Feeney’s stealth exit

Long-time Boston councilor may be maneuvering for cushy landing

Maureen Feeney, who quietly resigned her Boston City Council seat last week after nearly 18 years, was a diligent advocate for her Dorchester district and a steady presence in municipal government. For this, she is owed the public’s thanks — but not a $100,000 no-heavy-lifting job.  However, that appears to be exactly what Feeney is angling for with the support of her long-time council colleagues.

For years rumors have circulated that Feeney planned to give up her seat for an appointment to be Boston’s city clerk, the city’s chief record keeper and the council parliamentarian, a position controlled by a vote of the 13-member City Council.  The current clerk, Rosaria Salerno, herself a former city councilor, has said she plans to retire in February. Yesterday’s Boston Globe, which reports that Feeney quietly submitted her resignation last Thursday, speculates that her departure was timed to allow the council to vote her in to the clerk’s job at its final meeting of the year on December 14. By law, a councilor must be out of office for at least 30 days before being appointed to the city clerk position, a threshold Feeney will have passed in time for the mid-December meeting.

Salerno, who served on the council in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is the third  former city councilor to have been voted into the post by former colleagues since 1978.  It’s a time-honored tradition whose time ought to be over.  

The idea that service on the elected City Council includes the potential for a bonus payout of a six-figure job once a councilor tires of the grind of endless neighborhood meetings is exactly the kind of practice that feeds public cynicism toward elected officials. Didn’t we have enough of that with the ham-handed effort by Gov. Deval Patrick to install then-state Sen. Marian Walsh in a $175,000 job in a quasi-public state authority?

Feeney, who did not even offer her constituents the courtesy of a statement announcing she was leaving office (and leaving them without a district councilor until her successor takes office in January) was not available for comment, according to her office, which said she was out of town.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, told the Globe that any vacancy in the clerk’s office should be posted and candidates should be interviewed.  Under such an open process, Feeney might not stand up as the best candidate to oversee city records and rule on parliamentary matters. She was part of a City Council that was roundly chastised by a Superior Court judge who ruled in 2006 that the council had violated the state’s Open Meeting Law on 11 occasions in discussing renewal of a Boston Redevelopment Authority program and a Boston University building project.

While Feeney has nothing to fear from a grab at the $102,000 salary and pension boost that would come with the low-profile clerk’s job, her colleagues ought to be held to account for actions that reflect anything less than the reform-minded, good-government image they peddled to voters just last week.

The early signs are not encouraging.

City Councilor Mike Ross, who has championed the search for best practices in city government and previously enlisted urban planning gurus from Northeastern and Harvard universities to help with that effort, told the Globe that Feeney has already “demonstrated her bonafides” for the clerk’s job.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

How about Ayanna Pressley, whom Feeney endorsed, or Felix Arroyo?  Will New Boston be the same as Old Boston when it comes to insider deals to take care of fellow members of the political class?  Or the council’s president, Steve Murphy, who has trumpeted his budgeting skills and the care he exhibits with taxpayer dollars?

In September, a state Appeals Court judge closed the book on the Open Meeting lawsuit that had been filed by a group of residents.  “We are proud of our ongoing efforts to be accessible, accountable, and transparent in all of our activities,” Feeney said in response in a statement, according to the Dorchester Reporter.

It’s a noble thought.