Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Post about Council Pleading Guilty to Open Meeting Charges

I had earlier blogged about a Motion for Summary Judgment that the City Council sent to we three plaintiffs. As I wrote in that blog, the details aren't done yet. The other parties in the suit have asked me to take the blog down as they don't believe it conducive to final settlement of the case.

I disagree, and believe in transparency, but I'm part of a team so I have respectfully taken it down.

However, I do suggest calling your city councilor and the Mayor and ask why we are spending so much money on this, in these belt tightening times.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Against the Bailout and alternatives

I wrote my congressman and let him know I opposed the bailout. For those of us old enough to remember the Savings and Loan crisis and the fallout, this latest financial meltdown was all too predictable. Just as predictable that Tom Menino will raise taxes by the maximum 2.5 percent each year and the real estate taxes will go up as well.

In 1993 I bought my first house during those tough economic times. I had to put $60K down on a building price of $160,000.00. With that kind of equity investment you have a real stake in your property. In 2006 I sold a condominium in the South End for 1.1 million dollars and the buyer only had to put down $50,000.00. I knew then that this easy money was crazy, and my partner and I cashed out and stopped buying property.

How is it that someone with only a liberal arts Economics 1 class could see this downturn coming but few others did? The simple answer is probably greed.

As "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" decried almost 40 years ago, there has been a loss of pride, of quality, of knowledge of excellence in this country. It has been replaced with the quick buck, the flashy car, entertainment news, and celebrity. Sarah Palin is the latest end result of this, but I fear worse could be forthcoming.

Here is a simple alternative to the 700 billion bailout. Treat banks as they treat us. Let the big banks which need money come to the citizens, fill out an application and be approved or declined on the basis of their assets, their credit history and their ability to pay. We can set up a blue ribbon executive committee with all the left, right, and middle. How about a board of Congressman Frank and Boehner, Senators Dodd and Gregg, Paulson from the executive branch, and maybe Warren Buffett, the mayor of NYC, and Senator Bernie Sanders to represent the People.

The banks can present their need for money, get terms from the Bank of the People, where we take equity positions, and they can make repayment terms. It would be transparent because they would have to fill out their applications showing all their assets, debts, income, etc.

Any comments on why this is any crazier than just handing over more than enough money to set up Universal Health Care in this country?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Financial Truth about Wilkerson v. Diaz

I was disheartened by Adrian Walker not getting these facts correct. In addition, as one city councilor staffer told me, "city hall was a ghost town on election day. All of Menino's people were out working the polls for Diane".

If you see incorrect or insincere facts out there, please let Sonia's campaign know about it.

Fact Check: Wilkerson Comments on Barbara Lee
Dianne Wilkerson has repeatedly claimed (on Election night and again at her sticker campaign announcement event last night) that this election was "bought," calling out progressive philanthropist and Chang-Diaz donor Barbara Lee in particular:

Boston Herald (9/16/08): "My fear is that people will think this district is for sale," she said, claiming she was outspent. "There has been so much money spent in this process. It has been unprecedented for us."

Boston Phoenix (9/16/08): She called out Barbara Lee, the progressive philanthropist who helped back Chang-Diaz, as having bought the district, in so many words.

PolitickerMA (9/17/08): At her Election Night party Tuesday night, Wilkerson said that Lee spent an "inordinate amount of money" on the race, creating the perception "that this district is for sale."

Boston Herald (9/24/08): At a rally in Dorchester last night, Wilkerson said she would run as a Democrat in a sticker campaign "to make clear to all that are paying attention that this district is not for sale."

Barbara Lee, known for her support of female candidates, including many of Boston's female candidates of color (St. Fleur, Dorcena Forry, Cabral, Allen, Mota and Sen. Wilkerson herself in prior years), donated $500 to the Chang-Diaz campaign this year, the legal campaign finance limit.
Per the most recent campaign finance reports, Dianne Wilkerson raised and spent more money than Chang-Diaz this year -- $131,775 compared to $102,888. That figure is in addition to tens of thousands of dollars' worth of independent expenditures on Wilkerson's behalf, including mail pieces from labor organizations and political advocacy groups.
Dianne Wilkerson received nearly $100,000, 76% of her contributions, from donors outside the district, including $14,000 dollars from lobbyists and PACs.
In comparison, 49% of Chang-Diaz's donations were from donors inside the district, and 69% of her donations were from donors giving $100 or less. She received no money from PACs and only $100 from a lobbyist.
For Senator Wilkerson to make claims that the election was "bought" by one outside donor is not just false -- it's ludicrous when you put it up against the facts of who has actually funded her primary campaign and Chang-Diaz's primary campaign.

