Trouble in the “velvet coffin”

Another day, another juicy installment in the soap opera that is doubling as the office of the Suffolk County Register of Probate office.

In today’s episode, Globe reporters Sean Murphy and Andrea Estes share the eye-opening details of a confidential report that happened to land in their laps by a court-appointed investigator looking at the performance — probably better described as “antics” — of Patricia Campatelli, the register of probate.

Murphy and Estes say the report found that Campatelli often worked only 15 hours a week at the  $122,500-a-year elected post. What’s more, when she was in the office, the report says she spent much of her time taking  “numerous smoking breaks, scratching lottery tickets, looking at East Boston real estate on the Internet, and filling out puzzles.”  Employees told court investigator Ron Corbett that Campatelli regularly drops “f-bombs” in the office,  doesn’t have command of even the basic functioning of the office, and has skipped numerous training sessions where she could have gained that knowledge.

Today’s piece follows  a string of stories by the two Globe reporters that started with allegations that Campatelli punched an employee in the face after a bar-hopping Christmas party went sour. The state Trial Court put Campatelli on paid leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

Campatelli, who has denied all the allegations, was the surprise victor of a 2012 election for the post managing cases involving child custody, divorce, and the division of assets following a death.

The register’s job is one several obscure administrative county positions that offer healthy salaries, (generally) little scrutiny, and no qualifications other than winning the most votes in elections in which most voters probably first learn of the candidates when they scan their ballot, and they have even less idea what the positions are that are being sought. The job — referred to by some wags as the “velvet coffin” — has often been sought by pols tired of the hours of more demanding public offices, who are looking for jobs with light lifting that will let them make their way to retirement with a hefty public-sector pension. Campatelli’s election came as a shock to most political watchers, who expected East Boston district City Councilor Sal LaMatinna to coast into an office where superior name recognition is usually the only thing needed to win.

The real question that should be asked about the circus in the probate office isn’t what was Campatelli doing (or not doing), but why do we elect people to run operations that should be overseen by someone hired through the court system with actual administrative qualifications? Campatelli isn’t the first person to hold one of these largely unknown elected posts who would never be accused of burning the midnight oil or having stellar credentials to match the job duties.

Two years ago, WBZ-TV’s “Eye Team” found Maura Hennigan, the clerk magistrate of the Suffolk County Criminal Court and a former long-time city councilor, walking her dog around Jamaica Pond during work hours. A dozen years ago, former Boston police commissioner and city councilor Mickey Roache was elected Suffolk County register of deeds. The 77-year old Roache is an affable, gentle soul, but nobody’s idea of a crack administrator.

Meanwhile, with the troubles swirling around Campatelli, would-be entrants to this world of cushy county landings sense opportunity. Four people have said they plan to challenge Campatelli for the probate job, which comes up for reelection this fall. Among them is Felix Arroyo, the former Boston city councilor whose son of the same name later served on the council and then ran in last year’s high-profile mayoral election.

At a recent Jamaica Plain ward caucus to elect delegates to June’s Democratic state convention, the elder Arroyo addressed the crowd and joked that when his son ran for the city council, voters confused him with his father. He said this time it’s likely voters will confuse him for his son. And he wasn’t complaining.

–MICHAEL JONAS  

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

In a 24-hour period between Thursday and Friday last week, New Bedford public safety officials responded to 15 drug overdoses.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera drops Patriot Ambulance and replaces it with Lawrence General Hospital, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

New Brockton Mayor William Carpenter is looking to Lowell as a blueprint for turning an aging industrial city into a vibrant urban center.

The Globe‘s Jim O’Sullivan writes that Mayor Marty Walsh‘s efforts to broker a deal allowing a gay rights group to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade show him favoring the legislative style of deal-making he spent 17 years steeped in as a state rep more than the executive style intrinsic to the mayor’s office. US Rep. Stephen Lynch joins Walsh in threatening to skip the parade if a group of gay vets can’t march.

CASINOS

Would-be casino developers are more bullish on their prospects than the state gaming commission is. Developer KG Urban continues to press a skeptical Mayor Jon Mitchell about the benefits of a casino on the New Bedford waterfront.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

After the death of a 5-year-old, Maryland considers tougher laws for drivers involved in accidents while using a cell phone.

The Atlantic digs into the rapid deterioration of opposition to same-sex marriage in the South.

ELECTIONS

In a North Andover straw poll, the winners were Steve Grossman (governor), US Rep. John Tierney (Congress), Warren Tolman (attorney general), and Philip DeCologero (an as-yet undeclared candidate for Rep. Diana DiZoglio’s seat).

What is Mitt really up to?

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

President Obama ‘s budget proposal for fiscal 2015 includes a 28 percent cap on charitable deductions for individuals making more than $200,000 or couples earning $250,000.

A Boston entrepreneur is marketing a high-tech system for fish dealers to tag where and how their catch was caught and to guarantee that there is no mislabeling of fish species.

EDUCATION

About 15 percent of the state’s public school students beginning this month will take a new assessment test that could replace MCAS. Some superintendents are upset that students will have to sit for both exams. Clive McFarlane of the Telegram & Gazette criticizes parents who don’t want their kids field testing the new assessment.

Police arrest 73 UMass Amherst students at a drunken Blarney Blowout, the Associated Press reports.

Bill de Blasio ‘s plan to charge rent to charter schools hits a bump.

HEALTH CARE

The Dartmouth police station has been closed after an officer contracted Legionnaires’ disease and the bacteria was detected in the building’s water heating system.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA is rolling out expanded Worcester-Boston service today, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Boston’s Callahan Tunnel reopens, NECN reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Four local activists who had earlier joined in a Conservation Law Foundation lawsuit challenging a new natural gas-fired power plant in Salem decided to pursue legal action alone after CLF settled its dispute, the Salem News reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Defense lawyers and state officials are beginning to grapple with how to structure hearings parole hearings for inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison for first-degree murder. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without a chance for parole.  

MEDIA

Click-throughs aren’t a good indicator of whether people are reading an online story, writes Tony Haile in Time.

Former Rolling Stonewriter Matt Taibbi explains his new journalism startup.

Ezra Klein compares his new venture to making vegetables palatable: “If we can’t take things that are important and meaningful in people’s lives and make them interesting, that failure is 100 percent on us as writers.”