Saturday, January 31, 2009

City Hall Scam of the Week!

During the campaign as I have time, I will write about and expose different City Hall scams, giveaways, and other behavior that doesn't serve the citizen's of Boston best interests. I doubt you will have the same input from my opponents, because as President Obama would say: Change doesn't come from City Hall, Change will come to City Hall!

Scam of the Week: Paul Walkowski

This is an excellent example of the waste, fraud and abuse at Boston City Hall because every elected official in the building was in on it, every city councilor and the Mayor and not one of them stood up to save the taxpayer money.

Paul Walkowski served for well more than a decade as an aid to City Councilor Jimmy Kelly. When Councilor Kelly died, Mr. Walkowski no longer had his $50,000 or so job with the City. (Salary according to City Clerk's office) So, what did the elected members of the City Council and the Mayor do? They cooked up a back room deal to boost his salary, and hence his pension, by 50% for 3 years so that Mr. Walkowski could retire at a much higher rate!

In 2007 the City Council was ethically reeling from losing the McCrea v. Flaherty and the Boston City Council lawsuit proving they had been engaging in back room deals. So, how did they respond? They held a Rules Committee meeting where the minutes indicated that they already had too many staff and not enough work to do. So, of course, they decided to change the City Laws to increase City Council central staff 8.5% and create a position for Mr. Walkowski to write a report on how the City Council could get around or exempt itself from the Open Meeting Law. Mr. Walkowski is not a lawyer, why would the city council hire a lawyer to give them a legal opinion? They also decided that because Mr. Walkowski had worked for close to 20 years at City Hall getting his salary up to around $50,000 that they would need to immediately increase his salary into the $70,000 plus range to retain him.

On June 20, 2007 at the City Council regular Wednesday meeting Council President Feeney felt it so urgent to get this done that she did a "late file". Normally when you are changing the laws of the City you submit a bill that gets assigned to a committee, there is a meeting and it then goes back to the full council for a vote. But, in emergency matters, if EVERY councilor agrees to suspend the rules then a motion can be heard the day it was introduced. Because it was a late file, filed 24 hours before the meeting no public citizen gets to see it, it is not posted on the web, or the city bulletin board or anywhere. No citizen could possibly know that they are expanding the City Council staff by 8.5%, increasing someone's salary by 50%, and hiring them to write a report on how the City Council could exempt itself from the Open Meeting Law.

It get's even better. If you watch the video and you fast forward to 1:03:45 you can see Council President Feeney calls a recess in the middle of the meeting and asks all the councilors to come up to her dais to discuss a "matter." Watch the body language as all the councilors come up to discuss, on camera, but in secret and with the microphones off, whatever personnel matter they need to do! This, in my opinion is yet another violation of the Open Meeting Law, and it certainly excludes the public from the deliberations that are going on. This is common practice with the City Council. Why can't they just discuss whatever they have to discuss in the open? Isn't that what transparency is all about? There they all are discussing the people's business in private, right on camera: Yoon, Flaherty, Murphy, Ross, Feeney, Tobin, Linehan, etc.

But wait, there's more! They still have to pass this bill. At the end of regular business, they address the late files. Scroll forward on the video to 1:21:50. Councilor Feeney asks the council to suspend the rules, which requires an unanimous vote which she gets. City Clerk Salerno starts to read the motion "ordered by President Feeney, an order amending...." as her voice trails off and she literally gives the nod to Councilor Feeney. Feeney says "a matter of personnel in nature." She asks that the rules be suspended by the body and that the rules be suspended and the motion passed. She gets a weak voice vote, and the deed is nearly done. Not a single councilor asked a single question or raised an objection to giving someone a $20,000 raise and hiring them to write a report on how to exclude the City Council from the Open Meeting Law. No debate, no discussion, they were all in favor of hiring someone with taxpayer money to figure out a way to let the council exclude the taxpayers from the decision making process. Thank you councilors Yoon, Flaherty, Ross, Feeney, etc.

But, the citizens still had hope. The executive branch, the Mayor, needed to sign off on amending City Laws to increase City Council central staff. Alas, it was not to be and the Mayor also agreed that staff levels should be increased 8.5% and the City should spend valuable resources figuring out ways to exclude the public from the decision making process. He signed the bill, and Paul Walkowski was hired.

