Climate makes lawmakers wary of aiding individuals

It’s good news for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and other lawmakers including State Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, if reports from attorneys are accurate this week that there will be no members of the House of Senate charged in connection with the ongoing grand jury probe of the state Probation Department.

The last thing the commonwealth needs would be for a fourth consecutive sitting Speaker indicted.

DeLeo, McGee and others were prominently mentioned in independent counsel Paul Ware’s scathing 2010 report on hiring practices in the Probation Department, for having made a number of recommendations — some successful — of people for Probation Department jobs.

Former head of the department John J. O’Brien was indicted earlier this year on 17 counts of bribing lawmakers by giving jobs to applicants they recommend, in exchange for a bigger budge. He pleaded not guilty to those charges in May.

The Boston Herald reported Wednesday that DeLeo’s personal attorney said federal authorities have assured that DeLeo will face no charges. The State House News Service reported Wednesday that counsel for the House and Senate are confident that no lawmakers will face charges.

If that turns out to be the case, it may also bode well for the embattled former probation department head, in that how can one be charged with bribing lawmakers if no lawmakers are proven to have accepted any bribe.

DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and McGee, senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, are both powerful lawmakers who, we believe, have, overall, served the commonwealth and their constituents with distinction.

And really, it’s hardly a newsflash that elected officials would help constituents with a job recommendation.

Yes, state government has been rife with patronage employees over the years. But it’s important to keep in mind, as former Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry told The Item in a candid interview before he retired last year, that for generations constituents have depended on their elected representatives and senators to help with whatever they need: finding housing, making college recommendations, and yes, help with finding jobs.

Berry said the atmosphere today is unfortunately such that lawmakers are almost wary to make a phone call on behalf of anyone for any reason.

The governor, state attorney general and leadership on Beacon Hill must stay focused on eliminating patronage positions wherever they exist. And it does seem that was a problem over the years in the Probation Department. There is a lesson for all elected officials in this case, but they should not have to refrain from recommending qualified candidates for legitimate openings in state government.

After three years, our hope is that this investigation ends soon so it does not take focus off important matters before the Legislature, not the least of which is solving the state’s transportation funding crisis.

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