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“That’s success from the perspective of Worcester”
Overpaid cops, overpriced apartments, constant legal losses
Hello everyone summer is here it seems and the bullshit continues! The big news of the week is the inclusionary zoning vote the City Council took on Tuesday. We’re going to get to that later in the post. Before that, I want to touch on the annual report on city salaries, in which we see an absolutely obscene amount of the municipal budget going to police officer compensation. And then I’m going to hand it off to regular contributor Andrew Quemere for a look at a yet more hidden cost attached to our police department—legal fees paid to obscure police misbehavior from the public.
Andrew does a great job following this stuff, like this guest column of his from last March! Please consider a paid subscription so I can continue to get his work in front of a Worcester audience!
Millions Of Overpaid Cops
As is the case every year around this time, City Hall puts out the list of all municipal employees and what they earn. As is also always the case, the top of the list is all cops. This year, it’s particularly bad. As the Telegram put it:
Members of the Police Department represented each of the top 20 wage earners in the city last year and made up 47 of the top 50 city salaries, according to information released by the city on Friday.
This is out of control. The city’s top earner, Police Captain Matthew D’Andrea, made $286,932 in gross pay last year. That’s more money going to a police captain than the police chief, the city manager or the superintendent. That’s about as much money as we put toward five or six teachers. With D’Andrea, like most of the cops, the real obscenity in these earnings is in detail work, overtime and the spurious “other pay” category. D’Andrea made $46,499 in “other pay”—well over the base salary of many city employees—and the city does not even deign to describe what that “other pay” is for.
We’re giving so so much money to cops and meanwhile the Education Association of Worcester is ramping up demonstrations as contract negotiations stall around teacher and para-educator pay. They did standouts today and there’s a rally later this month (April 27 outside City Hall!) and there’s not an insignificant chance it goes to a full strike. We don’t have the money to pay teachers a living wage but we have money to make sure cops make more than U.S. senators to watch construction workers do things.
This is what people mean when they say defund the police. It’s not that there’s not enough money to pay teachers and social workers and repair the roads and fix problems with school buildings. It’s just all of that money is getting sucked up by the police department.
And then consider that the City Council just concluded a months-long debate over inclusionary zoning. The main sticking point in that debate is whether the affordability restrictions for units should be tied to 60 percent of the area median income or 80 percent. The Council went with the 80 percent and should have gone with the 60 percent. But more on that later. For now, it’s useful to consider that 60 percent of the area median income for a single-income household is $46,400. The fair rents deemed “affordable” in the inclusionary zoning debate are tied to that number. Looking quickly at the list of municipal employees, there are more than 3,000 people on the city’s own payroll who make less than that.
But not the cops.
And, as our main feature today describes, the costs of the police department do not stop at the egregious salaries and overtime pay. They also cost the city an exorbitant amount of money in legal fees—fees that never make it onto a yearly spreadsheet like the salaries do, and, as Quemere will articulate, are intentionally buried in the depths of the city’s public records, to be pried out one at a time. The substance of Quemere’s post is that the city had to pay out $180,000 in legal fees in their failed attempt to keep police misconduct records out of the hands of the public. And this is on top of so many other costs attached to this saga. Our teachers are inching toward a strike and the city is taking this money and lighting it on fire in the name of shielding the police from public accountability.
“That’s success from the perspective of Worcester”
Worcester agrees to pay $185,000 after a judge ruled the city acted in bad faith by withholding police misconduct records for years
By Andrew Quemere
Worcester has agreed to pay $180,000 in legal fees and $5,000 in punitive damages to the Telegram & Gazette after a judge found that the city acted in bad faith when it forced the newspaper to spend three years in court fighting for access to public records related to police misconduct investigations.
Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker found that officials were wrong to withhold the records and ordered the city to pay the T&G’s legal fees and expenses, but she cut the paper’s requested fee award from $217,000 to $101,000.
Jeffrey Pyle, the T&G’s lead attorney on the case, filed an appeal, arguing that Kenton-Walker’s 54 percent cut was excessive and unjustified. A panel of three Appeals Court justices overturned parts of Kenton-Walker’s ruling and returned the case to her to determine a new amount.
However, the city settled out of court, signing an agreement with the T&G on February 21.
Tom Matthews, a spokesperson for the city, declined to comment or to make City Manager Eric D. Batista and City Solicitor Michael Traynor available for interviews.
“The Telegram & Gazette spent more than three years fighting for the right to have access to documents of considerable public interest,” said Michael McDermott, the paper’s executive editor. “I’m proud of reporter Brad Petrishen for pursuing these records and thankful to our lawyers for successfully defending the public's right to know."
