Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said that the city has hired a law firm to review how the Zoning Board of Appeals conducts business after a city employee pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to influence the ZBA.
On August 30, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that John M. Lynch, 66, a former Assistant Director of Real Estate at theEconomic Development Industrial Corporation (EDIC), a division of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), pled guilty to accepting $50,000 in bribes from a Boston real estate developer. Lynch was supposed to use his official influence to secure a ZBA vote that favored the real estate developer on his federal tax return. The real estate development project was not in Jamaica Plain.
Sullivan & Worcester LLP, a law firm outside of Boston, will conduct the review of the ZBA, starting with the rules and regulations in place that dictate how the board conducts business on behalf of residents, and those with matters before the board.
"Boston is a city that is booming with economic development, from new companies moving to our city and the creation of housing being at an all-time high-record," said Mayor Walsh via press release. "The pace of our growth is unparalleled to any other time in our city's history, which is a tremendous economic boon for our city, but also brings its own set of challenges. Through this review, I want to make sure that our agencies and staff are best equipped with the knowledge, tools and training they need to do their jobs effectively and to the standard of which they are held."
At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu was quick to criticize Walsh's announcement.
"This review misses the point -- business can’t go on as usual while the integrity of the ZBA is in question. We should always strive to take stock of city processes and incorporate best practices, but there’s a much more immediate issue here: someone pleaded guilty to bribery, claiming he influenced a ZBA member," said Wu to Jamaica Plain News.
Wu said the public needs to know which board member or members had conversations with Lynch about the project, and how board members were involved. She added that info need to be known before the next ZBA meeting scheduled for September 9.
"Any board member who was involved should be recused from voting until a more thorough investigation is complete," said Wu.
District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley said the bribery scandal allegations are "abhorrent and unacceptable."
"As I have stated before, all of our public officials -- elected or appointed -- need to be held to the highest possible standards of integrity and live up to both the spirit and letter of the law," said O'Malley.
Like Wu, O'Malley said that the urgent review of the ZBA is necessary after the recent news, but that it's only the beginning, and he looks forward to the seeing the results of the review.
"There are clearly issues with how the current system operates, and in order to plan for a vibrant, diverse and livable city, we must incorporate more community voices and tools of accountability and transparency," said O'Malley.