Did they send out a press release? No. In fact, they didn't even tell their own lawyers fighting on their behalf in the Open Meeting Suit that they had done this. When the Walkowski report came out in public (which they refused to post online or release in electronic form!!!) the lawyers working for the council were as surprised as we were. By all accounts, the report was garbage. But what did the councilors do in the face of public pressure and editorials to put the report in the circular file? They sent it off to the MMA, the DA and AG for comment. I asked Councilor Feeney last week if they had heard back and she said they hadn't. I have already asked for copies of all written response to this waste of the taxpayers time and money.

I went to last Monday's presentation of the budget from the Mayor's office to the Councilors where I was going to suggest that if they wanted to start trimming the budget, before they talk about teachers and police officers that they needed to start with Paul Walkowski who costs the City about $100,000 a year with benefits. Amazingly enough, as I was entering the City Council offices who was standing there but Paul Walkowski. We started up a chat about the Open Meeting Law, and his and the councils position that the First Amendment gives them freedom to discuss everything they want behind closed doors and just vote on it in public. I disagreed with him and them and told him that I was going to call for his job and position to be eliminated. He smiled and said "it doesn't matter to me, I'm retiring Friday!"

It was a moment of clarity for me! I realized this whole thing was a 'golden parachute' given to a long time city hall insider, by all the councilors and the Mayor. Since he was hired in 2007, he got 2007, 2008, and since he worked in January of 2009 he will have three years in at his higher pay grade and hence will receive a larger pension! The same reason Senator Wilkerson and Senator Marzilli were hoping to wait until January to resign, one more year of pension!

This is the waste, fraud and abuse at City Hall and they are all in on it. Menino, Yoon, Flaherty, Feeney, Ross, etc. There is no transparency, there is only 'you scratch my back, I scratch yours.' Any one of the councilors or the Mayor could have stood up and said this was wrong, or at the very least 'why are we paying a guy $75,000 a year who would work at $50,000 a year?" We the citizens are going to be paying for this mistake as long as Paul Walkowski lives.

On January 15, 2009 after President Ross announced a new era of transparency, I sent a public records request to him for a copy of everyone of Walkowski's paychecks since he was hired by the council. A response is required within 10 days, I received none. I asked Councilor Ross personally when I saw him last week and he now has the clerks office working on it, because I suspect there was even more funny business going on with his pay.

After Mr. Walkowski informed me he was retiring, I sent an email to Councilor Flaherty and Councilor Yoon asking the following:

Dear Councilor,

Thank you for your recent calls for more transparency.

1) I would like to know why you voted to change the City of Boston laws to increase the city council staff to add a position for Paul Walkowski, and increase his pay by around $20,000 above what the city had been paying him as a staff member for councilor Kelly. Can you please tell me what work he did for the city and how the city benefited by you voting to suspend the rules, and change the city laws to hire him. Why did we need to pay him 40 percent more than he had been making? What are the pension ramifications of this, as he told me this week he is retiring friday.

These are the tough questions that I will be asking as Mayor. Our current Mayor is proposing a 6.25% increase in the City Budget this year. He has negotiated contracts that call for 5% pay increase across the board for all City employees. He gave bonuses to all his department heads after this years deficit was predicted, the councilors gave bonuses to their staff as well.

When the rest of the citizens are happy to have a job, and are looking for ways to live within their means, these guys are trying to squeeze more money out of us to give away larger pensions to people like Paul Walkowski. This has to stop, the citizens of Boston can not afford it. We need an outsider, like me, with business experience, who knows how to balance a budget to get a grip on our expenses.

Right now, I am calling for the Mayor and the City Councilors to move with the same speed with which they hired Paul Walkowski to eliminate the position and change the City Laws back to the staffing level they had before he was hired. If they don't do that, you know they aren't remotely interested in actually trimming the fat and the pork from the City budget.

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1 comment:

the zak said...

Ask for the stenographic machine record of the last public meeting of our Boston City Council. The City Stenographer E. Fritch Associates keeps our public records at home.