Airing out a conflict

For years, the state Ethics Commission has been derided as a toothless watchdog, set up by the Legislature but with enough ambivalence in the statutes to thwart any meaningful enforcement. Well, tell that to state Sen. Dan Wolf, who might not only have to abandon his quest for the corner office but give up his seat in the Senate or sell his ownership of Cape Air.

In a ruling last week that was released yesterday by Wolf, the commission said because Cape Air has a contract to fly out of Massport-owned Logan Airport, that presents a conflict of interest. The ruling says the only way it can be resolved is by Wolf either divesting himself, possibly transferring to a family member but without retaining any input or control; ceasing operations out of Logan, which Wolf says would destroy the company; or returning to the private sector.

The opinion, like nearly all issued by the commission, was sent privately to Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, and has yet to be published on its site. Most advisory opinions such as this one take great pains to not identify the official involved, but by mentioning Cape Air by name and identifying Wolf as “a state legislator and candidate for Governor,” he is easily tagged.

Wolf, who on the campaign trail touts his 25-year stewardship of the employee-owned company that has grown to a prosperous regional airline in both New England and Florida, went on the offensive yesterday, vowing to stay in the race and fight the decision. And he appears to have some strong points on his side. Wolf points out his agreements to fly out of Logan were made in 2002, before he ran for Senate, and he received informal opinions from the Ethics Commission that his ownership did not appear to pose a conflict.

Not so fast, says the legal counsel. The contract, the opinion states, is a no-bid deal, and as such represents an inherent conflict because of a financial benefit, and if Wolf became governor,  a position with authority to appoint the chairman of the Massport board, that conflict would increase exponentially.

  CommonWealth took a look at conflict of interest disclosures back in 2009. The commission’s general counsel told the magazine that officials could avoid the appearance of a conflict by simply filing the disclosure.

“The statute’s intended to create a ‘safe harbor,’” Deirdre Roney told CommonWealth. “Once you’ve made the disclosure, then under the statute it’s unreasonable to determine there’s an appearance of conflict.”

Former governor Mitt Romney and Gov. Deval Patrick both have extensive holdings that, on first blush, would seem to have created as many conflicts as Wolf’s ownership of Cape Air, but  which were satisfied by their Statements of Financial Interest as well as case-specific disclosures over the years. A number of legislators would appear to be in the same boat with their private law practices or companies that benefit from legislation passed on a daily basis. But the exemption doesn’t apply if the financial interest exceeds 10 percent; Wolf holds 23 percent of Cape Air.

But the resolution may be in the interpretation. What the Ethics Commission says is a no-bid contract Massport says is a lease that is mandated by federal guidelines. Massport spokesman Matt Brelis says there was no bid because there is no negotiation.

““The rates for Massport lease agreements are set by Massport; they are not negotiated with airlines,” Brelis said in a statement. “The rate is the same for each airline operating in a given terminal. … We are federally obligated to accommodate all certificated air carriers that seek to operate at our airports.”

                                                                                                                                                                        –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

An anti-casino group has filed a petition with the attorney general’s office seeking to place a question on the 2014 ballot to gut the two-year-old gambling law that opened the doors to casinos and a slot parlor in the state. A casino watcher tells the Herald that Suffolk Downs “can’t wait much longer” to get its Boston approvals.

A superior court judge ruled that Secretary of State Bill Galvin went overboard in his zealous enforcement of a new lobbyist disclosure law by requiring lobbyists to report even the most casual hallway encounter with legislators.

Proponents of an expanded bottle bill, frustrated by the lack of movement in the Legislature, are planning on putting the measure before voters in next year’s election..

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lowell City Councilor Vesna Nuon is violating campaign finance laws requiring the disclosure of contributions and their donors, the Sun reports.

The Plainridge Racecourse is having trouble finding a new buyer to rescue its slot parlor bid.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A survey by Public Policy Polling — a Democratic polling group, so take it with a grain of salt — shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell trailing his Democratic opponent, Alison Grimes, 45 to 44, in his 2014 reelection bid.

ELECTIONS

Diversity in the upper ranks of the Boston Police Department becomes an issue in the mayor’s race, as an organization of minority law enforcement officers says it will oppose any candidate committed to retaining Commissioner Ed Davis, whom the group faults for failing to appoint minority officers to command staff positions.

The Dorchester Reporter’s Mike Deehan rolls out the first in a series of issue videos — this one focused on public safety — spotlighting the positions of Boston mayoral candidates.

Former senator Scott Brown still won’t rule out a gubernatorial run, even with fellow Republican Charlie Baker potentially in the race.

Joan Vennochi offers a tip of the hat to outgoing state Democratic Party chairman John Walsh for returning the party to grassroots organizing  — and offers a shout-out to Paul McMorrow’s cover story in the current issue of CommonWealth that explores this development in depth.

Statewide ballot initiatives could be plentiful next year, with 33 questions being filed with the attorney general. Supporters, who must gather close to 70,000 signatures to have their questions appear on the ballot, are proposing a higher minimum wage, a cut in the sales tax, repeal of the inflation-adjusted gas tax and the computer services tax, a revamped bottle deposit law, and repeal of the state’s casino law. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey support questions dealing with the minimum wage and sick time, Masslive reports.

Six candidates are likely to appear on the ballot for mayor in Lawrence, including current Mayor William Lantigua, state Rep. Marcos Devers, City Councilor Daniel Rivera, accountant Nestor DeJesus, firefighter Juan Gonzalez, and inventor James Patrick O’Donoghue. Two of Lantigua’s political allies are scheduled to go on trial on corruption charges next spring, well after the election, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and City Councilor Timothy Phelan hold a fairly tame first debate, the Item reports.

The five Democrats vying for the 5th Congressional District seat vacated by Ed Markey all worked the crowd at the Natick Democratic Town Committee summer cookout.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A Needham developer is moving ahead with construction of a shopping center on a section of the old Malden Mills property on the Methuen-Lawrence line, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

EDUCATION

Four Salem schools received planning grants for extended school days, although the school committee discontinued a longer school day at the Saltonstall School earlier this year, the Salem News reports.

HEALTH CARE

At least 64 mosquito pools, mostly south of Boston, have tested positive for West Nile virus, and state officials have confirmed another mosquito-borne virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, has been detected in Hanover as well as in Western Mass.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Cape Cod Times columnist Sean Gonsalves cites five ways climate change is affecting the Cape.

Possible shark sightings lead to the closure of three South Coast beaches.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Two undercover Boston police officers were wounded and a suspect was killed in an afternoon shoot-out along Dorchester Avenue. A second suspect remains at-large.

Haverhill police arrest a man for allegedly stalking a mother and daughter inside a supermarket and allegedly using his cell phone to take a picture up the little girl’s dress, NECN reports.

Under a court order to reduce its prison population, California will move 10,000 inmates to county jails, community correctional facilities, and out-of-state prisons, the Sacramento Bee reports.

MEDIA

CommonWealth examines the two very different approaches of the Globe and the Herald to online radio.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Mark Leccese, writing for WBUR, says Red Sox principal owner John Henry is good for the Boston Globe because he has lots of money and no shareholders.

The New York Times says it is not for sale.