Amaral to sue city within 30 days

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/Patti Amaral, who spearheaded a $270,000 drive to renovate Mattos Field, named for a Gloucester soldier killed in World War I, is suing the city of Gloucester over actions related to the field's transfer to School Committee control for use as the site of a new elementary school.

A Gloucester advocate for open space says she is counting down the days until she takes legal action against the city to save a field she loves. 

Thirty to be exact. 

Patti Amaral’s attorney, Thomas A. Kenefick III, in an Oct. 28 letter, notified Gloucester’s City Council that Amaral would be taking legal action in the next 30 days against the city to protect the ballpark Mattos Field on Webster Street from being developed for a combined elementary school. 

“This letter is designed to provide you in some detail the various areas of concern which we believe to be illegal and as to which we will be undertaking litigation at some point within the next 30 days in the Essex County Superior Court,” Kenefick wrote.

On Sept. 29, Amaral filed an intent to sue the city with the Superior Court in Essex County, claiming the city is withholding an approval it claims to have received from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to transfer control of the softball diamond to the School Committee for the school building project.

"We are going to find out, with assistance from a top legal team from Springfield, how is Gloucester exempting itself from all of the protections we own as citizens, and why is the EEA apparently looking the other way," Amaral said in the release announcing the intent to sue. 

The newest letter outlines six actions Kenefick and Amaral accuse the city of having taken illegally in its pursuit of the new school, which would house the combined student bodies of East Gloucester and Veterans Memorial elementary schools.  

Kenefick claims the city violated Massachusetts School Building Authority regulations by not obtaining approval from the EEA, that Gloucester has not requested nor has initiated approval by filing an environmental notification form, and that the MSBA has not obtained any project review documents from the state Secretary of Environmental Affairs.

Another allegation contends the city violated state law by transferring Mattos Field to the School Committee while the East Gloucester Elementary School land continues to remain in School Committee custody, while there is no Article 97 deed restriction on the East Gloucester land. There was a restriction as outlined in Article 97 of the state Constitution on Mattos Field, which the city appealed to the state Legislature to overturn.  

Other allegations claim the Massachusetts School Building Authority's Board of Directors approved the project without first performing the fundamental environmental reviews as required by Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act and other regulations; that the city, not having a Park Commission, accepted the recommendation of the director of Public Works to declare Mattos Field surplus recreation land, in violation of state law; and that not having Mayor Sefetia Romeo Theken chair the School Committee violates state law. 

The city’s response

“We believe the city acted in a legal and proper manner and will be prepared to defend against any lawsuit that says otherwise,” the city’s interim chief administrative officer, Vanessa Krawczyk, told the Times in response to Kenefick's latest letter.

The city’s confidence in its defense is not new, as General Counsel Chip Payson rebutted Amaral’s previous arguments at a City Council meeting Sept. 29.

In her first letter, Amaral had accused the city of not providing her with three documents she had requested through a public records request: a copy of the EEA’s approval of the Mattos Field conversion to the School Department; a copy of such approval from the EEA; and a copy of a list of any Gloucester municipal board or commission members, authorized by law, to act as park commissioners for the city.

“To argue that the EEA never approved this doesn't make any sense,” Payson said at the Sept. 29 City Council meeting. 

He said the approval had been made verbally during a Dec. 12 phone conversation between him, the EEA, and city Planning Director Gregg Cademartori. “I think implied through the fact that this bill passed is a clear indication, with no issue, that the EEA did in fact approve this, as did the Legislature," Payson said. 

Payson detailed that, as Amaral requested the EEA approval through a public records request, his office responded on Aug. 17 at 11:58 a.m. to communicate to her that the approval between EEA and the city had been verbal.  

He also noted that while the city has a Park and Recreation Commission Ordinance, there is currently no commission, which is why the city did not provide Amaral with a list of commissioners.

The root of the suit 

Amaral’s intent to sue originates from a desire to save Mattos Field, a softball diamond at 11 Webster St., from being developed into the proposed new elementary school building. 

If the new building is built, the city has agreed to relocate the ballfield to Green Street and the School Committee has committed to dedicating the playground at the new school to Pvt. Joseph Mattos, a casualty of World War I. 

The development, however, is dependent on the residents of Gloucester, who will vote whether or not the city can temporarily raise taxes to afford the construction project of the new school on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The  proposed debt exclusion is Question 3 on the ballot.

And now, with the days ticking by before residents vote and Amaral undertakes legal action, all anyone can do is wait. 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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