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Oversight Committee has vacancies

Body charged with decisions on Rox. land

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Oversight Committee has vacancies
The Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee is charged with providing community input on the disposition of publicly-owned land in and around Dudley Square. Banner File Photo

Nominations are due this Friday, Oct. 19 for seats on the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, a body formed in 2004 and originally charged with providing community input on the disposition of several large publicly-owned parcels in and around Dudley Square.

The call for nominations is the city’s first call for public input on nominations to the 13-member body since it was originally established in 2004. Yet while some Roxbury residents are looking forward to having new blood on the committee, many have expressed concern that the process of determining who gets to represent the neighborhood during deliberations on the largest building projects lacks sufficient community input.

City officials note that the mayor has the ultimate authority to make appointments.

“All appointments are mayoral appointments,” Economic Development Chief John Barros told the Banner.

Under the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, a document community members and city officials created in 2003, the Roxbury Neighborhood Council (RNC) was originally tasked with nominating 30 people to the oversight committee. Then-mayor Thomas Menino was to pick from the list generated by the RNC.

Barros says the city has now opened the process up to anyone who wants to serve.

“We’ve opened it up to the community and said, ‘Anybody can nominate,’” he said. “The mayor will look at the composition of the committee, where people are coming from, make sure there’s business representation.”

The current members of the oversight committee include Roxbury residents as well as people who live outside of the city but have a stake in the local area, including business owners and representatives of local organizations. While the Master Plan called for members to serve three-year-terms, many have served for multiple terms, rolling over repeatedly.

In recent months, community members say, the oversight committee has been meeting and taking votes without the required quorum — the presence of a simple majority of seven of the 13 members. But Barros said the body doesn’t need a quorum to take a vote.

“It’s not necessary, but it’s good practice,” he said.

Over the past few years, the seeming lack of community input on who serves has led meeting participants to question the legitimacy of the oversight committee.

“There’s a sense that having members who sit on the committee year-after-year is limiting community participation,” said former City Councilor Chuck Turner. “There’s a sentiment in the community that community members should play a more significant role.”

Community members’ frustration with the committee has boiled over in recent years, with local activists questioning the legitimacy of the group during heated discussions over development projects. Turner points to Parcel 3, the vacant land across Tremont Street from the Boston Police Department headquarters. While community members have voiced opposition to the developers’ plans for the lot, the oversight committee has repeatedly voted in favor of the developers.

“They’ve had a tentative designation from the BPDA for the last 11 years, but haven’t been able to secure a final designation,” Turner said.

Roxbury resident Lorraine Wheeler, whose neighborhood group, Roxbury Path Forward, represents the Moreland Street area, said the oversight committee often appears to favor developers over neighborhood residents.

“People are aware that the city works closely with developers,” she said. “We all have an interest in development in Roxbury. But the people who live here often feel shut out of the process.”

Waning influence of Roxbury Neighborhood Council

Back in 2003, when community members and city officials were still hashing out the structure and power of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee, city officials agreed that the Roxbury Neighborhood Council would play an active role, nominating members of the group. Yet in the ensuing 15 years, the group has been largely absent from the oversight committee’s deliberations.

“If you look over the last five years at attendance sheets, you’ll not see regular attendance by the neighborhood council,” said Bruce Bickerstaff, who headed the council in 2003. “There is no real Roxbury Neighborhood Council.”

Bob Terrell, who serves as current president of the Roxbury Neighborhood Council, did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

The near-absence of the RNC is depriving Roxbury residents of a critical means for weighing in on major development projects, according to Turner.

“They’ve created a void in terms of an organization’s structure that serves as a voice for community concerns,” he said.

With or without the participation of the neighborhood council, City Councilor Kim Janey says it’s critical that the oversight committee members build trust with neighborhood residents.

“We need a committee that people have faith in, that people trust as representative of the community,” said Kim Janey.

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