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Globe Editorial

Menino waves the flag for police unions

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August 6, 2009

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IF MAYOR MENINO wants to give a gift to city police officers, he can write a personal check to the charitable Boston Police Relief Association, not risk taxpayer funds by undermining a statewide effort to replace paid police details with civilian flaggers.

Menino submitted a home-rule petition this week that would require the more expensive police details on some heavily-trafficked roads, even if they meet the state’s under-45 miles per hour speed-limit requirement for civilian flaggers. The Menino administration argues that state-funded construction projects on many Boston streets with low speed limits and high traffic volume, such as Dorchester and Massachusetts avenues, present too many challenges for flaggers. But guidelines already allow municipal officials to negotiate exemptions to the flagger rules based on consultations with local safety and transportation officials. The presence of hospitals and homeless shelters, for example, could argue for more cops and fewer flaggers.

Menino is using the legislation, in part, to curry favor with police unions, whose members can easily earn an extra $20,000 a year from paid details. The mayor opposes flaggers, even on lonely side streets. The nonprofit Boston Municipal Research Bureau argues the city could save $2 million if even a third of roadwork details went to lower-paid flaggers. But the usually thrifty Menino has ignored the argument. That’s one way to secure the support, or neutrality, of police in his reelection campaign. It’s a political calculation, and one where taxpayers, utility rate payers, and businesses are on the bottom.

That said, the state Highway Department needs to weigh the waiver requests quickly. The $14.5 million project to rebuild Massachusetts Avenue should have started a month ago, but remains bogged down in discussions over the ratio of flaggers to police. City officials blame the state. The state blames the city. Meanwhile, 80 to 100 construction workers and tradesmen who should be working on the project are stuck in neutral.

This traffic snarl needs to get fixed quickly so people can get to work. Regardless, the City Council should reject Menino’s home-rule petition, which puts political convenience above the public interest.

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