Monday, September 17, 2012

Selectmen are Hurting Foxboro's Future

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on September 17, 2012.

By Bill Gouveia

            If you can, try and imagine this admittedly farfetched scenario:

            Your next-door neighbor needs a zoning variance to build an addition to his house.  He asks you to support his efforts, in exchange offering to pay for a fence built along your property line.  The agreement is put in writing with a provision clearly stating if you do not build the fence by a certain date, your neighbor will no longer foot the bill.  The addition is constructed, and it increases property values in the neighborhood.

            But you and your family can’t agree on the fence and choose not to build it.  Instead you decide to sell the house and move across town.  You then go to your original neighbor and tell them they have a moral obligation to pay for a fence on your new property.  

            Sound silly?  Well, it’s pretty much what some Foxboro town officials are doing in their long-running dispute with the Kraft organization over a 2007 agreement.   It involves the development of Patriot Place and a promised $7.5 million payment towards building a new sewage treatment plant. 

Kraft wanted support for additional liquor licenses and other things from the town for Patriot Place, which was provided.  The town wanted the increased revenue from the project and the promised money to build a treatment plant, which had to be approved by Town Meeting.

            But the people at Town Meeting voted down the project in 2007.  Five years later, they have never accepted it.  Most officials agree the Kraft organization has no legal obligation to now pay the $7.5 million, and the amount of revenue promised from the development has been met or exceeded.  But some Foxboro selectmen are crying foul, insisting the town’s largest taxpayer is defaulting on its obligation.

Selectmen Lorraine Brue, Virginia Coppola, Mark Sullivan and James DeVellis have been particularly vocal on the matter.  They insist the Kraft group owes the town based upon the 2007 agreement.  They were supported in that view last week by the recently replaced and now former town attorney Paul DeRensis, who claims the Kraft folks have a “moral obligation” and a “social contract” with the town to pay the $7.5 million. 

When the Kraft organization wanted to merely present the case for a casino to be built in Foxboro this past year, these same community leaders refused to allow him to do so.  Selectmen and the town manager prevented Kraft officials from speaking at a public meeting, forcing a judge to issue an injunction allowing it.  They also sponsored a town meeting warrant article to take Kraft land by eminent domain over a dispute about billboards, before eventually rescinding it under pressure.

Now the same people who refused to listen to Kraft’s plans for his own property are insisting he honor an agreement their own Town Meeting turned down.  They slammed the door of town hall shut in Bob Kraft’s face, but now are lecturing him on his “moral obligation” to that same community.  That smacks of hypocrisy and politics.

The Kraft group and the town have been engaged in new talks over future development.  Kraft wants more from Foxboro in the form of support for additional liquor licenses and zoning relief.  The town has severe sewer problems and needs money to fix them.  There would seem to be a natural alliance here waiting to be forged.

But a majority of Foxboro selectmen are saying they may not negotiate until the Kraft group lives up to their alleged “moral obligation”.  Selectman Coppola recently said, “I’m not interested in looking to the future and making negotiations for the future until the past negotiations have been dealt with. That’s where I stand.” 

This is exactly the kind of shortsighted attitude that got Foxboro into this predicament in the first place.  Coppola and most of her fellow board members are trying to rewrite history. 

Town officials need to get over the past and start working on creating a better future for all involved.  Their alleged “social contract” isn’t worth the paper it’s not written on.  If they want a different result, they should negotiate a different deal.  They can’t do that by cutting off the town’s nose to spite its face.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and area town official, and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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