In 2018, Petrishen requested several internal-affairs reports and officer complaint histories from the city. The T&G reporter was looking into a voluminous complaint submitted to prosecutors by civil rights lawyer Hector Pineiro, who accused officers of beating people, conducting illegal searches, staging evidence, falsifying reports, and more.
In November, the US Department of Justice announced that it was opening a civil rights investigation to determine whether the Worcester Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of racially discriminatory and gender-biased policing and excessive force. Justice Department officials have not said whether they were influenced by Pineiro’s complaint or the T&G’s reporting.
The city initially agreed to provide the T&G with most of the records but backtracked after the paper published two articles by Petrishen describing what he learned about the allegations from court records. The T&G soon filed a lawsuit — it was the paper’s third successful lawsuit against the city for internal-affairs records in two decades.
“We felt like it was important to write about these things and to try to determine the truth, because that’s really what we care about,” Petrishen said in a 2020 interview with the New England First Amendment Coalition.
The case dragged on for three years, culminating in a four-day trial before Kenton-Walker.
The main argument by Wendy Quinn, the city’s chief litigator at the time, was that the city could withhold the internal-affairs records because the officers who were the subjects of the investigations were facing civil rights lawsuits.
Before the trial started, Quinn attacked Petrishen’s motives for requesting the records, telling a judge the reporter was “working hand in hand” with Pineiro, one of the attorneys suing the police. Quinn admitted she had no evidence of impropriety, but she complained that Petrishen had written about “the self-serving complaints by this attorney … even though they’re speculative and haven’t been proven.”
The trial’s single witness was Janice Thompson, an assistant city solicitor who said she spends most of her time advising officials on how to respond to records requests.
Thompson testified that the city’s decision to reverse course and withhold the records had nothing to do with Petrishen’s articles. She said the decision was made after she had a conversation “in passing” with someone from the litigation side of the city’s law department who told her about the civil rights lawsuits. She said that she couldn’t remember who that person was.
Kenton-Walker ruled in the T&G’s favor in June 2021. In January 2022, she further ruled that the city was required to pay the punitive damages and legal fees.
Kenton-Walker wrote that “the city merely cherry-picked certain language from [previous] cases, taking it out of context” to justify its arguments. She advised that “counsel may not misrepresent to the court what cases and other materials stand for.”
Kenton-Walker also wrote that another one of the city’s arguments — that the conclusions of internal-affairs investigations are private personnel records — was rejected by the Appeals Court in a 2003 opinion in the T&G’s first public records lawsuit against the city. Kenton-Walker said she couldn’t ignore the fact that the city had been aware of this precedent.
During the oral arguments related to the legal-fees issue, Appeals Court Justice John Englander also slammed the city’s conduct.
“I have to say, having a little experience in that position, I can understand the judge’s concern over the good faith of [the city’s argument],” he told Quinn.
“What happened here is a newspaper wanted to write about something, and it took them three years to get the documents,” he continued. “That’s success from the perspective of Worcester.”
After the lawsuit concluded, the city refused to provide any records related to the planning of its legal strategy, invoking attorney-client privilege to shield the documents from public scrutiny.
Quinn left the city for a job with Hassett & Donnelly in March 2022, but the city signed a contract with the law firm so that she could work on the T&G appeal and other cases. The city agreed to pay $250 an hour plus expenses.
The city had paid Hassett & Donnelly $18,000 for Quinn’s work on the T&G appeal as of February 7, according to documents provided by the city.
It’s not clear how much the city paid Quinn to fight the T&G while she was employed there. The city said in response to a records request that it didn’t track this information. In 2021, Quinn’s total pay was about $130,000.
Quinn did not respond to a request for comment.
In addition to the legal fees, the city was required to pay $5,000 in punitive damages to the state’s Public Records Assistance Fund.
The fund was created by the 2016 update to the state’s public records law “to provide grants to municipalities to support the information technology capabilities of municipalities to foster best practices for increasing access to public records and facilitating compliance with [the public records law],” according to the text of the statute.
However, the state has never given out any grants.
“The only transaction appearing in our record of this fund since its inception is an amount of $5,000 credited to the fund on March 29, 2023,” said Michael Sangalang, the chief communications officer for the state comptroller’s office.
The state Legislature can appropriate money for the fund but has never done so.
In the settlement agreement, the city said that it had been “unable” to provide the punitive damages to the fund and was turning over the money to Prince Lobel Tye, the law firm that represented the T&G.
“The punitive damages payment has now been made to the appropriate account,” said Pyle, the T&G lawyer. “It took a while to locate the right people within the state government to coordinate the receipt of the payment.”
After nearly five years, the saga of the T&G’s most-recent public records lawsuit has come to an end. Meanwhile, the Justice Department investigation of the police department continues.
