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EDITORIAL

Changing the salary rules for the state’s top police training official doesn’t pass the smell test

Governor Healey proposes bending the rules to allow one official to collect a full-time salary and a full pension.

Governor Maura Healey spoke to reporters on Jan. 31.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Using an outside section of the state budget to create a special carve-out in state law is rarely a good idea. Using one to do a political favor is even worse.

So how to explain Governor Maura Healey’s ill-advised decision to go to bat for the executive director of the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee, which is in charge of establishing training standards for all municipal, MBTA, and environmental police, and operating police academies across the state.

The governor is proposing to exempt the director, Robert Ferullo, and anyone who follows him in the position from rules designed to prohibit public employees from double-dipping — collecting a taxpayer-funded pension and a full-time salary from a subsequent state job.

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Healey’s proposal has already earned an official thumbs-down from state Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro, who told lawmakers in a letter it “circumvents the principle of the Return-to-Work law, specifically that a public employee should not receive both a full salary and a full pension from public bodies simultaneously.”

But this isn’t the first effort being made to exempt Ferullo, a former Woburn police chief and current Woburn City Councilor, from the rules that apply to all other state workers. Twice in recent years the House has approved special budget language to allow Ferullo to earn his full $149,955 salary as head of the MPTC in addition to his $123,187 pension. (As a city councilor he also earns a $12,000 stipend.) But the special provision never made it through the legislative negotiating process.

This year a separate bill was filed on his behalf even before Healey released her budget.

Currently state law limits retirees collecting a pension to being paid by a public agency for 1,200 hours a year (about a 23-hour work week) — increased by the Legislature from 960 hours in 2021. Retirees also have the option of taking a full salary while putting their pension on hold.

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“It sets a precedent,” Shapiro said of the proposal in a Globe interview. “The public at large feels that these are the kinds of things [where] it’s who you know. And it gives government a really, really bad flavor.”

Far more bewildering is why first the House and now the governor are so eager to change the rules for a leader who has managed to get the MPTC tied up in two scandals.

In 2023, the Civil Service Commission investigated allegations of misconduct against the former police chief in Methuen, Joseph Solomon, and a former city councilor he hired as a full-time police officer, Sean Fountain. The report included scathing criticism of the MPTC and Ferullo, who at the time was its interim executive director. Solomon and Fountain were later indicted on charges of fraud and corruption.

“The MPTC failed to exercise due diligence regarding Fountain’s unlawful employment as a full-time police officer and failed to accurately respond to public records requests,” the report said. It further faulted Ferullo for his apparent inability to recall anything he and Solomon discussed during an 11-minute phone call, in which investigators suspect the two discussed Fountain.

The MPTC under Ferullo’s watch was also caught up in a recent overtime scandal involving several high-ranking correction department officers assigned to teach firearms classes for MPTC’s Bridge Academy, according to a recent filing in a federal civil rights suit. The academy was set up under a sweeping police reform bill to prepare former reserve and auxiliary police for certification from the Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, Commission.

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One correction officer was fired and another demoted in that scandal. According to the court filing, the Department of Correction’s Professional Standards Unit was investigating whether those involved were being paid by both agencies for the same hours. Correction Commissioner Carol Mici has since ended the participation of DOC staff in Bridge Academy training, the commissioner’s office confirmed.

A spokesperson for Healey, Karissa Hand, defended the special deal for Ferullo, saying, “There is significant benefit to having an experienced leader who has spent their career in law enforcement serve as executive director of the MPTC to train the next generation of police.” She added, “This proposed change aims to improve our ability to recruit and retain qualified talent for this important position.”

It’s true that Ferullo took on the post of interim director offered by then-Governor Charlie Baker in 2019 and saw the agency through the pandemic with its unique trials. It was also Baker who insisted — as time was running out for passage of the 2020 police reform bill — that he would not turn training programs for police over to a civilian-controlled commission.

And so the tasks that were to be assigned to the POST Commission were divided and the MPTC got a new lease on life.

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During most of his time at MPTC, Ferullo has been able to collect his full salary and his full pension under pandemic-era work rules that ended last year — hence the flurry of activity to change the rule.

The governor’s office is expected to meet with the inspector general to explain the “unique needs” of the police training office and the need for “lived experience.” But truly, there are many top-level jobs in state government you could make that argument about.

So this effort to change the rules for one job and one individual is at best unseemly, at worst it smacks of old-school politics. And this moment — when policing and police training is under a microscope — is no time to go old school.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.