Public trust is essential to the healthy functioning of democracy; however, Mayor Walsh and Boston 2024 have repeatedly undermined the ability of the public to trust their judgment and decision-making during the bid process. The fact that the residents of Boston were shut out of the bid preparation process should be a deal-breaker in and of itself. The lack of transparency and democratic oversight, coupled with a disregard for public consent, has only continued since then. The outsourcing of urban planning to a private, unelected group sets a very troubling precedent as we collectively shape the future of our city.
The Feasibility Commission
In late October 2013, Governor Deval Patrick approved a bill passed by the state legislature to create a “Special Commission Relative to the Feasibility of Hosting the Summer Olympics in the Commonwealth in 2024.”At the time, there were three academics in Massachusetts whose work focused on the economics of the Olympics and other mega-events. They include Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, Victor Matheson at the College of the Holy Cross, and Judith Grant Long at Harvard University (now at the University of Michigan). They were not asked to serve on the commission, nor were any representative of community groups attuned to the social impacts of hosting the games. Instead, the only appointees who were not political aides were business leaders with a vested interest in hosting the Games.
Creation and Constitution of the Boston 2024 Partnership
Although the feasibility commission did not release its final report until February 27, 2014, it created a parallel organization–the “non-profit” Boston 2024 Partnership in January 2014. John Fish of Suffolk Construction, the Chairman of the feasibility commission, became the treasurer, clerk, and director (then, later, chairman) of Boston 2024. Daniel O’Connell of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, another appointee from the feasibility commission, became the president. Robert Kraft of the Kraft Group (and owner of the Patriots), Steve Pagliuca of Bain Capital, and Gloria Larson of Bentley University were listed as directors. The Boston 2024 Executive Committee was then filed with university executives, corporate executives, and corporate lobbyists. Despite a commitment to “diversity of economic circumstance” stated on the website, the executive committee was limited to those in the highest income strata. No community organizations were (or are) represented in the Executive Committee.
Development and Submission of the Boston 2024 Bid
Between February 27, 2014, when the feasibility commission report was released and December 1, 2014, when the bid was submitted to the USOC, there was no form of public process. The bid was developed behind closed doors, without community engagement or democratic deliberation. Neither the Boston 2024 Partnership nor the mayor allowed the public to see the bid that was going to be submitted in Boston’s name. The Boston City Council held no hearings to discuss the merits of the bid, let alone of bidding in the first place.
In mid-December, Mayor Marty Walsh joined the Boston 2024 Partnership to present to the USOC. Despite the fact that the only publicly available poll at the time found a majority of Metro Boston residents opposed to the bid, and the fact that he had not engaged the public in any way in a discussion about the bid, he told the USOC that there was no “real opposition.”
Unfulfilled Promises of Transparency
Neither the mayor nor the Boston 2024 Partnership allowed the public to see the bid documents before submitting them in the city’s name to the USOC, and it took the threat of a subpoena from the Boston City Council for Boston 2024 to release the full, unredacted version of the bid submitted to the USOC to the public. Subpoena threats and FOIA requests, not voluntary disclosure, have been the drivers of what transparency there has been.
The joinder agreement that Mayor Walsh signed with the USOC also belies the mayor’s promises of transparency, as it requires him to keep the terms of his agreement with the USOC secret:
Section 2.07 The City agrees that it shall not disclose to any third party any information with respect to the terms of this Agreement or the Bid City Agreement except: (A) to the Bid Committee and the OCOG, (B) to the extent required by the Law or by a valid order of the court of competent jurisdiction or (C) as part of its normal reporting or review procedures to its auditors, attorneys, agents, and appropriate federal, City and State officials, provided that such third parties are under an obligation of confidentiality no less stringent than the conditions of the Bid City Agreement.
Mayor Walsh’s Chief Communications Officer Laura Oggeri told the Bay State Examiner that the city has never been “in possession [sic] of the [bid] documents.” This raises the question of whether or not the mayor has ever read in full the bid for which he has been advocating. If he, in fact, has, then such a response becomes no more than an attempt to evade a public records request via mere semantics. Both possibilities are troubling.
