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Murphy’s got it right: City Council needs to flex its powers

Steve Murphy— Boston’s City Council president— has ruffled some feathers in City Hall in recent days by suggesting that he and his council colleagues should have a more direct role in resolving two critically important developments before city government: casinos and the hole in Downtown Crossing created by the demolition of the old Filene’s building.

President Murphy is exactly right when he says that the Council should have a voice in these and other matters pending before city government. He has every right to voice his disapproval of the actions of developers who have stalled progress in the city’s center. It’s disappointing, then, to read that his colleagues in other city departments— including the mayor— seem to find his efforts to use the council’s powers meddlesome. But we are encouraged to see that Murphy and the council are willing to step up on these two issues — and many others as well, including the student assignment plan for the Boston Public Schools and the distribution of city revenues in banks.

The issue of who has the authority to order a citywide referendum on casinos has been unnecessarily confusing. A close reading of state law seems to confirm that Mayor Menino does indeed get to have a say in whether or not a referendum on any proposed casino is held citywide — or just at the ward level. The council is also empowered by the law to order one or the other vote to be held. What remains unclear is whether the council or the mayor must agree on that subject — or, if they don’t, how they would resolve any divergent opinions.

As it stands, Menino has made it clear he favors only a localized, ward vote — presumably in East Boston. Murphy and other councilors have suggested that they could favor a citywide plebiscite if they feel one is warranted.

The council clearly has power to influence the situation: in its budgetary role, it would have to approve the expenditure for an election — be it in East Boston or across the whole city.

We favor a citywide vote because it will give more leverage to city officials— both the mayor’s office and the council— to craft an agreement with developers that is likely to be in the interest of the whole city. It will also compel the casino interests to take into consideration concerns from a wider constituency as they plan their approach to city voters.

Such an agreement should not just seek to resolve the obstinant stance of the development team at Downtown Crossing. It could, for example, also mandate that any new resort casino deal in East Boston include a rock-solid promise to adhere to the often-ignored Boston Residents Job Policy, which would mean that city residents would have to account for at least half of those hired to build the casino. And any contract with the city and Revere would need to offer specifics about how any linkage funding would be allocated across Boston’s neighborhoods.

President Murphy’s instincts are right on this matter. The promise of a citywide vote on a casino proposal will help ensure that any agreement between the city and a developer would include provisions that will make the introduction of casino gaming in Boston a fair deal for all of our neighborhoods.

– Bill Forry

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