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Vote on GE’s new complex postponed after open-meeting protest

The GE logo at the front entrance of its Fort Point headquarters.
The GE logo at the front entrance of its Fort Point headquarters. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

After three months of the plans sailing through City Hall, GE’s $200 million headquarters complex along Fort Point Channel hit a speed bump Thursday when the Boston Planning & Development Agency abruptly canceled a key vote over concerns it may have violated the open meeting law.

The vote is likely to be rescheduled in two or three weeks, BPDA director Brian Golden said.

General Electric Co. said the delay wouldn’t affect its plans to break ground early next year.

Still, the episode serves as a minor embarrassment in the budding relationship between Boston officials and the corporate giant they carefully wooed to the city earlier this year.

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At issue was a paper posting of the BPDA’s meeting agenda, behind a glass case in the lobby of City Hall. Shortly after the meeting began, a coalition of anti-GE activists sent an e-mail to the agency, noting that pages listing several items, including the public hearing on GE, were not visible. They called it “a clear violation of open meeting law,” which requires posting in a public place, and asked for the vote to be postponed.

After staff huddled for more than 20 minutes, board chairman Timothy Burke announced that all the items not visible in the posting would be postponed.

“[That page] was covered by another document,” Golden said. “Rather than have these items be approved under a cloud, we decided that adjourning and deferring them was the best course of action.”

GE shook off the episode. The company had brought its full team of architects and consultants to City Hall for Thursday’s hearing, including former senator Mo Cowan. They even hauled in a scale model of the planned complex. They’ll all be back, probably in a couple of weeks, for the final vote, spokeswoman Sue Bishop said.

“It’s no big deal,” she said. “We’re ready. And we’ll do this when they’re ready.”

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James Cook of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee, who brought the matter to the BPDA’s attention, said the way the meeting was posted was no accident.

State and city officials have done everything they can to ease GE’s entry to Boston, he said, including offering the $25 million in city tax breaks that were to be approved Thursday night. Critics, he said, have been largely ignored.

“They know we’re out here,” Cook said. ““They tried to bury that there was public comment available tonight.”

Critics of city real estate deals have lately focused on the open meeting law to try to block projects. In recent months, Attorney General Maura Healey has ruled that Boston’s City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals violated the open meeting law ahead of key votes on projects. They were ultimately approved.


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.