The Charlestown Neighbor-hood Council (CNC) held its monthly meeting on Tuesday night and almost singularly focused its two-hour deliberations on the potential eviction of Special Townies from its long-time Mishawum Park office space.
The majority of the night centered around an impassioned presentation from Special Townies Director Deb Hughes and her attorneys, as well as rousing speeches by CNC members in favor of fighting any eviction of the community’s only special needs program.
The meeting, however, was no place apparently that the Mishawum Park Tenants Association (MPTA) members felt comfortable, though. Though invited and confirmed, they sent a letter this week indicating they didn’t feel comfortable at the CNC based on social media posts from CNC members that had led to potential harassment. The MPTA controls the office space and the development at Mishawum, but the property is managed by Peabody Properties.
“I’m disgusted and angry and I don’t usually get angry in a public forum because I’ve been doing this a long time,” said CNC Chair Tom Cunha.
“Personally, I want to make sure everything is done that can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen. There are a lot of ways to do that and we’ll do that. I know one thing, if I were a tenant of Mishawum…I wouldn’t pay another dime until Special Townies gets a long lease. You can do that legally, just put the rent in an escrow account. If we need to go out and get signatures for this Board that voted for this to resign, I will do that every day all day.”
For the MPTA, they sent a letter that was read aloud noting that the CNC wasn’t a proper forum to discuss Special Townies.
“We do not feel this is the appropriate forum to discuss these issues, especially in light of the fact that one of your Council members took to social media and questioned the integrity of the MPTA board, and then went on to invite both current and past Charlestown residents (due to the Facebook page it was posted on) to intimidate, harass, and/or to publicly shame our members,” read the letter. “The same post included a snapshot of a list of MPTA Board Members. This is not a valid list of the MPTA Board Members that discussed – at length – the pros and cons of this decision.”
The letter said they are immensely proud to be part of the MPTA board and tasked with making “one of the toughest decisions ‘A Townie’ could have to make. They have done it with integrity, respect and confidentiality.”
The Special Townies has been located in a storefront for more than a decade at Mishawum and has always had a positive relationship with the MPTA and Peabody Properties. Hughes said things started to go sideways last fall when the MPTA said it needed about two-thirds of her space to expand their office for recertification of tenants. They offered to let her stay in the remaining portion, or to relocate to another storefront where Baby Cakes used to be. Hughes said the space at Baby Cakes wasn’t adequate and there had to be consistency with her current space for special needs children – as they don’t adapt well to a move.
Earlier this year, things intensified, she said, and there were notices of eviction sent to her multiple times, though it appears the eviction was not filed in court at the time. Several weeks ago, Hughes and members of Special Townies went public with the matter in the Patriot Bridge, and then this week have gotten a great deal of attention from the Boston media outlets.
Hughes’s attorney, Billy O’Keefe, said Hughes has done everything right and they are in the process of engaging the attorneys for the MPTA.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the room was decidedly and passionately for the cause of Special Townies.
“Anyone who agrees with what is happening now with the MPTA is wrong,” said Member Elaine Donovan. “This can’t happen. We need to stick together on this. The pen is mightier than the sword and we’ll beat the daylights out of them with the pen.”
Said Member Bill Galvin, “I have a feeling I’d like to know more information about what is going on. It’s going to set a precedent. It’s a wonderful, wonderful cause, but some of these things don’t make sense. The people that live down there want to evict you. I don’t understand that because they are all good people.”
Resident Jamie Chambers said he has a daughter with autism and has leaned heavy on Hughes and Special Townies to turn what was a tragedy at first into a great situation for their family. However, he said moving the office would only cause his daughter and the rest of those that participate more hardship because they don’t adapt to change.
“Consistency has to be there,” he said, noting that his daughter counts the number of steps it takes to get from the car to the front door – with any change setting her off.
Mishawum Park resident Kelly Tucker – a former president of the MPTA – said what is being done by the Board is unjust. As a parent of a child with special needs, she said there are no words for how disappointed she is.
“It’s unjust to do this to them,” she said. “You’re going after the most vulnerable. It’s a vital space.”
Kelly Tucker’s daughter, Olivia, said her brother can’t adapt to change, and has trouble when they re-arrange his room. Moving Special Townies would be a disaster for him, she said.
“He doesn’t like sudden change,” she said. “We can’t change his room and if there is a big change for him, he does things he can’t control.”
In a lengthy statement submitted by the MPTA, they wrote that it wasn’t an easy decision to seek out the space for offices, but one they believe they can resolve with Hughes.
“The decision to seek out additional space was not an easy one, but one that was made in the best interests of the residents, and with the sincere belief that an agreement could be made with the tenant that would cause the least disruption, and possibly benefit them by providing an updated design to their space,” read the letter. “Our goal had always been to work this out within our community, and we had believed that we could do so via ongoing dialogue…We love Charlestown, and all the members that make up our very special community. We are saddened that this dispute has taken such a bitter turn, but are hopeful that we can still resolve this issue in a way that respects all of our residents.”
Cunha and the CNC agreed at the end of the discussion to issue a letter to Peabody Properties that the membership is outraged by the “extreme disregard aimed at one of our organizations” and want Peabody to address it immediately.
“We need to take a no-change-at-all attitude here,” he concluded.