Social and Political Commentary

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Special legislation that denies protection of Mass General Laws lets city get at Mount Hood Golf Course money

... provisions of Mass General Laws Chapters 124 and 44 and any other general or special laws no longer can keep city from taking Mount Hood revenue*

by Joe Sullivan

Athletic field complex prime investors.

Special legislation from the State House is quite direct in what it allows the city to do: Eliminate provisions of any law that would prevent the city from taking money from the Mount Hood Enterprise, which is used to manage the finances of the Mount Hood Park and the golf course.

The legislation also suspends a limitation of the Enterprise Fund that had prevented the city from taking money for anything unrelated to running Mount Hood Park and golf course.   

The special bill, passed by the Legislature last October and signed by the Governor in December, specifies that money taken from Mount Hood's annual surplus fund can only be spent on a limited number of sports-related projects as described in the legislation.

Special legislation is about money.

The legislation makes no mention of ball parks or athletic field complexes or any other specific projects. The legislation is not about ball parks, it’s about money.

The special legislation represents what the mayor, the Aldermen, our local state reps and senators had to do for the city to get at the golf course money — find a way to override anything that would prevent the city from taking it. That’s what’s been done.

Just about anybody associated with governing Melrose was involved in the passage of the legislation. State Senator Thomas M. McGee, in whose district Mount Hood lays, was the legislation’s presenter. Senator Richard R. Tisei and Representative Katherine Clark, along with Senator McGee, are listed as the petitioners, and Governor Patrick signed the legislation.

The request for the special legislation was submitted to the State after the Board of Aldermen, acting on the mayor’s request, voted to approve the wording of the proposed bill.   

General Law Chapter 124, is one of the laws that the special legislation sets aside, has to do specifically with Mount Hood. Chapter 124, a General Law that was passed in 1936, prohibits the city from taking Mount Hood money for projects not associated with Mount Hood. That's why it was necessary for the special legislation to make 124 invalid.

That’s what our mayor requested and what the Aldermen voted to do.

Special legislation speeds through city's approval process.

The special legislation passed on a very fast track.

    1. September 29, 2010. The Mayor sends a letter to the Board of Aldermen requesting passage of special legislation that will allow city to take Mount Hood money.

    2. September 30, 2010. The Board of Alderman approves a feasibility study laying out the plan for the High School field renovations and the study’s $51,500 cost.

    3. October 4, 2010, morning. Mayor Dolan, in a press conference, announces a plan  for an athletic field complex that includes the High School field renovations and new athletic fields at Pine Banks. The plan says Mount Hood revenues will finance all Melrose obligations. The mayor says that he will seek approval of special legislation from the Board of Aldermen to implement the plan. The single-page document showing the special legislation is not part of the press conference presentation.

    4. October 4, 2010, evening. The mayor presents the plan shown at the press conference to the Board of Aldermen and requests passage of the special legislation to fund it. Aldermen refer the special legislation to the Appropriations Committee which is composed of Aldermen.

   5. October 7, 2010. Aldermen Appropriations Committee approves special legislation and sends it back to full Board for vote.

   6. October 14, 2010. At a special meeting, called by the mayor, the Board of Aldermen approve the special legislation and send it to the General Court of Massachusetts petitioning it to act on the special legislation.

Anybody who would object to the special legislation had to do so between October 4 and October 14 unless he had access to the mayor’s letter that was sent to the Board of Aldermen on September 29.

Special legislation is not self explanatory.

Additionally, an objector would have to know what General Laws the legislation was nullifying. The legislature did not state the provisions that it was taking away, it only identified the numbers of the laws in which you could find them. The legislation is not self evident. You can’t know what it means unless you know what’s contained in the laws that it was setting aside.

It’s like a sign that instead of saying “No Parking. Violators will be prosecuted”  says, “Violators of Ordinance Number 747 will be prosecuted.” You get to find out that Ordinance Number 747 means “No Parking” when you read it on the ticket you got for violating Ordinance Number 747.

The perception some people will have is that the arcane language of the legislation and the speed with which it passed through our local legislative process was to avoid any confrontation that could have resulted if people knew what it was the legislation proposed.

Golfers left out in cold during approval process.

Those who are sure to have this perception are the Mount Hood golfers who are directly affected by it. They will recall that there was a public meeting held in 2009 when there was a proposal to build an athletic field at Mount Hood. But no public meeting was held to discuss the special legislation in 2010.

Not only was there no public meeting concerning the legislation, but it was passing through the state legislature when snow and cold weather would deprive the golfers of the only forum open to them. This forum is the one warm weather that provides golfers a chance to get together on the golf course.

Approval process muddles through.

Implementing the process that enabled the passage of the legislation had some bumps along the way.

On October 7, 2010, three days after the Aldermen sent the special legislation to their Appropriation Committee, the Park Commission, at its monthly meeting, hosted a group from the City Hall.

These were members of the mayor’s administrative staff. Attending were City Planner Denise Gaffey, Patrick Dello Russo Chief Financial Officer, and Rob Van Campen, City Solicitor along with staffers Bob Beshara and John Scenna.

