Galvin trades barbs with S. Coast officials
‘We don’t expect belligerence and deceit,’ Secretary of State says
South Coast officials traded pointed accusations with an unusually animated Secretary of State William Galvin today, as the two sides battled over a bill exempting a stalled Freetown office development from Galvin’s review.
“You’re being asked to reward belligerence and noncooperation,” said Galvin, testifying before a legislative committee in opposition to the Freetown bill. The normally reserved Galvin struck a combative stance at the State House hearing, raising his voice for extended periods of time and leveling barbs at the bill’s sponsors. “It’s a suggestion to developers that in the future, they don’t have to cooperate and they can still get what they want,” he said of the bill. “We expect cooperation and respect. We don’t expect belligerence and deceit.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Rodrigues, would clear the way for the Westwood-based medical software firm Meditech to build a new office complex on the Freetown-Fall River line by legislatively exempting the development site from review by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Area officials have hailed the expansion of the software firm as an economic game-changer for a region with the state’s highest unemployment rate.
Meditech now argues that it shouldn’t be subject to Mass. Historical oversight at all because its project site isn’t on the State Register of Historic Places. Rodrigues’s bill would explicitly state that while Mass. Historical can suggest development mitigation plans for any historic property, it only has hard regulatory authority over properties on the State Register.
Rodrigues said today that, to his reading of Mass. Historical’s enabling statute, the agency’s reach already stops at State Register properties. “We have a situation where the regulatory body sees it differently,” he said. “This bill makes it crystal clear – either you’re on the register, or you’re not.”
A stream of South Coast legislators spoke in favor of Rodrigues’s bill, saying that the economically struggling region needs jobs, especially technology sector jobs for college graduates. But in his testimony Galvin refused to back down.
“I deeply resent the fact that historic preservation is being portrayed as anti-development,” said Galvin. The Secretary of State called Rodrigues’s bill “a crude, ridiculous effort,” and pinned the Freetown impasse that inspired it on a “developer who does not want to work with anybody.” Referring to Meditech’s chairman, Neil Pappalardo, Galvin added: “Is Mr. Pappalardo here? I’ve never met him. He seems to be a mysterious fellow.”
Meditech has spoken only through Fall River development officials since abandoning the project in September.
Galvin insisted that Mass. Historical “never, never, never, never” demanded that Meditech strip mine 21 acres of its Freetown site, as Meditech claimed in September. “But it’s been repeated and repeated and repeated by people who should know better.” CommonWealth’s review of public documents related to the Meditech project found no written references to the 21-acre demand until after Meditech suspended its project.
In a thinly-veiled shot at Rodrigues and Fall River development officials, Galvin added, “At some point, misrepresentations become deceit, and the people repeating them become spewers of deceit.”
Kenneth Fiola, Fall River’s economic development chief, accused Galvin of “trying to revisit, reshape, reform and inappropriately restate” the Meditech standoff. He said Mass. Historical refused to tell the developer how much archaeological work it had to do. “There was silence,” Fiola said. “This is amateur hour.”
Fiola also restated a point that CommonWealth first reported – that Meditech walked away from a November deal to move the Freetown project forward because it didn’t want to work with Mass. Historical at all.
At a November meeting in Galvin’s office, Meditech’s archaeologist and Mass. Historical agreed that the developer would have to dig up and sift through an acre of land, at a cost of $97,000. Days later, Meditech’s archaeologist emailed Mass. Historical, saying Meditech had instructed the firm to stand down. The reversal surprised several meeting attendees, who thought they were trying to sort out a spat over excavation acreage, not a turf war.
“Meditech asked, ‘What kind of entity are we dealing with here?’” Fiola told the committee. According to Fiola, Pappalardo, the company’s chairman, said, “They’ve lied to me once. I won’t be played for a fool.” Fiola said the November deal couldn’t be revived, and that Meditech will only build in Fall River absent any Mass. Historical oversight. “The distrust is too deep.”Rodrigues tucked a version of his Mass. Historical bill into the supplemental budget the Senate passed last week. Rep. Patricia Haddad, the lawmaker who has been quarterbacking peace talks between Galvin’s office and Meditech, told CommonWealth that the House was unlikely to accept Rodrigues’s bill as it’s written. She said the House could narrow the bill’s scope in budget conference committee, or it could rewrite it and advance it as a stand-alone bill.
HOMEPAGE PHOTOGRAPH BOSTON GLOBE/JOHN TLUMACKI/LANDOV