Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mayor Menino doesn't believe in Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, or sharing

I was honored a couple of months ago when the South End News contacted me about writing an opinion column for them. I was even more impressed when they told me I could write about anything I want, from physics, to motorcycles, to corruption at City Hall.

After just two columns written the Mayor's people have already contacted my editors to complain about my columns, and to complain that (God forbid!) I am contacting City Hall and asking for information! They are already complaining about columns that I haven't even written yet that I am getting research on!

You read that right. The government is complaining to the press, that a citizen has the audacity to ask the government for information. Call me crazy, but the government that I believe in answers the questions of not just the press, but of the citizens that are concerned with what is going on. The national media expressed outrage that Governor Blagojevich would try and control the editorial decisions of the Chicago Tribune. Well, we have the same kind of heavy handedness here at City Hall in Boston.

The Mayor used the phrase "together we can" at his State of the City address. We can't work on unity when the Mayor won't share the information of what goes on in our city. The information belongs to the citizens, not the Mayor. Just like all those blue signs around the City that say "Welcome to Back Bay, Thomas Menino, Mayor" or "Welcome to Jamaica Plain, Thomas Menino, Mayor" they are owned by the people, payed for by the people, and installed by the people. Someday, he won't be Mayor and the people are going to have to spend the money to change those signs. If he wants to look for ways to start saving money, he will stop requiring that his name goes on everything. Until he does that simple money saving step, you know his ego is getting in the way of fiscal reform and progress in this city.

I suggest that if the Mayor doesn't like what I have written, that he sit down and pen an opposition. I'm sure the South End News would be delighted to receive a thought piece from our honorable Mayor. In fact, I will gladly give him my space in the paper and even donate my salary to a worthy cause. Instead, he resorts to his backroom, out of sight tactics to try and control what is going on. Needless to say, but I'm not impressed nor surprised by his actions.

A former City Hall employee was listening to my phone conversation with my editor, and the employee told me a story about a former Menino aid who boasted to him about how years ago after another South End citizen wrote a letter to the editor of one of the local papers critical of the Mayor, the aid was told to go digging around the house of that citizen looking for violations to punish that person. I haven't checked the veracity of the story, but the sad truth is that in this city people easily believe that our Mayor could be that sort of petty and vindictive person.

What I do know is that when I ran for City Council four years ago, and was openly critical of the Mayor, that the assessment of my family's home at 218 West Springfield Street was increased by $700,000 dollars despite the fact that we hadn't done any improvements in years. As far as I can tell by the online City Assessment Records, the house is still the highest assessed brownstone in the South End. I've spent some time looking at the records, asking brokers and historical people what the most expensive properties sold are. That's right, here on unassuming West Springfield Street is supposedly the most expensive house in the South End. More expensive than the mansions on Union Park, or the secluded charm of Montgomery Park with their private garden. Check it out for yourself, and if you find one assessed higher please let me know. You would think the Mayor would give me an award for taking a former condemned crack house and spending nine years hand building the most expensive house. Isn't that what working hard and achieving and rebuilding your neighborhood are all about?

In closing, I'd like to thank again my editors at the South End News for having the courage to stand up to this sort of bullying. This isn't the only time that the Mayor has complained to them about articles they've published, but they've held their ground and believed in the power of the press. I hope the Mayor will take the time to read the first amendment and ponder about what makes this country great.
I won't hold my breath waiting for his personally written response.


smabel said...

Kevin, can you provide any concrete examples of the Mayor's office interfering with the SE news? I really find the type of politics where information is not shared and the press is manipulated to be disgusting. If it will help, I'll also write to the SE news to ask for the full story. Please name names.

As for your home being assessed at an overly high rate, especially after a tangle with city hall- are there any grounds for an appeal or lawsuit?

Thank you for fighting the good fight for open government. I may not always agree with your political viewpoints, but on this theme, I'm listening.

Kevin said...

I have asked the editors to write an editorial or just a story about the types of phone calls they get. I think that would be a fascinating story that would shed light on many things.

I think it would be great if you contacted the editor and asked them to write about this!