Walsh looks to get past zoning board scandal
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed an executive order Monday to limit potential conflicts of interest on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, an effort to put behind him a scandal that laid bare the problems that critics say have long plagued the panel charged with approving everything from backyard decks to housing development plans.
New rules issued by Walsh forbid members of the seven-person board from voting on matters in which they have held financial interests in the past five years. Walsh says the new requirements are stricter than those outlined in state ethics laws. The State Ethics Commission offers guidance to zoning board members that has not been updated since 1987.
ZBA members will also have to submit to annual financial disclosures and periodic ethics training.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards plans to hold a hearing later today on a home rule petition that would remake the zoning board from the ground up — ending the designated slots for those in real estate and development, and bringing urban planners, renters, and housing advocates as members of the board. This more extensive overhaul would require approval from the Legislature.
According to State House News Service, Walsh also plans to file legislation to change the board’s membership “to ensure that it is reflective of our neighborhoods and their concerns.”
The catalyst for reform is the federal investigation into longtime City Hall aide John Lynch, former assistant director of real estate at the Economic Development Corporation. Lynch pleaded guilty to accepting $50,000 in 2018 to help a real estate developer get a permit extension through a vote from an unnamed member of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal, and will serve 40 months in jail.
William “Buddy” Christopher, a special advisor to the mayor who had formerly run the city’s Inspectional Services Division, stepped down from his job because his son was involved with the South Boston project the bribes reportedly concerned.
An independent audit commissioned by the mayor did not reveal a wider conspiracy among ZBA members, but it did unmask a federal inquiry into real estate dealings tied to former ZBA member Craig Galvin — who resigned shortly after Lynch’s guilty plea in September.
Federal prosecutors never said how Lynch influenced the board to revive a project that was essentially dead.
A long-awaited House bill to deal with the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure could emerge as soon as tomorrow. (Boston Globe)
Advocates are concerned that a provision tucked into a seemingly innocuous bill heading for a Senate vote this week could make it harder for the public to access records of abuse investigations against providers of services for the disabled community. (CommonWealth)
City officials and advocates convened a “teach-in” at Boston City Hall to provide information on new “public charge” rules that will impose new limits on immigrants attempting to secure legal status in the US. (CommonWealth)
The League of Women Voters Southcoast has been selected for a grant for the upcoming 2020 Census, to be used to develop a plan to reach out to historically underserved and hard-to-count populations. (Standard-Times)
The White House unveils a $2.5 billion emergency coronavirus plan. (AP) A new coronavirus vaccine has been developed by a Cambridge company. (State House News Service)
Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday of rape and sexual assault against two women and was led off to prison in handcuffs, sealing his dizzying fall from powerful Hollywood studio boss to archvillain of the #MeToo movement. (WGBH)
Voters start going to the polls in Massachusetts during early voting for the March 3 presidential primary. (Telegram & Gazette)
Bernie Sanders is planning an election rally in Springfield. (MassLive) His vow to drive an unprecedented turnout of new voters to the polls has not been in evidence in the first three states to vote. (New York Times)
A Boston College online media outlet will sponsor an upcoming debate among candidates for the state’s 4th Congressional district seat. (Metrowest Daily News)
Mike Bloomberg has donated millions to Massachusetts politicians and nonprofits. (MassLive) Elizabeth Warren releases her plan to legalize marijuana. (MassLive)
Two of the “Big Three” on Beacon Hill share who they’re voting for for president. (MassLive)
The Dow dropped 1,000 points due to fears over coronavirus. (AP)
Sen. Diana DiZoglio rolls out a plan to help small Main Street businesses. (The Salem News)
Opposition from several Lynn city officials, including Mayor Thomas McGee, has prompted Tree Market LLC to reconsider its plans to open a recreational marijuana shop. (Daily Item)
University of Massachusetts Medical School chancellor Michael Collins, already the highest paid state employee with a salary of $1.1 million per year, racked up more than $67,000 in expenses for the 2019 fiscal year, far more than UMass president Marty Meehan or any of the university’s other five chancellors. (CommonWealth)
The Boston Public Schools have higher per-pupil transportation costs than any district in the country other than Buffalo, New York, and the district is on track to overshoot its current $125.6 million transportation budget by $2.5 million. (Boston Herald)
Dozens of top scientists will converge on Harvard Medical School next Monday for a four-hour closed-door gathering to brainstorm ideas for tackling the coronavirus. (Boston Globe)
Medicare for all would take a big hit out of the budget of lots of Massachusetts hospitals, though some would gain under such a plan. (WBUR)
A North Shore hospice provider is helping nurses pay off their student loan debt. (The Salem News)
The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board heard projections of the boost in ridership — and decline in revenue — that would accompany any plan to discount fares for low-income customers. (State House News) The T’s promise to pursue a wide range of other new initiatives, including greatly expanded commuter rail service, is already colliding with the fiscal reality of limited dollars, the agency’s chief administrative officer told the board. (Boston Globe)
Three shareholders in Hy-Line Cruises have asked a Barnstable Superior Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them by their cousin seeking to dissolve the company. (Cape Cod Times)
MassDOT agrees to revisit ridership expectations for East-West Rail in response to planners from Western Massachusetts predicting far higher numbers. (MassLive)
Free fare bus advocates make their case in Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)
A Globe editorial calls for an all-out effort to save the North Atlantic right whale.
The Berkshire Eagle has a great landing page for all things related to the cleanup of the Housatonic River that was polluted with toxins by General Electric for decades.
The Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck Tribe has been denied the right to intervene in a two-year battle between Boston and Quincy over whether or not a bridge connecting Quincy to Long Island should be rebuilt. (Patriot Ledger)
A Western Massachusetts bank robber is released from prison after two decades due to a US Supreme Court decision. (MassLive)
The Salem News editorial board argues that tougher gun laws lead to fewer gun deaths.
A mother speaks out after she and her teenage daughter were attacked in Boston for speaking Spanish. (MassLive)PASSINGS
Stephan Ross, who survived Nazi death camps as a child and went on to found the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, died at age 88. (Boston Globe)