GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 16, 2013

Essex resident takes Conomo issues to IG


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — ESSEX — Citing conflicts with town bylaws and state legislation and claiming other inconsistencies, a town activist has filed a complaint with the state’s Office of the Inspector General regarding purchases-and-sale or installment agreements over southern Conomo Point.

Bruce Fortier, a former selectman, has alleged the current Board of Selectmen created fraudulent installment sale agreements and town officials were not authorized to sell any properties in southern Conomo Point.

While a Special Town Meeting vote in November of 2011 reflects that purchase and sale agreements are allowed, Fortier’s complaint notes there are no plans for long-term leases included in the current bylaw. The article simply states “reserved for future use,” about long term leases, he said.

Fortier’s complaint states the installment and sale agreements are simply “disguised” as long-term leases, and the Board of Selectmen had no right to make the agreements.

One installment and sale agreement, approved by Conomo Point Commissioner and selectmen, states that one resident financed a $187,500 loan through the town, where only the interest, set at 3.5 percent, would be paid back to the town. The resident is not paying back any of the principal amount loaned, only the interest, which totals roughly $6,500 annually; the agreement, approved by the selectmen in December, is scheduled for 30 years.

The installment and sale agreement also states the resident is also given a right to purchase the property for the 2012 appraisal price as long as a deposit is made. The resident is eligible to purchase the property for the length of the agreement — 30 years.

Fortier states there is no obligation on the part of the tenant to purchase the property at any time and there is no penalty for not buying, other than the deposit loss.

Fortier also argues the article that allowed the sale of 41 southern Conomo Point properties, which was approved after lengthy deliberation in the Annual Town Meeting in 2012, is fraudulent.

While the article as written failed, the amendment notes the selectmen must at least collect the “as if vacant value” determined by the appraiser; this version of the amended article passed the Annual Town Meeting last May.

”The amendment was contrary to law and beyond the power of the meeting,” he writes.

In an opinion issued in 2010 by Gregg Corbo of the Kopelman and Paige, the town’s attorney notes the houses on Conomo Point should belong to the town.

”...I believe that the Inspector General’s Office would take the position that the dwellings are part of the Town’s real estate,” he writes.

Representatives from Kopelman and Paige did not return phone calls placed by the Times on Friday.

Fortier points out the town’s official position is rooted in the town’s owning the houses, while the amendment to the Annual Town Meeting article requires selectmen to collect the “as if vacant value”.

Leases or sales of southern Conomo Point were allowed by special legislation in May 2012 that made the town exempt from certain General Laws regarding the sale of real property. The special legislation states that the town may sell or lease property at fair market value in accordance with the bylaw using sound business practices and principles of fair dealing.

”The selectmen are engaged in violating town bylaws and state legislation that they themselves wrote and requested,” Fortier writes.

Fortier also notes in the complaint that the state Attorney General’s office approved the bylaws, but wrote nothing authorizes the Conomo Point Commissioners to give current tenants better terms or more favorable conditions than what will be given to the general public. Also included in the complaint package are two ongoing lawsuits revolving around home ownership and second-year bridge lease rates in northern Conomo Point.

A court document about the litigation states Kopelman and Paige also cite the Attorney General’s approval of the bylaw, the town soon hired an appraiser to put a value on the land value.

Fortier also alleges that the Board of Selectmen deemed the houses on Conomo Point as gifts, as the amendment to the Annual Town Meeting article states only “as if vacant value” is collected. Fortier writes that the properties sold thus far were only for the land only value in the appraisals.

As of Feb. 6, the southern Conomo sales have netted the town $4,892,650, with additional closings pending.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.