Monday, September 22, 2008

sam yoon's minutes proposal

Forgive the brevity, I broke my wrist playing basketball and can't type or write!

Offered by Councillor SAM YOON
> >
> >
> >
> > WHEREAS, The City of Boston currently provides, via the City Clerk,
> > City Council meeting minutes and these records are available to the
> > public on the internet; and
> >
> > WHEREAS, The Open Meeting Law and Public Records Law is meant to
> > cultivate public dialogue on governmental action and ensures this by
> > imposing minimal standards for meeting minute content; and
> >
> > WHEREAS, The City already meets these record standards; however, we
> > should go beyond the minimum standards and make our City Council
> > minutes not only publicly available, but more understandable; and
> >
> > WHEREAS, Increasing the readability of our Council meeting minutes
> > will foster public understanding and involvement in local government;
> >
> > Be it ordained by the City of Boston, as follows that the City of
> > Boston Code be amended by adding the following:-
> >
> > Section 1.
> > CBC Chapter II is hereby amended by appending the following to 2-10.1
> > after the first paragraph:-
> >
> > (a) In addition to keeping records of City Council meetings pursuant
> > to M.G.L. c. 39, s. 23B, M.G.L. c. 66, s. 5A, and 950 CMR 32.00, the
> > City Clerk shall make comprehensible City Council minutes.
> >
> > For purposes of this subsection only "comprehensible City Council
> > minutes" means a record of a City Council meeting translated from
> > parliamentary procedure wording into plain language, including a brief
> > summary of each topic discussed and/or all votes or formal decisions
> > made during the meeting.
> >
> > Under no circumstances shall the comprehensible City Council minutes
> > include the substance of debates by and among the members of the City
> > Council pursuant to chapter 447 of the Acts of 1947.
> >
> > The City Clerk shall make the comprehensible City Council minutes
> > electronically accessible on the City's website no later than two
> > weeks after the meeting in question.
> >
> >
> > Section 2.
> > The provisions of these sections will become effective sixty (60) days
> > after passage.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thoughts at Sonia Chang-Diaz's victory party!!

First of all huge congratulations to Sonia. I met her for lunch back in 2006 when she was running and I have supported her ever since. Clara and I had a fundraiser at our house a few weeks ago where she answered questions openly and honestly, and where she wasn't afraid to disagree with some in the crowd, even Shirley Kressel.

Deborah Shah, her campaign manager deserves great accolades as well keeping the campaign focused on how to get to 50.1 percent and not get bogged down in stuff that isn't productive.

Someone we dragged to our house who was uncommitted wrote to me today "Great news about Sonia— totally worth the 50 bucks and 3 minutes it took to vote yesterday. “We the people” won a great victory and we got rid of an arrogant pol. It sends a message. Who’s next? Kudos to both of you for stepping up to the plate to help make this happen."

The first thing I noticed when I got to the party last night was that there wasn't a single elected official present. It truly was "we the people". There wasn't anyone I saw in a suit and tie, just average people looking for some accountability and honesty from an elected official, not looking for a handout and a payout. I thought to myself, "how long before Menino & Co. try to put their hooks into her". It really was an amazing victory: Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino, Congressman Capuano, Councilor Yoon, the Teachers Union, etc. all behind a convicted felon who has transgressed multiple laws and norms of society. It really is true that Massachusetts is a corrupt pyramid of power all looking out for each other. I pray that Sonia has the strength of character which she spoke last night of getting from her mother to resist the temptation of power.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before the well dressed suits of Councilor Tobin and Councilor Flaherty came to the party to press the flesh and offer congratulations. One of Menino's sharpies was there as well. A City Council staffer told me off the record today that City Hall was a ghost town yesterday as Menino had all his people out working the polls, doing whatever he could to take care of "one of his own", a fellow politician who could be counted on to give tax breaks to developers, corporate welfare to the rich, and lip service to the rest of us.

It was great to be on the winning side, thanks to everyone of the THE PEOPLE who worked so hard for this victory.

Status of City Council excluding itself from Open meeting Law-and an open Debate challenge to any of them

While I was doing boring paperwork yesterday, I took the time to call my city councilors and see where they stand on the Walkowski report and recommendations that seeks to exclude themselves from the Open Meeting Law as currently constituted.

