Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stings, Home Rule, Fairness

Turner/Wilkerson fatigue is common in both Boston City Hall and the State House. For example, recent past-Council President Mike Ross writes that Turner's sentencing yesterday, "This is a sad day for all of us. Chuck was a colleague of mine for a decade. My thoughts are with Chuck and his family as they process the sentence handed down this afternoon." Likewise, new Council President Steve Murphy said, "This is a sad end to a sad ordeal."

Let it not be the end. There are two kinds of unfinished business here — Turner related and broader.

While Turner and his lawyer have announced a likely quixotic appeal of his 3-year plus 3 more supervised release sentence, everyone else seems eager to whistle a happy tune and get back to shoveling snow. Seven District 7 residents are running to replace him on Council.

City Powers and Home Rule

Between Turner's conviction on four federal felonies related to corruption and lying about it, Turner filed legal action, as threatened or at least foreshadowed by a friend and fellow Councilor. In the early December Council special meeting that ended up expelling Turner, Charles Yancey as much as promised an after-the-fact suit.

The claim in the suit was that the Council did not have the authority to expel a member. While the city's charter lets the Council make its own rules and procedures and one of those unanimously approved rules is to decide whether a Councilor convicted of a felony should continue to serve, Yancey sounded like a lawyer on it. He is not. However, he demanded that they not expel Turner unless the charter specifically used a term like expel for Councilors.

That seems silly and literal beyond credibility and reason. Yet this still needs resolution.

Turner and his lawyer in the suit, Chester Darling, could withdraw the action following Turner's sentencing yesterday. They had sued for his reinstatement, citing their claim the Council had expelled him improperly. When he got prison time, the state law removing him from office kicked in.

Here's hoping the suit continues and that the Supreme Judicial Court makes a quick decision on it.

If the SJC does not rule in what seems obvious to me — that the city and Council and the city's general counsel had done adequate preparation — then the larger battle of home rule looms. My take on that is even more severe.

The General Court, our legislature, has a colonial legacy view on municipalities that came over into our constitution and badly needs overhaul. Cities and towns have to beseech the GC for the smallest, most sensible changes and if viewed favorably by the paternalist legislature, the municipality has to rewrite its charter and return to beg lawmakers to approve it.

Home rule is a sad term that means the opposite of how it reads. Boston and other cities simply do not have the power to rule at home. The GC reserves all such power.

This, of course, is also a silly waste of time. The legislators could be doing more meaningful deeds and thinking deep or shallow thoughts to benefit their constituents instead.

What they need to do is revise home rule so that simple changes that do not commit commonwealth resources or conflict with MA laws are none of the GC's business. There should be no more pathetic mayoral or city manager trips, figuratively crawling on hands and knees to the Hooker entrance of the State House.

About Those Stings...

Surely of more immediate and widespread interest though is that sting thing. Should the feds be about the business of entrapment, particularly of officials with no history of corruption?

In this case, then State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson by her own admission was taking bribes. She seemed a likely subject for surveillance and other investigation. She pointed one of their informants to Turner, suggesting he deserved some of the bribes for a liquor license.

So, there was a link to at least the hearsay of criminal intent, from a tax evader and provably corrupt politician. Yet, Turner had no previous convictions for anything or even charges or for that matter reasonable suspicions.

That's galling to many, including me.

Turner's take loudly, publicly and often has been that the FBI and federal prosecutors engaged in a racist take-down of two activist black pols. While he seems to be one of the few people in the world who believes that he did not, would not and could not take that $1,000 bribe and lie to the feds repeatedly about it, behind all of his obscuring paranoia and polemics are some worthwhile questions.

Turners sensational claims of highly questionable rationale obscure the underlying issues. That's a pity.

Sure, it is obvious he was entrappable (if that's a legit word). Sure, he took a bribe, although there is no clear evidence on his video that he immediately promised a tit for tat — the essence of corruption in public office. Sure, he lied about it repeatedly to the FBI, prosecutors and the court...and perhaps to himself as well as his constituents.

Let's not lose sight of the question of whether this is the best or even an acceptable way for criminal investigators to act. We seem to have a consensus that we don't want the corruption for which MA among other states is known. We would like the crooked pols and employees identified and removed from public service.

Yet does manufacturing an enticement that an elected official ends up falling for protect us really?

In many ways this plays out more like a romantic comedy of recent years where a spouse or lover sends a surrogate to lure her or his partner into bed. Does either kind of set up, pol or partner, prove the target is already a cheater or instead does it prove that under extreme temptation, most of us would fall short.

It is possible that Chuck Turner has been taking small amounts of money or years. Lord knows, it must be hard to raise campaign funds almost weekly for an office that requires running for reelection every two years. Yet, we have no reason to believe he was consistently crooked.

Everyone outside of the FBI and U.S. Attorneys office likely would feel and think better of this whole Turner mess if the feds has done their stereotypical duty. Instead of constructing a temptation, how about they do the hard work? How about they do real investigation into existing corruption?

Just from those uncovered, as in the past three Speakers of the MA House, there must be plenty of rotten fruit ready for harvest. How about the FBI do real work instead of luring someone into a corrupt act that they created just for that purpose?

We could use some comment from the judges in these cases, particularly at the U.S. District Court level and above to reinforce that direction. Likewise, our Congressional delegation should not be afraid of being called soft on crime if it demands that the feds do real work. It's possible that even the President can say this is a problem that we need to address.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well said, Mark.