Conflicting Statements and Lawyerly Responses [OPINION]
In his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell spoke about the parcel of lumber meant for the schooner Ernestina that left Quittacas Yard in Rochester in the summer of 2016 in still unexplained fashion.
To summarize, the mayor has doubled down and still feels very secure with the idea that this was no more than a mistake by an individual at the DPI. An individual whose identity the City still will not share with the public. He made some statements that were credible and logical, so I have no issue with a lot of the remarks.
I do, however, have more questions.
When asked during the segment by Barry Richard where the wood ended up, Mitchell said, "Once it left the City's control, it's hard to know once it goes into the stream of commerce. Who knows, right?"
But toward the end of the hour, the mayor answered a question from a caller who wanted to know why the City didn't try to get the wood back once they realized that a mistake had been made.
"I think they did. I don't want to say it was 'this' and it turns out to be something else, but what is clear is the folks that got it didn't want to give it up," Mitchell replied.
So, is it a mystery where the wood went once gone and in the "stream of commerce," out of the City's possession, or was it located and the people in possession contacted, but they refused to return it? One of those statements cannot be a truth.
Why then didn't the Commonwealth of Massachusetts get notified and thus order a court injunction for the person or people in possession of the wood to not alter the wood or change possession of it in any way without a hearing?
The Mayor also stated that someone who lived out there near Quittacas Pond, drove by the wood and then inquired about it, and was told by a DPI employee that if the interested person would pay for the removal, they could have it.
He said that the DPI workers were under the impression that the Ernestina people couldn't use it because the wood itself had nails and steel and other things that they thought made it unusable.
How could anyone with a shred of authority there not know that they needed to get permission from someone clearly not employed there? They had just given entrance to and escorted a representative of the Ernestina to the lumber. Harold Burnham was there weeks earlier, paid by the Department of Conservation and Recreation to evaluate and assess the use for that lumber for the imminent milling of it for the upcoming restoration plans for the Ernestina.
The City sent WBSM a letter basically blaming the Lang Administration for not informing them of the intentions of the lumber during the 2012-2013 transition. Now they readily admit through the mayor Wednesday that the DPI knew exactly what the wood was, and that they assumed that the wood was not usable for the Ernestina because it had nails in it.
In addition, the City's Public Information Officer Jonathan Carvalho acknowledged to me and Tim Weisberg that the DPI recalls that the Ernestina people visited the yard in 2014 to review the yellow pine beams. I feel secure in saying that based on the 2016 photograph, the DCR sent an expert to examine the wood again. I spoke with him and he confirmed it.
The idea that the new administration and the DPI were "unaware of the intentions for the wood" is bogus. Another untruth.
The last thing I will point out is that there is no vehicle known to man that could provide a view of that lumber from the road. It was stored about 700 feet from the road and into the woods. No public road that passes by the Quittacas Yard offers any such vantage point. No one drove past and saw the lumber and so asked about it. It's a physical impossibility.
Why are we continuing to get contradicting explanations, one after the other?
After Councilor Brian Gomes called for "a full investigation" on-air last week, Jonathan Carvalho wrote to Tim and me, "The City did complete an internal investigation when it came to light that the wood, meant for the Ernestina, had been given away." That would be in 2016.
On Wednesday, Mayor Mitchell said, "We looked into it. An investigation is probably a heavy characterization, (but we) delved into what happened last year after it came up." That would be in 2017, and seems to look like a lot less of an inquiry that the matter seems to deserve.
So why has the information been so hard to drag out and why has it changed so radically in a two-week span in December of 2018?
Why do the statements still come with easily-found contradictions from the mayor's office? Can the truth be so troubling, or do they really offer these things prematurely and in error, only to have to change the releases soon after?
The Ernestina still has yet to explain why they didn't demand a return of their lumber or even any compensation—none at least that has been brought to our attention. The local DCR, as far as we know, made no report to HQ at 251 Causeway Street in Boston.
Just a footnote about my motivation here: I doubt Mayor Mitchell would even recall, but he stopped what he was doing after a Christmas tree lighting ceremony some years back, and personally opened City Hall to let my little girl use the ladies room. If I recall correctly, he was alone, he escorted her and my wife to the building before he realized it was my family. He did this for no other reason than because he's a good man.
The honorable mayor took time out of his extremely busy schedule and appeared at my mother's wake in Brockton in January of this year just to support me. I was truly moved by the selfless gesture to do what little he could to ease my suffering. I take no joy whatsoever in clashing with him or his office on this matter.
As much as I regret the back and forth here, I am determined to get to the truth and will work until I've exhausted the avenues within my reach. I am not sorry that I am pushing forward, but I am sorry if it is adversely affecting a man that I know to be decent to the core.
He is now orchestrating a much closer look into this matter, which is very encouraging and all (I think) people want.
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.