The underbelly of land use politics

You don’t have to be a Saint to oppose development, according to a federal court ruling earlier this week. In fact, the judge says, you can be “sneaky” and “underhanded” about your opposition because it is protected by the First Amendment.

That was the ruling in a suit against Hingham-based Saint Consulting Group, filed by a developer in a case where Saint employees posed as residents of an Illinois town to muster opposition to a Wal-Mart which would have challenged the local supermarket chain which hired Saint.

Saint Consulting, started by former reporter turned political consultant Mike Saint, is a worldwide group that specializes in overcoming local opposition to land use, ranging from quarry excavation to land development.

But the company’s biggest notoriety came after a Wall Street Journal story detailed its “black arts” approach to opposing Wal-Mart on behalf of supermarket chains that hired the company. In fact, Mike Saint allegedly refers to his employees as “Wal-Mart killers,” according to the article. Of the more than 1,500 projects the company has undertaken, more than one-third have been to oppose a development.

In the case that spawned the ruling this week, a former Saint employee admitted he was sent to Mundelein, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, to mobilize opposition to Wal-Mart on behalf of Supervalu, a midwest supermarket chain that is in direct competition with the retailing behemoth. Robert Mayo, the employee the judge dubbed an “agent provocateur,” assumed the pseudonym of “Greg Olson” and began to foment resident opposition posing as one of them.

The actions, targeting Wal-Mart’s local developer, Rubloff Development Co.,  were successful, according to documents revealed in the lawsuit.

“Happy 1 year Anniversary, by the way.  We cost these guys [Rubloff] a ton of money,” one local attorney wrote to Saint.

According to the ruling, “Other questionable tactics included the rewriting of expert
reports for use in litigation, ‘backchannel’ communications with a Lake County judge to try to get a read on how that litigation would turn  out,  and  . . .  failure  to  promptly forward settlement offers to [an attorney’s] landowner clients, presumably as another delay tactic.”

Mayo allegedly sold information about his work and the Saint actions to Rubloff and Rubloff turned the information over to the Journal and then filed a suit charging Supervalu and Saint with fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, a violation of their civil rights and a slew of other bad acts.

Saint admitted the clandestine approach, one it touts on its website, but argued the approach is not illegal and is, in fact, its right. Judge Harry Leineweber agreed.

“Defendants  do  not  really  deny  they  were  sneaky,  but  claim being  sneaky  is  legal  under  the  Constitution,” Leineweber wrote in the ruling.

Land use politics and NIMBY opposition are nasty business. But as Leineweber says, sinners and Saints both have legal rights.

                                                                                                                                            –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Massachusetts lawmakers want to hit owners of “roll your own” cigarette machines with a $25,000 licensing fee, claiming they are manufacturers and the high-volume process is a stealth way of getting around the state’s tobacco taxes.

James Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, takes another hit from the Herald for having agency staff chauffeur him about town.

The Berkshire Eagle says that lawmakers should not rush to pass anti-crime legislation.

The Boston Globe editorializes against Governor Patrick’s decision to impose a project labor agreement on the Longfellow Bridge reconstruction project. The agreement bans non-union workers from working on the project.

CASINOS

The Aquinnah Wampanoags have proposed siting a casino on Route 140 on land in either Freetown or Lakeville.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Eagle-Tribune does its own version of the Boston Globe story on Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, focusing on the rising fine ($1,750 currently) he owes for failing to file his campaign finance reports. As usual, Lantigua doesn’t talk to the E-T.

The political warfare continues in Cohasset as the town’s planning board approved a “no confidence” vote in the selectmen after the latter rejected 10 non-union contracts and promotions approved by the recently fired town administrator.

North Andover considers a ban on the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The MetroWest Daily News buys lottery tickets for 21 towns in the region, yes, that’s correct, and asks them what they would do with the $540 million jackpot if one of them beats the 1 in 176 million odds.

In the aftermath of a third unsuccessful super-town meeting vote on development at Devens, an Ayer selectman says the state needs to look at the former base’s governing statute.

Former Providence mayors shoot at each other in the press, as the state-appointed receiver for a nearby town says the city is heading toward bankruptcy.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Enough signatures are gathered to hold recall elections for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

The Globe stakes out Rep. Stephen Lynch’s SUV for a couple of days in a South Boston parking lot, and notes that, although it is parked illegally ,according to posted signs, tow trucks simply pass it by.

The House passes Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, sending it on to doom in the Senate. A New York Times editorial calls the budget “cruel.” Erskine Bowles pronounces himself optimistic about deficit reduction, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary.

The Wall Street Journal examines President Obama’s use of executive power.

EDUCATION

Haverhill teacher Alex Cain was found not guilty of stealing money from a school dance fundraiser, but school officials want to fire him anyway, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy tells students they can wear shorts to school all year long, not just during the months of June and September. Two dozens students were sent home and one was suspended during last week’s heat wave, the Lynn Item reports.

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a proposal that would slow down the growth of charter schools by requiring local endorsement of each charter application, Governing reports.

The Globe talks to teenagers at New Mission High School in Roxbury about their feelings on the Trayvon Martin shooting, and finds many of them feel they are stereotyped here in Boston.

HEALTH CARE

One of every 88 children has autism or a related disorder, Reuters reports (via The Daily Beast).

A community group in Avon has successfully forced the removal of synthetic marijuana, which is legal, from the shelves of stores in town.

Scot Lehigh argues the Supreme Court justices’ reasoning-by-analogy in the opening days of arguments over Obamacare was misguided. The Times talks mandates with Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who helped shape health care regimes in Massachusetts and Washington, DC.

TRANSPORTATION

State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey goes on Broadside to discuss the MBTA’s one-year budget fix of raising fares and cutting service.

The Globe talks to commuters who say that they might switch to driving rather than fork over extra cash for a monthly commuter rail pass.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The head of the Massachusetts National Guard has been placed on paid leave by Governor Patrick after the Governor learned Adjunct General Joseph C. Carter is under investigation for rape, the Globe reports.

MEDIA

CommonWealth examines the Globe’s latest price increase.

The Herald hosts a coming-out party at its new offices in the Seaport area and Publisher Pat Purcell offers up an interesting comment: “We want to keep Boston a two-newspaper town and in order to do that we had to move physically as well as philosophically.” Come to think of it, Howie Carr didn’t appear in the video.

The Fall River Herald News has debuted an online police and fire scanner for all the towns in the paper’s coverage area that functions like a traditional scanner but, like a DVR, can be rewound several hours for earlier calls.

Romenesko reports that a deal to buy the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com is imminent, just as one member of the investment group seeking to make the purchase is the focus of  investigative stories in the Inquirer and Philly.com.