Following a lengthy and heated executive session in which loud voices and the slamming of a table could be heard from a closed-door room, the City Council voted 9-2 in public on Tuesday for the city to cover the $1.1 million payment a jury ordered the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority to make.
The payment will go to Therese Anderson and Tamara Cullaz, who won a lawsuit in 2008 claiming they were underpaid when the troubled agency took their property by eminent domain.
The decision will also settle a pending lawsuit against the ARA and the city claiming the civil rights of Anderson and Cullaz were violated by the ARA's failure to pay the jury award.
The money will be released this year in three istallments of $369,000, with the first payment being made within the next 30 days. The city could recover two-thirds of the cost through the pending sale of an ARA property on Wall Street, off South Main Street.
Prior to the vote, Councilor Brian Kirby, who heads the Committee on Budget & Appropriations, encouraged his colleagues to support the proposal.
"The city can then move forward through these dark clouds and move on so that the ARA can ... continue the good work that they've done and these projects can then move forward without the incredible albatross that has been around their necks for so long," Kirby said.
City Solicitor Robert Mangiaratti, who proposed the plan along with Mayor Kevin Dumas, told councilors if they rejected the proposal, the city leaders risked the loss of significantly more money in the civil rights suit. Also, he said the ARA would be forced to sell its properties at auction to come up with the money to pay Anderson and Cullaz, which he said would essentially put the agency out of business.
"The redevelopment authority is worth preserving because it does serve a lot of good for the city," Mangiaratti said. "Although it has had terrible problems in the past, it is making a very strong effort to benefit the public through the downtown project and to work its way through all of these problems."
The two dissenting votes came from Councilors Richard Conti and Jonathan Weydt. After the meeting, Weydt said he did not think the city would be getting enough money back from the ARA.
"We left a lot on the table, I believe," Weydt said. "We could have had a lot more than that."
He added, "There is a lot more debt that needs to be repaid for the ARA … and we'll be back at this table again several times."
Nobody spoke about the plan with enthusiastic support. Councilor Shannon Heagney called it a "necessary evil that needs to be done." Councilor Jeremy Denlea said he did not necessarily like it.
"But sometimes in life, the right thing to do is not the popular thing to do," Denlea said. "And I am convinced that this is the right thing to do for the city of Attleboro."