Menino's mosque II

By EDITORIAL  |  December 12, 2008

This is where Secretary of State William Galvin should step up to the plate. Galvin should seek redefinition of public-record law, so that when similar issues arise in the future, state law guarantees full disclosure. "Oops, we deleted the e-mails" should not be a plausible or acceptable defense when legitimate issues of public interest are at stake.

BRA chief Palmieri's letter is most misleading — though maybe he is just exhibiting the naivetû of a public official relatively new to the ways of Mayor Menino's City Hall. He seeks to deflect criticism by pointing out that the mosque project was conceived during the administration of Mayor Raymond Flynn. And so it was. But in conception, the Roxbury mosque was to have had a hometown flavor. In the final analysis, it was developed (in part) with money from fundamentalist Muslim donors in Saudi Arabia.

The key decisions to keep the mosque alive despite numerous setbacks were made during the Menino administration. Menino himself broke ground for the project before fundraising was even complete. That was a cart-before-the-horse move that unmistakably signaled mayoral approval.

The Phoenix agrees with Palmieri that, in essence, the story of the mosque should be one about economic development. Our position on this is clear: for many reasons explained in Bernstein's piece, we doubt that the right choice was made — especially in economic terms.

The city's blind dedication to building the mosque prevented BRA officials from considering other proposals. Anyone who thinks that the area is now a thriving economic hub should look again. While notable and worthwhile development has taken place in other parts of the city — a new Prudential Center project was announced just days ago — development in and around the area of the mosque stagnated. Would the public good have been better served if, during the 10 years when the mosque projected stalled, that land was opened up to others with competing ideas? Taxpayers will never know.

Whatever one thinks of the favorable deal the city struck with the mosque, there remains a question as to whether this is the best way for the city to conduct itself. That is why the Phoenix joins in calling for the independent Boston Municipal Research Bureau to examine the mosque deal and offer its opinion on whether this is the way the city should be conducting its development business.

Meanwhile, the City Council should look into whether the playgrounds by the mosque are being properly maintained; the attorney general should review whether the public's business was properly transacted; and the secretary of state should seek changes in the law governing public documents, so that in the future, getting answers to questions such as these might be possible.

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