Somerville Aldermen frown on public funds for private benefit

On October 16, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Several city officials, as well as concerned citizens, have been questioning the role that the city should play in funding and approving certain privately produced events.

Several city officials, as well as concerned citizens, have been questioning the role that the city should play in funding and approving certain privately produced events.

By Harry Kane

The Licenses and Permits Committee sanctioned an Internet Radio Station Concert in Union Square on Sunday, but many of the Aldermen disagreed with the last minute process for pushing the event through, arguing that the Board was not allowed adequate time to examine the event details.

“Radio BDC is Boston’s only live hosted, streaming alternative station,” according to their website. On Oct. 13 the radio station held a festival in Union Square. Hundreds attended the first Live on the Square free music event.

“One of the reasons we’re succeeding now in Union Square and across this city is because our investment in these community and social events,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “These social events are critical.”

Business owner Kenneth Kelly addressed the Board of Aldermen during the Oct. 10 meeting in support of the Radio BDC Concert. “Its events such as Fluff Festival and the event we’re speaking about tonight that help promote and spotlight places like Union Square.”

Not everyone shared Kelly’s sentiment. Even though the aldermen collectively understand that festivals are beneficial to the local economy, there was a consensus that more preliminary talks should occur before approving events like the Radio BDC Concert.

Several aldermen took offense to the publicizing of the concert before the Board could discuss the intricacies of event. “I think that’s a major problem,” said Ward 3 Alderman Thomas F. Taylor. “People come before us and say they want a permit, and they’ve already advertised for the event.”

“I really think it’s really a slap in a face to this Board,” Taylor added. He suggested more “lead time” was needed for requesting permits so that the Board can act appropriately. “People need to understand that this Board is a final granting authority for these permits.”

Taylor recommended that the Board of Aldermen set up a policy to handle non-Somerville organized events, adding that the city should not be responsible for any funds associated with “non-Somerville, profitable events.”

This event cost the city approximately $12,000, according to city officials. The applicant paid for police detail and portable toilets.

Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah L. Gewirtz encouraged the Board to be careful about spending city money on private events. “I support the chairman of the committee,” she said. “I don’t see this as similar to the Fluff Festival or the Honk Festival or Artbeat, which are patently Somerville events.”

During other previous non-Somerville events the city wasn’t responsible for any costs, she added.

“As a city, we shouldn’t be picking up the costs for this event,” said Alderman At Large Dennis Sullivan, who is the chairman of the committee for licenses and permits. “The majority of the money is coming from taxpayers, and that’s why I oppose this.”

Even though time was limited, Aldermen made sure to discuss public safety, crowd control and traffic and parking concerns with Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello during the meeting. Pasquarello fielded the questions and concerns from the aldermen, assuring them that he had confidence in his plan to protect the residents. “I think it covers everything that needs to be covered from a security perspective,” he said.




12 Responses to “Somerville Aldermen frown on public funds for private benefit”

  1. business owner says:

    Let’s get this straight. The radio station advertised the event prior to receiving a permit, yet our BOA approved the permit? What is wrong with this picture? And it cost the taxpayers money? We are on the hook for $12,000.00? NONE of these events should cost the taxpayers a penny. We are already inconvenienced enough when they are held. Any event that closes down areas of the city should be scheduled one year in advance, no exceptions. This needs to stop. I hope they also crack down on road races, such as the one last year run by a private retail operation that hosted 5,000 + runners and shut down streets for the better part of a day.

  2. Ron Newman says:

    Is that really a photo of the Union Square concert? I don’t remember ever seeing so many trees there.

  3. Patrick says:

    Ron –

    That is a picture of the band Roxette, playing a show in Leipzig, Germany in 2011. Of all the free photos to grab for this article, I’m not sure why someone would choose this one.


  4. NewsPolice says:

    Where does it say it’s supposed to be a photo of Union Square? It doesn’t. And the article is about licensing outdoor events in general. Stick with the meds, please.

  5. Patrick says:

    @NewsPolice: I see your point, but if I might push a little bit more on it.

