Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ain’t That A Crime?

Kenneth M. O’Brien


To begin by answering my own question, “I don’t know for sure.”

What I can do is provide you with the facts as I know them and allow you to formulate your own opinion. Perhaps those among you with even greater knowledge can do even more.

On April 19, 2011, The Southbridge Evening News published a front-page article titled. “Town releases top delinquents on water, sewer bills”.

In that article, the town manager was quoted as follows: “One of the things this year that has come to my attention was, ‘What can we do for a collection rate?’ said Town Manager Christopher Clark. ‘If we send out 4,200 bills to all of the customers in town and for every 100 bills, about 80 percent of them pay them on time. Four percent of people pay them within two weeks of it being due. It was brought to my attention and I was asked how efficient was it and how can we do better?’”

Now, at first glance, this would appear to be a reasonable matter.

Among all the offenders, the most egregious was Southbridge Associates II, LLC, which owed $234,919.52. This was over 14 times the next violator on the list.

Southbridge Associates II, LLC, of course, are the owners of the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center, recipient of massive property tax concessions from the town for all the economic benefits that they have provided (irony intended).

Of course, the media ignored this minor transgression. Everything was copasetic given that the company was refinancing and would be able to pay the bill. There was of course no discussion of the fact that it took several years to accumulate this massive debt to the town while residents had to make up the shortfall that resulted through massive increases in water and sewer rates.

As we all know, the controversy eventually came to focus upon the arrears of one family, the Lazos.

Never mind that they did not appear on the first-published list of the 25 worst offenders.

Somehow, their position far down on the list, not as individuals but as a family, became the hot topic of local coffee shop gossip.

Of course, there would be some interest because Steve Lazo is the Chair of the Southbridge Town Council. But, none of the properties listed were in his name. It was the family that was being castigated in order to, one might assume, discredit the Chair of the Town Council.

Isn’t it interesting that he is up for reelection in the local election next Tuesday?

Now, all of this would be idle partisan speculation, except for one nagging fact.

That fact is an internal town hall memorandum, dated March 31, 2011.

It is a memo from the town treasurer to the Chief of Police titled, “Lazo Family Unpaid Balances”.

In the upper right hand corner is the hand-written remark. “Chris” Now, in my experience, that indicates that the signatory also received the memo.

The memo concludes with the statement, “Please let me know what further information you need to complete your investigation.”

Now let me be clear that I am not faulting the town treasurer. In my experience she is an able, ethical and apolitical official.

What is questionable is the fact that the announcement of the publication of water and sewer violators was announced in the press on April 19, two and a half weeks after this memo was written.

In reading the memo, it is notable that the particular focus of attention is water and sewer bills and shutoffs.

It is also notable that in the June 20 issue of the Southbridge Evening News, buried on page 2,  it was reported that, “Police Chief Daniel Charette has been involved in this and we asked him if any criminal activities have taken place by turning them back on,” Clark said. “We had a meeting and discussed this and it is a violation of a regulation and not necessarily a violation of law. We go through what the regulations tell us to do and it says that if people tamper with it, it’s a $300 fine.”

Now, I won’t bother to go through all the intricacies of possible unauthorized entry into private property that may constitute a violation of the fourth amendment of the Constitution, or the fact that shutoffs may have been done with the implicit approval of water company officials.

What is truly compelling is that there appears to have been a premeditated targeting of a particular family under the ruse of a public policy.

Even more insidiously, it appears to have been in anticipation of an election in which a member of that family, who constituted a powerful impediment to agendas favored by certain town officials, was up for reelection.

As for myself, it is my opinion that these facts alone warrant a serious investigation by authorities at a much higher and impartial level.


13 comments:

  1. Nice work Ken, this is an excellent investigative piece. Keep digging on this one because if Clark and Charette have conspired to use town resources as it appears, they may be the ones who are ultimately found guilty.

    How's Charette doing with that fertilizer/coke/extasy investigation he started last Summer after the Rave anyway?

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  2. Ken
    What you fail to mention is that the Lazo family tampered with the water meters to gain the use of water in the buildings that were shut off. I would be willing to bet that most people are a having diffcult time paying bills that include water and sewer. Having been in that position myself I found the town more than willing to work out a payment plan to catch up. But I had to ask. The problem is someone had access to thier buildings and TAMPERED with the meters and thats wrong and that should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. I know that the chairman is your friend and you will stand behind him as a good friend does. But it dosnt make it right. It may not have been the chairmans house or buildings but he was and is fully aware of it. We all have something in our closets that finds its way out. Soon it will be the liquior board issue and we all know you will defend this action to, as a good friend does. I wish you were on my side.

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  3. The memo doesn't come up when you click on it.

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  4. I'm at a loss for what to tell you.
    I just tried it and it worked fine.

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  5. It is disingenuous to say that I am defending Lazo because I am his friend.

    The Chief of Police admitted himself in the Evening News that what had happened was not a violation of the law but merely of regulations.

    All of the details of this matter were outlined in a March 23 memo from Whitewater to the DPW Director.

