EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 8, 2013

With more allegations, lawmakers tread lightly

LAWRENCE — As indictments and charges pile up against employees accused of shaking down a city that is heavily dependent on state aid, in Boston there is little appetite for further tightening the grip on city spending.

But there is growing impatience among state legislators that Mayor William Lantigua has allowed workers who have been charged or indicted to continue collecting their paychecks even after they’ve been sent home.

Yesterday, state Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said she will introduce a bill that would give the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer the power to remove indicted employees from Lawrence’s payroll.

Also yesterday, state Representative Frank Moran, who is president of the Lawrence City Council, said the mounting indictments among city workers have caused him to reverse his support for Lantigua on this issue.

“In the past, it was only one or two persons,” Moran said. “Now, when you have a number of people being indicted. At this point, you have to send a message to city employees to let them know bad behavior is not going to be rewarded, not going to be tolerated.”

Several of the employees recently charged or indicted have worked on Lantigua’s campaigns.

Beyond clearing the city payroll of employees who have been indicted or charged with official corruption, there is little support among state legislators for extending the state’s control over city and school operations. A spokesperson for Gov. Deval Patrick did not respond to a question about whether there is a need for more control, except to say that the state oversight so far “has helped the city regain its financial footing.”

At the schools, where a former superintendent recently completed a jail term for diverting school resources to his personal use, a state-appointed receiver took full control of all operations, including academics and spending, late last year. The decision by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to send in a receiver was driven by chronic under-achievement among students, not the conviction of former Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy. The schools will spend $142 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, nearly all of it state money.

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