Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell this week called for the creation of a city inspector general to “root out corruption, identify mismanagement and waste” and make the government “more accountable to residents” in the wake of a Zoning Board of Appeals bribery scandal.
City officials hired former federal corruption prosecutor Brian Kelly to investigate whether there has been any further misconduct, and Mayor Marty Walsh hired law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP to review the ZBA. Campbell pointed out that’s a waste of money. We agree because the state’s Office of the Inspector General can investigate the matter and they’re already being paid. Campbell’s idea is redundant.
The call for an IG comes after John Lynch, an official within Boston’s Planning and Development Agency, pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge for accepting $50,000 in 2018 to aid a developer’s push to get a permit extension for a multiunit development, which involved successfully advising zoning board members to vote in favor of it.
One need look no further than to the state OIG to see an agency that is essentially a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The state’s Office of the Inspector General was created almost 40 years ago in the aftermath of the Ward Commission report, which found a bevy of corruption in the award of state and county building projects.
The report’s key findings were that corruption was rampant in the commonwealth, political connections were the way things got done and subpar work was being performed by contractors hired at the behest of the state. The OIG website says “Creation of the Office was seen as part of the solution to the identified problems in public building contracting and also to a more fundamental need for an established oversight agency.”
At OIG, Glenn Cunha heads an office of 13 director-level positions, almost all of whom are lawyers. We’re pretty sure Cunha and his people occupy office space and don’t have to answer their own phones, so there’s overhead and staff costs. In salaries alone, OIG pays out more than $1.575 million annually.
And creating a redundant body at the municipal level seems like a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. Instead of a second IG office, Councilor Campbell can have one of Cunha’s staffers take a message and they’ll look into the ZBA mess right away.
The governor, state auditor, and attorney general appoint the inspector general to a five-year term. At the municipal level, Campbell proposed a similar setup, saying the mini-IG would be appointed by an advisory board that would include residents and “relevant city employees.” The IG couldn’t be removed from office except for cause, and there would be a “floor” for the IG’s budget — all intending to make sure the IG isn’t fired or neutered for political reasons.
Who would audit the IG? Does the state want or need a new agency that would from Day 1 have enormous power? Not to mention the fact that we’re not talking about a single hire for this entity … it would need offices, equipment, administrative staff, investigators. How many? We don’t know, but we do know it will be expensive, and will be a new forever expense.
The office could be weaponized as a political tool against Walsh or anyone under its likely sweeping power. As we’ve seen in Washington, exhaustive investigations — some politically originated — could grind the gears of city government to a halt, putting more pressing needs on the sideline.
We should let law enforcement do its job probing city hall malfeasance.
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