SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 12, 2012

Column: Restoring balance to the Governor's Council

Joe D'Amore
The Salem News

---- — It takes a passionate woman to get people excited about something as obscure as the Governor’s Council. Maura Ciardiello is such a candidate in this otherwise-contentious campaign season, where the public’s imagination is held strongly by seemingly more important races like the congressional, state Senate and presidential races. But for Massachusetts, the Governor’s Council — a virtual political outpost — is important.

The council is composed of eight individuals elected from districts and the lieutenant governor, who serves ex officio. The eight councilors are elected from their respective districts every two years.

The council meets weekly to record advice and consent on warrants for the state treasury, pardons and commutations, and recording advice and consent to gubernatorial appointments such as judges, clerk-magistrates, public administrators, members of the Parole Board, Appellate Tax Board, Industrial Accident Board and Industrial Accident Reviewing Board, notaries, and justices of the peace.

Maura is a graduate of Haverhill High School, a former public school teacher and a mother of three young boys. She is married to a Massachusetts state trooper. When she speaks, she does so plainly about the importance of citizen participation in government. She is the epitome of a no-nonsense, untainted voice in a political landscape that is replete with professional politicians. Her message is a simple one. In Massachusetts, advocating for citizens must be done by citizens. The implication is clear. Massachusetts has a colorful history of corruption and dislocation that threatens the integrity of our political systems, and a balancing force is the citizen-public servant.

Since appointments of key positions such as judges, parole board members and court officials impact our communities tremendously, it’s critical that a voice that stands for balance and compromise is delivered to this council. With only two Republicans currently on the council, balance is lacking when measured by the diverse interests of the two dominant parties in the state.

Here are some reasons why.

In 2003, judge Maria Lopez resigned amid public outcry at her lenient sentence of issuing probation to a transgendered convict, Charles Horton, who was convicted of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy. She was a controversial judge first appointed under the recommendation of the Governor’s Council by then-Gov. Michael Dukakis. The appointment has long been regarded as an example of a one-party rule leaning toward political appointees that support strong progressive principles that sometimes may not be beneficial to the collective interests of a community.

In a more recent issue, the Ware report in 2010 exposed the rampant nepotism and patronage that was virtually codified in the state’s probation department led by Commissioner John O’Brien.

So what can one person do to counter the forces of public disinterest that dominate our politics? Plenty, when that person advocates along time-honored principles of representation without conflict and self-interest.

This year, it seems particularly appealing to deliver a candidate to the Statehouse who is a mom, teacher and community-based activist, rather than an attorney or professional politician, which is the usual qualification for this post. Thanks to Maura Ciardiello, we can avail ourselves of the opportunity to send a message on Nov. 6 that tolerance for public servants who do not serve the public need not apply.

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Joe D’Amore writes from Groveland.