One of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s top advisers told a federal jury Wednesday that she believed city officials were placing costly and unfair conditions on the September 2014 Boston Calling music festival, including the request that organizers hire union stagehands so close to the event.
Joyce Linehan, Walsh’s chief of policy, testified that she eventually communicated to Walsh that the treatment of the festival organizers was unreasonable.
“I believed adding money to their budget three weeks before their concert was not appropriate,” Linehan told jurors in the extortion trial of two top Walsh aides.
Her testimony was the first indication by a witness in the trial that Walsh was made aware that city officials had asked festival organizers to hire union stagehands and that organizers had bristled at the idea.
Jurors will be asked to consider whether the two Walsh aides pressured festival organizers to hire union workers as a way to please the mayor, a former labor leader who had been elected the year before with strong union backing.
Linehan, who received immunity from prosecution for her testimony, took the stand for more than two hours and provided insight into the Walsh administration’s at times divisive deliberations over granting permits for the Boston Calling festival, which attracted roughly 20,000 concertgoers to City Hall plaza.
Linehan suggested that city officials went too far in regulating a concert that had been held before with minimal problems, such as setting limits on the alcohol license and requesting union workers that could cost the festival $14,000.
“That was a budget impact that shouldn’t have to happen” so close to the concert, she said.
Linehan expressed her concerns to Walsh a day after a festival organizer complained to her about the new conditions leading up to the September concert and the potential delay of alcohol permits, which the organizer said could be “catastrophic.”
“We have done everything that has ever been asked of us by the city and by the police,” Brian Appel, cofounder of Crash Line Productions, the concert organizer, wrote to Linehan on Aug. 20. He added in a separate e-mail that day, “We are getting singled out for unknown reasons now, just two weeks before our event.”
Linehan did not say whether Walsh read the memo she sent about the matter or otherwise responded to her concerns. She said she often communicated with Walsh through their private e-mail addresses, a potential violation of the state’s public records law.
“I should not have done it,” she said of the use of private e-mail. “It was sloppy and I should not have done it, but I did.”
On Aug. 20, 2014, just weeks before the festival, Linehan had written to Walsh: “Met with Boston Calling today. It did not go well. I will talk to you about it later because I have to run to a meeting now.”
Walsh has previously said he never pressured the festival organizers to hire union workers.
On Wednesday, Laura Oggeri, a spokeswoman for Walsh, released a previously written statement: “While Mayor Walsh obviously has strong feelings about this, he has decided that it’s not the appropriate time for him to interject while the legal process is ongoing.”
Prosecutors allege that Kenneth Brissette, the city’s tourism chief, and Timothy Sullivan, head of intergovernmental affairs, bullied Crash Line into hiring nine members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 11 to appease the union and politically benefit Walsh.
They are charged with extortion and conspiracy for allegedly threatening to withhold permits for the festival unless the organizers hired union workers.
Defense attorneys have suggested there was no such threat and that concert organizers viewed the request as a bargaining chip and a way to avoid an embarrassing protest by the union, which had threatened to picket the festival with a large, inflatable rat on City Hall Plaza.
The defense lawyers have also accused prosecutors of seeking to criminalize the ordinary give-and-take of City Hall politics.
Earlier Wednesday, Jesse Du Bey, one of Crash Line’s initial investors and cofounders, testified that Appel had told him he was having increasing problems with the city’s permit conditions, including the requirement to hire union stagehands.
Du Bey said he was concerned: The success of music festivals depends on longevity, and the new restrictions — specifically the alcohol rules — seemed to come out of nowhere. “The rules seemed to be constricting, and we didn’t understand why that was the case, given how successful” past events were, he said.
Du Bey said the loss of permits would have devastated the production company, and a union protest with a large, inflatable rat would have been similarly disruptive. “We thought of the cost of doing [it] against the risk of not doing it, and decided to do it,” he said.
Under questioning by one of Sullivan’s lawyers, William Cintolo, Du Bey acknowledged the cost of hiring the union stagehands was only a small fraction of total production costs, and said Appel never told him he felt threatened or extorted.
Linehan similarly testified she was never involved in a plan to withhold Boston Calling’s permits unless they hired union stagehands, and that she did not believe Sullivan, Brissette or anyone from the administration had such a plan.
But she said Appel had become increasingly concerned with the permit restrictions, including police detail costs that topped $110,000.
She questioned the new conditions the police commissioner at the time, William Evans, had been demanding for the alcohol permit, specifically a request that alcohol use be limited to a beer garden. Linehan, who previously worked in the music industry, said beer garden setups can be unfriendly to the festival experience. She said she felt Evans had overblown concerns about alcohol-related emergency medical services at the previous festival.
“It is my understanding that there were very few problems at the last event,” she said. “Alcohol didn’t seem to be a problem, but obviously he knows policing better than I do.”
Linehan also acknowledged she had a longstanding friendship with Appel and wanted to support Boston Calling. “I was a big fan of the festival, and a big fan of festivals in general, and was trying to make sure we had many of them in the city,” she said.