Andrew Quemere is an independent investigative journalist who uses public records to report on police violence and misconduct throughout Massachusetts. He is the author of The Mass Dump newsletter on Substack. You can follow his work on Facebook, Twitter, and Mastodon. If you want to support his work, you can send him a tip on PayPal.
Bill again here. Thank you for reading and thank you to Andrew for writing. Please consider a paid subscription and head over to Andrew’s newsletter as well!
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The People’s Time Is Tonight!
As promised, let’s get into the inclusionary zoning vote on Tuesday. It went... as expected. The Worcester Together Affordable Housing Coalition showed up in force—well over 200 people—and held a rally and stuffed the council gallery. Dozens of people spoke on the need for the more aggressive inclusionary zoning policy the coalition had proposed. They pleaded, really. Speakers’ comments were heavily laden with frustration and anger directed at an increasingly untenable rental market for regular people here. They made case after case for a policy that would do something to create more affordable housing.
The majority of the city council ignored them. The coalition’s proposal was voted down 4-7. The city’s version—a compromise policy meant to merely encourage developers to add affordable units—passed unanimously after the coalition’s failed. Better, I suppose, to have some sort of inclusionary zoning on the books. But the version we have on the books right now will not do much at all.
The 4-7 vote on the coalition’s proposal now stands as the clearest picture to date of which city councilors give a shit and which don’t. The councilors who voted in favor: Etel Haxhiaj, Khrystian King, Thu Nguyen and Sarai Rivera. They give a shit. The councilors who voted against: Joe Petty, Donna Colorio, Sean Rose, Moe Bergman, George Russell, Candy Mero-Carlson and, of course, Kate Toomey. They don’t.
Heading into the municipal election, this breakdown serves to show who deserves your vote and who doesn’t. Who is willing to take action on the problems facing actual residents and who can’t bring themselves to put the concerns of residents ahead of the concerns of developers.
It was interesting to see who spoke and who didn’t. All four of the councilors who supported the coalition’s proposal spoke at length and with passion. On the other side, however, only Sean Rose, George Russell and Joe Petty spoke. And really only Rose offered a cogent and articulate defense of his position. That leaves four councilors who chose not to speak. Faced with a gallery full of people who wanted to see them take action on their behalf, Colorio, Toomey, Bergman and Mero-Carlson opted not only to take no action, but to not even offer a defense of their positions. These are councilors who will talk about anything. The councilors who will happily drone on and on about rats and trash and how good a job the police department does. But on this issue, seeing they were at odds with hundreds of well meaning people in front of them, watching them, they were mum.
You know who wasn’t mum, though? Their likely opponents in the upcoming city election! In District 2, Mero-Carlson is being challenged by Rob Bilotta. He spoke! Bergman, Colorio and Toomey are at-large councilors. They didn’t speak. You know who did though? At-large challengers Maydeé Morales, Dominica Perrone and Guillermo Creamer! Challenger Johanna Hampton Dance was in the gallery with the coalition. These are five people who were willing to take a stand where Mero-Carlson, Colorio, Toomey and Bergman weren’t.
Mero-Carlson almost lost last time. While Toomey is weirdly at the top of vote getters in at-large, Colorio and Bergman are consistently toward the bottom. If I were them, I’d be very very nervous.
To my mind, Councilor Etel Haxhiaj stole the night. Her speech exuded a righteous anger the likes of which we rarely see on the city council floor. Rather than pull any single bit I decided to clip and upload the whole thing.
As Haxhiaj said several times, “the people’s time is tonight.” And I think we might very well see the sentiment carry over to November 7.
Thank you to the several people who sent me a new study in the JAMA Network Journal by Joshua A. Barocas et al. about the deadly effects of homeless encampment sweeps.
The study, titled “Population-Level Health Effects of Involuntary Displacement of People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness Who Inject Drugs in US Cities,” takes a look at how routine displacement, like the kind done in Worcester pretty much every week, leads to vastly diminished health outcomes for people made to experience them.
This is a practice I’ve written about quite a bit, but most substantively in a long essay back in March titled “I Wish I Had A Magic Wand And Could Find You An Apartment” which is a real thing a Worcester cop said to an unhoused person during one routine sweep.
Per the study, sweeps like the ones Worcester cops and city workers do may “contribute to between 15.6% and 24.4% of additional deaths among unsheltered people experiencing homelessness who inject drugs over a 10-year period.”
“Involuntary displacement of people experiencing homelessness may substantially increase drug-related morbidity and mortality. These findings have implications for the practice of involuntary displacement, as well as policies such as access to housing and supportive services, that could mitigate these harms.”
Consider this paper scholarly backing to what many people around here have been saying for a long time: these sweeps are draconianl, pointless, and only serve to enact routine cruelty on vulnerable people—cruelty that, as the study finds, is quite deadly. It needs to end.
Ok. Need to stop myself there. That’s all for now. Thank you for reading.