If you’re one of Boston’s 18,000 municipal employees, you just lost some important First Amendment rights. If your paycheck says your employer is the City of Boston, your boss, Mayor Marty Walsh, has contractually barred you from saying anything negative about the prospect of hosting the Olympics in 2024. Section 2.05 of the Joinder Agreement with the U.S. Olympics Committee says that no public employee may make comments that reflect unfavorably on or otherwise disparage the City’s Olympic bid or anyone engaged in the process. The document even contains the expectation that workers will speak positively of the bid, regardless of what they think.
Walsh insists his whole life he has been a defender of free speech, and I have no reason to doubt his record. But he appears to have passively accepted the restrictive language in the USOC agreement. What was important, he said, was to get the agreement signed. He shrugged off that obnoxious section as “boilerplate.” Big mistake! Boilerplate language in a contract is binding on the parties. What’s the punishment for a city worker who violates the ban? Is it a potentially fireable offense? Or something that might subject the employee to opprobrium or change of assignment? If it was boilerplate and not to be enforced, as Walsh implied, why accept it in the document in the first place? Did he even protest the inclusion of such language at all, or did he just roll over?
The IOC has a reputation for high-handedness toward host cities. If the USOC or IOC demanded that the provision be enforced as a condition for the Boston bid going forward, what would Walsh do? Is there no point at which Walsh would stand up to either of them and say enough is enough.?
Some nine public meetings are to be held to get public feedback on bringing the Olympics to Boston in 2024. What’s unclear is the extent to which negative feedback, with or without a referendum, will have any impact at all on Boston 2024’s determination to be host city for the games. Are the public hearings just a pacifier?
Everyone whose lives could be affected by one or another venue, or on the roadways, should be able to speak out freely. So, too, should the myriad taxpayers, inside and outside the city, who are likely to be asked to cover the gap between private dollars and actual costs or suffer the burden of opportunity costs incurred in going forward. Does anyone in a position of power actually give a darn what regular folks think?
Maybe the only reason that people are not as angry with Walsh as they should be is the distraction of the Patriots and “inflategate.” Rest assured, the Olympics bid is a much longer lasting issue.
No one, pro or con, should be barred from free-speaking participation in the public Olympics process, and that especially includes people who work for the City of Boston.
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