Baker’s firing of Walsh voided for now

Former Holyoke Soldiers Home superintendent Bennett Walsh insisted Gov. Charlie Baker didn’t have the power to fire him, and it turns out he was right.

Hampden County Superior Court Judge John Ferrara ruled on Monday that only the board of the Holyoke Soldiers Home can remove Walsh from his position. As a result of the decision, Walsh’s June 24 termination by Baker is voided and he is restored to the superintendent’s position.

Baker dismissed Walsh on the same day a scathing report was issued on what caused the deaths of 76 veterans at the facility. The report blamed a series of baffling decisions by staff at the Holyoke facility, including the decision to combine two locked dementia care units housing 40 residents –some with COVID-19 and most not – into a single room with a capacity of 25 people.

Walsh may not last very long back in his old job. He had argued that he is entitled to a hearing before the board to rebut the charges against him, but Ferrara’s ruling said no hearing is required. The next meeting of the board is October 13.

The legal fight over Walsh’s dismissal is embarrassing for the governor in a legal sense, and also in a buck-stops-here sense.

According to Ferrara’s decision, the governor’s letter appointing Walsh to his position in 2016 cited authority under a law that applies to the Chelsea Soldiers Home, not the Holyoke home. And the letter terminating Walsh in June cited the same law. (Walsh was placed on leave March 30.)

Ferrara said the board of the Holyoke Soldiers Home recruited three candidates for the position of superintendent and referred them to Baker for his review. The judge said Baker picked Walsh, who two years later would become a central figure in the investigation by attorney Mark Pearlstein into what transpired at the Holyoke facility.

Pearlstein, who wrote his report at the behest of Baker, said his investigation revealed failures relating to the appointment and oversight of Walsh by the Baker administration’s Department of Veterans’ Services.

“While the Home’s leadership team bears principal responsibility for the events described in this report, Mr. Walsh was not qualified to manage a long-term care facility, and his shortcomings were well known to the Department of Veterans’ Services — yet the agency failed to effectively oversee the Home during his tenure,” the Pearlstein report said.

Ferrara said the board of the Holyoke Soldiers Home properly carried out its duties in appointing Walsh. “His appointment through the board was valid. His termination without board input was not,” Ferrara wrote.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Jeff Riley, the state education commissioner, presses 16 school districts located in communities at low risk for COVID-19 on when they plan to begin in-person learning. Groups representing school committees and teacher unions accuse Riley of bullying them.

The state Board of Bar Overseers moves to discipline three attorneys who prosecuted rogue lab chemist Sonja Farak and failed to disclose to people who had been sent to jail that their drug convictions may have been fraudulently obtained. The attorneys say they made innocent, not deliberate, mistakes.

The MBTA, facing a potentially large deficit next year, lays plans to target wealthier, white riders with service cuts and focus resources on routes serving low-income minorities with no or limited access to cars.

T notes: Bus driver hit and killed at Charlestown garage, the second bus fatality this year….Pollack sees progress on at-grade throat option….Fenway Center to pay $55 million upfront…Traffic patterns turned upside down.

A coalition of pro-choice groups use the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fight over her replacement in Washington to press for passage of a state law protecting abortion rights in Massachusetts.

Opinion: Today is National Voter Registration Day, a good day to take stock of the huge success of the state’s use of mail-in voting in this month’s primary — and make it permanent, says Jonathan Cohn.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

Take-out food delivery companies are lobbying hard against legislation that would cap their fees at 15 percent until 45 days after the end of the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Proposals for reform of the Boston Police Department that will be unveiled soon will follow many earlier efforts at change that went nowhere, a “legacy of inaction,” write the Globe’s Milton Valencia and Gal Tziperman Lotan, that “demonstrates how often good intentions have been left by the wayside.”

A Black Lives Matter mural in Springfield is vandalized for the second time in a week. (Associated Press)

Rats appear to be on the rise in Boston — or are at least more evident, perhaps because they’re ranging wider in their search for food with so many restaurants closed. (Boston Herald)

Harvest season begins for Carver cranberry farmers. (Patriot Ledger) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The US Centers for Disease Control published guidance on Friday saying aerosol transmission may be fueling the spread of COVID-19 and then took it down Monday, saying it was only a draft. (NPR)

A Chelsea Soldiers’ Home resident who previously recovered from COVID-19 tests positive a second time. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Democrats appear to have little ability to stop a Trump Supreme Court nomination from going through. (Boston Globe) Ridiculing his efforts to justify a complete reversal on his recent vow to never let a court nomination go through during an election year, George Will says Sen. Lindsey Graham, “the South Carolina contortionist, illustrates the perils of attempted cleverness by people with negligible aptitude for it.” (Washington Post) A Boston Herald editorial saysPresident Trump must be allowed to fill the Supreme Court seat before the election because the court could end up deciding the election winner. State leaders — from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to Democratic US Sen. Elizabeth Warren — call for a delay in picking the next justice. (Eagle-Tribune)

ELECTIONS

Voters are getting barraged by ads on both sides of the Question 1 ballot referendum that make frightening claims about what passing or rejecting the convoluted question on automobile repair laws would mean. (Boston Globe) The Codcast this week tried to sort things out with spokesmen from each side, but had a hard time getting them to even agree on a basic set of facts about the ballot question.

A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll shows Democratic challenger Sara Gideon leading Maine Sen. Susan Collins by 5 percentage points, 46 to 41. (Boston Globe)

GBH reflects on how mail-in voting went during the primary, and how the Massachusetts system compares to other states’.

Ed Markey, who got lots of political mileage out of barking at Joe Kennedy to “tell ya fatha” to stop dumping money into a super PAC spending money in their Demoratic primary tilt for Senate, was right: Though Markey’s charge could not be confirmed during the race, new federal filings show a Kennedy-supporting super PAC got a $2 million donationfrom money that was leftover in his father’s congressional campaign account. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new model by the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University predicts that tax revenues won’t fall by as much as previously anticipated, predicting a $1.6 billion revenue drop in fiscal 2021 as opposed to earlier estimates of $5 billion. (State House News Service)

Robert Bradford plans to retire after 40 years leading the North Shore Chamber of Commerce. (The Salem News)

EDUCATION

The Globe floods Boston’s school zones to take stock of the first day of a very unusual school year.

Less than a week into the new school year, Fall River’s school district has reported its first case of a staff member testing positive for COVID-19. (Herald News) 

UMass Amherst reverses course and decides to let its football team play a limited schedule of games this fall rather than waiting until the spring. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ARTS/CULTURE

Three Cape theater groups have joined hundreds of others from around the country in an appeal to Congress for $9 billion in emergency arts funding. (Cape Cod Times) 

TRANSPORTATION

A CDC study says 11,000 people have been exposed to COVID-19 while flying. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

It appears New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft will not face charges on solicitation in Florida because prosecutors do not intend to appeal a ruling that the video evidence was improperly obtained. (Associated Press)