do not justify new mistakes.

The HDC will hold yet another work session on 40 Bridge Street. 7 Islington Street, LLC wants HDC permission to demolish a wood-framed building to build a hulking three-story 19,700 square foot mixed-use project.  But the property is caught in a dispute between two developers, and some folks are asking why the HDC is holding a work session on a property scheduled for a Sept. 18 foreclosure sale.

Some worry that 40 Bridge Street will dwarf its historic neighbor

Some worry that 40 Bridge Street will dwarf its historic neighbor

Meanwhile, others say the online application is technically flawed in various ways. For example, the HDC’s new four-step review process requires “major” projects (ie. costing more than $50,000) to show a development proposal in relation to all property within 300 to 500 feet of it, and this one does not do that.

Some worry that 40 Bridge Street could dwarf its historic neighbor

Some worry that 40 Bridge Street could dwarf its historic neighbor

You can contact the HDC via the following email address, but if you want to help, it’s best to do it ASAP:

 

 

 

Email the HDC via llgood@cityofportsmouth.com Or speak up Wed. night! (Or both).

http://www.cityofportsmouth.com/agendas/2014/hdc/hdc091014ag.pdf

 

Waterfront condos and the HDC-approved Wright Ave project are due to block this view of North Church steeple block

Waterfront condos and the HDC-approved Wright Ave project are due to block this view of North Church steeple block. Residents who don’t like these changes are most effective when they express their opinions to the Mayor, City Manager, and above all, the land use boards who have the final say. Is this all we can expect from our city leadership? Or is it time for change?