Editorial Roundup: New England

Bangor Daily News. May 26, 2022.

Editorial: An avoidable mistake will cost the University of Maine System, in terms of money and credibility

It’s human nature not to want to share bad news. However, it should also be well understood that bad news can’t be hidden forever.

The University of Maine System found this out the hard – and costly – way with a recently mishandled search and hiring of a new campus president.

The imperative now for system leadership is to ensure better transparency in its search and hiring practices by clarifying what information must be disclosed and shared more broadly with not only search committee members but also the public.

Last month, the system announced that it had hired Michael Laliberte to be the new president of the University of Maine at Augusta. Laliberte, the former president of the State University of New York at Delhi, was tapped by the UMS trustees after a national search.

Shortly after Laliberte was named to the post, the Bangor Daily News reported that he had been the subject of a no-confidence vote by the College Senate at SUNY Delhi in October 2021. Laliberte was criticized for his financial management and for creating a hostile environment at the campus he led since 2016.

After these revelations, Laliberte withdrew over the weekend as the new president of UMA, a job he was set to start in August. Under the terms of his contract, he will still be paid the annual salary of $205,000 for the first year and possibly two more if he does not find a comparable position.

Both the University of Maine System’s chancellor, Dannell Malloy, and the chair of the search committee, trustee Sven Bartholomew, were told in February about the no-confidence vote and dissatisfaction with Laliberte at SUNY Delhi. But neither Bartholomew nor Malloy, nor the consultant hired to help with the search, shared this information with the full 14-member search committee.

The BDN has reported that a second member of the search committee also knew of the no confidence votes against Laliberte but also did not speak up. This happened even though the members of the committee signed a code of ethics to “guard against inaccuracies, carelessness, bias, and distortion made through either emphasis or omission of information” and pledged “to be fair, accurate, honest, and responsible in my management of information.”

This was clearly wrong. Any, or all, of these people, including Laliberte himself could have, and should have, more broadly shared this information. Instead, Laliberte is out of job, although the university system will pay him at least $205,000, and Malloy is facing a growing no-confidence crisis of his own.

During an interview with the Bangor Daily News editorial board, Malloy repeatedly said that not disclosing the no confidence votes at Delhi was a mistake and that he takes responsibility for that mistake. It was also a mistake, he said, to rely on the advice of the consultant that the votes were a small matter and didn’t need to be shared.

The consultant Jim Sirianni of the firm Storbeck Search said that the allegations against Laliberte raised in the no-confidence vote were never proven. No-confidence votes in campus leaders are on the rise across the country.

As part of review of UMS hiring practices that Malloy has requested, new written policies will be developed to make it clear that any adverse information will be shared immediately. Both search committee members and candidates applying for UMS jobs need to be aware of this, Malloy said.

This debacle at UMA was a preventable mistake that may have lasting repercussions. However, trying to score political points from this fiasco is misplaced. Yet, the Maine Republican Party is trying to pin the blame for this mess on Gov. Janet Mills, saying that she “handpicked” Malloy, a former Democratic governor of Connecticut, for the chancellor post. This simply is not true.

Malloy, who was hired in May 2019, was picked for the position by a search committee chaired by then-system trustee Sam Collins, the brother of Sen. Susan Collins. The hiring of Malloy was unanimously approved by the university system board of trustees, most of whom were nominated by governors before Mills took office.

Malloy, who was governor of Connecticut from 2011 to 2018, said he met Mills only once, during a training session for new governors. He had no conversations with her regarding employment with the University of Maine System. Gov. Mills’ office also said she had no conversations with Malloy about the chancellorship.

The failure to disclose Laliberte’s full record was a big mistake. Chancellor Malloy has admitted that – repeatedly. And, he’s put measures in place to avoid similar mistakes in the future. The damage, and its financial costs, can’t be undone.

The resolution is likely unsatisfying to everyone.

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Boston Globe. May 23, 2022.

Editorial: AG Garland, the silence on Bulger’s killing is unacceptable

The longer this inquiry drags on, the more it looks like a coverup.

