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Originally airing on WHCP 91.7fm on Tuesday 4/16/2024
By News Director Jim Brady

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Mayor Steve Rideout (WHCP archive photo)

Cambridge Mayor Steve Rideout (WHCP archive photo)

Cambridge Mayor Steve Rideout today asserted the city’s control over Cambridge Waterfront Development Incorporated, proposing amendments to its corporate charter that would make the CWDI board follow the city leaders’ directions on the Cambridge Harbor project.

The proposed amendments also specify that city, state, and Dorchester County have the authority to remove any of their appointees on the CWDI board at any time.

Rideout told a crowded conference room at City Hall that he was acting as the sole member of the CWDI corporation.

“I’m disappointed that we have to be here today,” Wright began. “CWDI appears to see its purpose as having changed to being the developer of the property. Despite the clear direction of the founding documents and the property transfer agreement signed by the city and CWDI.

“The role of mayor as sole member emphasizes the critical and foundational role of the city of Cambridge in establishing CWDI, contributing assets towards the development of the Harbor Project and ultimately holding authority of all land use and tax increment financing decisions related to the project.

Over the last year, the city of Cambridge officials have become increasingly alarmed with the direction of CWDI as determined by its board of directors and executive director. My intention this morning was not to rehash any of those concerns in public forum. My intention was not to go into details of the development proposal itself or debate topics swirling around the Cambridge Harbor Project.

Instead, my intention was to provide an opportunity for CWDI and the city of Cambridge to get back on track with a cooperative arrangement that reflects the original intention of CWDI. I view today’s meeting as an invitation to CWDI to move the relationship to a positive track. I hope the board of directors and executive director will accept my invitation as the sole member of CWDI.

The amendments that Rideout proposed are open for 10 days for public comment. They would provide that the mayor has the right to attend all sessions – open or closed – of CWDI’s board, and would have access to all CWDIs documents.

In the absence of the mayor, the president of the city council would act as CWDI’s corporate owner.

“The work of CWDI involves assets paid for by public funds and the public mission on behalf of the city,” Rideout said. “Accordingly, CWDI must ultimately be accountable to public officials elected by the public and accountable to the public. Given the differences of opinion that have developed between the city and CWDI, having the CWDI board become the sole member in the future is not acceptable.

“I wish to reiterate that these proposed amendments by me as the sole member of the nonprofit CWDI provide an opportunity for the Cambridge Harbor Project to get back on track. There are many important and exciting aspects of the current plans. These amendments to the articles make it more likely for the project to be successful.

Ultimately, no major aspect of the Cambridge Harbor Project can proceed without the approval of the mayor and the commissioners, including land use, approvals and approvals of any tax increment financing district. I hope my friends on the CWDI Board of directors embrace this opportunity. I encourage the public to read the proposed amendments and let me know your views prior to my taking further action in this matter.”

CWDI executive director Matt Leonard attended the announcement but turned away when asked whether CWDI was likely to accept Rideout’s appeal.

City manager Tom Carroll said he received a letter yesterday from CWDI’s law firm, threatening to sue the city.

Ridout’s action this morning follows weeks of simmering tension between CWDI, the city administration and a growing number of residents after Carroll resigned, citing intractable problems with the waterfront board.

Rideout attended CWDI’s March 14th meeting as the corporate representative, but Leonard refused to allow him to stay when CWDI went into closed session.

That was followed by a story last week on WHCP that found CWDI had failed to comply with the 2021 agreement with the city requiring CWDI to select a master developer for the Cambridge Harbor site and
provide the public with summaries of each developer’s plans before making the selection. CWDI neither chose a developer nor posted any developer proposals.

Instead, members of its board and Leonard said they concluded all master developers’ plans were unacceptable and they decided to act as the project’s master developer themselves.

WHCP has found no record that this change was made in consultation with the city, state, or Dorchester County officials. Similarly, none of CWDI’s public meeting minutes show that its decision was discussed or put to a vote by CWDI board members.

In a memo Friday to the mayor and city council, Carroll predicted that lawyers involved in CWDI’s planned property sales to an unnamed hotel company and to Yacht Maintenance Company would pause when they discovered that CWDI never picked a developer or disclosed plans to the public as required by covenants in the property transfer agreement.

“CWDI officials have failed to fulfill their legal requirements made to Cambridge community a mere two years ago, even as they continue to describe their plan as ‘community driven’.” Carroll wrote.

“Any CWDI official who is party to the transfer of land in March of 2022, who remains affiliated with CWDI today should resign immediately, so Cambridge Harbor Project can have a new start.”

Leonard, who often avoids fulfilling public information requests, complained in an email last week that city officials were releasing his plans and communications about CWDI to the media and the public.

“The city’s intransigence regarding confidentiality remains an issue,” Leonard wrote in an email Thursday.Leonard noted that he proposed that the city sign a non-disclosure agreement for exchanging information with CWDI.

Carroll replied, “No public official can utilize an NDA to avoid the need to fulfill public records requests. I don’t feel you have ever understood this important distinction.”

Following Carol’s resignation and criticisms of CWDI, Leonard announced that CWDI would conduct a public meeting to address questions from concerned residents. That meeting scheduled for Thursday at 6:00 PM at the Chesapeake Grove Intergenerational Center, 108 Chesapeake Street in Cambridge. Leonard said CWDI will put on a presentation then answer select questions that people emailed to CWDI. The public is not allowed to comment at the meeting – Jim Brady