Conflicting opinions

Just hours after members of the US Supreme Court decided to hear the challenge to President Obama’s health care reform, the Los Angeles Times reported, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, two of the court’s most conservative jurists, were guests of honor at a gala dinner sponsored by the law firm which will argue the case against the law.

On the flip side, conservative groups are pushing Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself because of her advocacy in defending the law when she served as Obama’s solicitor general.

Locally, the casino bill passed yesterday by the Legislature includes a one-year moratorium barring officials including lawmakers from working in the casino industry after leaving office, an amendment inserted after some righteous indignation by legislators over questions of their integrity over a proposed five-year or even a lifetime ban.

The bill moves to the governor’s desk, where the administration has a cloud hanging over it after revelations that Housing and Economic Secretary Greg Bialecki, Gov. Deval Patrick’s economic point man on casinos, has stock in some significant players in the industry.

None of it is illegal and little of it will be remembered. But it’s a fair question to ask: At what point does the drip, drip, drip of at least the appearance of public officials compromising their positions become a tsunami that will effect change? It’s a theme many, including we here at CommonWealth, have been pounding for years.

The latest comes in our own backyard with the appointment of the next Boston city clerk all but in the bag for a now-former city councilor. CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas calls out the insider
that has longtime councilor Maureen Feeney, who resigned last week with no public statement to her constituents, poised to be tapped by her former colleagues for the $102,000-a-year city clerk’s position. Joan Vennochi does the same in today’s Globe.

Not only is it legal, it’s becoming somewhat of a tradition. The current clerk is former city councilor Rosaria Salerno, who succeeded former city councilor Patrick McDonough. See where we’re going with this?

But no one is breaking the law because, well, most of these officials or their predecessors who have had a dog in the fight have written the laws. Supreme Court justices are exempt from disclosure, ethics, and conflict of interest laws that apply to judges in lower courts, so even if there was a determination of a conflict, no one could force the justices to recuse themselves.

At the state level, the conflict of interest law states very clearly that once a personal, professional, or financial interest has been disclosed, an official is absolved from the resulting conflict as long as they don’t personally profit from their decisions. But that, too, is open to their own interpretation.

In Boston, city councilors are tasked with appointing the city clerk to three-year terms and they have no form or function they have to follow save one: former colleagues have to be out of office at least 30 days before they can be appointed to the post. Councilors don’t even have to go through the charade of a nationwide search – and apparently won’t.

And for a day, maybe two, we are outraged. Until the next time.

                                                                                                 `                                              –JACK SULLIVAN


A bill authorizing three casinos and one slot facility cleared both branches of the Legislature yesterday, and the indications are that Gov. Deval Patrick will sign the measure before Thanksgiving, ushering in the casino era in Massachusetts.  Raynham Park owner George Carney is betting he will get the single slot license authorized in the bill and have it up and running at his dog track by July. He also predicts he’ll win one of the three full casino licences and build one on the site as well. The Berkshire Eagle says no good can come from casinos.

Patrick has initiated steps to have the troubled Chelsea Housing Authority placed in receivership.

The Legislature passed a transgender civil rights bill that now heads to Patrick’s desk.

A bill that would allow the sales of beer and wine in more supermarkets has passed the House.


The state’s designation of three more Lawrence schools as underperforming increases turmoil in the Lawrence Public Schools, the Eagle-Tribune reports. The paper also reports that several school committee members felt left out of Mayor William Lantigua’s decision to call for a state takeover. In an editorial, the Eagle-Tribune offers rare praise for Lantigua. “God knows we haven’t been shy about criticizing him for his often feckless leadership, including on the schools,” the editorial said.

New city treasurer in Lowell quits after just one week on the job, the Sun reports.

A Boston judge issues a temporary restraining order barring city officials from evicting Occupy Boston protesters from the Greenway, WBUR reports. Chester Darling — last seen trying to keep Chuck Turner on the Boston City Council — thinks the restraining order oversteps judicial authority. In a Herald op-ed column, CommonWealth contributor Colman Herman says Boston officials may be downplaying public health concerns at the “pigsty” that the Dewey Square camp has become.