Who killed James “Whitey” Bulger? And why did the federal government move the high-profile, 89-year-old, wheelchair-bound inmate into the general prison population just before his death?

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is expected to visit Greater Boston this week to speak at Harvard’s commencement, owes the public — and yes, Bulger’s family — some resolution.

The Justice Department’s silence on the killing has stretched on since 2018, when Bulger was beaten to death with a padlock stuffed inside a sock just hours after his transfer to a federal prison in West Virginia.

Bulger was a gangster and a killer who terrorized Boston for decades. But just because he was a monster doesn’t justify this official indifference to his death. Rough justice, if that’s what Bulger’s fellow prisoners dispensed, isn’t justice at all.

The main suspect, West Springfield Mafia enforcer Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55, has been held in solitary confinement since the killing. But he hasn’t been charged. Another Massachusetts organized crime figure, Paul J. DeCologero, 48, of Lowell, was also captured on camera entering Bulger’s cell about two hours before Bulger’s death.

If Geas killed Bulger, Garland’s department should charge him, win a conviction, and ask a judge to sentence Geas accordingly — not dispense its own form of rough justice in the form of 23-hour days in a cement cell with no explanation or chance for appeal.

The Justice Department says its investigation into the death is ongoing.

Sure it is. The killing happened inside a federal prison. There were cameras everywhere. The longer this inquiry drags on, the more it looks like a coverup by another name, letting the passage of time protect the officials who exposed Bulger to the obvious risk of death.

After all, the list of people who wanted Bulger dead could fill a phonebook. Other organized crime figures from Massachusetts presented an especially clear risk (Bulger, in addition to being a gangster, was also an informant against other crooks).

Was moving Bulger into that environment mere incompetence, or something more malicious? Either way, what steps has the Justice Department taken to make sure those responsible for the decision have been held accountable?

Because of Bulger’s high profile, his case gets lots of attention. But violence in prisons is widespread. According to the Justice Department, there were 193 homicides in federal prisons between 2001 and 2019. At state and federal prisons combined, the number of homicides has more than tripled since 2001.

When the government puts someone in prison, it accepts responsibility for ensuring that inmate’s basic human rights, such as food, clothing — and safety. In too many cases, in too many jurisdictions, authorities have failed at that task.

Garland didn’t oversee Bulger’s prosecution or imprisonment. But resolving this case is his responsibility now. And by ensuring that justice is done and accountability upheld in Bulger’s killing, he can also send a broader and needed message to America’s jailers. A civilized country can’t turn a blind eye to violence that happens in prisons, no matter how unsympathetic the victims are.

Bulger deserved to die behind bars. But nobody deserves to die the way he did.

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Rutland Herald. May 24, 2022.

Editorial: Talking politics

The upcoming holiday weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. That means there likely will be plenty of gatherings with friends and family.

There is plenty to be talking about: Is “Top Gun: Maverick” really going to be worthy of an Oscar nod? Is the Obi Wan Kenobi series really going to connect the dots between “You were my brother, Anakin” and “When I left you, I was but the learner?”

There are plenty of political races that will have been declared as of Thursday. The same for local offices and the run for U.S. Rep. Peter Welch’s seat. Conversations will definitely focus on who has the best chance for the Aug. 9 primary in Vermont. Followed by the heady conversation and prognostication about the 2022 midterm elections in November.

It would be easy to debate reproductive rights. Or critical race theory. Or “don’t say gay.” But these are supposed to be friendly gatherings, right?

Lest we forget, as we drive to cookouts and gatherings, we could discuss the high costs of fuel, food and household items — many of which we needed to pick up before we headed out for the party.

Inflation, friends, is likely to be the biggest topic of concern and conversation. But don’t worry, if a recent Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll is correct, most of the aforementioned “other topics” will get folded in.

It’s all connected.

According to the poll of 1,172 adults conducted May 12-16, 51% of U.S. adults say the economy should be the nation’s top priority. (About 45% of those polled said the nation should be sanctioning Russia as effectively as possible.)

In April, those figures were exactly reversed, the AP noted on Tuesday. In March, shortly after Russia attacked Ukraine, a clear majority — 55% — said the bigger priority should be sanctioning Russia as effectively as possible.

