Moving Massachusetts into the world of casinos is a major part of Governor Deval Patrick’s legacy. With so much at stake for the state, and his own reputation on the line, the governor should do all he can to instill public confidence in those who play any role in policing the Bay State’s fledgling gambling industry.
Instead, Patrick is doing his curious best to undermine public confidence. Last week, he vetoed portions of a spending bill sent to him by the House and Senate, which would have required the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to conduct full criminal background checks and drug screenings on all future commission employees.
In a letter explaining his veto, Patrick said, “The highest levels of background checks and screening may not be necessary nor appropriate for every employee.” He said he is satisfied with current law, which gives the gaming commission the discretion to decide which hires require a full background check.
Ironically, Patrick’s veto came after the gaming commission’s first major hire resulted in a storm of controversy over a troubling lack of scrutiny. Commissioners appointed C. Stanley McGee, an assistant economic development secretary in the Patrick administration, as their interim executive director. McGee ended up withdrawing from the position after critics — including child-protection advocates, state Representative Dan Winslow, and state Treasurer Steven Grossman — raised legitimate questions about his suitability for this highly sensitive position.
McGee has a stellar professional resume. He was a Rhodes Scholar and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. However, in 2007, he was arrested for an alleged sexual assault on a 15-year-old boy in the steam room of a Florida hotel. McGee was never charged, but settled a civil lawsuit with the boy’s family. When questions were first raised about McGee’s appointment, gaming commission chairman Stephen Crosby defended the decision, arguing that McGee was entitled to a presumption of innocence. Upset by those and other comments accusing the young man of making false charges, family members released the results of a 2008 investigation by Florida child welfare officials recommending that McGee be prosecuted.
A key issue in the controversy involved what kind of background check the commission conducted before hiring McGee. Ultimately, Crosby conceded that the commission relied solely on news accounts and never contacted any Florida investigators. McGee was said to be undergoing a State Police background check as a condition of his employment before he formally withdrew.
At a recent gaming commission hearing, members discussed the extensive background checks required of anyone applying for casino licenses. Applicants must meet the highest standards of character, honesty, and integrity. It seems only fair and logical that Patrick would want anyone working for the state gaming commission to meet the same criteria.