Closer look at city’s fees and debtors

By Clive McFarlane

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If we are to follow the prevailing code of honor among constable service providers in Massachusetts, Arthur Tatro of Spencer and Alan Jeskey are dishonorable in their persistence to obey the law, that is, to pay the fees demanded of them by law for carrying out their duties in serving court papers. To be sure, turning over 25 percent of what they make as constables serving court papers stinks, but they nevertheless hold their noses and do the right thing. Not so with many of their colleagues, including some big-time operators in Worcester such as Francis J. Trapasso and Associates and Edward Moynihan of Edward George & Associates. Speaking with my colleague Shaun Sutner, who broke the story this week, Mr. Moynihan boldly noted that he “made a business decision” not to pay the fees. Yes, Mr. Moynihan is the same concerned citizen who led the opposition to the Worcester slots parlor proposal, which potentially could have dumped millions of dollars annually into the city’s coffers. Can you see a pattern here? The constable lawbreakers argue that paying the fees is unfair and puts them at a competitive disadvantage, which doesn’t compute if everyone is following the law. As it stands, it is law abiders like Mr. Jeskey and Mr. Tatro who are being competitively disadvantaged. The lawbreakers argue that the 2003 provision mandating the remittance of 25 percent of their gross court services revenue to the treasury of their local municipality was “sneaked into law.” What they conveniently refrain from disclosing is that this same 2003 law doubled the fees they were allowed to collect for their services.  Far from being punitive on the constable business, the law, which was placed on the books to help municipalities meet their fiscal challenges, increased the potential revenues of constables even with them remitting 25 percent of their yearly take. By refusing to remit the 25 percent of their annual take, these constables are robbing the treasuries of local municipalities, and in Worcester they are doing so not with a mask and a gun, but with an escort from City Manager Mike O’Brien. The law, according to Mr. O’Brien, was “passed by the state without input from any city or town,” and, he added, “Pursuing these minimal returns would be a drain on the great work of the treasurer’s office.” But how much work is it to give the boot to a non-paying Worcester constable, who after all is appointed to his position by the city? Of course we know how Mr. O’Brien hates going after some debtors. Earlier this year we heard how police working off-duty details are paid not directly by those who contract their services, but by the city, and how the city has failed to collect some $350,000 in delinquent detail payments in 2012. Mr. O’Brien, who is a bastion of bureaucracy, perhaps believes the city needs an entire department, with commissioners, assistant commissioners, legal assistants and assorted office workers, to process constable remittances and police detail reimbursements. Or perhaps some debtors are not as defenseless as some of Mr. O’Brien’s preferred targets, schoolchildren, for example. Last year, Mr. O’Brien charged the Worcester public schools a whopping $4.8 million in administrative fees, and will take $5.1 million next school year. In addition, he raised the amount the city charges the school system for processing grant funding from $400,000 to $1.2 million a year. How much of an impact, in terms of computers, books and teaching positions, would collecting police details and constable fees have on the city’s classrooms? I can assure you the impact would be far from minimal.