According to the AP article on the poll, “The shifts in opinion reflect how rising prices are biting into American households — surging costs for gas, groceries and other commodities are straining budgets for millions of people — and perhaps limiting their willingness to support Ukraine financially.”

The poll shows wide majorities of U.S. adults continue to favor imposing sanctions on Russia, banning oil imported from Russia and providing weapons to Ukraine. And most U.S. adults continue to say the U.S. should have a role in the war between Russia and Ukraine: 32% say the U.S. should have a major role in the conflict, while 49% say it should have a minor role.

But there’s muted support for sending funds directly to Ukraine. Forty-four percent of Americans say they favor sending funds, while 32% are opposed and 23% are neither in favor nor opposed.

The new poll shows just 21% of Americans say they have “a great deal of confidence” in President Biden’s ability to handle the situation in Ukraine; 39% say they have some confidence and 39% say they have hardly any.

That may be a troubling sign for Biden, who just approved an additional $40 billion in funding to help Ukraine including weapons and financial assistance.

The poll urges getting fuel prices in check, especially as Vermonters (and others across the nation) are thinking about paying for next winter’s fuel after an absurdly long, cold, expensive winter.

Steps have been taken, of course. The U.S. and European allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia, cutting off major banks from global transactions and going directly after Russian President Vladimir Putin, top leaders, and their families. The U.S. also banned the import of Russian oil.

While Russian oil makes up a small part of America’s total energy imports, the ban comes as gas prices have surged in recent months, hitting $4.71 per gallon, or $1.61 higher than a year ago. Supply chain problems and increased economic demand as COVID-19 restrictions ease have contributed to rising prices. (Biden and many Democrats have accused gas companies of price gouging, while Republicans say the White House should support increased domestic oil and natural gas drilling.)

Overall, 45% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia, while 54% disapprove. That’s held steady each month since the conflict began. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 15% of Republicans approve.

But polls and conversations don’t take the pinch away. We don’t need cookouts or “talking politics” to underscore the reality: These are challenging times.

Leaders locally, statewide and across the nation can help make that happen. Unfortunately, it can’t be Maverick or Obi Wan. They are on their own.

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Hartford Courant. May 26, 2022.

Editorial: Secrecy shrouds case of judge who collected $400,000 while missing years of work

Connecticut Judge Alice Bruno has reached a deal after not working since November 2019.

Like so much in this infuriating story, it is shrouded in secrecy. The public details remain dispiriting.

The state Supreme Court appointed Inspector General Robert Devlin, a retired judge, in April to investigate Bruno, who was nominated for a judgeship in 2015 by then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. She will be suspended without pay while her application for a disability retirement pension is pending before the secretive Judicial Review Council, or JRC. We do not know what Devlin found in his investigation.

Since Bruno’s long absence began she has received more than $440.000 in salary. including three raises, plus generous benefits. There’s no reason to think Bruno will have to give back any of it. George Orwell was on to something when he wrote, “The only ’ism that has justified itself is pessimism.”

Bruno applied for a disability retirement in late 2020. Documents indicate that Bruno resisted the judicial administration’s request that she undergo an independent medical examination. Bruno withdrew her application for a disability pension and instead requested court administrators provide her with an accommodation that would allow her to return to work.

According to documents Bruno submitted, she needs to be assigned to a courthouse with a supportive staff and dockets that involve little conflict. There is no such place. Bruno also wants a mentor. In her 7th year as a judge, Bruno by her own admission cannot perform most of the duties required of a judge.

Bruno revealed in an affidavit she submitted to the court that she continues to be hobbled by her fixation on aging grievances. She remains wounded because one colleague did not recommend her for a judgeship more than a decade ago. Bruno was debilitated when the same judge, Anna Ficeto, allegedly did not greet her when they passed in the hallways of the Waterbury courthouse. These are odd and small events to portray as paralyzing and the basis of a hefty disability pension.

No one was in a hurry to resolve the costly Bruno situation until it was exposed in this column last fall. Bruno’s complaint languished before the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The state continued to pay her.

