SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 13, 2013

Benton: Time for action in Peabody

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Actions speak louder than words.

Peabody politicians constantly bemoan the state of that city’s central business district which, unlike those in nearby Salem, Beverly and Danvers, remains less a destination than a place people drive through on their way to someplace else. Yet faced with the opportunity to get more people living downtown — a key to Salem’s very successful urban renewal effort — the City Council has dropped the ball once again.

Bowing to a couple of disgruntled neighbors, including the Knights of Columbus, the council refused to grant North Shore Community Action Programs Inc. the special permit needed to sell its current headquarters on Main Street to a developer who proposed investing $1.1 million to convert the building into affordable housing.

The vote was 5-5 which was enough to sink the special-permit request. Opposed were councilors Barry Osborne, David Gravel, Tom Gould, Mike Garabedian and Barry Sinewitz.

This reporter has long maintained that the council should get out of the business of granting special permits since it has consistently shown itself unable to put the best interests of the city as a whole over the petty demands of a few.

As one of those who favored the project told me, “It’s probably off to court we go (with the developer) … then he wins and gets to do whatever he wants.” Wouldn’t be the first time.

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Although the mayor-elect and others involved deny it, one can’t help but believe that the Beverly City Council’s reluctance to approve Mayor William Scanlon’s lame-duck appointments to various boards and commissions has more to do with the Planning Board’s approval of the North Beverly interchange project than anything else.

Certainly that’s what unsuccessful mayoral candidate Wes Slate believes, noting in a recent Facebook post that a number of very worthy board members are being “thrown under the bus” simply because the Montserrat and North Beverly neighborhood groups “have focused such attention and pressure on the open (Planning Board) seats because of their dissatisfaction with the PB’s recommendation to us on the land-swap and zoning change.” A majority of councilors, including Slate, supported the change.

The fact is there being no language in the city charter to the contrary, the incumbent has the right, if not the obligation, to make appointments right up until the day in January that he leaves office.

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I hope New York City’s mayor-elect Bill de Blasio likes sharing the spotlight. The betting here is that his choice for police commissioner, Bill Bratton, will be getting plenty of headlines and Page Six play.

Bratton, who once served in a similar post in Boston and lived in Marblehead, had a reputation as a publicity-hound during his tenure here. Also interesting will be whether the law-enforcement veteran modifies his views on the practice of stop-and-frisk.

In contrast to the man he is replacing, de Blasio has made clear his distaste for the practice of stopping and searching people who, based simply on appearance, police suspect of being up to no good. Bratton, on the other hand, told a New Yorker writer earlier this year: “Stop-and-frisk is … one of the most fundamental practices in American policing. If cops are not doing stop-and-frisk, they are not doing their jobs,” and without it “this city (NYC) will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”