Sunday, December 31, 2006

Thoughts on President Feeney's way to run government...

In honor of Councilor Feeney putting the votes together to become council president, I will post some thoughts on her testimony at the Open Meeting Trial. The most important point is that she gave pay raises to unknown hundreds of employees without knowing how much that would cost the taxpayers.

It would appear that the white councilors again outgunned Team Unity by getting together and playing musical chairs. As I predicted with Joe Heisler a couple weeks ago, Maureen was an acceptable choice to the majority voting block of 9 mostly because she has no (outspoken) Mayoral aspirations.

My thoughts:

Before the Open Meeting Trial is too distant in my memory, I will write down the points I thought were important, interesting, funny or memorable for good or bad.

The first point is that win or lose, I believe that the mere fact that the council had to stand trial to explain their actions is a victory for open, transparent democratic government. As the judge said when he denied their motion for summary judgment, the city council and mayor getting 17 percent raises, amending an ordinance without a single hearing and a 6 minute discussion on the matter certainly makes one wonder what went on. The fact that the court understood that the Open Meeting Law is meant to illuminate the process under which government operates, and provides a strong deterrent to back room deals was shown by the fact that he made them come and explain their actions in open court. Making a politician swear to tell the truth under pains and penalties of perjury is quite a strong deterrent.

First on the stand was Maureen Feeney, the chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee. She testified that she never spoke to anyone about the amendment to raise the pay of hundreds of city managers and the Mayor or City Council. She didn't speak to anyone in the executive branch of government and she certainly didn't talk to any other city councilors about the substance of the ordinance, just to Councilor Murphy and Turner about a scheduling issue. She cancelled the scheduled public hearing on the pay raise issue because Donovan Slack of the Globe called her and asked her if their was a conflict of interest because Larry Dicara was lobbying the Mayor and City Council on behalf of the Forsythe Institute to have the City give the Forsythe land for free at the same time that he was suggesting raises for the Mayor, City Council and doubling the pay of the Zoning Board of Appeals whom Mr. Dicara is in front of on a very frequent basis. After receiving that phone call from Ms. Slack on Thursday evening she waited until Friday morning around 10 am to cancel the meeting. Although she has said in public that she wanted to talk to the state or local ethics board (and drafted a letter to the ethics board for review which she never sent), what she really did was call Corporate Council Sinnott for his opinion. She is not sure when he got back to her with an opinion that it wasn't a problem, but by then the 60 day period that the Government Operations Committee had to do something with the amendment was running out. She testified that she met with T'urner and Murphy sometime the following week but didn't remember when, but she did say that they only talked about scheduling although Turner told her he was against the ordinance. She also says she didn't tell them about the amendments she was going to later make to the document.

Up until this point, in my opinion, no rules had been broken assuming she was telling the truth about not talking to anyone about this ordinance which had been in her committee for 55 days or so. But then Maureen took it upon herself to start changing things around. The submission by the Mayor had collapsed 5 pay categories for City employees down to 3 categories. On the Monday night before the ordinance was due out of her committee to the clerk by noon Tuesday, she decided to change the pay scales for hundreds of City Employees. She couldn't quite remember what made her change the pay scales around, something very vague about wanting to cut some things, although she couldn't remember what those things were. She certainly had no idea how many people were affected by the pay raises, and had no idea how much those pay raises were going to cost the taxpayers of Boston. (Her attorney at one point said 400 to 500 people, at other points 200 to 300 people were mentioned. What was clear throughout the trial was no one knew how many people this affected, nor how much would it cost)

On Tuesday morning while she was driving to the Bay Side Convention center she testified that she called in to her office, dictated the changes to the ordinance over the phone, and her staff took it from there, although her testimony got very confusing and contradictory at this point. Specifically, she at first said she hadn't talked to legislative aid Paul Koch, but later described multiple conversations with him. The long and short of it is that between 9 am and 12 noon, Maureen called in to her office, amended a major ordinance over the phone, her staff distributed the changes and a cover sheet that said something to the affect of "we the committee studied the facts, considered them, and we recommend the following changes to the full council", 4 of the members of her committee (Murphy, Ross, McDermott, Kelly) received these changes, and added their names as "concurring" on the bottom of the cover sheet. All of this happened in 3 hours, and of course the public never had a chance to observe or provide input to this.

When every Councilor is sworn on s/he receives a blue book with the Open Meeting Law guidelines, and they sign a document that they have received this document. The document has an introduction which states that the basic idea of the Open Meeting Law is that the "public's business is done in public"

Maureen started the testifiers down the path that they were going to follow during the trial, that when the members of the committee "concurred" they were only doing so as a courtesy to the chairperson of the committee. She testified that when she wrote "We" multiple times on the cover sheet that she really meant "I". She testified that just because someone "concurs" with a committee report it doesn't necessarily mean that they agree with it, and that it is not to be construed that the committee took action as a group just because they write an introduction that says "We the committee did…." and is signed by a majority of the members at the bottom as concurring.

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