Globe Editorial

DiPaola: The scandal is what’s legal

Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola took the high road. Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola took the high road. (George Rizer/Globe Staff)
November 24, 2010

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In the end, Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola made a decision he could take pride in, choosing not to take advantage of a potentially lucrative loophole in state pension laws. What’s disturbing is that the laws ever offered him the temptation to double-dip.

Though the longtime sheriff won reelection on Nov. 2, Sunday’s Globe reported that he’d filed retirement papers just a few days earlier. If he declined a paycheck until January, when his new term would begin, he’d be eligible not only for his $123,000 annual salary, but for a $98,500 annual pension as well. This presumably wasn’t what the Legislature intended when it let retired public servants run for elected office without jeopardizing their pensions. But the law wasn’t written strictly enough.

Indeed, the only obstacle was DiPaola’s own second thoughts, which multiplied after the Globe’s Sean P. Murphy alluded to how the pension ploy might damage the sheriff’s legacy. “From a financial perspective it was great,’’ DiPaola said. “It was legal. But I tossed and turned all night. I did put myself first this time, and I don’t want it to end that way.’’

Perhaps DiPaola shouldn’t be taking too many bows; it was self-serving even to consider such a tricky maneuver. But the annals of pension provocations are replete with officeholders who not only exploit existing loopholes, but push the Legislature to create more. Maybe more officials will feel pangs of conscience, but the law should protect taxpayers no matter what. Governor Patrick plans to seek legislation banning the maneuver that DiPaola almost used, and the Legislature should quickly pass it.