Kenneth Brissette may be innocent until proven guilty, but it’s clear that he can no longer continue as the city’s director of tourism, sports, and entertainment. It’s impossible to imagine that he’d be effective in his job after his arrest on extortion charges Thursday, and Mayor Walsh needs to replace him immediately.
But that’s just a start. Brissette’s indictment also puts a cloud over the whole administration, which Walsh can only clear by showing a greater degree of transparency about the investigation than he has so far. The mayor should drop, once and for all, his effort to keep records related to the federal investigation from public view.
Brissette, 52, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he extorted unneeded jobs from a music festival, abusing his power by withholding city permits until the festival complied with his demands. The indictment did not name the festival, but the Globe has reported that federal investigators were looking into the city’s handling of the twice-yearly Boston Calling festival. Brissette denies the charges and has been released on a $25,000 bond.
In a statement sent to reporters Thursday morning, Walsh said he was “deeply concerned” about the arrest. “Everyone in my administration should know that there is only one way to do things and that is the right way,” he said. According to spokeswoman Laura Oggeri, Brissette is on paid leave.
It’s possible that Brissette was just a renegade official. Indeed, the indictment itself offers some evidence that would support that theory, outlining how other city and state officials warned Brissette against meddling in labor arrangements. On the other hand, the indictment also says that “at least one other City Hall employee repeatedly advised” Boston Calling to heed Brissette’s demands.
Walsh ought to disclose who the other city official involved was, and hold that person accountable if appropriate. City permits shouldn’t be used as chits in private labor negotiations — end of story. Supporting unions is all well and good. But hiring union labor isn’t a legal requirement, and city officials can’t just turn it into one.
It’s also imperative that the mayor drop his opposition to a Globe public records request into documents related to the federal investigation. The newspaper filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking to compel City Hall to release subpoenas served on the city by the US attorney’s office and for any materials provided to federal investigators in response.
Seeking to keep the subpoenas secret only makes it seem as if the Walsh administration has something to hide. The sooner the mayor drops his opposition to releasing the documents, the sooner residents can feel assured that everyone is getting a fair shake at City Hall.
This editorial has been updated to include Brissette’s denial of the charges against him.