Passing the buck(s)

It’s not exactly as if they were deviously cooking the books at Boston City Hall and the Boston Public Schools. It’s more like someone lost track of all the index cards and napkins where some financials for a multibillion dollar enterprise were being recorded.

And though the feds just hit the city with a fine of nearly $1 million for the improper use and management of funds — most of which occurred in city offices outside the School Department — it seems the buck stops with Superintendent Tommy Chang and 78-year-old grandfather Ray Flynn, who last held the reins at City Hall during Bill Clinton’s first year in the White House.

The problems uncovered by the federal Internal Revenue Service audit included schools’ improper use of student activity fees to pay employees for additional work, as well as nonpayment of Medicare payroll taxes for decades for some employees outside the School Department who had improperly been considered exempt from the assessments.

Some of the problems dated back to practices begun in the 1980s, and Mayor Marty Walsh seemed to pin the blame there for not nipping things in the bud.

“Should we have known? I guess we should have known two mayors ago,” Walsh said yesterday. “We should have addressed this two administrations ago. As soon as my administration found out about it, we addressed the situation.”

Flynn pointed out to the Globe that for most of his 10 years in office the school department operated independently of the mayor’s office, and he said outside rating agencies gave the city positive audits at the time he left office in 1993. It was only a year earlier, in 1992, that the city moved to a system of mayoral control of the schools.

The city first learned of problems uncovered by the federal audit last March. Schools superintendent Tommy Chang sent principals a memo in June alerting them, but the School Committee only found out about the audit last week, when the Globe made an inquiry to the School Department. Walsh says he learned of the audit a few months ago but claims to only have found out last week that the city paid out nearly $1 million in penalties.

Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld’s reaction to that?  “Sure. Right.”

He’s not buying that timeline, saying Walsh is “playing dumb” on the matter and finds it “a little convenient” that the news only emerged after Walsh was safely reelected to a new term. “The newly re-elected mayor would have his constituents believe that he only found out about the fines — which the city forked over at City Hall on Nov. 7 — just last week, which would mean he is completely out of touch.”

On Tuesday, Walsh tried to deflect the issue of whether he was mad at Chang. “I wouldn’t say angry, but I was concerned about it,” Walsh said on WGBH radio, noting that problems dated back many years and that the audit of 2014 practices looked a time before Chang had even arrived in Boston.

By yesterday, the mayor had changed his tune. “I didn’t get the findings myself until last week,” Walsh told reporters. “The superintendent had the findings. The School Department had the findings. I didn’t have them. That’s where there was a miscommunication — a big miscommunication — it’s something I’m not happy about.”

But Walsh did not address the broader issue of problems outside the School Department. The school-related problems only accounted for tiny fraction of the penalties levied by the feds — $30,000 of the $944,000 paid by the city.

Chang has been in hot water with the mayor over several issues before this one, including his decision to float the idea of rethinking the admissions process at the city’s three exam schools without first checking with City Hall.

The latest tension between the mayor and superintendent had one Boston public schools parent raising a question that has been percolating quietly around town.

“I’m not a big Tommy Chang fan. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he has been put in untenable positions many times,” Kevin Murray told the Globe. “I suspect he will take this to a certain point, but then he will take his talents elsewhere.”

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

A spending bill started moving through the House that would provide $2.7 million for the Cannabis Control Commission, which would bring the agency’s total funding to $5 million, less than what the commission says it needs. (State House News)

The state will lose nearly $300 million in annual funding for children’s health care coverage in January if Congress does not move quickly to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Boston City Council votes to ban plastic shopping bags at stores, putting the city in line to join 59 other Massachusetts communities. The measure still needs the mayor’s signature to become law. (Boston Globe)

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno favors imposing the full, optional 3 percent local tax on recreational marijuana sales. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled the federal government’s hands-off policy regarding states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use may be soon changing. (U.S. News & World Report)

The Senate has sent the $1.5 trillion tax cut plan to the floor for debate but the bill has become a conservative catch-all with amendments including lifting the ban on churches engaging in political activity, granting legal rights for fetuses, and allowing arctic drilling and exploration. (New York Times) Shirley Leung talks to Boston area business honchos who will personally benefit from the bill’s windfall for high earners but who say the legislation is bad policy that will do little for the economy. (Boston Globe)

US Rep. Joseph Kennedy stopped short of calling President Trump unstable but said he was “very concerned” about Trump’s behavior,including his retweets of unauthenticated and  inflammatory anti-Muslim videos first posted by a fringe right-wing British agitator. (Greater Boston)

California approves a law requiring agencies to consider the carbon footprint of materials used in infrastructure projects when awarding contracts. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

A Berkshire Eagle editorial says the negative coattails of President Trump won’t be enough to derail the reelection campaign of Gov. Charlie Baker.

A textbook coauthored by Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in 2011 includes some bizarre views on women in politics. (Think Progress)

RELIGION

An agreement has been reached in a suit brought by a parishioner of St. Lawrence Martyr Church in New Bedford to keep the historic bells sold to an Ohio company in the city. The plaintiff has until Jan. 1 to raise money to buy the bells back but if she doesn’t succeed, the century-old carillon will then ship out. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

Harvard University unveils its initial plans to develop a new Boston neighborhood along Western Avenue in Allston. (CommonWealth)

Boston University president Robert Brown and Northeastern University president Joseph Auon pen op-eds decrying provisions of the congressional Republican tax bills that will harm American universities’ ability to drive innovation and support graduate education. (Boston Globe)

Country music singer Blake Shelton sends condolences and shares his own story of grief with students from Quaboag Regional High School who just lost three classmates who died in a car crash. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Addiction experts are lashing out against a new federally-sponsored ad campaign that they say stigmatizes those suffering from opioid addiction and could prove counterproductive in efforts to slow the epidemic and encourage people to seek treatment. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Long lines and delays aren’t confined to the MBTA’s subway system. The transit authority’s CharlieCard store is also plagued by long waits. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The National Park Service is seeking to increase user fees at 17 sites around the country, including the Cape Cod National Seashore, where entry fees for pedestrians and motorcycles are targeted for sharp hikes. (Cape Cod Times)

Scituate officials are proposing a 7.1-acre parcel off Route 3A to set aside as conservation land to satisfy a ruling by the state attorney general that the town illegally used other protected land to build a public safety complex. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Former Worcester police officer Michael Motyka gets probation for assaulting a handcuffed prisoner three years ago in a holding cell at police headquarters. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

On the same day NBC fired Matt Lauer over accusations of sexual misconduct, the show business journal Variety ran an expose with a number of salacious allegations about the Today show anchor, including that he had a button on his desk to lock his door so no one would interrupt his sexual conquests. The paper said the story was the result of a two-month investigation but did not explain why it ran on Wednesday.

Garrison Keillor was fired by Minnesota Public Radio for improper workplace conduct and a scheduled show he was participating in at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield was canceled. Keillor explains what happened, and says the facts are different from what has been alleged. (Berkshire Eagle)

Appeals Court Judge John Agostini denied the Berkshire Eagle’s bid to force the release of documents related to the Berkshire Museum’s planned sale of artwork. (Berkshire Eagle)

ESPN is laying off 150 more employees. (Wall Street Journal)

A reporter and editor at the now-defunct Maximum Golf magazine said a story on President Trump in 2000 included a quote from him saying “there is nothing in the world like first-rate pussy.” The reporter and editor say the word pussy was edited out and replaced with the word talent. (The Daily Beast)