Maura In The News

Menino supports embattled Joyce
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff, 4/1/2004

Despite a growing chorus of critics who say Kevin Joyce should go, Mayor Thomas M. Menino continued yesterday to defend his Inspectional Services Department commissioner, saying he "does a great job in the neighborhoods of Boston every day."

With yesterday's release of a critical report blaming Joyce for mismanagement and a legal settlement that cost taxpayers more than $360,000, several observers said Menino has no choice but to remove him from the $105,000-a-year job.

"The mayor should have fired Joyce long ago," said Skip Schloming, head of the Small Property Owners Association, a 3,000-member group that has been battling Joyce for several years. "The report is just the tip of the iceberg at ISD, and its findings against Kevin Joyce in this case are all too familiar: favoritism, targeting people, misusing the powers of office."

In its nine-page report, the Boston Finance Commission said Joyce was personally responsible for a wrongful termination lawsuit that cost the city more than $360,000 in legal fees and settlement costs. The suit, brought by Julie Fothergill, a former top aide to Joyce, revealed "troubling" management problems in the department that should be corrected immediately, the report said.

The report stopped short of calling for Joyce's removal, but said "the city of Boston needs to take remedial action."

"It is incumbent that the city administration holds every department head responsible for all aspects of departmental management," the report said.

In issuing the report, commission members said they refrained from specifically recommending that Joyce be removed, saying that the body should not dictate personnel decisions.

"We didn't feel that's what we should be doing," said Karen MacNutt, a lawyer and member of the Finance Commission. "But the general feeling was his conduct was inappropriate. I think the mayor should take a very hard look at the way business is done and there should be reforms to prevent this sort of thing happening in the future."

Yesterday, Menino called the report "somewhat constructive," but stood by his embattled department head.

"Kevin Joyce has done a great job," Menino said. "Every day he answers the call. Does he need some help with management procedures? Yes, and we will address those issues. Things like this shouldn't happen, and we want to make sure we follow proper procedures."

Without naming Menino, the Finance Commission's report criticized the administration for failing to "address any of the underlying management problems that contributed to the unnecessary expense to Boston taxpayers" in the Fothergill case.

It pointed to lax oversight of Joyce and his department, which regulates building and housing in Boston and conducts inspections of restaurants and other food establishments. Those "administrative failures" ultimately forced the city to pay Fothergill $240,000 to drop her suit, as well as $120,000 in fees to outside lawyers and additional expenses that are "impossible to quantify," said the report, which put the total cost at more than $400,000.

"I think the mayor needs to hold his department heads accountable for the performance of their department and their own actions," said Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, who called the report's conclusions troubling.

"The mayor needs to reevaluate the situation and determine what the appropriate course is, whether it's more supervision or some other action," he said.

The commission's report stems from allegations by Fothergill, a lawyer and Joyce's former top deputy, that in 2000 Joyce pressured her to manipulate bids so that a Web page contract would go to the girlfriend of another ISD worker, deputy commissioner John Dorsey. Fothergill alleged that when she refused, she was banished to another floor, demoted, and eventually fired.

Menino's administration had originally dismissed Fothergill's claims as groundless when she brought her suit in 2001. But yesterday's report supported Fothergill, saying that Joyce had "wrongfully terminated" her for refusing his request. According to the report, ISD officials failed to get three quotes before awarding the $7,900 Web design contract, as required by contracting rules. When city officials refused to pay the bill, Joyce asked Fothergill to retroactively seek lower quotes to justify the contract award. The $7,900 invoice remains unpaid.

Because Joyce pressed for payment, the report said, what was a "relatively minor issue" escalated into a "series of embarrassing and costly mistakes."

After Fothergill refused to cooperate on the Web page bid, Joyce turned on his aide, whom he had previously given several raises totaling $500 a week in a span of five months and had once described as "crucial" to the department. On Jan. 4, 2001, the day she said she refused to manipulate the bids, ISD officials alleged that she had abused vacation time by taking four days off when she was authorized to take only two.

"It was a clumsy attempt to portray Fothergill as a problem employee," the report said.

In March of that year, Fothergill agreed to leave with $17,000 in severance. But after repeated attempts at working out an agreement, Joyce let the deal fall apart, the report said.

Lou DiNatale, a political analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said Menino must remove Joyce to restore confidence in the agency. "The public's view toward politics is often shaped by Inspectional Services, because a lot of people make contact with it," he said. "Politicians who don't pay close attention to that [agency] are bound to pay a price. It's over for Joyce. I don't see how he can stay. Heads have to roll to bring integrity in and straighten out the mess."

Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan, who had asked the Finance Commission to investigate the Fothergill case, also urged the mayor to fire Joyce.

"Clearly they can't keep him there after this," she said. "Despite Commissioner Joyce's longstanding personal relationship with the mayor, I would hope he could put that aside and ask the commissioner to step aside."

Joyce did not return phone calls from the Globe. Department spokeswoman Lisa Timberlake said: "We have just received the report, and it's under review. We don't have anything to say right now."

Menino said he will immediately implement one of the report's recommendations, that the city appoint a seven-member commission to oversee ISD. William Sommers, a consultant hired by the city last year to review the operations of the department, made that suggestion last fall. Menino said he will also follow a commission recommendation that city employees receive formal training in proper contracting procedures.

Previously, city officials had told the Finance Commission that they would launch an internal probe of the Fothergill matter. But "nothing was done at that time, and nothing has been done since," the report said.

? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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