Mayor Martin Walsh became the target of criticism last week when the Boston Globe reported that he had signed an agreement with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) banning city employees from speaking out against the Olympic Games during the effort to bring them to Boston in the summer of 2024.
Walsh responded last Thursday with an email to all city employees emphasizing that he “will not - and will never - limit [employees’] right to free speech” and promising that “no employees will face any consequences for contributing their thoughts” during the bid process.
When asked about the issue, however, City Councillor Charles Yancey, said he remains concerned when asked about the issue. The agreement “sounded more like the old USSR,” said the longtime Dorchester city councillor who represents District 4. “How can you stifle city employees from expressing an opinion?”
When asked if he thought the mayor’s email to city employees mitigated concerns about free speech, Yancey said, “I think the damage was already done when it was first signed. I’m glad he did send out some clarifying statements, but [I’m] very concerned about that legal document out there. [It] may have some implications if someone decides to speak freely as a resident concerned about the quality of life in the neighborhood…Just ‘cause they’re a city employee, they’re not supposed to raise those issues?”
The agreement declares that “the city, including its employees, officers and representatives, shall not make, publish or communicate to any person, or communicate in any public forum, any comments or statements (written or oral) that reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage, or are detrimental to the reputation of” the Olympics and its various committees. The broad language could apply to city councillors in addition to all other city employees.
The firestorm surrounding the decree comes on the heels of public criticism surrounding what some see as a bid process lacking in public input. While a poll released by WBUR last week showed that 50 percent of respondents support the games, three quarters of respondents also said they would like to see a public referendum on the issue.
At a media briefing last Wednesday, Boston 2024 President Dan O’Connell repeatedly declined to definitively answer questions about whether his group would halt its Olympic plans if a referendum showed a majority in opposition to the Games being held in Boston. “I think we would wait to see how that happened,” he said, adding that much would depend on the exact language of such a referendum and whether it was city- or state-wide in scope.