At this week’s meeting of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association, NEWRA members discussed reform proposals for the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy and the management of the Greenway parks.
Invited guests State Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) and former chair of the Greenway Gardens, Diane Valle, presented two legislative efforts currently pending in the Massachusetts legislature. Video from the two presentations made at the NEWRA meeting are shown below.
Rep. Michlewitz has introduced a bill that would require the Conservancy to have open meetings, some budget oversight by the Greenway Leadership Council and annual State funding to a maximum of $4 million (versus $5.5 million currently).
Ms. Valle showed slides of her horticultural vision for the parks and spoke in favor of a second proposed bill introduced by State Representative Peter Durant (R-Spencer) that would eliminate funding for the Conservancy and turn control of the parks over to the State’s Department of Conservation and Recreation with a new volunteer 11-member Greenway board appointed by city and state officials.
In the discussion period, several issues were raised:
Funding for the Greenway Conservancy expires on June 30, 2012 and subsequently is at the discretion of the property owner, Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT). Under Rep. Durant’s bill, approximately $13 million of funds escrowed by the Greenway Conservancy would be placed in a fund dedicated for Greenway use. Otherwise, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) must treat all parks equally, without dedicated funding preferences.
Greenway abutter Bob Venuti asked about the ~$5 million of funding raised for the maintenance of Parcel 13, the Armenian Heritage Park, and whether that would still be available under the reform proposals. Both presenters believed that money was earmarked for Parcel 13, which is not included in the current Greenway Conservancy lease.
NEWRA ZLC Co-chair, David Kubiak, pointed out that the Armenian Heritage Park was entirely privately funded, costing nothing to the taxpayer, for a park that “will be a jewel.” In contrast, the rest of the Greenway and some surrounding parcels, such as the proposed Boston Museum (Parcel 9) and Boston Public Market (Parcel 7) will continue to rely on State and public funding mechanisms. “This is public land. The State should make money on it, not pay money out to private organizations,” said Kubiak.
NEWRA Sergeant-at-Arms, Jim Salini, questioned the past performance of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and their failed attempt to raise money for the “Garden under Glass.” Ms. Valle, a former executive at MassHort, said that was largely before her time at the non-profit. Salini also expressed concerns that private fundraising for parks is “up and down with the economy” preferring to rely on dedicated State funding.
NEWRA Membership Chair, Mary McGee, commented, “We all want great parks in the North End, but we are also taxpayers and this <Rep. Michlewitz’s legislation> entrenches the Conservancy for another five years. I am very impressed Diane’s presentation and proposal.”
Shirley Kressel, landscape architect and guest, shared her thoughts having followed the Greenway Conservancy for a long time. “I have physically been thrown out of their board meetings. The Conservancy will not abide by the open meeting and public record laws.” Kressel also said her reading of Rep. Michlewitz’s bill is that the oversight power proposed for the GLC is not necessarily a veto because if they do not approve, the funding and budget stay at the previous year’s level. She noted the head of the GLC works for developer Boston Properties at Atlantic Wharf. “Let’s put out an RFP and see how much it costs to run the Greenway.” She asked, “What services will have to be cut to fund the $4 million proposed?” Rep. Michlewitz responded that the $4 million includes some buffer for potential capital projects on the Greenway. He added, “I don’t trust DCR to give us the best parks.”
At the end of the meeting, Greenway Conservancy Director of Operations, Steve Anderson, told the audience that the Greenway has many unique features, such as fountains, that are expensive to maintain. In response to criticisms of working with the community, he said, “We want to do better. I have 8 full-time people managing Work Inc. We also have 370 volunteers and we are not opposed to working with a Friends group.”
Below is a TV clip briefly describing the two legislative bills under consideration at the State House.