Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Wilkerson Case and the Open Meeting Law

Sen. Diane Wilkerson faces the possibility of prison for allegedly violating the law and the public trust. Yet other public officials involved in this case also may have violated the law and the public trust, but they are unlikely to face any consequences. That is because their violations were of the open meeting law -- one of the few laws on the books that carries no penalties for those who violate it.

The apparent open meeting law violation involves the Boston Licensing Board's issuance of the liquor license that is at the heart of the complaint against Wilkerson. Kevin McCrea wrote about this yesterday at his blog, The BIG Campaign, and Universal Hub picked up on it today. Consider this excerpt from the affidavit of FBI Special Agent Krista L. Corr, which forms the basis for the complaint against Wilkerson. It comes after the affidavit describes Wilkerson's alleged efforts to strong-arm the BLB into granting a license to the planned club Dejavu. References to CW are to the unidentified cooperating witness:
23. Boston Licensing Board "Smoke and Mirrors": On the same day, August 15, 2007, the BLB held a public hearing at Boston City Hall. Dejavu's application for a license did not appear on the agenda that day. Agents attended the public hearing and there was no public discussion of Dejavu's application or a public vote to grant Dejavu any type of license. Despite this, the attorney recruited by WILKERSON later left a message for the CW telling him that "the vote was in" and that the beer and wine license had been approved. When the CW subsequently told WILKERSON in a recorded call that there was no mention of Dejavu's application at the BLB public hearing but that the attorney claimed that the license was granted, WILKERSON responded that the way the BLB did its business was "all smoke and mirrors." The following Monday, August 16, 2007, the CW, at the attorney's direction, called WILKERSON and left her a voicemail message requesting that WILKERSON be "very, very nice" to the BLB Chairman at the meeting scheduled for that day. The attorney subsequently left a message on the CW's telephone stating that he had, "talked to the Senator [WILKERSON] this morning" and told her that the license was "all set."

25. Boston Licensing Board Awards Dejavu a Beer and Wine License: On August 16, 2007, the BLB issued a letter notifying Dejavu that its petition for a malt and wine license had been granted. On the same day, WILKERSON met with the BLB Chairman, the Senate President, the Boston City Council President, and Senator Y to discuss the status of the Dejavu license and related issues. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement that the City of Boston would submit, and WILKERSON would sponsor, legislation which would authorize 40 new nontransferable liquor licenses and 30 new nontransferable beer and wine licenses for the City of Boston. ... It was understood that Dejavu would receive one of these new special liquor licenses, if another one did not become available first, and that WILKERSON would be able to control several other licenses.
Surprising to me is that when I testified before Sen. Wilkerson on the need for open meeting law reform, she spoke forcefully in agreement. As a matter of fact, she co-chaired that hearing on June 19, 2007 -- just one day after the alleged bra-stuffing incident. Here is what I wrote about that hearing at the time:
In comments during the hearing, both Rep. Cabral and Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Boston), the Senate chair, indicated their support for strengthening the enforcement provisions of the open meeting law. When an opponent of the bill testified that officials who violate the open meeting law do so innocently, Sen. Wilkerson responded that her experience suggested otherwise. She has served on numerous boards and commissions, she said, and has seen them "skate close to the edge a lot." Both Sen. Wilkerson and Rep. Cabral appeared to agree that adding penalties and attorneys' fees is necessary in order to enforce the law.
If the allegations against her are true, then even as she condemned officials who "skate close to the edge," she was already well onto the thin ice. Could the BLB's "smoke and mirrors" be the smoking gun that leads to open meeting law reform?

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Great thoughtful analysis. We do need to take this "gift" from Dianne to reform the state and local government to provide more transparency, and real penalties for those who transgress.