In this perilous economy, Governor Deval Patrick is faced with extraordinary economic challenges. If he’s looking to make quick cuts, though, he could save nearly half a million dollars annually by excising a mysterious body right under his nose — one that even bears his title in its name.
The Governor’s Council is a prestigious-sounding, 229-year-old elected board that was originally formed in the newly independent Commonwealth to check executive muscle. But the council has slipped in stature since the days it counted among its members such names as Samuel Adams, and is today little more than a ceremonial eight-member rubber-stamp and favor-bank headquarters for political beauty contestants.
The current, all-Democratic devolved Governor’s Council — also known as the Executive Council, or, officially, simply as the council — is a well-below-the-radar, arguably useless curiosity, but, mind you, one that costs taxpayers approximately $400,000 each year for eight $26,025 salaries plus administrative support.
Of the State House insiders who even know the obscure body’s function — which is primarily to vote on judicial appointments — many, including at least one former governor and several sitting legislators, believe that the council should be axed altogether. “The council may have been necessary to regulate the actions of a governor appointed by the English monarchy, but its purpose is clearly archaic,” says Democratic state senator Brian Joyce of Milton, who, along with State Representative Barry Finegold, a Democrat from Andover, filed unsuccessful legislation to do away with the council in 2004, and plans to do so again this session. “Abolishing the Governor’s Council [would be] a small but important step toward streamlining government.”
The purpose of having a committee that automatically approves the judges recommended to it seems redundant. One 12-year member of the council, Marilyn Petitto Devaney of Watertown, admits that she can recall only one instance in her tenure that the council voted against a recommended judge. But more insidious is the claim that the council is an out-of-the-spotlight arena for pay-to-play politics.
“Every time there’s anything significant written about the council,” concedes rebel council member and Peabody attorney Mary-Ellen Manning, “we come out looking like a bunch of buffoons.” It takes just a few minutes in their chambers to see why. What’s not so clear, however, is why this long-standing farce is still running.
The chamber zone
Although councilors are often flogged in the media for poor attendance, their final Wednesday assembly of 2008 is a solid showing. Medford-based councilor and former State Senate staffer Michael Callahan arrives first; followed by Christopher Iannella Jr., a Boston personal-injury attorney and political legacy; and Thomas Foley, a former State Police colonel from Worcester. Fall River–based councilor and real-estate broker Carole Fiola, who, having missed 15 percent of meetings this past year had the council’s worst attendance record, also shows early. By the assembly’s noon commencement, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who sits as ex-officio chairman, and all but two members — 15-year councilor Kelly Timilty of Roslindale, and Manning, who is out sick — are present.