QUINCY— The Civil Service Commission decision vacating Mayor Thomas Koch’s appointment of Joseph Barron as fire chief is just the latest confirmation that the Koch administration is rife with cronyism and mismanagement, mayoral candidate Anne Mahoney said today.
In a new ruling that characterized the Koch administration’s hiring process as “circuitous, irrational and financially unnecessary,” Commissioner Paul M. Stein found that Koch’s decision to bypass Deputy Chief Gary Smyth in favor of Barron was based not on professional experience and longevity, but on the fact that Barron was a longtime friend of Koch’s chief of staff, James Fatseas, and a supporter of Koch’s political campaigns.
…the evidence established that Quincy’s decision [to select Barron as chief] was predetermined that Deputy Chief Gary Smyth would be bypassed long before, and without any regard to, the candidates’ rank order on any civil service Certification list or a fair and impartial evaluation of strengths and weaknesses of the candidates through a reasonably designed objective process free of political or personal bias, as civil service law requires,” the ruling states.
“This Civil Service Commission ruling is the latest independent confirmation by a legal authority that Tom Koch has taken political patronage and cronyism to a whole new level,” Mahoney said. “We have a real problem in this city when a critical public safety position like fire chief is awarded based not on professional experience and qualifications but on whether you went to school with Tom Koch’s friend and gave money to the mayor’s political campaign.”
The Civil Service Commission ruling was particularly critical in noting that the Koch administration went to great lengths in its attempts to bypass Smyth in favor of appointing Barron as chief. The 60-page ruling includes numerous references to instances where Koch administration staff, including chief of staff Fatseas, manipulated the process to give Barron an unfair advantage, including calling for a new chief’s test and recruiting applicants to ensure that the required minimum of four candidates participated:
“Mr. Fatseas, who did not generally intrude in non-financial departmental management issues but [is] Joseph Barron’s longtime personal friend, took steps to try to ensure that the Chief’s exam scheduled for March 2008 would have sufficient applicants to go forward, by directing Smyth to encourage another Deputy Chief, then on injured leave, to sign up for the exam. This clearly would have worked to the advantage of Joseph Barron.”
The ruling includes numerous references to the fact that Koch was aware Barron had supported his political campaign for mayor while Smyth had supported his opponent. The document also quotes Koch as saying Barron was “the more reliable team player.”
“The record is clear: From fire chief to DPW commissioner, Tom Koch hires and fires key personnel based on whether they’re ‘on the right team’ politically, not qualifications,” said Mahoney, referring to Koch’s recent controversial appointment of former City Councilor Daniel Raymondi to a $110,000 position as DPW commissioner that will double his lifetime pension. “Koch treats this city like it’s his own personal employment agency for friends and political cronies – except the taxpayers are footing the bill for all these patronage hires as well as all the lawsuits his mismanagement produces.”
The ruling was also critical of the fact that Koch ignored a previous Civil Service Commission ruling urging him to take specific steps to ensure a fair hiring process, including holding public interviews, recording the interviews and broadcasting them on local television. Instead, Koch held closed-door, private interviews at which formal notes were not even taken:
“Under the circumstances presented by this appeal, Quincy’s interview process failed to provide the necessary level of protection against arbitrary action and undue subjectivity that the Commission requires. In fact, the process actually reinforces the conclusion that the decision was predetermined rather than engender confidence that the decision was made fairly and objectively…”
“In sum,” the ruling concludes, “Quincy supplied no objectively credible reason for taking the circuitous, irrational and financially unnecessary decisions made here, when, at all times, it had a clearly motivated and highly qualified candidate [Smyth] with a ‘bright future ahead of him’ sitting at the top of the current eligible list and serving honorably as the QFD’s department head.”
The ruling noted that Koch’s defense rested largely on his belief that as mayor, he alone is responsible for making such hiring decisions.
“Quincy claims that, because Mayor Koch is a Plan A ‘strong mayor,’ who personally makes all civil service appointments and who is directly accountable to the voters for his decisions, that alone makes him sufficiently accountable for those appointments. In fact, this argument lacks merit.”
“I find it very telling that the Civil Service ruling calls out Tom Koch for his belief that he is a law unto himself,” Mahoney said. “Just like with the track situation – where he defied the vote of the School Committee and moved the location of the new running track – Tom Koch defied the entire Civil Service process to give an important public safety position to a friend and political supporter. The worst part is he refuses to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with that and his refusal to accept the legal authority of the courts and the Civil Service Commission is costing taxpayers for all these grievances, appeals and lawsuits.”
The Civil Service Commission’s ruling orders Quincy to vacate Barron’s appointment as permanent fire chief and begin the process over again, following a detailed list of steps designed to create a fair and objective process.
“Just like with the track, Quincy is back to square one with the fire chief position – all because Tom Koch refuses to follow the rule of law,” said Mahoney, noting that as part of her campaign platform she has pledged to implement new hiring policies that prohibit nepotism and preferential hiring.
“Quincy needs a mayor who is committed to following the law, doing things the right way and hiring only the best, most-qualified people for key positions,” Mahoney said. “As mayor, I’ll work to repair the damage Tom Koch has done to Quincy’s reputation and restore citizens’ faith in their government.”