Time for new leadership in the House


It is time to clean house.

The report on the Probation Department released this week by Independent Counsel Paul F.Ware, together with the Globe Spotlight Team’s report on Rep. Thomas Petrolati published in October and the Globe’s earlier report on Probation Department Commisioner John O’Brien paint a depressingly familiar picture of how business is conducted on Beacon Hill.

Both DeLeo and Petrolati were part of the patronage system that filled the Probation Department (and many other departments) with their relatives, friends and campaign contributors.  Indeed, Petrolati seems to have been at the heart of it.  For example Ware’s report states:

“Candidates sponsored by politicians had a remarkable success rate in being hired or receiving promotions…  Speaker DeLeo appears as a sponsor for 12 candidates, and was successful in having seven of them, 58.4%, hired or promoted.” (page 11)

“Underscoring the quid pro quo nature of the arrangement, one of the legislative liaisons tasked with helping create the Sponsor Lists testified that the legislators with the greatest sway were those in leadership positions…” (page 22)

“…DeLeo and Petrolati also appear on a list of the twenty most-frequent recipients of contributions from Probation Department employees since 2000.” (page 23-24)  (Actually Petrolati is #1, with almost twice as many contributions as any other legislator, and DeLeo is #9.  The vast majority of contributions to both were from people outside their districts, and in most cases those people got promotions after their contributions.)

“Executive Director Price testified that he routinely received calls from many politicians or their staff, including Representative Petrolati, former Speaker DiMasi, Speaker DeLeo,…” (page 158)

And on an on and on.  Criminal investigations to follow (see section 7 of Ware’s report: “7. Fraudulent Hiring and Promotion May Constitute Criminal Conduct There is credible legal support for the conclusion that the fixing by public officials of a putatively objective interview process for hiring and promotions in favor of politically-connected applicants constitutes criminal conduct in violation of federal fraud statutes.” (page 25)

How can these men possibly retain their leadership positions?

7 replies on “Time for new leadership in the House”

  1. Not to minimize the overall horror of the report, I do think that the report puts different officials in different lights.

    In the Globe, Ware is quoted as saying he does not believe Speaker DeLeo broke the law. It is significant that Speaker DeLeo actually testified for the investigators. He did not assert his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination, unlike former Speaker Finneran and others. The report, at page 204, actually concludes a lack of relationship between contributions to Speaker DeLeo and personnel decisions in a particular instance that had been alleged.

    The evidence in the report clearly makes an overwhelming case for changes and further suggests that the changes are overdue. It will take a few weeks for people to digest the report and reach consensus on what those changes need to be. The issue definitely has stay on the front burner — the public should not settle for anything less than a strong response. See my further comments at http://willbrownsberger.com/index.php/archives/5045.


    Update to this comment: The Independent Counsel’s quote to the State House News is actually: “I have no reason to believe Speaker DeLeo did anything inappropriate. I do not think [the report] sheds any negative light on Speaker DeLeo.”

  2. My standard for public officials is higher than “did not break the law”.

    I think Mr. DeLeo judged (probably correctly) that if he took the fifth amendment he couldn’t remain speaker. Not after his three immediate predecessors left under criminal investigations.

    The undeniable fact is that DeLeo not only had to be fully aware of the “fraudulent hiring” (Ware’s words) at the Probation Department, he took full advantage of it, as evidenced by the excerpts from Ware’s report cited in my initial post. The finding on page 204 refers to one DeLeo-recommended hire, but six others were not investigated. Ware makes clear that there is a lot that still needs to be investigated.

    More generally, the response of house leadership to the report has been extremely depressing (and predictable).

    This is from yesterday’s Globe, reporting an interview with House Ways and Means chairman Charles Murphy (http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/11/house_leader_no.html?p1=News_links):

    “Murphy, a Burlington Democrat, pushed back strongly against the report, saying nothing uncovered by Paul F. Ware Jr., the special counsel appointed by the state’s highest court, indicates that lawmakers were feeding the agency’s budget in exchange for campaign donations and jobs for their supporters.