First some background. The Rules committee chaired by Maureen Feeney received the Walkowski report about 3 weeks ago, had an initial meeting and then a subsequent meeting a week or two later. At that second meeting a vote was taken to send the report to the attorney generals office, the Mass. Municipal Association City Corporate Council, and the Municipal Clerks Association for their comments and review. Only Chuck Turner voted against this, he told me, because he wanted to send it on to those organizations with the stipulation that those organizations were to understand that the City Council approves of these suggestions.

So, I wanted to call up my district councilor (Turner) and the four at large councilors and Council President Feeney to get their positions on this. Other than Turner who was not afraid to say he supports it, the general message from the councilors was that they were all for transparency. But, how can you be for transparency when you vote to have a report forwarded for review that asks for exclusion from the Open Meeting Law. They seem to want to have this dance of saying they personally are for transparency, it is just others who are moving this forward. However, if they were for transparency they should have spoken against this nonsense, and stopped wasting everyone's time with it. Surely, the Attorney General has better things to do than review a report which the Council supposedly doesn't agree with?

Councilor Connolly's office told me that John was an ardent supporter of Transparency. I asked what he had done ardently to support transparency but they couldn't answer that. His chief of staff said the councilor would call me back. Still haven't heard from him.

I called Councilor Murphy's office and no one picked up.

I called Councilor Flaherty's office and had a nice conversation with a staff member. He assured me that under no circumstances would the councilor vote to exempt himself from the Open Meeting Law. He said that Councilor Flaherty only sought clarification on the law. He said Flaherty cares a lot about transparency, and agreed that transparency is a problem at city hall especially with organizations like the BRA and the City Budget which buries all sorts of items. The gentleman even called me back this morning as we apparently missed each other at the Sonia Chang-Diaz victory party last night. My question to him is: what questions would Michael Flaherty like clarification on? His position for at least 2 years has been that he wants clarification. Why not be transparent about what you are not clear about? It is only Shirley Kressel, the District Attorney, Kathleen Devine and I that have brought about OML issues, why not ask some of us? He said he would get back to me. I appreciate the fact that they are at least responsive, if not giving a very clear answer. Flaherty is on the rules committee and he could have voted against the Walkowski report going any further but he didn't.

I spoke to Councilor Yoon's office and a nice lady there told me that Sam cares a great deal about Transparency. He, though, is also on the rules committee and voted to forward the Walkowski report on. It is kind of hard to be both for something and against something at the same time. Unless you are a politician, I guess. She told me (see earlier blog post) that Sam is introducing a bill to make the City Council minutes more readable for the public. Councilor Flaherty's office told me that Councilor Flaherty is in favor of this action. I said I'd love to see the bill and asked if she could email a copy to me. She said she would. I didn't receive it yesterday and I called her this morning and she said she would send it, but that the chief of staff had to send it. I still haven't received it. I do agree with Sam Yoon that the City Council minutes are atrocious, in particular the August 6, 2008 minutes which are so inaccurate that someone might even be inclined to think that they are in violation of the Open Meeting Law and might think about filing a lawsuit (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)!!!

I called Councilor Turner's office and they said he would call back. He did give me a call and then proceeded to explain to me why he voted against this Walkowski thing, because he wanted the council to be more proactively for it. He feels the council is even less effective than it was before. He feels it is important for the councilors to be able to meet in private to "build relationships". He told me that he thinks both the Superior Court and the Appeals court were wrong about the Tularemia decision. He thinks the Tularemia situation was an emergency. I said "but Chuck, the Tuleramia problem happened 6 months earlier, in the summer. How was it an emergency in January?" But he insisted it was an emergency, so I said "Chuck, why don't you read the Open Meeting Law, if something is an emergency there are provisions for having a meeting why didn't you just follow the law?" He said something about it being 8:30 in the morning and they couldn't find everyone or something to that effect. I forgot to ask him the most important question: if this Tularemia meeting was an emergency and so important, than why did the City Council argue in their legal filings in McCrea v. Flaherty that the City Council has no jurisdiction or control over the Public Health Commission, or for that matter over any public health issues in the city? How could something which they have no control over be an emergency? The Council didn't argue in court that the Tularemia meeting was such an emergency that they just had to meet that day, they argued that the Council has no power or authority over anything to do with Public Health, Tularemia or Boston University so it couldn't be considered a meeting since they were essentially meeting about nothing. Maybe this will become known, like all great Chess moves get named, as the Seinfeld Defense. Councilor Turner then went on for a few minutes without letting me get in a word edgewise, where he said that before you present anything to a group you work out the details before hand, and that I as a businessman get to meet behind closed doors, so he should be allowed as well. (except that in both cases it is my money at stake, and so I should be allowed to the meeting I think) He said he would come anywhere, anytime and defend his position on this, then finished with "I'm sick of this shit, Ok, take care" and hung up.

