Globe Editorial

At his own peril, burrito maker takes on the Big Enchilada

April 26, 2011

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NEXT TIME Mayor Menino needs lunch, he should pay a visit to the Boloco on School Street. After his display of mayoral pique last week during an embarrassing controversy over burritos donated by the local chain, it’s the least he could do.

The imbroglio started when a Menino aide asked John S. Pepper, the chief executive of Boloco, to donate 200 burritos for a celebration marking the start of the city’s bike-sharing program. Pepper agreed. And that’s where the story should have ended — with a gracious thank-you from the city.

Instead, the Inspectional Services Department got wind of the plan, and demanded that Pepper produce a permit for distributing food outdoors. Businesses should always have the required permits. But in this case, Boloco was only handing out burritos because the city had requested them on short notice. So, officials should either have arranged the paperwork themselves or gone out of their way to help Pepper get it. Instead, Pepper says he was mistreated, and one official threatened to shut down one of the chain’s locations unless Pepper ponied up $30 for the permit. He finally obtained the permit shortly before the event.

The brusque, reflexively bureaucratic manner in which Pepper was treated will surely make other businesses think twice before doing any favors for the city. That would be bad enough, but then came the mayor’s unwarranted dressing down of Pepper after he had the temerity to complain publicly.

In remarks to a Globe reporter on Friday, Menino took umbrage at Pepper’s criticism of the city on Facebook and Twitter. “He wants to blog, make news?’’ Menino said on Friday. “OK, you do your blog.’’ Later, the two men talked on the phone; after the conversation, Pepper said, “He thinks I could have gone about this in a more positive manner.’’

Clearly, though, it’s Menino who was out of line. Like anyone else, Pepper has the right to call out questionable behavior by public officials. Pepper doesn’t owe the city his silence. But the mayor owes him an apology on behalf of the city — and perhaps, a burrito purchase for good measure.