Working for the City: Mayor Explains Purpose of ‘lobbyist’

Mayor Carlo DeMaria appeared before the Board of Aldermen Monday night, at the request of Ward 5 Alderman – and Mayoral Candidate – Robert Van Campen, to explain why the city had hired a lobbyist and how the lobbyist is being paid.

Turns out, the Mayor had good answers to both questions, and other answers that Van Campen put to him about the role and functionality of the lobbyist.

Van Campen began by explaining to his colleagues that he became aware of the lobbyist “a few weeks ago” during a discussion with a resident, and later heard about the lobbyist again in a separate discussion with another resident.

“At the time, I didn’t know anything about why the lobbyist was hired, how he is being paid, what process was used to hire him or anything else,” said Van Campen.

When the Mayor took the podium he told Van Campen and the Aldermen that the city had indeed hired the firm of O’Neil and Associates to help the city with efforts to secure state and federal grants funds to undertake major infrastructure projects around the city.

“The city went out to bid through a public procurement process and hired the firm of O’Neil and Associates,” said Mayor DeMaria. “The contract is for one year, at a rate of $7,500 per month, which is being paid out of the UDAG grant.”

DeMaria went on to explain that the UDAG grants, which stands for Urban Development Action Grant, are funds that the city can use for planning and community development purposes and that O’Neil and Associates were specifically hired to work on major infrastructure projects for which the city has been pursuing state and federal funding  for several years to no avail – such as the Beacham Street reconstruction, a north Ferry Street reconstruction project, the proposed Everett flag stop on the commuter line and the extension of the Silver Line.

Any of these projects has the potential to bring the city several million dollars in funding that would allow them to proceed at no cost to taxpayers.

Planning and Development Director James Errickson then explained the purpose and limits of the UDAG funds, which are available to the city because of its previous participation in a federal urban redevelopment program in the 1980s.

In that original federal program, which is now defunct, the city and federal government loaned money to commercial and industrial businesses in the city, with the goal of helping them to reinvest and grow, and the promise of repayment to the city over a 30-year span.

The fund actually brings in somewhere between $50,000 and $90,000 annually, which the city can use for planning and community development purposes. The funds have typically been used by the city to match other state or federal grants or to fund feasibility studies and planning efforts by outside agencies.

According to Errickson, the UDAG is within the final five or six years of repayment to the city and the contract with O’Neil and Associates will not exhaust the remaining fund.

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