Ex-Pittsfield mayor Evan Dobelle joins voices asking to remove his name from college library

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LOWELL — All signs are pointing toward the Middlesex Community College board of trustees removing former Pittsfield mayor Evan S. Dobelle's name from a library named after him at the college where he served as president for several years.

Among them are:

- On Friday, trustees Chairman James Campbell said the board should not wait until its next meeting, scheduled for June, to take Dobelle's name off the library. Campbell, who did not return requests for comment, said the controversy around the library's name is putting MCC in a negative light and drawing focus away from students who will be graduating this month, Campbell told The Valley Dispatch.

- The board of trustees naming subcommittee voted Monday to recommend, to the full board, removing Dobelle's name.

- Dobelle has also expressed interest in having his name taken off the library.

"I am requesting you as the board chair not to further put yourself or the entire board through this process and to honor my request to simply change the library name back to the Middlesex Library," Dobelle wrote in a letter to Campbell over the weekend.

"This controversy hurts the reputation of the college and the brand of the city of Lowell, both of which I and so many have worked hard to enhance," Dobelle wrote in a copy of the letter he shared with The Berkshire Eagle. Dobelle was traveling Tuesday and unavailable to comment, but he did email The Eagle reports and documents related to his career.

Dobelle, who owns a home in Pittsfield, was Middlesex Community College's president from 1987 to 1990. The suggestion that his name be removed from the library in the Bradford Morse Federal Building came in early May — about four years after the library was dedicated to

Dobelle.

At a May 3 MCC board of trustees meeting, trustee Annie O'Connor said Dobelle does not deserve the MCC honor and made a motion to rename the library. She said honoring Dobelle is an "embarrassment" and cited the Massachusetts Inspector General's 2014 report on Dobelle's "wasteful" spending while president of Westfield State University, from 2008 to 2013. After the investigation, the Massachusetts attorney general sued Dobelle for violating the False Claims Act, alleging Dobelle had lied or misrepresented facts to make at least $100,000 in personal spending look related to his work as university president. To settle the case after about two years in court, Dobelle agreed to pay $185,000 and not to work for or volunteer at any Massachusetts public higher education institution again.

Campbell seemed open to keeping Dobelle's name on the library at first, according to news articles. However, after he received a May 4 letter in support of renaming from the man who led the Westfield University investigation, Inspector General Glenn Cunha, Campbell's opinion solidified.

"His recommendation carries a lot of weight," Campbell said of Cunha, in a statement to The Lowell Sun. "I strongly believe that although former President Dobelle accomplished much while in Lowell, the Inspector General's strong statements that `Mr. Dobelle's conduct demonstrates that he is not worthy of this honor' and `his subsequent pattern of violating the public trust,' would not be in the best interest of the college."

Dobelle claims the investigation was biased.

"I've never spoken with [Cunha] or ever seen him or anyone else who produced this report. I remain troubled by that. Why then and I must say why now?"

Initial reaction to O'Connor's motion ran the gamut. Some people have advocated for a quick name change. Other people argued that while allegations have been made against him, in Middlesex, Dobelle did a good job for the community and the college. Campbell credited Dobelle with putting MCC "on the map" and raising Lowell's profile. In a 2014 MCC release announcing the Dobelle honor, the former college president is described as "a champion of cities" who was "instrumental in the Bedford, Mass., community college's effort to establish a campus in Lowell."

Jack Costello, former editor in chief of The Lowell Sun, said, "like it or not," Dobelle's history with Middlesex Community College had a positive effect on the school.

"Simply put, the people who sit in judgment of Evan Dobelle today would not even be there if not for him. For there would be no Middlesex Community College in Lowell if not for Evan Dobelle," said Costello.

MCC's spokesperson said the community college will not be commenting on the library's name.

Dobelle is now a strategic adviser for Countable, an app that aims to make contacting political representatives easy, according to the app's website, but he has had many jobs in government and higher education. Dobelle began as a Statehouse staff member for Massachusetts Gov. John A. Volpe and later on U.S. Sen. Edward W. Brooke's staff in Boston. He was the commissioner of Environmental Management under Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, and chief of protocol under President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Dobelle was the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and later chairman of the Carter-Mondale Presidential Committee. He was president of Middlesex Community College, City College of San Francisco, Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Westfield State University, and the University of Hawaii. He was named president of the New England Board of Higher Education in 2004.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413 629-4621.

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