    Murphy noted that Ware could not prove that any individual legislator explicitly asked for campaign contributions in exchange for probation jobs, which could constitute illegal bribery.

    “Is there any evidence to suggest that jobs are for sale?” Murphy said. “Did Paul Ware say in his report that any legislator got money for jobs? There answer is no. He didn’t. It is not there. He says there is a statistical probability of something like that – a chance. That’s not evidence. And he was very clear to state that.”

    Murphy also strongly defended Representative Thomas M. Petrolati, the No. 3 official in the House, who has been called “the patronage king of Western Massachusetts,” for his success in placing supporters on the Probation Department’s payroll. Murphy said he still has confidence in Petrolati, and there is nothing wrong with legislators trying to find jobs for their constituents.”

    And this is from Globe columnist Brian McGrory (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/11/19/the_same_old_sad_story/?):

    “And yet, as critical as Ware’s report is, it’s what’s not in it that may prove most devastating to the public trust.

    Hours after the Globe’s Spotlight Team took apart the Probation Department stitch by stitch in May, Ware was tapped by judicial leaders to analyze what went wrong and how to fix it. He and his Goodwin Procter team have done that very well.

    But they were charged with examining the Probation Department, when the problem went far beyond. There are dozens of legislators in offices up and down the spit-shined marble hallways of the State House who are accessories to the potential crimes.

    They are current and former House speakers, vocal members of the state Senate, men and women who have so thoroughly violated the public trust that there’s no clear path to getting it back.

    Robert DeLeo got his godson a job among the dozen people he recommended to the department. Representative Thomas Petrolati, the patronage king of Western Massachusetts, treated probation like his own kingdom and has brimming campaign coffers to prove it. Mark Montigny, Bob Travaglini, DiMasi, and Jack Hart — abusers, all.

    DeLeo did not return a phone call yesterday, though his office issued an unintentionally hilarious two-line statement saying, “The Independent Counsel’s report appears to make some very disturbing allegations. I will be closely reviewing its findings to determine if any legislative action is appropriate.’’”

    1. Thanks, Vincent.

      I agree that the standard has to be higher than “did not break the law”. Even if there is no direct illegal quid pro quo, a culure in which attendance at a political fund-raiser is the standard pathway to a taxpayer funded job is not acceptable.

      I also agree that the official comments so far have not seemed to appreciate the gravity of the evidence in the report.

      The speaker tends to be cautious and vague in his public statements. Often that is wise. In a case like this, it leaves people uncomfortable. I am hopeful that over the next few weeks, we’ll see a more appropriate response come together. The issue will not go away.

  3. Thanks Vincent. Just read Brian McGrory’s article. I was struck by 2 sentences in his closing: “But the rest of us are still going to have the same legislators looking for the same corrupt opportunities within a system that has come to accept it. Who will do something about it?”
    The most obvious answer is the voters/taxpayers of the Commonwealth right? My guess and I’d place a wager on this, is that Brian McGrory voted Dem ticket all the way. Voting strictly on party allegiance is killing us. How about voting in a Republican for Atty General for a change? Or how about we elect the official with better qualifications? I am still reeling over the election of a lawyer/legislator to the State Auditor position versus a CPA. If there is anyone out there who can defend that vote I’d like to hear their argument. Scott Brown’s election gave independants like myself some hope our state had a chance at sanity. We took a couple steps back at this last election and provided further grist to a single party controlled mill that they can do anything they like without repercussions. I’m sure there’s more “scandal” to come…

  4. The plot thickens…is it too early to predict a new Speaker will be on this year’s shopping list?

    1. The speaker’s job is safe. Most of us are hoping and expecting that he will get to doing the right thing on these issues — even if that means changing some longstanding practices that are not illegal, but just aren’t right.

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