TRANSPARENCY, AUTHORITY, AND THE OLYMPIC GAMES BID

1 Baker and Walsh

^ authority gratuitously compromised versus authority fully asserted : Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker

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We’ve opined at length about why we support bringing the 2024 Summer Olympic Games to Boston, I have no intention of revisiting any part of our brief in favor. The purpose of today’s editorial is to address significant. governance issues that the Games controversy has highlighted and about which mistakes have been made.

The first issue is “transparency.” During the past few years the notion has gained traction that governments should be “transparent,” which is to say that government records should all be readily available to the public and that, to the extent feasible, communications between government officials — and even among subordinates — should be public as well. This objective sounds apple pie, a good government move. Like most such moves, however, it needs limitation in order not to overreach. Because the second issue is “authority.” It too needs to be respected.

Elected executives must be accorded a zone of confidentiality protecting their communications with one another as well as communications made by subordinates. If elected executives don’t have such zone of confidentiality, their authority of office is vitiated. The state’s Constitution (and the City Charter of Boston) empower elected officials. We either allow Charter’s and Constitution’s powers to work, or we undermine both officials, City Charter, and Constitution.

Opponents of the 2024 Games bid seek publication of all manner of documents well within the Mayor of Boston’s zone of confidentiality. The Mayor yesterday ceded this vital principle to them; it was a huge mistake on his part which, if not corrected by an appropriate Executive Order, will leave him powerless to make the most important mayoral decisions : land use decisions. Because if developers and proposers of projects like Boston 2024 can’t be sure that their proposals and negotiations will be confidential during the negotiation stages, no developer or proposer will make any such proposals. That will hurt the Mayor and severely injure the City’s economic boom.

The Mayor appears to fear that voters do not trust him, do not trust government, do not trust the games committee. Opponents have indeed said so, often and loudly. I think the Mayor has over-reacted; nonetheless, he is not wrong to confront the distrust issue,. It is the ebola in today’s American body politic, of which Trump is the most toxic symptom; many more such symptoms abound. Voters distrust Congress, some distrust the President; some distrust our democracy itself, the economy, and every institution of political health. It is wrong, however — hugely wrong — to respond to ebola by offering up your body to it.

There are plenty of voters — a majority, perhaps — who either believe in the Mayor or who want to, voters who are ready to gird up for battle by his side; voters who want change and who look to Walsh to get it done. These supporters include developers and boom-economy businesses that see prosperity in the offing if the Mayor can get the City to that point. The Mayor needs to be these voters’; leader, not their white flag of surrender.

Unfortunately, the Mayor has placed himself at the head of the Transparency Arny. It is difficult for him now to step aside from that army and say, “wait just a minute, you’re taking transparency too far.”

Yet the current “transparency army” is his sworn political foe. Can he ever win their trust — except by letting them run his show ? That would be a final mistake. Their agenda is the opposite of his : ” no development boom, no neighborhood change, no new economy, no education transformation, no Mayor with authority.”

Mayor Walsh can still recover his power. He should, as soon as feasible, issue the following Executive Order :

“Notwithstanding the decision that we made to make public certain documents relating to the Olympic games proposal, that were presented and discussed in confidentiality, it is now City Policy that negotiations and proposals made to the Mayor by developers and event proponents shall be conducted entirely confidentially, including any and all documents and communications made pursuant thereto, by My office or by those who work for My Office and other City agencies and departments where I so order; and no such proposal or negotiation shall be made public until and unless an actual agreement is reached in such form and of such content as shall, according to the City Charter, require a vote of the Council.”

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Meanwhile, support for the Games looks to have increased on account of last night’s debate. That is no surprise; supporters have been the underdog, and an underdog almost always wins a first debate simply because it gets to make its case, to people who may only have known characterizations leveled at it by the opponent. The controversy now moves to Governor Baker, on whose decision all attend — exactly as he should want it. How he will decide, I cannot tell. One thing however is sure : discussions he is having leading up to his decision are being held in the confidential zone, where the authority of governance rests and must rest.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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