To the editor:
Kudos to the Harvard Hillside for its balanced articles and June 16 editorial on the dispute between Sylvia Anthony, founder of Sylvia’s Haven, and the MassDevelopment agency. Plain and simple, MassDev wants control over land occupied by Sylvia’s Haven at Devens to benefit its bottom line. Plain and simple, Sylvia Anthony wants to maintain control to service the needs of homeless women and their children. Different objectives, choose the more worthy.
It is far from a fair battle: compare the two combatants. On one side, MassDev with a) bundles of money; b) a large, well-compensated staff; c) a phalanx of attorneys; and d) obvious strong connections to politicians at state and federal levels. On the other side, there is but a determined, committed, tough 76-year-old woman with limited staff and even less money. Sylvia has held her own for almost 10 years, but money and political weight are beginning to wear her down.
I have been a Harvard selectman and Planning Board member for much of the past 25 years; been deeply involved in Devens issues for 15 years. I have been instrumental in the permanent protection of some 1,000 acres of open space there and active and effective in ensuring that contamination cleanup was properly done, and it has so far. Often this work conflicted with MassDev, so Sylvia Anthony’s problems do not surprise me.
There was an exception to the above procedure. Prior to 1990, Congress passed the McKinney Act, which gave organizations such as Sylvia’s Haven, that serves a legitimate social need, a priority in the land disposal process. These organizations had the same priority as federal agencies and “excess” federal lands were usually conveyed to them at no cost. Thus, along with federal agencies, Sylvia’s Haven had first dibs on Fort Devens land.
Congressman McKinney (R-Conn.), who authored this act, was an interesting and appealing individual. As I recall, he was a friend, a classmate and a baseball teammate at Yale with George H. W. Bush (the current president’s father). He was a man of resolute but genteel ways, and a Yankee patrician with a decided noblesse oblige outlook. It was my observation that he had a strong and sympathetic concern for the country’s less-fortunate.
I worked with Congressman McKinney on several Connecticut conservation issues during the 1980s, got to know him as a legislator, got to know him as a friend.
For those unaware of Devens goings on and, in addition, Sylvia’s Haven mission, let me repeat myself somewhat. MassDev is the quasi-government agency charged with the responsibility to redevelop Devens. Economic factors are a goal. However, under Chapter 498, the defining state legislation, environmental protection and maintaining a sound and purposeful social conduit are equal goals. MassDev, except when forced to do so by the towns, gives environmental and social need a much lower goal status. Sylvia’s Haven provides shelter for homeless women and their children. She obviously services a societal need, and a very important one. In my mind, the governor and state legislators should give her great praise and awards — not a lawsuit by MassDev.
Especially disturbing is the action, or inaction, of our state and federal legislators. I have great respect for our legislators, all of them, but it is disappointing to witness the disparate treatment of Ms. Anthony versus MassDev. The Harvard Hillside got it right in its June 16 editorial:
“What we have heard so far from politicians is largely a monotoned murmuring as they either claim ignorance or pass the buck to someone else …”
“ they have no right to throw about veiled accusations to further their cause.”
Well said. Instead of attending MassDev’s self-serving PR ceremonies or investigating complaints against Sylvia Anthony, it would be more appropriate for state legislators to investigate MassDev’s abusive treatment of Ms. Anthony and how public funds have been used for this and other purposes. Perhaps a call to the state auditor, Mr. DeNucci, is in order. Nor do I think it inappropriate for our federal legislator(s) to look at the McKinney Act to see if it has been violated in any way by MassDev.
I think of Congressman McKinney, long gone now, and his reasoning and concern for the act that bears his name. Whom would he support in this legal debacle? I know. Do you?