Joinders and Judgment
The aforementioned joinder agreement that Mayor Walsh signed with the USOC put a gag order on city employees, prohibiting them from criticizing the IOC, the IPC, the USOC, the bid, the bid committee, or the Olympics and requiring them to speak positively of all of the above.
Section 2.05 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 or statute of, the IOC, the IPC, the USOC, the IOC Bid, the Bid Committee or the Olympic or Paralympic movement. The City, including its employees, officers and representatives, shall each promote the Bid Committee, the USOC, the IOC Bid, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls and the Olympic and Paralympic movement in a positive matter.
When asked about the document he signed, Mayor Walsh implied that he saw nothing wrong with it, noting that it was a “boilerplate” and saying, “It was in the agreement, and we had to get the agreement signed.”
This attitude should raise a red flag for all residents of Boston (as well as Massachusetts). Mayor Walsh’s response presents two possibilities: (1) either he knew what he was signing and saw no problem with it or (2) he did not know what he was signing. Both are extremely troubling and bode poorly for his future handling of the Olympic process.
What other “boilerplate” documents will the mayor sign? And if unconstitutional documents are merely “boilerplate” to the USOC, what does that say about the USOC? Moreover, should Boston even want to be associated with an organization that makes such demands?
The mayor announced a revised joinder agreement on February 24, 2015—over two months after signing the initial document and over one month after the Globe released the text of the first. However, the fact that he revised an unconstitutional document under significant public backlash should not assuage anyone’s concerns since it does not change the fact that he still signed the original document in the first place.
The Question of Public Consent
Although he held no community meetings before submitting a bid to the USOC, Mayor Walsh announced a series of nine Olympic community meetings for the City of Boston after the city was selected. These meetings begin with a presentation from Boston 2024 about the bid, followed by comments and questions from community members. These meetings are framed by the Mayor’s Office as opportunities to shape the bid. The mayor has never allowed for a robust public discussion of whether Boston should even be bidding in the first place. Moreover, the mayor has spoken disparagingly of the community members who take time out of the day to attend these events.
There is no formal, transparent mechanism for incorporating the public feedback from these meetings. September 15, 2015 is the deadline for cities to formally declare as an IOC applicant city. The series of Olympic community meetings announced by Mayor Wash will not have been completed then, as the meeting in East Boston is not until September 29.
The as-yet-unworded referendum sought by the mayor and Boston 2024 would not occur until November 2016. If Boston declares as an IOC applicant city, it will have done so without the formal consent of the citizens of Boston.
No Plans for Accountability
On April 1, 2015, Mayor Walsh announced plans for an “Office of Olympic Accountability.” However, recent developments in the creation of this office raise serious questions about how much “accountability” it will actually bring.
Mayor Walsh, in response to lobbying from Boston 2024, changed the office’s name to the “Office of Olympic Planning,” implying that it will function more as facilitator than watchdog. The fact that Boston 2024 will be paying for the office’s budget further undermines any potential for the office to serve a watchdog role.
Sara Myerson, the director of the new office, moreover, does not have a background in studying or planning for mega-events. Her background lies in investment banking and real estate.
New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
On April 22, 2015, Boston 2024 announced a new 30-member board of directors. However, it suffers from the same problems as the executive committee.
In addition to Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey, the new board contains 9 corporate executives, 7 USOC officials, 6 athletes, 2 university officials, 2 corporate lobbyists, 1 sales professional, 1 politician, and 1 trade union official. The board still lacks diversity of economic circumstance. It lacks gender diversity as well, containing 22 men but only 8 women. The board—which, of course, is unelected—continues to lack academic experts or representatives from community groups.
Three of the six athletes on the board—Larry Bird, Meb Keflezighi, and Michelle Kwan—do not even live in the Boston metropolitan area, let alone anywhere in the state of Massachusetts. None of the 7 USOC officials on the board live in the city or the commonwealth either. Why should we entrust people who don’t even live here with our city and state’s future?
Demand greater transparency of Mayor Walsh and Boston 2024 by submitting a public records request.