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Have Some Double Dip…

I hope everybody had a good Christmas. This year WMassP&I forewent a Christmas message. We’ll be saving the preachy stuff for another day.

During this week-long pre-Christmas hiatus, WMassP&I was thinking about some of the doings at the last Finance Control Board meeting. The meeting was significant not just as Charles Ryan’s last as mayor. It was also the last meeting with Kateri Walsh, the 2007 City Council President.

Walsh claims responsibility for instituting the now-familiar pre-meeting speak out at Control Board meetings. These speak outs may, however, be more the work of Gov. Deval Patrick, who as the governor remained “that man behind the curtain” even when Romney’s appointees were on the board. Either way, this was a good thing.

Then Walsh stood as the lone vote opposing an extension of the Control Board’s tenure. She claimed the city had righted itself and only the democratically elected City Council and mayor should be making decisions now. She forgot, however, that five of the nine councilors from the bad times remain, with only one having apologized. Moreover, she forgot that the democratically elected statehouse in Boston made a decision well within its power to establish the Control Board and the democratically elected governor, who won with support from Springfield voters decided to lengthen its tenure.

Now by this point it must seem like WMassP&I is trashing Kateri Walsh. That is not the case. Rather this is a segue into something else. We’d like to think Walsh has the best of intentions, and her hands are largely clean from the scandals and debaucheries of the previous mayoral administration. But when it came to Rosemarie Mazza-Moriarty she stood alone opposing the FCB’s decision to look into Councilor Mazza-Moriarty’s appointment to a position in the school department. This is not the problem, however.

Rather, she made a comment (tangentially related to the motion on Mazza-Moriarty’s position) stating that it was wrong Mazza-Moriarty, if appointed, would be forced to resign from the City Council. Perhaps, she, like the majority of thinking persons, are worried former city councilor Mo Jones, reputed for his Asselin contacts, would return to the Council. Her objections over Mazza-Moriarty’s inability to double-dip are of concern, however. As the city attempts to stay the course of economic and financial recovery, we must remember the importance of why this is not allowed.

There are two main reasons why double-dipping is bad. One it is simply not fair and it is a drain on city resources. How does the retirement system treat double-dippers? Many among the public already have issues with high-ranking officials pulling hefty salaries, which determine what pension liabilities will be. This brings to mind Kathleen Pellegrino who retired, kept her monthly check, and then went back to work on the city’s dole. Claiming that “a contract” overruled city and state laws regarding the issue, Pellegrino sued the city when the Parking Authority fired her. Ultimately, the law came down on the city’s side.

Pellegrino, although in our opinion wrong and seen as greedy in the court of public opinion, was a mild case. Mazza-Moriarty remaining on the council and working for the city would be a big no-no. Elected officials cannot be any position that they have control over as, well, elected officials. This is exactly why nepotism and cronyism are frowned upon. Deciding whether your friends and family will have a job over somebody else is one thing, but deciding whether you have a job over somebody else enters an ethical wasteland.

Many officials stay away from this when even the appearance of doing otherwise would be disastrous. Angelo Puppolo, State Representative and former City Councilor, resigned form the council in January just before taking his seat in the Mass. House of Representatives. Quirks in the law would have permitted him to retain the City Council seat, but he resigned in favor of Jimmy Ferrera taking over as tenth place winner in 2005. Puppolo took an ethical high road and stayed away from this minefield.

In any event, it is important we remember why laws exist that prevent double-dipping. They open the door to corruption. Certainly it gets in anyway, but we need not make it any easier. We have these laws for a reason and they certainly should remain in place. In fact, they need to be toughed and complimented perhaps with a state-styled ethics ordinance for municipal officials.