2013-11-21 / Around Town

Council Executive Session Nixed

By Tom Shevlin

An executive session to discuss an outstanding debt due to the city from the owners of the Clarke School apartment complex was canceled at the last minute after the city solicitor cautioned that the discussion could run afoul of open meetings laws.

The meeting, which had been posted in accordance with state guidelines, was scheduled to take place immediately following the regular City Council meeting on Nov. 12.

According to the notice posted with the Secretary of State, the discussion had been called into executive session due to potential litigation.

However, with no lawsuit or other legal actions currently pending, City Solicitor Joe Nicholson determined that the council should err on the side of caution and forgo the meeting.

As of press time, the meeting had not been rescheduled, and it remains to be seen how the administration plans to proceed concerning the outstanding $1.3 million loan payment that's owed on the property by its owners, Clarke School Partnership, LLC.

City Councilman Michael T. Farley, who has been a vocal critic of the city's decision last year to delay the loan repayment, said on Tuesday that given the potential financial implications, it's critical for the council to make some decision about the situation.

Citing a strict interpretation of the state's open meeting laws, Farley said that unless the city has explicit plans to engage in legal action against the owners of the affordable housing complex, there is little reason to enter into executive session.

"We haven't as a council had the chance to talk about this publicly," Farley said, adding that he hopes some discussion can take place before the loan becomes due in December.

But according to City Manager Jane Howington, it's still unclear exactly what course of action the city is likely to take.

"I'm meeting with the owners of the property next week," Howington said, adding that she would inform the council of her recommendation based on the outcome of those talks.

When asked if it was likely that a resolution would be reached by year's end, Howington said that it's still too soon to tell.

Earlier this year, Clarke School Limited Partners informed Howington's office that they were unable to meet a $1.35 million balloon payment due on a 1994 loan issued through the city's community development block grant program. In lieu of payment, the Massachusetts based real estate development firm asked for a one-year extension.

However, Farley took issue with the request, noting that the council had already signed off on a similar request for the prior year.

Councilors were hoping to have the loan resolved prior to their Dec. 11 meeting. However, as Howington noted, with no feasible way for the debt to be paid in the coming weeks, it's likely that the issue will stretch into the new year.

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