Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We have become comfortably numb

Amidst the sturm und drang generated by the probation scandal, another prime example of cynical self-dealing by an elected official that would ordinarily be given the full front page treatment (in the Herald, at least) is getting much less notice.  This one has already resulted in the abrupt resignation of the just-overwhelmingly-reelected Sheriff James DiPaola of Middlesex County, a guy who apparently, um, retired already, just prior to said overwhelming reelection... without bothering to mention his retirement to the voters or anyone else.

Why would the good Sheriff do such a thing?  Why does a guy who has already retired need to resign?  I'll let the State House News Service (by way of the Herald) try to explain:
DiPaola quietly filed for retirement days before the Nov. 2 election, in order to begin drawing a $98,000-a-year pension. Because state pension laws permit retirees to run for elected office without forfeiting their pension, DiPaola’s reelection would have enabled him to receive his pension, in addition to a $120,000-a-year sheriff’s salary.“I made a black and white decision based on finances instead of my moral compass to run for re-election and to apply for retirement,” DiPaola wrote in his letter. “Once this decision was made public and I discussed it with Globe reporter Sean Murphy my first reaction was to defend the Law. Sean made a statement to me which really hit home. He said ‘You know Sheriff if you do this it will be Your Legacy and not any good you have done.’ I realized then that he was right.”
Ultimately, DiPaola abandoned his plan and opted to retire instead. According to state law, when DiPaola officially retires – he’s eyeing a Jan. 6, 2011 departure – Patrick may appoint a successor to serve until the next biennial state election, scheduled for November 2012.
So in a nutshell, Sheriff DiPaola secretly filed for retirement just prior to reelection in order to collect both a full pension and a full salary.  Pretty ugly stuff, no?  The original Globe report (which ran Sunday) is even more squirm-inducing:

DiPaola, a 57-year-old Democrat, had quietly filed retirement papers on Oct. 28, looking to exploit a section of the state pension law that allows retirees to run for paid elective office without losing their pensions. All he had to do was not accept a paycheck until his new term began in January.
That gambit, which even his own employees seemed unaware of, would have increased his annual income by $98,500 for doing the same job he’s been doing since 1997.
“I’d always be remembered for this, for double-dipping, that that would be my legacy,’’ he said yesterday, crediting a Globe reporter’s question for his spark of conscience. “From a financial perspective it was great. It was legal. But I tossed and turned all night. I did put myself first this time, and I don’t want it to end that way.’’
He continued, “I asked myself, ‘Is this really worth it?’ ’’
DiPaola, who is giving up six years’ salary worth $738,000, concluded it was not.
“This is black and white, and there is no cagey way to get around it,’’ he said. “I had a feeling in my stomach.’’
Yeah.  Any kid ever caught heading out the pharmacy door with a pocket full of un-purchased candy knows that "feeling" the Sheriff had in his stomach, and the Globe is awfully generous to describe it as a "spark of conscience."  Oh s__t!!! is more like it.  This is a guy who very deliberately gamed the system in order to add $98,000 to his already generous $120,000 salary - for what would have been an eventual total of three quarters of a million clams in ill-gotten gains - whose "conscience" didn't trouble his tummy until a Globe reporter called him on the scheme.  Had that call not occurred, it's a good bet the guy would be browsing the web for a boat or a vacation home rather than packing it in and calling it a career. 

I already used the word "cynical" above, but cannot think of a better descriptive.  DiPaola did what he did in order to collect a salary and a pension for the same job.  He did this knowingly, deliberately, despite the multiple investigative reports and resulting pension scandals that have roiled Beacon Hill (if not a cattle complacent electorate) over the past couple of years.  Cynical works, but falls short.  So does arrogant.  And brazen.

And what is the reaction on Beacon Hill?  Governor Patrick initially deemed DiPaola's scheme "absolutely outrageous," but has since softened his tone, telling the Globe that DiPaola is a "fine man [who] has done a fine job in office," and praising the Sheriff's "wise decision" to resign.  This "fine man" just almost succeeded in gaming the pension system (that the Governor praised himself endlessly for reforming over the course of the recently-concluded campaign, by the way) to the tune of almost a million taxpayer dollars.  And the "wise decision" was made for him, by the Globe.  Give me a break.

