Missed chance for collaborative approach at City Hall

Mayor Walsh’s decision to veto a City Council plan to create a Commission on Black and Latino Men and Boys is an ill-timed and disappointing decision from the still-new administration. The city council should act to override the mayor’s veto.

The commission, which is the brainchild of Dorchester’s District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson, was approved unanimously by the council on Oct. 29. But Walsh sent the measure back with a veto letter on Monday, arguing that the city charter precludes the council from appointing anyone to head the commission. This technicality— which remains open for debate— does not give the mayor’s administration sufficient cause to terminate an otherwise sound contribution from a council that agrees— without dissent—on its merits.

The mayor’s other argument against the commission is more troubling. Walsh says that the commission would “duplicate and complicate” efforts already under way with the city’s My Brother’s Keeper Boston Advisory Committee. This effort, launched in September in tandem with a national initiative by President Barack Obama, has already met on two occasions locally. Councillor Jackson is a member of the My Brother’s Keeper Boston advisory committee.

Walsh has named two key cabinet members to co-chair his My Brother’s Keeper advisory panel: Former City Councillor Felix Arroyo, who now heads the city’s Health and Human Services Department, and John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development. While both men are logical, capable choices, the question must be asked: Aren’t Barros and Arroyo already fully engaged in the very demanding roles of running critically important city agencies? Too busy, one could imagine, to devote the requisite time needed to make this commission what it should be: an important and robust examination of real-time policy and solutions.

Why not put Councillor Jackson, a young and dynamic black leader who has taken the time to put together the commission idea, in charge of the initiative — and tie the My Brothers Keeper model into it? It would be wise for Boston to have its own permanent commission, one that will outlast the current administration in Washington, which was late to start this national initiative in the first place.

“I’m sure that Mayor Walsh has the same concerns that I have about the urgent issues facing black and Latino men and boys,” Jackson told the Reporter on Tuesday.
“I’m also sure that we can find a way to work together to address these issues and find a resolution to how we can move forward.”

Jackson and his colleagues were diplomatic in their reaction to Monday’s veto. By Wednesday, the tone was sharper. Councillor Ayanna Pressley characterized it as “irresponsible and derelict,” particularly in light of last week’s damning report about the achievement gap for black and Latino boys in city schools. Charles Yancey — the council’s longest serving member— said the mayor is “just wrong” about the council’s power to appoint. Jackson, expressing disappointment during Wednesday’s council meeting, said he hopes the veto will be overridden.

We agree with Jackson and with the Dorchester delegation on the council who have spoken out on the matter. So far, the mayor’s stance represents a missed opportunity to work cooperatively on a matter of critical importance in our neighborhoods.