The Boston Fire Department for the first time hires an outsider and a member of a racial minority group to serve as fire chief.

The Bay State Banner examines what the November election means for candidates of color in Boston.

Fall River business owners and elected officials blasted the revised plan by the state for the Route 79/Interstate 195 connector project that the locals say will royally screw up traffic and access to downtown.

There was one project that was conspicuously absent from a recent list of MassWorks infrastructure grants — the controversial footbridge over Route 1 in Foxborough.

Newburyport mourns the passing of Richard E. Sullivan, the mayor who led the city’s downtown revitalization.


With more Republicans supporting raising taxes to reduce the deficit, the GOP is forced to consider what its long-held anti-tax pledge means for the party.

Keller@Large wonders how much the state’s congressional delegation can feel our pain when most of them are worth seven figures and above.

NPR’s Terry Gross interviews Rolling Stone political correspondent Tim Dickinson on whether US tax policies increase economic inequality. Dickinson’s original story is here. Meanwhile, Time examines America’s love-hate relationship with wealth.

US Rep. Jim McGovern proposes a constitutional amendment that would clarify the status of corporations and effectively repeal the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate donations. The MetroWest Daily News supports his challenge to “corporate personhood.”

The Atlantic suggests a winter break project for the Occupy movement — mobilizing in support of Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig’s campaign finance reform proposals. According to Public Policy Polling, Occupy’s popularity is fading, and has been eclipsed by the Tea Party. Josh Green, in his Globe olumn, explains why.

A man who allegedly fired a semiautomatic weapon at the White House has been arrested.


The Globe reports members of the Romney administration wiped emails from the state server and many purchased their state-issued hard drives and computers as they were leaving office in 2006. Mitt Romney’s campaign officials says the revelation is a political dirty trick by Obama’s close friend, Deval Patrick.

Former state senator Richard Tisei launches his campaign for Congress, NECN reports.

BREAKING: Electoral politics shape federal policy.

Rick Perry, who has loads of campaign cash left over from the time when he was a presidential front-runner, spends some of that money on an Iowa television ad calling the Obama White House “pathetic.”

Republicans despise Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so obviously Newt Gingrich leaped at the chance to get on Freddie’s payroll. In retrospect, that was not such a wise political move.

Democrats’ best hope to retain control of the Senate: Republican incompetence.

Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren won’t sign a petition supporting Occupy Harvard.


Emily Rooney talks with CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow about the increasingly elusive dream of home ownership for middle-class families.

Congress votes to raise loan limits on Federal Housing Authority loans, and earns a rebuke from the Wall Street Journal editorial page.


A statewide study released by the Children’s Investment Fund says most early childhood education providers are in facilities such as church basements and older buildings that are ill-suited for teaching and learning.

A new report says the state’s community colleges are failing to properly train enough students for high-demand jobs in the health care industry, the Lowell Sun reports.

On the eve of a special Town Meeting vote in Marshfield, the state agreed to pick up about half the cost of a proposed $92 million high school in the town. If two-thirds of Town Meeting approves, the debt exclusion override will go before voters Saturday.


Westport selectmen voted to raise ambulance fees $100 across the board, insisting the bulk of the payments will be picked up by insurance.


New Bedford Standard Times columnist Jack Spillane says foot-dragging by the EPA is throwing the South Coast rail project off-track.

Republicans in Congress are poised to kill President Obama’s high-speed rail program.


A first-ever natural gas drilling bill clears the Pennsylvania Senate, reports the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. The  bill provides more oversight of drilling and new funds for local governments.

A Springfield biomass plant gets the go-ahead for construction from the city; opponents promise to appeal.


Governing magazine, citing a new study, reports that 24 states have substantially scaled back their support for public media in recent years. Massachusetts is not among them.

The Red Sox September swoon continues to wreak havoc on the team. NESN’s popular sideline reporter Heidi Watney is taking her microphone west to Time Warner Cable to report for the Los Angeles Lakers, who are on a bit of a hiatus right now.