Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell is calling for the creation of an inspector general position, an office needed to weed out fraud, abuse, and waste in the city’s halls of power, she says.
“Boston deserves a city government that is free of corruption, waste, and grounded in transparency and accountable to the people,” Campbell, filing a draft ordinance that would put the job on the books, told fellow councilors Wednesday.
The proposal, if passed, would convene an advisory board to make an appointment to the oversight position. Inspectors general would be allowed to serve, at maximum, two, five-year terms to ensure an office free of influence from political cycles, Cambell’s proposal outlines.
The council is picking up the conversation after high-profile corruption cases brought by federal prosecutors that have rocked City Hall in recent weeks.
Last month, two Mayor Marty Walsh administration aides were found guilty of conspiracy to commit extortion for pressuring Boston Calling music festival organizers to hire union labor.
And last week, a former Boston Planning and Development Agency official pleaded guilty to accepting a $50,000 bribe from a developer to influence a Zoning Board of Appeal vote in 2017.
Since then, a ZBA member has resigned.
Campbell, however, said her filing is not a response to recent events, but rather a proactive measure to give the public another tool to hold its government accountable.
She said the idea came to mind when she heard it discussed previously at a conference for elected officials, and cited numerous cities with similar structures in place, including New York and Chicago.
“While there are some concerns and some incidents that have occurred recently that we should all be concerned about, Boston is different than other cities in terms of how our government functions,” Campbell said. “So I just want to make that clear that for me this position is about bringing in someone who can proactively, not reactively, look at our departments.”
Here’s what to know about the proposal:
What the ordinance would do
Campbell’s proposed plan would establish the Office of Inspector General as well as the seven-member advisory board, according to the filing.
Members would be nominated by several city departments, including one seat by the mayor and two by a public application process, the proposal says. Others would be made by the council’s Ways and Means Committee chairperson, the council president, city auditor, and corporation counsel. Nominees would be confirmed by the City Council.
The inspector general would be tasked with ensuring “honesty, integrity, transparency, and efficiency in city government by rooting out waste, abuse, fraud, corruption, and mismanagement,” the ordinance says.
The official may be removed from office “for cause” upon a recommendation by the mayor, a councilor, or the corporation counsel and after a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council.
The office would be given authority to review and investigate the city’s ins and outs, from the contracts it signs and who signs them to recommending policies that could cut down on waste or other inefficiencies, among other duties.
The City Council and mayor would receive quarterly reports about the office’s investigations and reviews, according to the proposal.
“Reports shall also include findings and recommendations regarding program weaknesses, contracting irregularities, and other institutional problems that are discovered as the result of an investigation, audit, or review,” the filing says.
Campbell’s proposal doesn’t elaborate on a specific budget for the proposed office, but says “funding shall be at a minimum .01% of the total departmental appropriations, excluding state and county assessments, debt service, pensions, unemployment compensation or other non-departmental or reserve funds.”
Why Campbell thinks the office is needed
Campbell said Boston needs an inspector general to look over how the city spends its money and examine whether policies and practices meant to provide transparency to the public are working well.
“Our city employees do a lot everyday,” Campbell said. “I often say our city employees are over worked and under paid. It can be really challenging to take the time that is necessary to ensure that we are being fair in our processes, that our processes are equitable for residents in the City of Boston. So this office can proactively work with those employees, work with those departments to ensure that they are actually doing their jobs really well.”
Responding to some initial criticism from other councilors, Campbell said she thinks the office could potentially save money, pointing to how city departments often bring in outside auditors and consultants to do the work that would otherwise fall under the purview of an inspector general.
City government turned to a private law firm to probe the recent issues surrounding the ZBA, according to Campbell.
“That decision is not made by councilors. It’s not made by the public. It’s an investigation that’s happening within the walls of a law firm,” she said. “They are not required to give updates to this body or to to the residents. These are costly transactions.”
The initial pushback from other councilors
While Campbell received support from several of her colleagues, others questioned the necessity of the position and how the office would impact city operations.
“I think it does infer that there’s a lot of people in the city that are dirty or on the take, whatever. Don’t forget, I think 99.9 percent of the people here come in, do their work, work hard,” Councilor Frank Baker said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I just think that an office like this could really grind the daily workings of the city to a halt because now your rank and file is going to say, ‘I don’t know what I can do. I have someone looking over my shoulder all day.’”
Baker said that although he is not completely opposed to the proposal, he pondered how the city could cover costs for the initiative.
“This is an office. It’s going to cost at least a million dollars,” he added.
Councilor Althea Garrison, offering her opposition, said there are already inspectors general at the federal and state levels.
“Why do we need an IG for municipal government?” she asked. “If we have this money, we can take this money and give our taxpayers a tax break.”
Campbell said she researched the role of the state inspector general, but determined that the “position is so far removed that I don’t find it to be effective when it comes to our dealings, specifically in the City of Boston.”
Councilor Lydia Edwards, however, quickly offered her support for the proposal and said she has already heard from people interested in the position.
She said the council’s discussion needs to focus on how the city would create a neutral complaint filing system to aid the office, as well as other factors such as where the inspector general would work, how the official could be removed from office, and how the department is funded.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with any case pending or any of the other issues,” Edwards said. “I think we need it, period.”
The matter was assigned to the Committee on Government Operations for review.