Planning Board Member Blasts ‘Big Idea’, Calls For Chair’s Resignation

Photo: Pointed exchange; Charles Clark (left) calls for Chair Liz Allison’s resignation as Raffi Manjikian looks on.

In a fiery and personal rebuke, Planning Board member Chuck Clark called for the immediate removal of board’s chair, Liz Allison, for what he alleged has been the abuse of power in presenting a controversial proposal dubbed the “Big Idea” that would move the Belmont Public Library from Concord Avenue to Waverley Square as part of a public/private revitalization of the business center.

What was supposed to be a short recap by Allison of her observation of an Aug. 23 meeting of the Library Board of Library Trustees she attended quickly ignited where Clark made a series of Zola-esque accusations at the chair.

Raising his voice and pointing his finger at both Allison and fellow member Raffi Manjikian, Clark said the controversial proposal was being presented as a board plan when, in fact, it was the invention of the pair he charges of offering to the public a false narrative. 

“It’s not a ‘Big Idea.’ It’s a big lie,” said Clark, adding “I also think as a result [of] the actions that you’ve taken, you should resign as chair of the Planning Board and remove yourself from this process because I think you violated your responsibilities.” 

Clark’s declaration, which came as a surprise to everyone in the room – a quick poll of those in the room and via instant message by the Belmontonian found that no one could remember a similar outburst and call for a chair to vacate their position in Belmont in more than two decades – came shortly after he questioned Allison’s alleged overreach of the board’s mandate and jurisdiction in determining the library’s future.

“I didn’t think the Planning Board had any authority over the library. It has elected trustees. It’s their fiduciary responsibility to take care of the library. It’s not ours. It’s also not our place to post things and push something forward without thinking about it,” said Clark. 

After being accused of abuse of power and asked to resign, Allison matter-in-factly responded by noting that “[i]t does make it a little bit harder to move along to item 2b” on the agenda.

“Well, you can stay or go. It’s up to you,” Clark shot back. 

Just as it appeared that Clark and Allison would be continuing their tête-à-tête, Manjikian interjected by scolding his male colleague for infering that the bringing forward ideas such as public/private partnerships would lead to “your vigorous finger pointing is not the way to go.”

Clark then alleged Allison was “hijacking of the agenda” as an attempt not to discuss the issues at hand. 

“We’ll talk about this on the [Sept. 19],” said Clark. 

Clark would not speak after the meeting, only to say that he will continue to call for Allison to recuse herself as chair.

After completing work on the two scheduled agenda items, Allison circled back to the library, allowing Manjikian to say he hoped that future meeting could move from “affec-laden attacks” to “some point we can talk about the idea,” referring to the private/public development at the heart of the debate.

Allison said she would seek to make the Sept. 19 meeting “the most constructive discussion” on the proposal. 

Clark suggested that rather than focus on the “Big Idea” “we talk seriously about how do we begin to look at planning Waverley Square” noting there are a number of developments moving forward including a major commercial/residential project by developer (and former Planning Board member) Joseph DeStefano adjacent to the commuter rail bridge along Trapelo Road.

The Planning Board’s Karl Haglund said the small working group discussions – which produced the “Big Idea” – which have been popular for many government boards “have gotten off the rails.”

“I want to get back to where any two members of the Planning Board are meeting with anyone else that the full board be notified, so we are not surprised when a major proposal comes out,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting was by far the most emotional associated with the suggested move of the library to Waverley Square since the so called “Big Idea” was first presented in July. Almost from the start, residents have questioned the Planning Board’s authority to submit this proposal. The opposition has been led by the Board of Library Trustees, the elected council that runs the library for the benefit of the town. 

At Tuesday’s night, Trustee Chair Kathleen Keohane made public a letter, dated Aug. 31, which requests the Planning Board to “dismiss” the Waverley Square proposal saying it “would not be in the Town’s or its citizen’s best interests.”

Keohane – who has led the charge against the proposal – reiterated points she made to the Planning Board and the public, that a suggested transfer of the library to Waverley Square (which Allison admitted comments her board has received on the move were running 90 to 10 in opposition) “is a distraction.” 

The Board of Library Trustees approved a new building after a feasibility study was completed on the present site.

“We prefer not to wait (until Sept. 19),” said Keohane. Despite favorable votes by Town Meeting and the Board of Selectmen endorsing the current site for a new library, Keohane said having a competing proposal as well as agreeing to present an article for the creation of a new library building committee to the fall Special Town Meeting rather than in May has been damaging future private fundraising critical to the construction of the new structure.

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  1. Anne Mahon says

    It seems completely reasonable to ask for a resignation in light of the community outrage with what took place. The citizens elected folks who have a fiduciary responsibility to the town. For their work to be ignored and trampled over by appointees, as opposed to those voted to lead, shows inability to understand the role of the planning board and why the town should have considered appointing the very talented urban planners with the experience required when they volunteered to help. We need to reach out to them and plead for a resubmission of their resumes. We can correct this…with talent and expertise….so we can get back on course.

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