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Globe Editorial

Menino’s off-line convalescence

December 11, 2009

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EVERYONE FROM federal officials to city functionaries is trudging to Chesterfield Street in Hyde Park where Mayor Menino is recovering at home after knee surgery. The mayor’s house is serving as a little City Hall. But from a communications standpoint, Menino may just as well be convalescing in a Crimean War hospital during the 1850s.

The mayor distrusts telecommunications equipment. Many Bostonians would cheer his partial ban on voice mail in city offices. Taxpayers deserve a live voice at the other end of the line, at least during working hours. But how do Bostonians benefit from Menino’s refusal to read or answer e-mail? It puts greater pressures on his staffers, who prepare nightly packets of information - dubbed “homework’’ - for the mayor, including policy briefings and scheduling requests. Menino then jots notes and instructions on the packet for staffers who distribute the information the next day to department heads and other decision makers.

Menino’s aversion to e-mail raises suspicions that he doesn’t want to leave an electronic trail. In recent months, his administration became mired in controversy after the discovery that a top aide had deleted thousands of e-mails at City Hall. But Secretary of State William Galvin reminds the administration that many of Menino’s “homework’’ assignments are likely public records, especially documents related to final decisions.

Menino, 66, didn’t grow up with e-mail. He’s old school in the sense that he prefers face-to-face conversations over remote access. Bostonians like, or at least respect, that. But his knee surgery, which has kept him out of the office for a month, suggests that it wouldn’t hurt him to dip a toe into the modern world.

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