For his part, DiPaola's contrition came hard.  His initial response to the Globe was more pugnacious: "There is nothing evil about it. I don’t see it as grabbing something. I’m supposed to say no to it?"

DiPaola's point, of course, was that the system and the political culture in Massachusetts pretty much set a million dollars in unmarked bills on the table in front of him, and then turned its back and started whistling.  "I'm supposed to say no to it?"  The Globe's breaking news blurb on Sunday announcing DiPaola's abrupt decision to resign was unintentionally hilarious (and a little Yoda-esque) in its attempt to describe this all-too-common state of affairs here in Massachusetts: "Elected officials who collect pensions have almost always retired for some time before seeking office."

What?  They're supposed to say no to it?

So now Governor Patrick gets to appoint DiPaola's successor, and his choice will serve nearly the full two-year term to which DiPaola was so recently reelected.  And gosh, where else would a Democratic Governor in Massachusetts look for qualified candidates than in... the legislature.  The name floating to the top of the limited speculation that has taken place thus far is Representative David Linsky of Natick, who has expressed interest in the position and told the Herald that "his 14 years as an assistant district attorney in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office had prepared him to take the reins of the correction system in the state’s largest county."  

(Un)coincidentally enough, Rep. Linsky was also touting his prosecutorial bona fides the last time he rippled the surface of the news cycle, nearly two years ago when he moved into what Linsky proudly deemed "the biggest office in the State House" as part of then-newly-elected Speaker DeLeo's leadership team.  According to the MetroWest Daily News, "House Speaker Robert DeLeo [had just] named him chairman of the House Post-Audit Committee, which has broad powers of investigation and oversight. He requested the committee because of his background as a prosecutor, Linsky said."

How is this for a fun line, in retrospect?  "He has consulted with the speaker on areas he would be interested in investigating, but won't say what they are."

Nearly two years later, the House Post-Audit Committee's website gives no inkling as to what those "areas" were that Chairman Linsky was "interested in investigating."  Nor a quick Google search.  Here's a safe bet: neither the probation department nor systemic pension abuse were on Linsky's list.

My increasing fear is that we in Massachusetts are too accustomed to this sort of thing.  Subjected to what has become an unrelenting flow of scandal from our government, we are losing (or have lost) the ability to be shocked and the inclination to react appropriately.  Rather than the outrage and recrimination that could/should reasonably be expected to follow the outing of a scheme by an elected official to double-dip to the tune of three-quarters of a million public dollars, we get a modicum of measured criticism accompanied by a deluge of praise for the outgoing, decidedly un-disgraced Sheriff. 

With apologies to Pink Floyd, we hear no more AAAAAAAAAAAH!  We just feel a little sick.

4 comments:

  1. In the 14 years that Sheriff DiPaola has served he has turned the Office of Sheriff around and made it a recognized very professional organization. Are we going to listen to disgruntled former employees who are hiding behind a disquise? Don't we all have the right to face our accusers come on Kerri(Fredo)we know it's you.

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  2. I don't know whether that's accurate or not, Anonymous. But assume it is. So what? It does not entitle him to a double-dip of nearly a million dollars. As the Sheriff himself observed, what he tried to pull is now his legacy.
    As for this Kerri person, I assume he/she is the one who dimed the Sheriff out to the Globe. My unsolicited advice to that brave soul, in light of Anonymous's Fredo reference is not to accept any fishing invitations from former colleagues for a while.

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to write your blog. It is very informative to us sheep out here who will make a quick gasp, and then move along instead of realizing that every aspect of government is long overdue for a forensic audit.

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  4. live free or die!just wondering why dipaola would kill himself in maine when new hampshire was closer.what i due not get is he was going to get 98,000$ per year,and still could not handle it.there is more to this than just some campaign theft.

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