Boston City Council to consider ousting Turner

November 8, 2010
By

David Taber

Local councilor found guilty of corruption

EGLESTON SQ.—A jury returned a guilty verdict last week for District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner—whose district includes a small part of Jamaica Plain—on charges of public corruption and three charges of making false statements to a federal agent.

“The only thing I can say is I am innocent. The jury had a different perspective, but that does not detract from my reality,” Turner told the Gazette in a phone interview this week.

In a public letter, Turner said he would not appeal the verdict but that he will not voluntarily resign his post.

In a letter to Turner, a copy of which was forwarded to the Gazette, City Council President Mike Ross—who represents part of Hyde Square—said that a City Council hearing will be held Dec. 1 to consider if Turner will continue to serve on the City Council.

The city councilor faces up to 35 years in prison, six years of supervised release and $500,000 in fines, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Turner’s sentencing is scheduled for January 25, the release said.

Under state law, if he is jailed, Turner would be automatically forced to vacate his seat. Recently passed City Council rules call for a two-thirds majority vote of the council to remove a councilor who has been convicted of a felony, but not sentenced to jail time.

Ross told the Gazette in a phone interview that the rules about removing a city councilor convicted of a felony were passed two years ago, with Turner’s support, and that if it happens, the vote would be the first ever by the council to remove a sitting member. “This is a road the City Council has never gone down before… It’s never happened before,” Ross told the Gazette.

“I intend to fight to finish my term of office…since there are a number of projects that I initiated that need more work,” Turner said in his letter.

Turner told the Gazette that lawyers have contacted him about contesting the City Council rules. “If there is a legal challenge [to the rule], I certainly would support it,” Turner said.

Both Jim Hennigan and Matt O’Malley, who are vying for the currently open District 6 city council seat—which includes most of JP— told the Gazette they think Turner should resign. [See related article.]

Turner had requested that the City Council hearing be held after his January 25 sentencing, but Ross told the Gazette he chose the Dec. 1 date because will be the new District 6 city councilor’s first day in office, following a Nov. 16 special election.

“I wanted to wait for all the city councilors to be seated,” he said.

Boston City Council rule 40a says that if a sitting councilor is convicted of a felony, a vote of the city council is required to determine if that councilor is “unqualified” to continue serving on the council. A two-thirds majority vote by sitting councilors is required to remove a councilor from office under the rule.

The meeting to determine Turner’s professional fate will be a public hearing, at Turner’s request, Ross told the Gazette.

In his letter, Turner urged supporters to send letters to Ross, urging that Turner not be removed from the council. He also asked supporters to send letters to US District Judge Douglas Woodlock urging that Turner be sentenced to probation so he can finish his term, which ends in 2012.

Turner told the Gazette that, regardless of what happens, he will not seek reelection, and that he has contacted former at-large City Council candidate Tito Jackson about running to replace him as District 7 City Councilor.

“Any time I spend on the council will be interim time,” Turner said. He needs to prepare his staff to support the district in the event that he is removed from office, he said, and spend time briefing Jackson on district issues.

He also said he would reach out to the new District 6 city councilor to discuss issues in district border neighborhoods like Egleston Square, where Turner and former District 6 City Councilor John Tobin have historically shared responsibilities.

Evidence against Turner included a video of the councilor accepting a $1,000 bribe from a cooperating witness in August 2007, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice.

That cooperating witness, Ron Wilburn, testified against Turner in the 11-day trial that ended Oct. 27.

The investigation that led to Turner’s conviction also targeted state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who was also caught on video and pled guilty to charges that she took bribes. Wilkerson is awaiting sentencing.