    Some might argue that the picture is problematic on two levels. First, even if the photo’s caption does not state that the photo is of Union Square, it stretches credibility to imply that the reader would not associate the image with the particular event discussed in the two paragraphs situated directly to the photo’s left. Second, if not using a picture of a particular event in a discussion that springs from that particular event, why use a photo at all?

    I think these are valid concerns/questions, and I will be perfectly ready to concede to any sensible arguments. Your point about the article being about “licensing outdoor events in general” doesn’t hold up too well if one notes that the discussion only moves from the particular event to the general in the eighth paragraph.

    Moreover, the ad hominem attack (“Stick with the meds”) doesn’t bolster your argument.

  6. ritepride says:

    Somerville is a city, not a private organization. With these events comes liability, thus no city (taxpayer) funds should be paid for any of these events. Those who profit from these events should be responsible for all costs incurred. If the BOA stopped the city from floating the $25 million bond for the private FRIT corporation then city funds for these other events would never have happened.

    The mayor wants to run functions let him step down and go to work for a private function hall. In the meantime the city needs to curtail these functions and rent out Dilboy Field and charge the appropriate fees. We constantly hear at budget time how the city is hurting for money and then they tie up traffic and business by giving away space. often the wrong space.

  7. NewsPolice says:

    Oh I’m not arguing about anything. Just pointing out that the photo was apparently not intended to depict any particular event and that the issue discussed in the article was outdoor event licensing in general. But I guess I have to repeat myself.

    I do not concede that the photo would imply anything at all to the reader. One who is truly objective that is. It’s a shot of an outdoor concert, obviously intended to be unspecific. I applaud them for doing that, since depicting a specific event would invariably upset someone anyway.

    I’m really baffled as to what it is exactly that is supposed to be objectionable about the photo in the first place. It shows an outdoor concert. That’s it. But I won’t lose any sleep over it. I don’t care if it’s Leipzig or Mars. From an aesthetic viewpoint, adding something visual is better than having nothing, in most cases. It’s a newspaper and a website, not a legal brief. All text and no pictures makes Jack a bored reader.

    These are not valid concerns/questions at all, in my opinion. They are, in fact, way off topic and a distraction from the real issue. Nice try though.

    Regarding the so-called “attack” — well…my observation is that there are some folks who post here who seem strangely obsessive about criticizing some of these articles. Enough so that I’m genuinely concerned about their state of mind and motives. I’ll leave it at that.

    Have fun kids.

  8. Darnell says:

    If only Joe the Phony ran for Governor. Then he could have so much more public money to spend on his megalomania and self-promoting obsessions. But rest assured-taxes will go up in Somerville and the State of Massachusetts. Business as usual.

  9. faxR4fools says:

    A photo of the ACTUAL event in question certainly would have been more newsworthy. For example, did the Union Square event draw a bigger crowd than in the photo? Or was it smaller? Was Roxette there? Did The Leipzig News (nay Leipzig Times) cover the story?? How much does $12,000 equal in euros?!

  10. sometimes says:

    sometimes–when a photo is featured but is neither timely or relevant to the article, it will be noted as “File Photo”. this indicates that it’s just being used to illustrate a point. I didn’t go to school for that, I’ve just noticed it over the years of reading news.

  11. Jana M. says:

    Agree with police. The manufactured uproar over the pic is beyond ridiculous. How about the issue itself? No comment right?

  12. Taxpayer says:

    For a number of years now, people have been asking for transparency in all of the road races, festivals, etc., but have been bumping up against a brick wall. Now some information begins to trickle out, perhaps by accident, and we learn that what we long suspected is true. The taxpayer is on the hook for lots of money for all of these events. This includes, almost unbelievably, events that are sponsored by and for the benefit of, private organizations. I would propose the city provide us a list of all of these ‘community’ events in the past 2 years, what ALL of the costs were, and how they were paid. Going forward I would suggest that ALL costs be paid by the sponsor of the event. Unfortunately this needs to include charity events because we are simply hosting too many of them and the costs are spiraling out of control. Perhaps this will push the events to more appropriate spaces, such as parks or fields which will not require as much in the way of police, etc. Also, any event sponsored by a private, for-profit entity should be charged an additional fee.
    We pay through the nose every year to simply park on the streets our taxes pay for, why are these events on the taxpayer’s dime as well?

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