The stunning news from the Boston Globe that Middlesex County Sheriff Jim DiPaola will leave office in January after just being re-elected without opposition to a six-year term has far reaching political repercussions for Greater Lowell. Marie’s post on the DiPaola story from earlier today has received a number of comments, but this is such a big story it warrants several posts.
According to the Globe story, the 57-year old DiPaola sought to take advantage of a state law that allows state retirees to continue receiving their full pensions when elected to office (along with the salary for that office). DiPaola filed his retirement papers on October 28, just five days before the November 2 election, but didn’t tell anyone and continued showing up to work as a “volunteer.” According to the state retirement board, at least, that time line would have allowed DiPaola to receive his full pension based on his October 28 retirement plus his full sheriff’s salary because he was elected five days after his retirement. But for the Globe reporter’s inquiry, that’s what would have happened. Now, however, DiPaola says he will resign in January.
Assuming DiPaola follows through with his resignation, Governor Deval Patrick will appoint his successor who will serve until the next state election – 2012 – when someone will be elected to serve the balance of the six-year term, meaning the 2012 winner would run again for a full term in 2016. (A vacancy in the office of Middlesex County Sheriff is nothing new, but that history will have to wait for a future post).
Now the big question is who will the Governor appoint? I’m sure political- and law enforcement types across Middlesex County were burning up the phones today, lining up support. And how many others who were either lukewarm towards Governor Patrick’s re-election or overtly supportive of Charlie Baker or Tim Cahill are regretting that choice or perhaps even trying to revise history?
While I’m certainly not privy to the Governor’s thinking on this, I suspect that the recently released report on alleged corruption in the state’s probation department will play a big part in the Governor’s thought process. Rather than appoint someone who would be a strong candidate for election in 2012, Patrick could select a strong reformer who foreswore any intention of running for the office. That way, the new sheriff could make decisions based on increasing efficiencies rather than building political strength for the coming election. With the Governor just reelected to another four year term, he could be less interested in strengthening his own political base through a popular appointment than in branding himself as a true reformer by naming a sheriff who sold off the boats and armored vehicles and other items that, while paid for mostly with grants, came to be symbols of government excess.
And speaking of reform, the Governor might want to query the folks making decisions at the retirement board. This scenario where a current office holder could quietly file retirement papers, stop taking a regular pay check but keep showing up for work, and after re-election be treated as a “new hire” is absurd.