The Supreme Court scheduled a hearing on which Bruno was to appear in April to show why the high court should not suspend or remove her. The Court denied Bruno’s last minute request to be excused from attending. A few days before the hearing, Bruno again applied for a disability pension.

The public will know if Bruno is successful at winning a $120,000 a year disability pension but not why. The proceedings of the CHRO may eventually allow some public scrutiny. We do not know what the state’s new inspector general found, only that he made an agreement with Bruno that the court approved and looks toothless.

The urgent question that no one in authority has addressed is how this happened. Chief Court Administrator Judge Patrick L. Carroll III should explain why he allowed the Bruno mess to go on for years. Carroll has a reputation as tough in his dealings with many judges. While reporting on the Bruno story I was surprised to learn of the negative atmosphere that haunts frontline judges. If every judge who has endured an episode of Carroll’s wrath claimed a disability, our courtrooms would be empty.

The Judicial Branch’s inability to cope with a judge who misses this much work judge has diminished it at a time when we need more public confidence in our institutions, not less. The years-long bungling of the Bruno problem overshadows the work the state’s judges grind out day after day. Now and then a preposterous show horse who craves attention more than respect steals a spotlight. The rest of the frontline judges report for work, listen to disputes, sort out details, apply the law and move cases to conclusions.

The Bruno case requires an explanation from court leaders. In this baffling age, judges and social media influencers are among the only people society pays some deference. The Judicial Branch’s bungling of the Bruno case feeds public suspicions that the highest ranking state employees are secure in a world that has little to do with the reality average citizens face each day. Those people deserve an explanation.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. May 25, 2022.

Editorial: Putting brakes on catalytic converter thieves

Unfortunately, you may need to think like a thief to prevent your catalytic converter from being stolen.

Many people can’t tell the difference between a catalytic converter and a muffler. Even after catalytic converters are stolen, drivers might initially be unsure what is causing that new noise coming from under their car.

But car owners are learning a lot more about parts as the crime spree continues. It happens everywhere, including driveways, but thieves commonly target parking lots with fleets of cars.

Consider the perspective of the thief. It’s easier to rob from a lot without frequent turnover. Sadly, that means crimes have been reported at the likes of day care centers. Earlier this month, 15 were swiped from Easter Seals in Watertown. This is a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities, proof that thieves don’t really care where they get the precious metals.

Hopefully, Connecticut will succeed in fighting back. A new law prohibits recycling and scrap dealers from buying more than one catalytic converter per day from an individual. Additionally, it can no longer be a cash sale.

That could be quite a setback for the bad guys. It also counts on the dealers following the law.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I know there are plenty of non-reputable scrap dealers, or they can go out of state or online,” observed Watertown Police Defective Mark Conway, whose department is investigating the Easter Seals case.

It’s a realistic take on the challenges of thwarting this rising crime. The trend is hardly a secret. The number of catalytic converter thefts reported to insurance companies spiked from 1,298 in 2018 to 14,443 in 2020. Yet someone shows up with a boxload of converters and deals go through, no questions asked.

Many car owners are fighting back on their own terms. Installing pricey alarms is one option. A cheaper one is to paint VIN numbers on the converters with fluorescent paint, or etch on license plate numbers.

There is also value in knowing which vehicles are commonly targeted. The Toyota Prius remains at the top of the list, as its converters contain more of the rhodium, palladium and platinum sought by thieves. Trucks and SUVs are just easier to slide under.

The crime doesn’t take long to commit, as the converters can be sliced off in less than one minute with a hand saw. A recent incident in a Target parking lot in Milford was a cautionary tale about not confronting suspects. A witness photographed a man he saw use a Sawzall to steal a converter. The suspect subsequently injured the witness with the tool.

Connecticut lawmakers deserve credit for, well, thinking like thieves. Hopefully, the blowback at honest scrap dealers will make it less profitable for criminals. If it works, other states should follow suit.

We often complain about the hundreds of bills introduced in Hartford that never have a hope of gaining momentum. This is one case where creating a paper trail can do some good.

END