I ran into Joe Heisler at the Sonia Chang Diaz victory party last night and suggested a debate about transparency and the Open Meeting Law and the Walkowski report. He agreed to host it, if any Councilor would come on and support their actions and positions. Councilor Turner had given me a great idea.

So, how about it will any Councilors come on Joe Heisler's TV show and have a debate about how we can make the City more transparent, and defend them sending a report to the Attorney General which has the suggestion of exempting the Boston City Council from the Open Meeting Law?

PS. I just got a call from Justin Holmes from Councilor Feeney's office. He was good enough to clarify some information for me: which organizations the council is forwarding the report to, and the fact that the Rules Committee commissioned the report about 14 months ago. He referred me to Anne Hess Braga to get the information on what Mr. Walkowski was instructed to do by the Rules Committee.

Interestingly enough, the City Council did not inform corporate counsel that they commissioned the Walkowski report despite the ongoing Lawsuit about the OML. When the Walkowski report came out it was a surprise to them as well.

Victory for the good guys at last!

I'm very happy today because yesterday, Sonia Chang-Diaz unseated Dianne Wilkerson. I've supported Sonia since her last run in '06 and am hopeful about her ability to remain uncorrupted by the powers that be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sam Yoon to file legislation for more transparency

I called Sam Yoon's office today to see how he was going to vote on the Wolkowski proposal to eliminate the City Council from having to obey the Open Meeting Law. His staff person said that Sam was going to vote for more transparency.

She also said that he is going to file an ordinance(her words) for the City Council minutes to be better understood. She said that Sam feels the City Council minutes are very hard for citizens to understand and that he believes that citizens should be more involved. She said that even she can't understand the minutes of the City Council sometimes.

Good for Sam! I asked for them to email me Sam's proposed legislation. If I get that I will post it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How to get City Council report on excluding themselves from open meeting law!

I saw on Universal Hub that Councilor Feeney had a press release about the Council always wanting transparency. So I called her office to get a copy of the Wolkowski report. I asked to have it electronically (you know, save trees, save postage, be able to post it so more people could see it and well, make it more transparent!!!) and they said they were only sending out hardcopies. I asked them to send me one.

I then again asked why they weren't making it available electronically and they said there was a concern that if they made it available electronically that it might be altered!!!!! Apparently, they have never heard of PDF's. I then suggested that they post it on the City website for all to see. They said they would take it under consideration. I asked to have Councilor Feeney give me a call to talk about how they could be more transparent about this.

Another good question is how long they have been working on this, and how much it costs. They supposedly commissioned this about 14 months ago. Mr. Wolkowski was paid $70K or so in 2007 according to the Herald website, who knows how much in 2008. I have put a FOIA request into the council to find out this information.

The total now must be around $150,000 that the council has spent fighting transparency and the Open Meeting Suits all without taking maybe an hour of their time and sitting down with Shirley Kressel, Kathleen Divine, and myself to discuss how they might avoid all these problems with Open Meeting Suits. Next time Councilor Flaherty is complaining about how much is being wasted on studies of a new City Hall, a good reporter should ask how much they have been wasting on this stuff.

We have offered to sit down with the council to try and work things out, but for three years they have refused. A real absence of leadership, when there is free taxpayer money to spend. Even George Bush came around to negotiating with North Korea.

Finally, if you want to see an example of what I consider to be a violation of the Open Meeting Law (could another lawsuit be far behind?) go to the posting board on the first floor of City Hall, in the upper left hand corner and read the posting for the rules committee.

The posting essentially says, and I'm paraphrasing: "This is the notice of the rules committee. We shall meet from time to time when we want to discuss the Open Meeting Law. We aren't going to tell you when or where. Consider yourself noticed."

If they are all about transparency, why not post the report on line to get citizen comments? I thought we were going green?

By the way, they have never been sued for talking in the hallways. That is just their smokescreen to try and exempt themselves from the law so they really have more backroom dealings.