The City Council last night cancelled a scheduled hearing on the Commonwealth Day School's controversial departure from its Brattle St. home after three key witnesses failed to appear.
"I feel this is a total disrespect to the City Council," said Councillor William H. Walsh, on learning that Arthur Brooks, Daniel Evans, and John Thompson would not appear.
The council voted 5-4 to ask the witnesses to appear before the council again at a later date, warning that they would be subpoenaed if they did not attend. The council has not used its power to issue an official summons since the early 1970s, according to Walsh.
Although Walsh sponsored the initial order calling for subpoenas, he switched his vote when Councillor Sheila T. Russell took issue with the plan and argued the three should be compelled to attend without a second invitation. Walsh and Russell were joined by longtime Councillor Walter J. Sullivan and Councillor Edward N. Cyr.
The Private, predominantly minority school moved out of its 113 Brattle St. building this summer in the face of opposition from the surrounding neighborhood. Neighbors argued that the school would create noise and traffic problems, and would violate city noise ordinances.
In September 1988, residents collected in access of 200 signatures on a petition opposing the presence of the school. Among the more notable names on the petition were Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55 and Tyler professor of Constitutional Law Laurence H. Tribe '62, who has since repudiated his signature.
Critics charged that the school's opponents were partially motivated by race, noting that little objection was raised when the primarily white Lincoln Institute for Land Policy moved into the space.
A blue ribbon commission appointed last September issues a report earlier this year saying racial bias played a significant role in forcing Commonwealth Day out of Cambridge.
The report also stated that during a five week time period last summer the trash collection ceased for the school and that from June to August 1988 Inspectional Services visited five times.
The City Council had asked Brooks, a Building Appeals Board member whose wife circulated the petition against the school, to explain his involvement in the case. Brooks, whose house at 115 Brattle St. is next door to the schools former building, informed City Clerk Joseph E. Connarton that he would not be in attendance due to a prior commitment, Connarton said.
"It is extremely disappointing that we have invited several employees and an appointee and they have not come here," said Vice-Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72. "This in my view is not a witch hunt. The analogy that was given to me today was that the school has been murdered and we have to know how it was murdered. We need to have an inquiry into what the city's official role in this was." Reeves said.
Deputy City Solicitor Donald P. Drisdell said that Evans and Thompson failed to show because they were advised not to appear by their union. Drisdell said that he speculated that the two were advised to to come because the hearing could have questioned their performance on the job.
"Given the nature of the hearing there is the potential that [it] might be interpreted as an inquiry into job performance," Drisdell said.
The open meeting law requires that any employees undergoing a job performancen inquiry be informed of their rights to an attorney and to have the meeting enter executive session, according to Drisdell.