    If the Chief knew all the details before the March 31 memo, why was the police department investigating the Lazo family when no criminal activities were involved?

    Further, why was this whole matter given such urgency only a few months before an election?

    Friend or not, the seeming use of official resources to affect an election on matters that had been ongoing for years prior seems to me to be inappropriate at the very least.

    I also want to acknowledge the fact that, had Councilor Clemence not distributed what were internal memos that no one otherwise knew existed, this whole matter might never have come to light. I think that admirably fits the definition of hubris.

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  6. Anonymous asserts that the meter was tampered with by the Lazo family. First off, you're spouting hearsay. Where's the evidence that the meter has been tampered with? Tampering with a meter is a crime according to Mass General Law. The chief stated in the paper that there was no crime, only a violation of a regulation. Your post is contradictory.

    I would also ask you, what qualifies you as having such intimate knowledge of the subject? The memo clearly shows that water company employees entered the property without permission and unescorted. If they did it, anyone could have done so as well. Unless there is an eye witness, then you're spreading a falsehood without supporting evidence.

    That is libelous and slanderous.

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  7. Ken
    cant access the memo...this whole issue came about during the hearings of the rate increase that was going to take place it was council themselfs that pushed the issue about people not paying the bills and that the town should go after the non payers...Simply put had they paid the bill....had they not tampered with the meters this would not have happen...during election some things are taken advantage of does it make it right...it all depends who side you or I are on...It happens all the time... you know as well as I do if the shoe was on the other foot it would be used against the other side...the last election proved that. One thing I have learned is in Southbridge you better have thick skin to run for public office because if you dont you will be chewed up alived then spit out...

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  8. Anonymous
    Libelous and slanderous....maybe you should read the newspaper articles about it and while your at it read the artcle in todays T&G about the liquor issue.. Thank god your not my lawyer

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  9. From what I can determine, inability to download the document may be a firewall issue.
    I've attached a copy of the memo to the post.
    While not esthetically pleasing, it will, I hope, solve the problem.

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  10. What does it take to make people realize that this is a real issue?
    A number of years ago (as I observed it) a person who was a political activist was dragged into court for making intemperate remarks to a councilor (and current candidate) whose husband was on the police force. Everywhere she went police vehicles followed her to the point where she and her family couldn’t take it anymore and withdrew from public discourse.
    Local merchants, who have contributed mightily to local causes, were targeted for liquor law violations (bordering on entrapment) and publicly humiliated. All, apparently, to justify a grant. Thank goodness one of them had the cahones to defend himself and be exonerated.
    Another blogger was dragged into court on a nuisance complaint by a former councilor that was summarily dismissed. In an effort to silence him, and him alone, all references to local bloggers were removed from the town website.
    Where are all the sunshine patriots who pay lip service to the Constitution, free speech and the right of dissent?
    Now we are seeing an entire family targeted for a police investigation, which the police chief admits did not involve criminal actions.
    We’re not dealing with the Gambino’s here people!
    After all, you might be next, or more likely me!

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  11. Charette and Clark should be fired for doing the dirty work of Clemence.

    Hyde tolerates her, and this town should demand they all go!

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  12. Your town is a complete joke.

    One Councillor, Bouselea-Clemence, thinks she owns and runs Southbridge.

    Another calls your residents pigs, while morphing into a human poodle.

    Spinelli stays he's his owna, after checking with Bouselea-Clemence to see if that's ok.

    Mr. Leghorn only speaks when it's self serving.

    A crooked police department that harassed its citizens and lets its own crooked cops pay back what they stole?

    Your town manager brags about a non existent park with no economic development, taxes everything you do to pay his salary?

    And you wonder why no one wants to make Southbridge home?

    Catherine and I made Santa Monica home without any of this bullshit for fifteen years.

    Our mayor made less than your Town Manager.

    Fools!

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  13. Why the police are involved in investigating ONE person/family on that list should tell you who's behind this winning at all costs scandal.

    For anyone that doesn't pay attention in Southbridge, "Chris" seems to indicate our Town Manager, Chris Clark, Charette at the PD, and if you don't think Clemence is pulling the strings on these two, you're either living under a rock, or in denial.

    Clemence is the real bully in town, along with her cohort, Nikkola.

    None of them should represent ANY of us, since none are like any of US.

    If you want change, get rid of Nikkola this year, and Clemence and Livengood next.

    All these people have managed to do is bully the towns residents, raise taxes, involve the police in matters they have no right to be involved in, and call us all PIGS.

    Charette should be investigated for using his position to bully the Lazo's, myself, and others with BS allegations.

    Ironically, a person under HIS command steals money, and instead of being arrested and charged, he gets a pass.  Yet he and Clemence are trying to make the Lazo's look bad?

    These people should check out a mirror.  There are worse than anybody in town, and they all need to go.

    Tuesday is your chance to start bringing an end to this nonsense, and start to take back our town.

    Speaking of agendas, just read Checkosky's dopey letter in the paper this week.

    Mr. Know-it-all is SO out of touch.  Best choice translates to bad choice.

    You should encourage anyone at their victory party at the Golden Greek to email a picture of them all in cahoots!

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