By Gordon T. Davis
The old Worcester courthouse, near Lincoln Square, has been tentatively sold by the City of Worcester for $1.2 million dollars to Brady Sullivan, a New Hampshire developer.
The announced plan for the building is a mix of dorms and apartments, with some retail space.
At first I thought this to be good news for Worcester. The complex would be associated with the New England College of Pharmacy and the college would be getting a new building. Based on pioneering and iconic urban planner/city lover Jane Jacobs’ theory, this would eventually mean a more vibrant and growing downtown Worcester.
Before the ink could dry on the contracts/agreement between the City of Worcester and Brady Sullivan, questions were being raised by the Worcester Community Labor Coalition (WCLC).
I know that the WCLC has some long time activists, union members and politicians: Kevin Ksen, Frank Kartheiser, Manny Gines and state rep Mary Keefe. This group has some influence, especially in a City Council election year.
The WCLC demanded that Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus provide a copy of the contracts and agreements between the City and Brady Sullivan.
The group stated that it had concerns about the employer’s compliance with State labor laws. It was also concerned that few if any substantive jobs would go to Worcester residents. WCLC alleged that Brady Sullivan and at least one sub contractor was not in compliance with Massachusetts Workers Compensation laws. The group also said the Brady Sullivan project in Boston had mostly workers from Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Now my question: What is the hurry?
Why didn’t the Worcester City Council subcommittee and the WCLC review the contracts BEFORE they are signed?
Why can’t the review be done now?
Why were the negotiations done previously to the drawing of the contracts and not subjected to scrutiny by the public at large?
I can’t think of a reason.
I know Brady Sullivan has sent an ominous letter to the City of Worcester, implying that it might back out of agreements, if there is more public scrutiny.
In many ways, these events are similar to the agreements with Worcester State University and the expansion of the parking lots near Chandler Magnet School. The City Manager and the University drew up what seemed to be a good plan for parking. Neither the City nor the University involved the public in the planning. The public, in a panic, desperately opposed the plans for an expansion of the parking lot.
The similarity is that City Manager Augustus tried to present the public, not so much as a fait acompli, perfect plans that he assumed no one would oppose.
Worcester politics are such that the public would rather have a less than perfect plan and MORE INPUT.
So I applaud the WCLC for questioning the agreements between the City of Worcester and Brady Sullivan. These agreements should get a thorough vetting by the public, as should the balance of the City Square project.
Hopefully, the Worcester courthouse project will move forward with more input from the public.
And, hopefully, there will be fewer scare tactics by Brady Sullivan, a developer with a less than stellar reputation when it comes to hiring local workers, relations with subcontractors who pay laborers cash and don’t take out workers compensation to protect their men and women on potentially dangerous jobs, and other illegal labor practices that could cost people their lives, as well as money they are owed in unpaid overtime.
To exploit workers is to exploit Worcester.