By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — A month after relinquishing two posts while cooperating with an ethics probe into allegations that he improperly used his public office to benefit his legal clients, Sen. Brian Joyce has maintained his co-chairmanship of a special Senate panel charged with improving government performance.
Joyce, a Milton Democrat and early ally of Sen. Stanley Rosenberg in his quest to become president two years ago, on May 8 temporarily gave up his positions as assistant majority leader and chair of the Bills in Third Reading Committee. But he was not asked by Rosenberg to relinquish his position atop the new Senate Special Committee to Improve Government.
Senators created that new committee on April 15, adopting a Joyce order establishing a panel charged with “examining and evaluating performance, efficiency, service-delivery and transparency across all public agencies, quasi-public entities and municipalities . . . ” At the time, Joyce said the panel would “likely” produce legislation.
Asked if Joyce was still helming the committee, Rosenberg spokesman Pete Wilson told the News Service, “Officially, Senator Joyce is still chair of that committee.”
Wilson declined comment when asked why Joyce’s service on that committee was continuing while his other official responsibilities had been laid aside during the ethics investigation.
After a Boston Globe article suggesting Joyce “frequently blurred the lines between his public duties and his private business,” Rosenberg asked Joyce to temporarily give up his two leadership posts until the matter was resolved. Joyce said at the time he would cooperate with an Ethics Commission investigation, and expressed confidence the review would find that he “conducted himself appropriately.”
The Globe article cited Joyce’s advocacy before state regulators on behalf of Energi, a client and Peabody company that sells insurance to businesses in the energy sector. Prior to accepting his appointment to lead the government improvement committee, Joyce requested to be removed from the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.
Joyce discussed the new committee’s aspirations during April 15 floor remarks. “This is actually a pretty cool thing that we’re doing,” Joyce said, noting the idea for the bipartisan panel of four Democrats and four Republicans emerged during talks with Rosenberg.
“All of you who chair committees you have things coming at you so quickly often you only have an opportunity to react,” Joyce said. “Here we thought we would step back and try to be proactive and see how we might make government more effective as well as more efficient.”
“We will be rolling out a very open, transparent process,” he said, adding that the panel would solicit input from “stakeholders.”
Joyce told the News Service in an email on Tuesday that the committee would begin holding hearings after July 1, but did not address his continued service as co-chair of the committee. The tentative schedule and list of potential invitees to testify, including Gov. Charlie Baker and a long lineup of top Beacon Hill officials, calls for six hearings focused on government oversight and improved performance, executive office efficiency, municipal efficiency, judicial efficiency, information technology, and long-term liabilities.
Joyce said he and his staff have been meeting individually with members of the committee and the senator hosted a meeting with Pew Charitable Trusts and has had discussions with the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments. At the urging of other committee members to engage local think tanks, Joyce said he has also met with the Pioneer Institute, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and plans follow ups with each group later this month.
Legislative Information Services is also working with Joyce and the committee to set up a website and other social media tools to help the committee engage the public, according to Joyce.
Sens. Michael Barrett, Will Brownsberger and Jason Lewis, all Democrats, and Sens. Vinny deMacedo, Don Humason and Richard Ross, all Republicans, are also on the committee. Joyce said no additional staff has been hired, but he is in discussions with Rosenberg about possibly hiring a data analyst in the new fiscal year and is exploring ways to partner with area universities for free assistance.
Andy Metzger contributed reporting.