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"C" on integrity report nothing to write home about

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When everyone around you is getting Ds and Fs, a C can feel pretty good. Beacon Hill insiders probably breathed a sigh of relief at the Bay State’s fair-to-middling ranking in the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation released Monday.

A C was good for 10th place (tied with several other states, including Rhode Island) nationwide.  Overall, though, this area of the country fared badly. Maine flunked out, New York and New Hampshire received Ds, and Vermont, a D+.  Connecticut was the New England standout with a B, which was second only to New Jersey’s B+.

Being in the top 10 for accountability and a lower risk of corruption is noteworthy. But drilling down into the factors that contributed to the Massachusetts score only confirms what journalists and good government advocates have been shouting from the rooftops for years.

Massachusetts earned a failing grade for public access to information. There is a yawning chasm between what the law says and what happens when someone actually tries to obtain records that are supposed to be public. The center gives the Bay State a 100 percent score in such metrics as being able to obtain public records “under law.” Whether a person can get the information or can navigate the deterrents, such as extortionate fees to copy records, is another matter entirely.

Gov. Deval Patrick told WGBH that his office (which got a C+) has shown an “unprecedented level of cooperation in terms of access to information and documents well beyond what the law requires.” But neither the governor, nor the Legislature, nor the judiciary is subject to public records laws, a fact that the governor is not clamoring to change.

The second Bay State F came for the state budget process, a notoriously opaque exercise that is literally conducted out of sight. In the House of Representatives, budget debate has been severely curtailed for decades due to the fact that most of the haggling over amendments takes place behind the closed doors of Room 348, the Room 101 of the State House, where lawmakers learn if their proposals live or die.

In contrast, Connecticut gets a 100 percent score for the transparent manner in which debate is conducted prior to final approval of its budget: “The General Assembly's Appropriations Committee's website offers online access to all agendas, testimony by witnesses, and transcripts of each public hearing session. Hearings are also streamed live and available as archive files online by the state-financed CT-N television system.”

Pigs will probably soar over the State House before Bay State legislative leaders offer up readily accessible agendas, testimony, and transcripts of any public hearing, much less public budget sessions.
 
A Christian Science Monitor editorial argues that “no manner of ethics laws or codes of conduct can create effective and clean government without voters asserting their desire for honesty, openness, accountability, and other values of integrity.” But the average Bay State voter worries more about who’s to blame for the high price of gas than about putting pressure for reforms on state leaders from whom they’ve come to expect the worst.

Those low expectations could soon be further justified, with rumors flying over who might be indicted when in the ongoing Probation Department probe.  As Maggie Mulvihill, co-director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, and her fellow authors who worked on the Center for Public Integrity report note:  “Bay State voters are bracing for more humiliation from state officials... In Massachusetts, it seems, more heads are always ready to roll.”

                                                                                                                                    --GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

The final two appointments were made to the five-member state gambling commission. The panel members have limited experience with issues related gambling, but there seems to be no consensus on whether that’s bad or not.  But Western Mass is happy to have a seat at the table.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Eugene O’Flaherty will let a bill removing the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of minors go the floor for a vote after all.  WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer talks to a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who says the statute of limitations should be lifted so adult victims can prosecute their abusers when they are ready.

Heresy or honesty? Greater Boston wonders if it’s time to retire the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast after Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s jokes about his near-death experience behind the wheel.

The Salem News argues that Governor Patrick shouldn’t expect any new tax hikes this year.

Former South Boston state rep Brian Wallace admits to campaign finance violations. He’ll receive pretrial probation and has pay a $1,000 fine and restitution of $35,000. Wallace made himself out to be a victim of Attorney General Martha Coakley’s politically-minded pursuit of a pol, and deemed himself a “small-timer,” though the charges included his campaign’s inability to account for $51,000 of expenditures. Wallace tells the Herald Coakley is “ruining my life.”

The State House News Service reports on the formation of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a right-leaning group advocating tax and regulation reform. Via Lowell Sun.

The Lowell Sun calls for the governor and Legislature to reduce the number of tax breaks currently available and form a simpler tax code.

If you can’t beat ‘em, sue ‘em: Karyn Polito, who lost the 2010 race for state treasurer to Steve Grossman, is now threatening to sue him over a campaign ad she calls defamatory that still appears on his campaign’s Facebook page..

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Members of the Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury voted to file for bankruptcy protection to stave off foreclosure from OneUnited Bank.

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan says he supports choosing a new fire chief from a civil service list but is opposed to a home rule petition that would give the appointing power to the city’s Board of Fire Commissioners, which used to oversee the appointment.

A Lynn meeting meant to discuss a proposal that all Lynn cab drivers be required to speak English quickly morphed into a discussion on cab driver safety, the Daily Item of Lynn reports.

A Beverly homeless shelter will close at the end of April due to budget problems, and reopen in the fall under new management.

The Holyoke City Council will not form a committee to study bringing casino gambling to the city since Mayor Alex Morse has already stated his opposition to casinos.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Chronicle of Philanthropy examines the House Republicans budget for its impact on charities. A New York Times editorial calls the budget a recipe for a “bleak” future, while Paul Krugman bluntly labels Rep. Paul Ryan “a clown.” The budget shows the staying power of the Tea Party.

ELECTION 2012

The Globe deems it a “solid” win for Mitt Romney in Illinois, though it’s hard not to notice that he still failed to crack 50 percent. The once and future inevitability of Romney rises again. At the Weekly Standard, William Kristol is underwhelmed by the thought of Romney running in the general election. Rick Santorum turns his attention to Pennsylvania.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Local employers are digging into the Facebook pages of potential hires to learn about the applicants.

WBUR talks to one of the Boston cab drivers part of a class action lawsuit that seeks guaranteed minimum wage and a change in employment status.

EDUCATION

The head of the Boston Teachers Union says the city won’t be able to implement a plan eliminating seniority if contract negotiations don’t wrap up by the end of this month.

HEALTH CARE

Some nurses aren’t happy with what they call very prescriptive orders from management on how to interact with patients and make sure their needs are being met, reports the Globe.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

US trade officials slap a mild tariff on Chinese solar panels.

Meteorologists discuss March madness, the abnormally warm weather, that is.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Quincy police chief has revoked the gun permit of a suspended police officer who has a history of run-ins with neighbors over parking and dogs.

The Salem News talks to the family of Tanicia Goodwin.

Wilfredo Laboy, the former Lawrence school superintendent facing fraud and embezzlement charges, is expected to testify in his own defense today.

MEDIA

The New York Times cuts in half the number of free online articles readers can view.

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