Governor Charlie Baker says he would be open to legislation allowing candidates from outside the State Police to be considered for its top position, a change his Democratic challenger has repeatedly pushed amid still-simmering scandals at the agency.
Baker, speaking to the Globe editorial board Friday, said he doesn’t think a civilian would be qualified to oversee the 2,150-trooper force. But allowing the governor’s office to consider candidates who have law enforcement backgrounds but are not currently within the department’s ranks “is certainly worth talking about.”
Under current state law, only internal candidates can become the State Police colonel, who is appointed by the governor.
“I think it’s got to be somebody who has stripes on their shoulders, somehow,” Baker said, using the police colonel from a different state as an example of a potential candidate, given the law changed.
“It’s got to be somebody who’s been shot at or understands what these people put up with every day, when they work in the gang and fugitive units and do that kind of work,” Baker said.
The State Police have been plagued by a raft of embarrassing problems over the last year, ranging from an overtime fraud scandal to attempts in recent months to destroy more than a hundred boxes of payroll, attendance, and personnel documents amid ongoing investigations.
Jay Gonzalez, Baker’s Democratic opponent, has repeatedly seized on the issues, calling for Baker to “immediately fire” his hand-picked colonel, Kerry A. Gilpin, and charging that outside leadership should be brought in to shake up the status quo.
Gonzalez has also said legislation should be drafted to change state law, allowing for an outside candidates.
Baker — who is seeking a second term on Nov. 6 — has regularly backed Gilpin, who he installed as colonel in November 2017. On Friday, he noted she submitted evidence against 46 troopers to prosecutors to pursue amid the overtime fraud scandal, and said in the face of the issues the agency has faced, “I believe we did many of the right things.”
But his response to Gonzalez’s criticisms has predominantly centered on defending his, and the agency’s response, to the issues, as opposed to the potentially changing the law about its leadership.
As for a potential bill, he said, “It would depend on the way [legislators] framed it.”
During the wide-ranging interview at the Globe, Baker also signalled he’d be interested in other types of legislative changes if reelected.
His administration pushed, and won, a three-year reprieve from state law in 2015 to more freely outsource work to private contractors at the MBTA — a move that the T claims enabled it to save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Baker didn’t seek an extension before the waiver from the so-called Pacheco Law ran out in July. But he said he’d be interested in loosening the constructs of the law on a far-wider scale.
“I think that’s definitely something that should be on the table for discussion . . . or at least a change to it,” Baker said.
The idea would likely be controversial and could face resistance in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The law — named for state Senator Marc R. Pacheco, who championed it in the 1990s — requires agencies to prove that outsourcing work done by public employees will save money while maintaining quality.
Baker’s successful pursuit of a waiver for the T was hotly debated, and pitted his administration against the powerful Carmen’s Union Local 589. But he lamented what he called the law’s natural deterrents, noting his pursuit of privatizing emergency mental health services in southeastern Massachusetts was approved by state Auditor Suzanne Bump but only after an intensive, year-long process.
Baker also sounded a cautious note amid the ongoing sweepstakes among cities to be the site of Amazon’s second headquarters.
Boston made the company’s initial cut, but Baker, whose administration has promoted multiple places around Boston to Amazon, said the state is unlikely to offer major tax incentives in an attempt to lure the massive project to Massachusetts.
“We made pretty clear to them that most of the stuff we’re willing to do with respect to public resources was going to involve what I would call betterments [such as public infrastructure improvements] . . . and that a really significant tax package was probably not going to be part of the way we were going to think about this.”