THE PIONEER BLOG

Falsified Records & Shady Human Resources Policies: The Latest Scandal in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

The Office of the Medical Examiner for Massachusetts is a taxpayer-funded agency that employs 93 people and is responsible for investigating violent and unexplained deaths in Massachusetts. Last year, Dr. Mindy J. Hull was chosen to lead the agency as chief medical examiner, a position with a salary that was recently increased by nearly $100,000 to $375,000 to lure a qualified candidate. After accepting the position, Hull elevated Lisa Riccobene, who has been with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (CME) since 2005, to chief of staff in late spring, 2018. This high-ranking position directly oversees 17 employees and has a salary of $112,000. While this may appear to be a run-of-the-mill promotion of a veteran employee, it became […]

School Choice Booming on Cape Cod

Each year, millions of dollars flow from one school system to another thanks to a 1991 Massachusetts law that created inter-district school choice, which offers parents the option of enrolling their children in the public-school district of a community other than their hometown. While the law allows each district to decide whether to accept out-of-district students, no district can deny its students the right to leave. Parents on Cape Cod are taking full advantage of the law. Preliminary estimates for the current school year from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show Cape schools are educating 2,595 school choice students, 1,127 more than nine years ago. In fact, Cape Cod students who take advantage of school choice make […]

Top Methuen Police Officials Poised to Earn Far More than State Police (even including the State Police Overtime)

The city of Methuen is currently facing a budget crisis primarily due to school system debt and newly negotiated police contracts.   Top police officials are poised to be the highest-paid officers in the state. According to the Boston Globe, a new contract will result in five Methuen police captains making an average of $432,295 annually.  Seven lieutenants will make $269,823, and 12 sergeants will earn $160,018.  City Police Chief Joseph Solomon will pull in $371,520.   These pay hikes resulted from new contracts negotiated by the previous mayor, Stephen Zanni. The agreements hike certain salaries to sky-high levels due to required pay percentage differentials among the various ranks. The percentages of their wages will now be derived from base […]

Not signed, sealed, delivered

Even the casual observer has probably heard that Massachusetts is the only state without a signed annual budget. The start of July signals the beginning of a new fiscal year for all but four state governments. But now, more than halfway through the month, Massachusetts is operating on a stopgap budget to ensure that state government continues to function and provide services. However, this practice cannot go on indefinitely and the Commonwealth is well into the new fiscal year. So where’s the fire? Due to the nature of budget negotiations, which take place in closed-door meetings, it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of the prolonged delay. The budget holdup is yet another example of the need for more transparency on […]

Should Boston want to be the home of Amazon’s second headquarters?

Amazon is the kind of company whose mere presence is enough to transform a city. Billions of dollars in investment, tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, and a major impact on transportation and land use have characterized Amazon’s relationship with its primary home of Seattle. As the company continues to grow, its process to determine the location for its second headquarters has attracted momentous attention. Amazon finished site visits of proposed locations in May, and the so-called “HQ2” project continues to garner media attention from both local outlets and nationally renowned think tanks. At first glance, whichever city Amazon chooses seems to have won a kind of lottery. Infrastructure upgrades, all-but-guaranteed job growth, and a stage for international connections all […]

Is local government in Massachusetts too pervasive?

In a country as culturally and politically diverse as the United States, vastly different political systems have come to serve local populations in various states. Certain regions of the nation have far-reaching and invasive local government systems, while others have large swaths of the population that don’t have any sub-county government at all. A typical Greater Boston town has about 25,000 people, while urban conglomerations out west often consist mostly of unincorporated communities. Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, has well over 2 million residents but only 5 municipal governments. Meanwhile, Cumming, Georgia is a city of 6,000 people whose mailing address serves over 100,000 people. Cumming is the only incorporated community in its county. At the opposite extreme, […]

Troop F Gets an A: State Auditor Overlooks DSP Corruption, Neglects Audits

The Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA’s) website describes our current auditor, Suzanne Bump, as “the chief accountability officer for state government in Massachusetts and its residents.” The OSA’s enabling statute requires the department to audit all 700 departments and organizations of the government at least once every three years. Yet in her seven years as auditor, the OSA conducted only one audit of the Department of State Police (DSP), in 2011. When our state government watchdog failed to pick up the scent of DSP’s multiple scandals in Troops E and F, it was left to investigative journalism to enforce state accountability. The OSA Didn’t Audit, So Troop E Ran Unchecked In October 2017, Kathy Curran of WCVB-TV’s “5 Investigates” […]

Disappointing Decision Regarding High-Achieving Cape Cod Charter School

In 2004 the Barnstable County Horace Mann Charter School was founded to “Engage, educate, and challenge a diverse K-3 population to achieve the highest level of academic excellence.” The school has its own nine-member board of trustees, principal, and staff that under the Horace Mann format are given greater control over budgetary and teaching decisions than their counterparts in traditional public schools. The school stayed true to its commitment to diversity as English is the second language of 41 percent of the students, and it is the only elementary school in the district that accepts students from all of the town’s seven villages. Furthermore, a majority of the students are from low income households with at least 50 percent of […]

