Bump says auditor cannot audit Legislature

Back in 2010, the last time the state auditor’s job was up for grabs, CommonWealth went out on the hustings to see what the candidates were talking about. It turned out they were spending a significant chunk of their time explaining what the auditor does because few voters seemed to know.

Flash forward to today, more than 11 years later, and it’s the candidates themselves who are debating the responsibilities of the office. 

Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen, one of two Democrats seeking to become auditor, has caused a bit of a stir by saying she intends to audit the Legislature if she gets elected. It’s an ideal issue for her since much of her political success on Beacon Hill, first as a representative in the House and then as a state senator, has come from taking on the Legislature and its leaders for their handling of sexual harassment incidents, nondisclosure agreements, staff pay, and transparency.

What’s unclear is whether the auditor has the legal authority to audit the Legislature. 

Suzanne Bump, who is stepping down next year after serving 11 years as auditor, said she researched the issue when she first was elected. According to a statement issued by her office, the enabling statute of the auditor’s office grants her the authority to audit more than 200 executive branch agencies.

“The Legislature is not among that list; therefore, the Office of the State Auditor by law does not have the authority, express or implied, to audit the Legislature,” the statement said. “Moreover, the Legislature is not an agency or department but rather another branch of government and, thus, subject to protections under the separation of powers doctrine. Just as the Office of the State Auditor looks to its auditees for compliance with their statutes and regulations, the Office of State Auditor too is bound by the limitations of its enabling statute and must act within its prescribed authority.”

Bump’s predecessor Joe DeNucci, who occupied the office for the previous 24 years, appears to have agreed. According to Mary Connaughton, a Republican who ran against Bump in 2010, DeNucci filed legislation seeking the authority to audit the Legislature. The legislation never passed. 

Anthony Amore, the Republican candidate for auditor, believes the office lacks the legal standing to audit the Legislature.  His campaign manager Mark Steffen released a statement saying Amore knows what public auditors can and cannot do. 

“He believes that all candidates for elected office should make realistic promises they can keep,” Steffen said. “If elected, Anthony will put his decades of auditing and inspection toward efforts to reform the law, and if unsuccessful he will support and campaign for a ballot question to make the Legislature subject to the public records laws, open meeting laws, and audits by the state auditor.”

Chris Dempsey, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for auditor, hasn’t taken a stance yet on whether the auditor has the authority to audit the Legislature. “The enabling legislation gives the auditor’s office broad authority to audit and to suggest changes to state government,” he said. “I have a track record of reforming state government and standing up to protect the public interest. I’m running for this job to do more of that work, including taking on reform of the State Police, making the auditor’s office a national leader on climate change by making it the first in the country to incorporate carbon accounting into our audits, and overseeing the proper expenditure of federal recovery funds.” 

DiZoglio takes issue with Bump’s interpretation of the law. “Nothing in the statute expressly exempts the Legislature from being subject to the powers of the auditor’s office and — let’s be clear — the Legislature has never been shy in the past about exempting themselves explicitly from oversight in other statutes, including the public records law,” the senator said in a statement. “In addition, when it comes to the argument about separation of powers, that hasn’t stopped the auditor’s office from investigating issues related to the judiciary. No branch of government, especially the Legislature, should be above the law and exempt from accountability. As auditor, if I see wrongdoing in the Legislature, I will investigate, which is the right thing to do. If those efforts are stonewalled by unwilling participants, we can have the discussion in court. It’s important for the next auditor to be willing to challenge the status quo and not just give in to powerful insiders.”

Right now, auditing the Legislature is an ideal campaign issue for DiZoglio. Whether it’s a real possibility or not, the idea of auditing the Legislature feeds her campaign narrative.

BRUCE MOHL 

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

No silver bullet: The state has taken over struggling school districts in Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge and there is widespread speculation that Boston may be next. But a new national study and analysis of results from the three existing receiverships suggest state takeovers are no silver bullet.

– Receivership allows the state to designate its own school boss, who can dismiss teachers and other staff at will, restructure the school day and curriculum, and dispense with political oversight. The existing receivers have taken a fairly cautious approach with their powers and focused on putting the districts in a position to succeed.

– Gains, as measured by test scores, have been minimal. Even Lawrence, one of the early success stories, has seen its performance taper off. The same is true with state takeovers around the country. Receivers are appointed because the schools are severely underperforming but state takeovers as a whole don’t seem to be the answer. Moreover, there’s no exit strategy for receivers, no end goal where the schools are returned to local control.

– Paul Reville, a key player in the passage of a 2010 education reform law that established the receivership option, said it may not be enough. “School turnaround and school reform is necessary,”he said.  “But until we pay attention to the lives of the children who inhabit these schools, we can’t expect to turn the schools around with a relatively weak intervention involving 20 percent of their waking hours. It’s too heavy a lift for schools to do on their own.” Read more.

Change of heart: Republican Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk accuses Beacon Hill Democrats of flip-flopping on legislative staff unionization, pointing out that nearly all of them voted against the idea when he proposed it as an option in 2019 but are on board now as it gains traction. Read more.

Elaborate plot exposed: The school superintendent in Chicopee is arrested for using burner phones to send threatening anonymous messages to a candidate for the police chief’s job and then lying about it to FBI investigators. No motive was given, but Lynn Clark told investigators she believed many of the police chief candidate’s accomplishments came about because of her work and she wanted him to “get knocked down a peg.” Threatening messages were also sent to the police chief candidate’s spouse. Read more.

Electric school buses: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu wants to begin testing electric school buses next year and fully electrify the fleet by 2030. Read more.

OPINION

Hunger strike: Six activists opposed to a new gas-fired Peabody power plant explain why they attempted to move the needle on climate change by not eating. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The search is on for a new inspector general as Glenn Cunha prepares to leave. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Three Boston city councilors push legislation to have the state approve hundreds of additional liquor licenses to be distributed in the underserved neighborhoods of Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, and Hyde Park. (Boston Globe)

Quincy city councilors strongly oppose plans to close a VA outpatient clinic in North Quincy. (Patriot Ledger

Dartmouth voters decide to keep their high school’s controversial Indian name and logo. (Dartmouth Week)

Eric Batista, the assistant city manager in Worcester, is appointed the acting city manager while the city searches for a replacement for Edward Augustus. (GBH)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Athletes from Russia will be banned from competing in this year’s Boston Marathon. (Boston Herald)

ELECTIONS

Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Doughty pledges to oppose open tolling – then clarifies that he only opposes new tolls, not the ones already in place. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Quincy officials are hoping for a resurgence of tourists this summer after two difficult years, with a full summer of public events planned. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Graduate students at MIT vote overwhelmingly to form a union. (WBUR)

Salem State University offers students a Career Closet, a place where they can pick up gently used, donated professional clothing they can use on the job. (Daily Item

The Boston School Committee will spend $75,000 on a search firm to select the new school superintendent. (Boston Herald)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Barre Museum Association, which runs a small museum on a library’s third floor, will return a collection of Native American artifacts to the Indigious people who have been asking for them since the 1990s. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

Fine Print columnist Sean Murphy gets results for Hannah Rosenberg, who was injured in a Green Line crash caused by the negligence of a driver and had waited eight months for the MBTA to cover her medical expenses. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Mold is growing on evidence stored at the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, compromising the evidence. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

 Patricia MacLachlan of Williamsburg, the author of numerous children’s books, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, dies at 84. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)