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Home » A half-century in the past, Somerville politics was a large number of no-bid development contracts and cronyism

A half-century in the past, Somerville politics was a large number of no-bid development contracts and cronyism





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Somerville within the Sixties bore little resemblance to its present gentrified self. Populated largely by working-class immigrant households, the town confronted heavy debt, hovering taxes, crumbling infrastructure, and a streak of alleged corruption that ran via a number of mayoral administrations. As tax charges rose all through the state, Highlight reporters questioned how all that cash was being spent.

In Somerville’s case, the reply was not properly in any respect, as Highlight found throughout a three-month investigation. The issue was a legislation that exempted any metropolis challenge beneath $1,000 from being put out to bid. This created a loophole that contractors with Metropolis Corridor connections might exploit by splitting a giant contract into many smaller ones, every beneath $1,000.

That loophole was including as much as costly complications for taxpayers. One ex-con within the constructing enterprise was awarded greater than $777,000 in no-bid contracts; one other enterprise run by a former Division of Public Works commissioner racked up practically $500,000 in tasks.

In its six-part sequence, revealed in February 1971, Highlight uncovered politically linked contractors reaping tens of millions in no-bid tasks; hidden enterprise relationships between public officers and personal corporations; moldering data saved in basement shoeboxes; workplace holders openly flouting conflict-of-interest legal guidelines; and different systemic abuses.

Pressed to clarify one such shady deal, ex-mayor James Brennan mentioned, “I don’t climb up on each roof each time any person fixes a roof, and I don’t go right into a room each time it’s painted.” Possibly, however he did go to trial on conspiracy fees.

When one other public official was grilled about insurance coverage contracts written by an organization that he was related to, he denied any possession hyperlink — whereupon Highlight revealed the articles of group bearing his signature.

The fallout started instantly. Reform-minded Mayor Lester Ralph demanded all public paperwork associated to no-bid work be impounded, then convened a particular City Assembly at which he fired his metropolis auditor. (Offended residents confirmed up sporting “Highlight” campaign-style buttons.) By August, 19 individuals and 4 corporations had been indicted on 119 counts of conspiracy and theft. The group included the auditor, two former DPW commissioners, and three ex-mayors.

Somerville would quickly bear main modifications, pushed by developments just like the Purple Line extension to Davis Sq.. Most indicted officers would ultimately be acquitted. Nonetheless, in acknowledging the authorized obstacles to securing conspiracy convictions, Superior Court docket Decide Francis Lappin famous that “not responsible” didn’t imply there wasn’t an issue. “It seems that somebody broke the legislation over there,” he mentioned.

The sequence, which received a Pulitzer Prize, ushered in a change throughout the Globe, too, the place there had been some doubts that the Highlight staff was vital. “It confirmed this mannequin would work,” says founding Highlight editor Timothy Leland. “Our earlier investigations had been fairly good however not of that caliber. This one was one thing particular.”

Present Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who’s stepping down after 18 years in workplace, remembers the sequence as a civic “wake-up name,” saying it confirmed that increased moral requirements had been urgently wanted. Highlight, Curtatone says, “didn’t simply make clear what was unsuitable, it motivated Mayor Ralph to give attention to what wanted to be accomplished,” together with professionalizing metropolis workplaces and bringing extra transparency to the awarding of contracts. “It emphasised the necessity for goal journalism to carry public officers accountable,” he says.

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