Parking Fine Hikes in Boston: a step in Go Boston 2030’s Larger Plan

On July 2, 2018, parking ticket fines in Boston increased substantially. In an attempt to decrease congestion and increase efficiency, the City of Boston hiked the fines for the first time in 10 years. According to the City of Boston’s website, the increased fines represent those violations that: most negatively impact residents, are most frequently violated, and are a source of traffic congestion and safety issues. Before this fine hike, many people would not pay the meter (see table below under “meter fee unpaid”).  Quite often, it was less expensive for drivers to pay a parking violation than park in private lots or garages. Source: Patch.com The city estimated the increased fines will bring $5 million in new revenue targeted […]

Proportional Parking Fees: The MBTA Listens to Pioneer’s Recommendations

The Pioneer Institute has produced extensive research on the MBTA. Not only has it provided analysis and criticism, but various remedies to policy. In particular, Pioneer’s research has gained notoriety and resulted in a policy change. One issue that recently influenced MBTA policy was Pioneer’s research on the lack of available parking spaces at highly populated T-stops. In many of the parking lots the MBTA owns, it is difficult to find a parking spot, deterring many commuters, forcing them to drive into work, and exacerbating the decline in MBTA commuter rail ridership. The MBTA has been trying to find a cure for the high demand, low supply of commuter parking. They have considered increasing fees to park in all parking […]

Investing in commercial development may ease fiscal woes without affecting crime

Bedford, Massachusetts is a suburban town of about 14,000 in the heart of Middlesex County. Its Wikipedia page boasts a charming picture of a historic train depot engulfed in fiery fall foliage. Driving through Bedford at night, you would hardly notice the slew of tech companies and manufacturing operations tucked into a corner of the town next to Route 3, the numerous hotels and motels that dot Route 4, or the community college that cozies up to the Billerica town line. During the day, however, Bedford’s population more than doubles because of people who are employed at all these establishments. The town’s employment/residence ratio is 3.44, almost twice that of Boston.   “Daytime population,” essentially a measure of population that […]

Need a Lift?

For hundreds of years, the Tufts Medical Center has served as a research and teaching facility and a full service hospital for residents of Back Bay and the greater Boston area. Given the Center’s significance, a MBTA Orange Line stop was built underneath the hospital in the late 1980’s to allow patients and employees to commute with ease. Although much about the station and medical center has changed since the MBTA stop’s creation in 1987, a core component of its infrastructure has not: its elevator system, which allows for direct access from the station to the hospital. After 31 years of use, the 3 elevators in the station require replacement. On October 16, 2017 the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority began […]

Boston’s housing boom needs a region-level response

In 1912 – the same year the Titanic sank and William Howard Taft was elected president – a Brookline lawyer, Daniel J. Kiley, wrote a bill for the Massachusetts state legislature that would have annexed 32 cities and towns – including such disparate communities as Lynn, Wellesley, and Weymouth – to the City of Boston. Kiley was part of an entire movement of urban policymakers who thought it was imperative to the Boston region’s economy to facilitate the coordination of each town’s government institutions. At an extreme, this meant annexation.   Boston’s (short) annexation history is quite unique in the context of older American cities. As a result, the region is well-connected economically, but divided into far more individual municipalities […]

“Isn’t Everything Online and Free?” The Exclusivity of MA Law Libraries

There are 15 Trial Court Law Libraries in Massachusetts to service the Commonwealth’s 6.8 million residents. Publicly funded, they are a resource on Massachusetts laws for attorneys, judges, and the public. On the libraries’ website under the “What You Need to Know” section, they ask the question: “Isn’t everything online and free?” Their response: no. Regarding the “online” portion of that statement, resources the law library makes digitally available are locked behind a library portal. Unfortunately, a public library card won’t give you access; you need to follow seven steps in person for a card specific to these libraries. They’ll give you a photocopy of your new card so you have your barcode number, and then send the card through […]

The Reality of Cape Cod’s Population Trend

Cape Cod is known as a bustling tourist location that overflows with visitors eager to get close to the ocean during the stifling summer months. In fact, Cape Cod experiences a 50 percent increase in occupancy level between January and August. While the Cape continues to experience economic growth due to its booming tourism industry, the population trend of its all-season residents is cause for concern. When the summer tourists depart, they increasingly leave behind a dwindling and aging population, which could hamper economic development. Between 2000 and 2016 Cape Cod’s year-round population decreased by 3 percent, though it has stabilized in recent years. The trend is remarkable considering the Cape experienced a 19 percent year-round population increase between 1990 […]