O’Malley calls for ‘open’ city clerk hiring

December 2, 2011
By

Amid controversy that the Boston city clerk job will be filled by a former city councilor in a rigged hiring, local Councilor Matt O’Malley is calling for an “open and transparent process.”

Former Councilor Maureen Feeney’s rumored bid for the job is controversial as a possible insider deal, as well as for Feeney’s history of flouting the Open Meeting Law, which the city clerk helps enforce.

The city clerk maintains public records and advises the City Council on procedure. The council hires the clerk, and the well-paying job often goes to ex-councilors, including outgoing clerk Rosaria Salerno.

Feeney, a Dorchester resident, reportedly has coveted the clerk job for years and has maneuvered behind the scenes to score it. The city advertised the job opening on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving and three days after Salerno’s secretary told the Gazette that she had made no decision on retirement. Salerno herself is a former councilor.

Feeney did not run for re-election this year and abruptly resigned before her successor has taken office, reportedly to beat a legally required waiting period before getting the clerk job. She did not return a Gazette phone call at her home address.

O’Malley told the Gazette that he is aware of the rumors of Feeney’s interest in the job, but never discussed it directly with anyone. He said he had no notice of the resignations of Feeney or Salerno.

“I honestly don’t know what the deal is,” he said.

“I think Maureen may be the best candidate,” O’Malley said, noting her extensive council experience. But, he added, “I think we need to have an open and transparent process.” In a Nov. 18 interview, he called for posting the city clerk publicly, which had not yet been done.

Patricia Finnegan, Salerno’s secretary, told the Gazette on Nov. 22 that Salerno “hasn’t established anything on her retirement.” She said Salerno was unavailable for an interview.

Feeney was a member of the City Council in 2005, when it was successfully sued for a string of illegal secret meetings. Feeney later got the council to approve—in what critics called a secret decision—a pay raise for an employee whose sole job was to write an eccentric report arguing that the council should be exempted from the Open Meeting Law.

Shirley Kressel, a plaintiff in a citizen lawsuit that exposed the illegal council meetings, called Feeney’s rumored bid for the clerkship as “very troubling.”

“She, like all the others [on the council], is indignant that they’re even subject to this [Open Meeting] law,” Kressel said. “That’s the worst part about this.”

Kressel noted that Feeney testified in court this summer in a final hearing on the lawsuit, where a judge ruled that the council has reformed its ways after admitting to the secret meetings. Kressel said that when asked on the stand what she did wrong in the case, Feeney had no response. “She was just mystified,” Kressel said.

The clerk job posting on the City website at cityofboston.gov says that “working knowledge” of the Open Meeting Law and public records access laws are required of applicants.

Asked if Feeney’s record on the Open Meeting Law troubles him regarding a possible clerk job, O’Malley said, “I would really look at the totality of her qualifications,” as he would with any candidate.

Jamaica Plain’s other local city councilors, Mike Ross and Tito Jackson, did not respond to Gazette interview requests about the clerk job.