Friday, February 25, 2011 • 7:59 AM Comments ()

Some Days I Love the Springfield Republican

posted by Maureen Turner

I love it when the Springfield Republican gets something good stuck in its editorial craw.

No, I haven’t forgotten my tiresome list of grievances against Springfield’s daily newspaper, most of them relating to its historic tendency to give certain, undeserving politicians free passes when it comes to public scrutiny. Will readers ever be able to forget the Republican’s fawningly uncritical coverage of the Albano administration, even while the Teflon Mayor was leading the city into a sinkhole of financial and ethical crises? Not as long as I’m around to harp on it. And don’t get me started on the editorial page’s asinine practice of issuing blanket endorsements of all incumbent politicians by mere virtue of their being incumbents (those that don’t buck the paper’s agenda notwithstanding.)

But today, I’m feeling generous, after more than a week’s worth of watching the Republican chase after Gov. Deval Patrick for dragging his feet on announcing the three finalists, and final choice, for the job of running the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home—a public job, at a public institution, whose salary will be paid for by the tax-paying public. Interest in the appointment of the home’s new superintendent is particularly heightened since the last man to hold that job, Paul Morin, was indicted in 2008 for violations of the Clean Air Act during an asbestos removal project at the facility. The following year, those charges were dropped after Morin agreed to resign from his job.

The Republican’s heated coverage of the hiring of a new superintendent began last week, when reporter Mike Plaisance wrote that the Home’s Board of Trustees had selected its candidate back in November and forwarded the name on to the governor, but that the Patrick administration had ordered that the name be kept secret until final background checks were completed. A fee days later, Plaisance highlighted that secrecy in another news story.

On Monday, the Republican ran an editorial, headlined “Secrecy doesn’t become administration of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.”

“Somewhere along the way to his second term in office, Gov. Deval L. Patrick has stopped believing in the word ‘transparent,’” the editorial read. The Patrick administration’s decision to keep the selection process for the new Soldiers’ Home superintendent secret, the paper noted, was an unwelcome echo of the selection process for the new president of UMass earlier this year. In that case, the public didn’t find out the names of the other finalists until after Robert Caret was named to the job.

The editorial was followed up by a news story by Plaisance about local veterans’ frustration over the secrecy around the Soldiers’ Home selection process. (“I believe, yes, that people are entitled to know who the person is, all the veterans of Western Massachusetts should know who this person is, what his background is, what his plans are,” Plaisance quoted Cesar A. Lopez, a former Marine and member of Holyoke’s War Memorial Commission.)

On Wednesday, the paper ran a follow-up story by Plaisance: “Soldiers’ Home candidate still secret.” (“The board of trustees of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home received a presentation Tuesday on the importance of building ‘community relations,’ doing ‘outreach’ and offering a ‘positive’ image. But board Chairman Steven E. Como later disputed the assertion that such a pitch for public relations might contradict officials’ refusal to reveal the name of the candidate recommended to be the next superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home.”)

Finally, late Wednesday, Plaisance reported the name of the new superintendent: Paul Barabani, a veteran from Chicopee who now works at the VA Medical Center in Leeds, and who will make $106,000 a year at his new job. Plaisance was also able to confirm one of the other two finalists for the job: Donald R. Andrejczyk, general counsel at the Soldiers’ Home.

Barabani begins his new job next month. The Republican, meanwhile, will likely—and justifiably—take a little longer to get over the run-around the Patrick administration gave the public about the hiring process. Plaisance’s story on Barabani’s hiring ends with this reminder: “State public records rulings since the mid-1970’s generally have required that the names of finalists for government jobs be public information. In addition, Patrick’s administration required that The Republican file a written request to get copies of minutes and postings of board of trustees meetings, documents that in most cases are the most basic of public records. The Republican has yet to receive those documents.”

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