Ms. Gaffey was there to present the same feasibility study that had been presented to the Board of Aldermen on September 30. The city hall visitors also needed to get the Commissioners approval for the $51,500 cost of the study.

There was a problem. The approval process was in disarray. The feasibility study should have been approved by the Park Commission before it had been approved by the Aldermen. The Commission, too, should have approved the $51,500 study cost before the Aldermen did.

The Park Commission had been left out of an approval process that it was required to be part of. The Aldermen usurped the Commission’s prerogative of approving the feasibility study. The Aldermen also did something else they shouldn’t have done.  They had approved payment of a bill that had never been submitted to the Board by the Commission. Not only that, the bill had been paid.

Aldermen charge $51,500 to wrong account violating limitation of Enterprise Fund.

There was another very important issue that didn’t surface during the meeting that had to be resolved. In its approval of the $51,500 on September 30 the Aldermen charged it to the Mount Hood Stabilization Fund. It was a motion submitted by Ward 6 Aldermen, Peter Mortimer, which  passed by a vote of 11-0.

This vote, charging the $51,500 to the Stabilization fund, was a direct violation of the limitations of the Mount Hood Enterprise Fund. This was a mistake that had to be undone. The mayor’s staff was there not only to get an after-the-fact approval for $51,500, but, in so doing, take this amount out of the Stabilization Fund account and  move it into an account that did not violate the Enterprise Fund.

CFO Dello Russo told the Commission that it had been the city’s expectation all along that it would go before the Park Commission to ask for reimbursement so that the money could be returned to the stabilization fund. In effect the city was asking the Park Commission to reimburse the city so it could return the money to the stabilization fund.

Mr. Dello Russo didn’t say when the city formed this intention. It must have been when someone realized the Alderman’s 11-0 vote to charge the money to the stabilization put them in violation of the Enterprise Fund.

The Park Commission took the Aldermen off the hook when it voted to recommend that the $51,500 be charged to the Enterprise Fund’s Pilot account. Charging expenditures to the Pilot account does not violate any of the Enterprise Fund’s restrictions.

But the deed wasn’t done. The Park Commission was required to submit the Pilot account charge to the Aldermen for approval. The Aldermen, too, had to approve the $51,500 charge to the pilot account.

The switch wasn’t complete until October 18, 2010, when the minutes of the Aldermen’s meeting show that the following appropriation was approved: $51,500 from the Mount Hood Reserve (stabilization) fund to the Mount Hood Pilot Payment.

Were Aldermen in violation of the Enterprise Fund when they were voting to change it?

What’s interesting about this change was that it took place after the Aldermen voted to approve the special legislation on October 14. This means the Aldermen were still in violation of the Enterprise Fund when they took the vote.

City can use only excess money from the golf course operation.

October 7 was when the Aldermen’s Appropriations Committee approved  the special legislation which it would forward to the full Board for its vote on October 14.  According to the minutes of this meeting, City Solicitor Van Campen said that the legislation will allow the city  to use excess money from the fund, and excess money only. It sounds very reassuring — funds needed to run the golf course would not be disturbed.

But then on March 3, 2011, Mayor Dolan sent a letter to Michael Interbartolo, the Chairman of the Park Commission. The mayor was insisting that Mr. Interbartolo reinstate $62,349 in the 2012 Mount Hood budget for principal and interest on bonds to pay for design work for the High School athletic field complex. Mr. Interbartolo had instructed the Park Superintendent to remove this amount from the budget.

The mayor was sending CFO Dello Russo and other members of his administration to the Commission’s meeting to resolve the issue.

The problem was that the special legislation says that payments for projects like the athletic field bond could only be made from excess revenues of the golf operation. The problem was the 2012 budget excess was not large enough to cover the $62,349.

The remedy was to reduce Professional Consulting Services, a projected cost of running the golf course, from $105,000 to $35,000. Doing so produced the overage necessary to cover the $62,349. The projected golf course operational costs were cut to provide money for the athletic fields.

Golf course budgeted expense reduce to produce "excess" to cover athletic-field complex bond costs.

This excess was not what was left over after running the golf course. Instead the excess was made part of the golf course operation itself. If the city continues to create an “excess” in this manner it changes the golf course budgeting goals. The number one requirement for future golf course budgets will not be to reflect the costs of running the golf course but to produce an excess necessary to cover the city’s obligations for the athletic field. Like the 2012 budget, costs projected as necessary to run the golf course will be cut until the “excess” is produced.

Given the above process the golfers have plenty to worry about. What happens to the golf course depends on the needs of the athletic field complex.

As it stands now, an athletic field complex is scheduled to be completed in October. No one knows how much it will cost. The present thinking seems to be, no matter how much it is, the golf course will have more than enough money to pay for it. If this is true, why wasn’t there enough money to cover the very first bond payment?


The author of this article is a member at Mount Hood.  

*The following articles regarding Mt. Hood operations and political matters have appeared in the Melrose Mirror. Click the link to open the article:

Do golfers at Mt. Hood need to establish a Tea Party?

Nobody is asking the tough questions about the Mt. Hood funding of the new athletic field complex

Lack of political-action muscle hurts Mount Hood golfers


  

May 6, 2011

  

         


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