In a 2007 auction presided over by Middleboro Town Manager Jack Healey, the gavel dropped on a selling price of $1,765,000 for 120 acres of land that went to casino developer Herb Strather. This amounts to $14,708 per acre.
This past week, it was revealed that two separate casino promoters have offered $20,000,000 for 81 acres abutting the Narragansett Indians tribal land in Charlestown. This amounts to $246,913 per acre.
If Middleboro had negotiated this same amount per acre for the casino project land, it would total $29,629,560 - which might have come close to helping to mitigate the impact of Jack Healey's lifetime pension.
It is impossible for me to think about Former Middleboro Town Manager Jack Healey without being reminded of Barney Frank or Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Three mumbling, unlikely leaders of men.
How is it that, in the decades since Nixon lost a debate for failure to tan, and in our own era of botox and bleached teeth, these Elmer Fudd warriors found not only acceptance, but success?
I would learn that, decades ago, Healey was blowing into Middleboro just as I was packing my bags and leaving it for good. In 2007, as I was returning to follow the casino chronicles, Healey was emptying his desk and planning for his retirement party. I'd somehow managed to miss Jack's entire career as Middleboro's man-in-charge, and yet, the repercussions of one of his last acts would rock the entire region, polarize the the State, and thrust me personally into a battle I could never have imagined.
Back then some folks considered Jack a hero. They shook his hand, offering both admiration and gratitude for his magnanimous parting gift of an Indian casino. For these people Jack had personally opened the heavens and caused it to rain shiny new firetrucks.
For others Jack was a villain. Back room meetings, suspiciously timed auctions, and that memo which began, "Casino anyone?"
According to this Commonwealth Magazine article by Sean Murphy,
Despite soulful denials of participating in any monkey business, Healey's obvious behind-the-scenes machinations didn't exactly foster trust with some residents. And certainly not with me.
...the casino developers were already in discussions with Healey and other town officials, and that the talks had predated the auction.
Locals seemed delighted to share gossip about Jack Healey which revealed a creativity for self-enrichment. But I never got the time to become familiar with this side of Jack because after dropping the casino bomb on all of us, Healey banked his plane into the clouds and disappeared. Or, as my friend Frank prefers, "went on the lam."
In fact, after his retirement gala, Healey sitings became rarer than red bellied cooters and were sources of much speculation and intrigue.
Until recently. Chatter places an increasingly visible Jack Healey at Town Hall these days. And, not long ago, the Board of Selectmen appointed him as their alternate liaison to SRPEDD because Mr. Spataro, the official liaison from the Board had such a poor record of making the meetings.
But this begs the question - why Jack Healey? Why do some people still seem to trust him to be Middleboro's go-to guy? It seems to me that the last thing Middleboro would want to do, especially in this economy, is to let Jack Healey stick his finger into any more pies.
Because remember, after dropping that casino bomb Jack crashed the plane then jettisoned the cockpit wearing a golden parachute.
Not only was his salary for his last year on the job $142,500, but he'll now collect a pension of $102,700 per year for the rest of his life and an additional $15,000 per year for health care - all courtesy of the good folks of Middleboro. Go shake his hand.
In that same Commonwealth Magazine article, Healey attempts to justify a casino:
...as 2007 began, Healey painted a dire picture of the state of affairs in Middleborough. Residents would have to pay higher property taxes or accept deep cuts in basic services. Police, firefighter, and teacher layoffs were certain. The town was on the ledge, ready to jump. As Healey told a regional section of the Boston Sunday Globe in January, “There are no more rabbits to pull out of the hat.”Well, hadn't Healey killed a few of those 'wabbits' himself with his exorbitant pension? How many people do you know who have lifetime pensions? Pensions larger than most people's salaries? And hadn't he successfully dug Middleboro into a bigger rabbit hole by not fully considering the value of the land, or a mega casino's eventual costs and impacts to the town - issues which would have certainly become apparent with less attempts at secrecy and more public input.
So I ask you, does Middleboro really need more of Jack Healey and his peculiar and expensive form of influence? And will he really be protecting the town's interest at SRPEDD - or just sitting at the table quietly cooking up creative ways to parlay this new role into a private revenue stream? Isn't this assignment sort of like asking a former Enron executive to audit your company's books?
Hey here's a thought, there was a Mr. Cederholm on the Casino Resort Advisory Committee (CRAC) who he seemed to understand roads and highways and infrastructure. And I recall a Mr. Cassady, sitting behind me at the BIA hearings, who demonstrated more than a passing knowledge of the roadways around the casino project. And I am aquainted with a certain Mr. Solimini, a civic-minded engineer who has been involved with the regional commuter rail expansion meetings.
So, there you have three qualified, community-minded folks who might be able to fill Spataro's empty chair, and probably others too - none of whom who have personally soaked the town of Middleboro for millions of dollars.
But, if you just can't resist that silver tongue and those Hollywood good looks, you might just want to get out your checkbook now.