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Malden city councilor fires back at mayor over ethics charge

Posted by Jarret Bencks  December 20, 2012 11:07 AM

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Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said he will file a complaint with the state Ethics Commission charging City Councilor Neil Kinnon is using his elected position to benefit the charter school he founded.
 
Kinnon, the chairman of the council’s Public Property Committee, has criticized a proposed relocation site for the city’s public works yard and some City Hall offices on Eastern Avenue since the proposal became public in late November. The parcel abuts a newly built athletic field belonging to Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, which had previously looked into buying the land, Christenson said.

Kinnon is the chairman of the charter school board of trustees. 

“He’s conflicted,” Christenson said Wednesday.“He needs to recuse himself going forward.”
 
Kinnon on Tuesday in a Public Property Committee meeting voted for a resolution to recommend the City Council reject the proposed relocation site, owned by Boston Steel Co. The vote passed, 3-2, with councilors David D’Arcangelo -- who offered the resolution -- and Jim Nestor joining Kinnon in opposing the location. Kinnon called for the public meeting to be held.

The vote was the tipping point for Christenson, who said Thursday he plans to file a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission. 

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to travel down this road,” the mayor said.

In a phone interview Thursday, Kinnon said he opposed the site because it is between two densely populated neighborhoods and it will be too expensive, not because of its proximity to the charter school he founded. Christenson is trying to silence his opposition, he said.

“If he believes his threats will stop me from speaking on behalf of my constituents and the citizens’ tax base, he is sadly mistaken,” Kinnon said.

The 2-acre site was the only one offered to the city after it announced a request for proposals in late October, Christenson said. If purchased by the city, it would be developed into a new public works yard and offices for a City Hall annex, Christenson said, which would include the city’s planning, engineering,inspection,permitting, and information systems offices. 

A panel, appointed by Christenson,is tasked with reviewing relocation options for the public works department, currently located on Commercial Street. It is expected to make a recommendation to the mayor early next year. The former public works site will be redeveloped commercially, he said.
 
For Kinnon — who is not on the appointed panel — to discuss the proposal before a recommendation is made is premature, Christenson said.
 
“Here we are finally making progress to address this issue and he has to immerse himself when the time isn’t right,” the mayor said.

But Kinnon said the city charter calls for the council to have authority over municipal buildings, and that he is only doing his job by bringing the proposal before the committee he leads.

“That is my prerogative and my duty to the citizens of the City of Malden,” he said. “It is not the mayor’s duty.”

Kinnon said he made a complaint of his own against the mayor with the attorney general’s office in November. It claims Christenson violated open meeting law by asking the Malden Redevelopment Authority to reach out to owners of possible relocation sites without permission from the council, and that the mayor voiced his support of the Boston Steel parcel as the relocation site in an October meeting, before a request for proposals was announced.

The process for relocating both the public works yard and City Hall “reeks of favoritism,” Kinnon wrote in his complaint.

“He’s playing fast and loose here and he needs to start following the law,” Kinnon said Thursday.

Christenson dismissed Kinnon’s allegations.

“I don’t believe we had violated any open meeting laws,” he said Thursday, adding that his complaint was separate and distinct from Kinnon’s.

“One is about the open meeting law and one is about a conflict of interest,” he said.

The panel reviewing the relocation includes city councilors Barbara Murphy and Neil Anderson; Kevin Duffy, the city’s strategy and business development officer; and Deborah Burke  and Stephen Wishoski of the Redevelopment Authority.

The City Council is expected to vote on the Public Property Committee’s recommendation to reject the proposed relocation site for the public works yard at a meeting in January. 

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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