Editorial: Another farce for Middlesex County

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As has long been the case with stories about Middlesex County government, the arrest last week of Register of Probate John Buonomo combines outrage and farce.

Buonomo was caught on camera taking change out of copying machines in his office and another machine in the register of deeds office across the hall. He has been charged with more than 30 criminal offenses. He has been put on unpaid administrative leave pending a trial, and presumably authorities have taken away his keys to the copy machines.

Petty thievery is an outrage in any case, and doubly so when the accused thief is already being paid more than $100,000 a year by the taxpayers of Middlesex County.

Here's the farce: Buonomo is up for re-election in November and, so far, says he doesn't intend to withdraw. And he has no opponent, in either the Democratic primary or the general election.

Nor will it be easy for anyone else to waltz into Buonomo's high-pay, no-heavy-lifting job. Another Democrat or a Republican would have to draw at least 1,000 write-in votes in the Sept. 16 primary to have their names placed on the November ballot.

Buonomo could make a graceful exit by withdrawing from the race by Sept. 23, allowing Democratic town committees to choose a replacement candidate by caucus, and we hope he will.

But the larger problem is one that has plagued county government in Massachusetts for decades: Few people know or care who their county officials are, nor should they. The register of probate job is important if you are a lawyer filing wills or dealing with child custody cases. The register manages the office, and should do the job competently. But he needs no broad public mandate, and there's no reason he should be elected. That's why not one Middlesex County resident in 100 could tell you who the register of probate is - at least not until he was caught on camera with his hand in the coin box.

The lack of accountability inherent in anachronistic government institutions has led to waste, scandal and insolvency, which is why the state finally abolished county government in 1997. But when the Legislature tried to kill county government, it failed to put a wooden stake through its heart, allowing county offices like the register of probate to survive, headed by near-anonymous politicians like Buonomo, for whom a single election generally means a lifetime sinecure.

Until they get caught, of course. John Buonomo has now achieved a notoriety he never would have gained by being re-elected without opposition every six years.

While the courts deal with Buonomo, the Legislature should look at abolishing all elected county positions - with the exception of district attorney - and putting their operations under the supervision of the office of Secretary of State.

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