Rev. Bruce Wall is one of those guys who can’t stop talking — which, I suppose, is a job requirement for a man of the cloth.
Even so, talking may be a bad idea for a man who has been accused of taking part in an alleged Keystone Kops-style shakedown attempt — in this case of Keolis, the French company that recently won a $2.4 billion contract to run the commuter rail system.
Wall’s name is the lone one that appears on the dubious $105,000 “invoice” presented to a Keolis official last month by Rev. Eugene F. Rivers 3d on behalf of a company calling itself DRM Advisory Group. (DRM stands for Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.)
According to the Keolis official, Rivers warned her that he could cause a lot of headaches for Keolis if it didn’t make the $105,000 payment to DRM. Rivers publicly denies he made such threats and has since stopped discussing the matter.
The crux of all this is that a group of ministers and activists held two meetings with Keolis officials about ensuring that the company would employ a diverse workforce after it takes over the commuter rail on July 1.
The ministers became concerned that Keolis was not taking them seriously, and was not committed to dealing with them. Somehow — as Wall initially explained it — sending a bill for services unrendered was supposed to bring the company back to the bargaining table. Keolis, for its part, said it had never agreed to pay DRM anything for its advice on diversity.
Now, two weeks after saying he was confused about the invoice that carried his name, Wall has shifted gears, scheduling a community meeting for Thursday night. He is upset about coverage of the issue, which began with a column in this space. He calls that column an attempt to “create a newspaper-selling, quasi-sensational story, and embarrass the black community.”
As he prepares to tell his side of the story, there are a few questions I would be eager to hear him answer.
For example, while Wall has admitted that the group sent the invoice, he has since said that DRM never actually expected to be paid. Why send it then?
Also, Wall has said, “This was not an attempt to shake down Keolis, it was meant to shake up Keolis!” What, in this instance, is the difference?
Then there is the matter of the shadowy figure who left a message on a Keolis website blasting the company and its principal Boston lobbyist, Mike McCormack, for racism. McCormack is the person who advised Keolis not to pay the $105,000 to DRM. The messenger who labeled McCormack racist — a ridiculous allegation, by the way — identified himself as Shabazz Muhammad.
The fact that a Shabazz Muhammad is not known in the black activist community raised new questions. So did the fact that the e-mail address the messenger used belongs to an activist by the name of Leonard Lee — the person that DRM wanted Keolis to hire as its diversity specialist. Whether Shabazz Muhammad really exists is not clear — but Lee denies sending the message under that name.
All of which points up just how tangled and unfortunate the whole sad DRM invoice matter has become. It has left many dedicated people in the black community shaking their heads in confusion, disappointment — and embarrassment.
Wall says he wants to reclaim his reputation. He has, in fact, been a force for good over the years. His involvement in this sordid affair may be less about his character than his common sense — or, in this case, his failure to listen to his gut when he allowed his name to be put on the invoice. In his zeal to be viewed as a major player, he may have been a dupe.
But his possible naivete doesn’t address the most important question, the one many in the black community are most eager to have answered: How was challenging Keolis this way going to do anything for the community they profess to love?