Steve Murphy’s act of pique diminishes City Council

Boston City Councilor Stephen Murphy.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
Boston City Councilor Stephen Murphy.

City councilor Stephen Murphy is at least right in one respect: the City Council should play a more aggressive role in providing oversight on city agencies like the police. But Murphy picked just about the worst way to make that point last week, by dragooning police commissioner William Evans into attending a hearing about, of all things, horse-mounted police patrols.

No matter how one views horse patrols, which ended in Boston in 2009 amid budget cuts but still hold a sentimental appeal for many residents, they are not a pressing issue. The city faces much bigger challenges in inadequate public education, gang violence, and a housing shortage. How the city and Mayor Walsh respond to those problems certainly deserves scrutiny by the City Council, and respectful cooperation by officials.

But Murphy’s antics underscore why city officials and former Mayor Menino have felt comfortable largely ignoring or riding roughshod over the City Council in recent years. When he appeared, an annoyed commissioner William B. Evans explained why he had initially skipped the hearing, sending horse experts instead. “I’m trying to prevent kids from getting shot on the streets,’’ he said. That’s just the kind of real issue that Evans should be worrying about. It’s also an area in which the council should be using its oversight powers, and demanding cooperation from officials — rather than wasting those powers on trivial matters.