Hats Off to (a) the Inspector General, and (b) the Secretary of State

Monday, July 8, 2019

Let's hope this is an idea whose time has come.

For the second legislative session in a row, Inspector General Glenn Cunha is advocating for a bill that would require trustees of public colleges and universities in Massachusetts to undergo oversight training.

The idea is that many (volunteer) trustees, through no fault of their own, don't understand or fully grasp their powers and responsibilities to police what goes on at their institutions and that they could be whiffing on opportunities to make (paid) administrators toe the line.

When Cunha testified on behalf of House Bill 8, An Act Relative to Higher Education Boards of Trustees, on June 11, he cited the case of former Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle. 

A former mayor of Pittsfield, Dobelle was found in 2014 to have "misused thousands of (state/university) dollars" on personal purchases and international travel, Cunha said in testimony before the Joint Committee on Higher Education.  At the time of the misspending, Westfield State trustees were "unaware" they had the ability to question Dobelle's conduct, Cunha explained.

Previously, Cunha has said Dobelle "set up a dynamic where the board (members) thought they worked for him, rather than the other way around."

If HB 8 were to become law, members of the boards at all public colleges and universities -- there are 29 of them -- would have to go through a day of training devoted to topics such as the state's open meeting law, procurement practices, fraud prevention, fiduciary responsibilities, conflicts of interest, and what constitutes a public record.  Roughly 250 trustees would be covered by the mandate.

During the 2017-18 session, the Joint Committee on Higher Education gave an earlier, identical iteration of the bill a favorable report and sent it to the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling in the hope that it could be put on the calendar for a vote in the lower branch.  But time ran out: the legislature adjourned on July 31, 2018, without giving it a vote.

Speaking of oversight (and ethics), I'd like to direct your attention to an excellent article by Michael Jonas, which appeared yesterday in the online version of CommonWealth Magazine, "Old friends now in Beacon Hill face-off," https://commonwealthmagazine.org/courts/old-friends-now-in-beacon-hill-face-off/

It concerns the Joe-Friday/by-the-book approach taken by Secretary of State Bill Galvin to the attempt by former House Speaker Sal DiMasi to register as a lobbyist.  When DiMasi tried to register with the Lobbyist Division in the Secretary of State's office, Galvin rejected his application on the ground that DiMasi had been convicted of federal corruption charges and would not be eligible to become a lobbyist, under state law, until 10 years had elapsed since the conviction.  The two have known each other for decades and often socialized during their early days together in the House.

"To longtime Beacon Hill observers, the clash of the two State House veterans is playing out as an awkward conflict between one-time friends," Jonas writes. Galvin, through a spokeswoman, dismisses such talk. 

"It isn't awkward," he bristles, "it's the law."

No matter what is ever said about Bill Galvin, he knows the law, he's honest, and he's got a backbone.

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