Public Has Right to Know If Something Didn’t Happen
By Peter Lucas
Before it does anything in 2019, the leadership in Massachusetts House must first resolve the alleged sexual harassment accusation seemingly lodged against one of its members.
We say “seemingly” because no charges were ever filed against Rep. Paul McMurtry of Dedham, who allegedly, as reported by the Boston Globe, grabbed the backside of a female legislator at an orientation cocktail party for freshman legislators in December.
McMurtry has vehemently denied the charge.
The paper based its story on “several officials who either witnessed or were told of the alleged incident” at the Old Chapel at UMass Amherst.
McMurtry was singled out by the Globe in a page-one story, complete with his picture, that ran Jan. 16. The story was based entirely on unnamed sources who told the paper McMurtry grabbed the backside of a female freshman legislator at the party.
None of those unnamed officials, including the alleged victim, filed a complaint. And none, including the alleged victim, and an alleged eyewitness, has testified before investigators that the incident actually took place and that McMurtry was the perpetrator.
The whole thing, based on the anonymously sourced Globe story, may be a nasty fabrication, or a hoax, designed by several progressives to smear McMurtry and embarrass House Speaker Robert DeLeo. It certainly has damaged McMurtry’s reputation.
However, the investigation is expected to clear McMurtry. And if it does, the question arises of where McMurtry goes to get his reputation restored. The answer is nowhere.
The fallout from the unsubstantiated story roiled the Legislature and set back the time table for committee assignments, including the appointment of committee chairmen.
McMurtry, who was chairman of the House Committee on Personnel and Administration in the last session of the Legislature, was scheduled to be named chairman of the Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development for the current session.
However, when DeLeo announced his committee chairmanships Feb. 14, McMurtry’s expected listing as chairman was left blank, pending the outcome of the investigation.
McMurtry, a five-term member of the House, in private life runs the Dedham Community Theatre.
Committee chairmanships are much sought after in that the extra stipend that goes with them boosts the average salary of $67,000 for a representative to close to $100,000.
DeLeo, upon hearing about the alleged “inappropriate conduct” at the cocktail party brought in Cynthia Farquhar, an outside consultant, to investigate the matter, as the House has yet to hire a permanent equal employment opportunity officer.
DeLeo is so concerned about sexual-harassment stories in the House that he ordered an investigation even though no complaints were filed.
Farquhar has questioned legislators who attended the cocktail party, including the alleged victim, the alleged eye witness and a couple of other legislators who told the Globe that the female victim had told them about the grabbing incident.
While people in the Legislature, as well as some reporters who cover the Statehouse, know the names of the legislators involved, their names, outside of McMurtry, have not been made public, given the nature of the allegations.
Even as the report by Farquhar is being wrapped up, there is no promise that it will be made public. Given that it is an alleged sensitive sexual-harassment case, DeLeo and his leadership team have gone out of their way not to talk about it.
However, if McMurtry gets his chairmanship it will be a sign that he has been absolved of any “inappropriate behavior.”
But that alone will not be enough to put the matter to rest. A lot of questions will be raised about a coverup if there is no accompanying report absolving McMurtry.
Also, there are veteran legislators who want the anonymous legislators who made the charges against McMurtry publicly named.
“If this is a hoax, then the names of the people who hatched it should be made public,” one ranking Democrat said. “Otherwise, it could happen to me or to you.”
It would be a mistake not to release the names of the legislators who promoted this framing of McMurtry on false information. They not only did a lot of damage to him, but to the image of the Legislature as well, such as it is.
There is an out, though. Any legislator can file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee to revisit the situation and hold the instigators of the nasty event responsible.
Presumably their names will be made public.
After all, the public has the right to know, doesn’t it?