Over the past few years, I have been the subject of much ire, false accusations, and character defamation. I’ve not responded to it before because engaging with people who choose to behave that way is not fruitful. Those who have accused me of supposed wrongdoing have never taken the opportunity to address any of those “concerns” with me directly, instead opting to besmirch my character online. As many of those accusations continue to be flung broadly about on social media, and in light of my re-election campaign, I feel it’s time to clear up a few things.
Needham Heights Neighborhood Association
- I was invited to join in 2017. At the time, I explained to the leadership team that I didn’t live in the Heights. The board told me that residency status was not a requirement to join the Association, the board or to be an officer. I was invited to serve as President because I volunteered to produce a number of programs. I put countless hours in simply to do good. I had the full support of the board. I believe that in our small town, it is possible to have empathy and understanding for our neighbor’s condition. I’ve supported the Girl Guides while I am myself, not a girl. I’ve supported Alzheimer’s research while not having had Alzheimer’s myself.
- Years ago, the Association was an advocacy group. By the time I joined, the mission had changed to rebuilding membership and encouraging civic engagement. The Association was focused on producing programming that informed residents of activities in the Heights and across town. Some programming included meetings with the town’s economic development director about commercial and development activity and zoning changes. Before joining, the Association hadn’t taken a position on development activity or zoning changes. While the Association did not oppose the Highway Commercial 1 rezoning, it also did not support it.
- The Articles of Organization declared that the purpose of the Association was to promote amenities that improve the Heights in addition to protecting, preserving, and restoring the residential character. The article “opposition to the expansion of commercial business in residential areas of the Heights” is a specific statement against existing residential lots. This last statement was twisted to argue against rezoning Highway Commercial 1 and Bulfinch’s new development on the Muzi site. However, the Muzi site was not residential; it was zoned industrial and, therefore, not under threat.
- In January 2020, months after the original Highway Commercial 1 zoning amendment obtained majority support at Town Meeting, the Association hosted a community-wide program to discuss constructive improvements to the zoning. This event was not a Planning Board meeting, as has been suggested repeatedly, but rather an opportunity for civic engagement. Members of the Planning Board and the Select Board were invited to meet with Association members and other residents who had signed up to receive Association news to discuss the zoning. Including residential uses in the zoning was first mentioned at the meeting. Anyone who was regularly involved with the Association – members and interested residents – knew that leadership was not anonymous and that the Association’s mission focused on civic engagement.
- As the president of the Association, I chaired the meeting. I stated upfront that members of the Association’s board sat on various town bodies, including the Select Board and Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), and I disclosed that I was a member of the CEA. Although the CEA originated the Highway commercial zoning bylaw, the CEA’s work was complete before the Association’s January 2020 meeting. By that point, the responsibility fell on the Planning Board. I was not a board member until the following April. The Association was not a stooge for the Planning Board, the CEA, or any other government body. Casting such aspersions is irresponsible and foments mistrust in our institutions.
- For decades, the Association was delayed in filing its annual reports in a timely fashion. Even though our board was more focused on programming than administrative filings, I was wrong to let that practice continue and should have prioritized reporting.
- I have also been accused of conflicts of interest and abuse of power because of my volunteer work with the Association devoted to civic engagement, my participation in the CEA, and my role on the Planning Board. I want to be clear: I have no financial or any other type of business or personal interest, nor do I stand to make an economic gain in my real estate practice by serving on the board. This is yet another tactic to foment mistrust in public institutions and is clearly meant to harm me and my family personally.
- The ultimate goals of the CEA are to improve the Town’s economic condition. Small businesses in town create amenities that increase livability for residents. Proximity to amenities raises property values. Companies of all kinds significantly offset the residential tax burden that enables us to invest in our infrastructure, public services, and people.
- Needham has serious challenges, and we need serious people to solve them. We need constructive civic engagement and a willingness to work together. Those making the most noise and spewing disinformation are not interested in solving these challenges for the good of the entire community. These voices have been absent from the discourse on 100 West St., 50 Central Ave., 9 B St., 140 Kendrick Ave., 29 Franklin St., 120 Highland Ave., 1688 Central Ave., and 888 Great Plain. They have also been absent from the Council of Economic Advisors and other Needham Heights Neighborhood Association meetings. Instead, they have chosen their specific online soap box and conjured a narrative, regardless of the facts. These few individuals have decided that the politics of fear, bold accusations of abuse of power, and creating an “us” vs. “them” narrative is how town politics should operate. It’s a distraction. It’s nonsense, it’s not substantive, and it is not a reflection of Needham.
I acknowledge my imperfections and mistakes. I do my best to learn from them, and that’s the quintessential distinction. Good comes from curiosity and kindness; the opposite comes from fear and hate. I have spent countless hours reviewing, adjudicating, and ruling — not according to personal interest, but in adherence to the law — on 38 applications before the Planning Board. I successfully led three other zoning changes through Town Meeting over my current term, all while volunteering elsewhere in the town, growing a small business, and teaching my son about giving back and working in the service of others.
I hope that by posting this, I have provided some answers and insight into these baseless attacks. While I challenge all of us to conduct ourselves with decency, especially in online fora, it may be naive to assume this will not lead to a fresh round of online vitriol. Thankfully, I am blessed to have a large, supportive group of Needham residents who know my character and believe in our Town’s institutions. If you have a question about my intention or any decision I’ve made, I welcome the opportunity to answer it. I appreciate your support over the years and hope to earn your vote in April.