Boston City Council attorney alleges toxic work environment, bullying by 3 councilors

An attorney for the Boston City Council has filed an internal complaint against three councilors, accusing them of bullying and berating her during an April meeting.

The newly revealed allegations against councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Kendra Lara, and Julia Mejia add to a growing list of ethics scandals surrounding the city’s legislative body.

“There is a toxic work environment at the City Council where individuals are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution or retaliation,” the lawyer, Christine O’Donnell, wrote in an April 18 letter obtained by WBUR. O’Donnell, who is staff counsel and compliance director for the council, said she was intimidated by one councilor and ridiculed by others.

The existence of the letter, addressed to council staff director Michelle Goldberg, was first reported by the Boston Herald.

The allegations stem from a portion of an April 12 meeting regarding the council’s acrimonious redistricting process. Councilor Erin Murphy, who opposed the council’s new district map, sought to file a hearing order to address possible violations of the redistricting committee.

Council President Ed Flynn then moved to assign the hearing order to the full council committee that reviews disputes. Councilor Arroyo objected, saying it should go to the redistricting committee.

Flynn called a recess to discuss the rules with the city clerk and staff attorney. As they spoke, “Councilor Arroyo was yelling out from his seat continuously,” O’Donnell wrote. “I felt intimidated and bullied by Councilor Arroyo’s actions.”

O’Donnell also said she heard Councilor Lara say, “We do not have to listen to Christine O’Donnell.” She wrote that Councilor Mejia suggested they instead consult Goldberg, the council’s “real attorney.”

“These remarks were directed at me and appear to attack my integrity and character,” O’Donnell wrote.

Reached for comment Tuesday, Councilor Arroyo pushed back at this description of events.

“The entirety of this exchange was between myself and Councilor Ed Flynn on the floor, on video, in front of media and the public,” he said in a statement. He said his remarks were directed only at Flynn, and were not discriminatory towards O’Donnell.

Because the back-and-forth occurred during a council recess, the cameras were turned off and it was not captured on video. A Boston Globe report from the meeting describes Flynn and Arroyo having a “frosty exchange.”

Councilors Lara and Mejia did not return requests for comment.

On Tuesday, Flynn posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, writing that it’s critical for the council to promote a culture where everyone feels welcome and is “not subject to any type of bullying or harassment.”

Flynn held a working session on workplace bullying last Thursday. He did not respond to questions about whether he took any other concrete actions following O’Donnell’s complaint.

This complaint is only the latest in a string of clashes and embarrassing episodes involving the council.

Arroyo in June was fined $3,000 for violating state conflict-of-interest laws, for representing his brother in a sexual harassment case. He also was named a player in a federal ethics probe that ultimately led to U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins’ resignation.

Councilor Kendra Lara faces criminal charges after crashing her car into a home in Jamaica Plain last month. Lara is charged with operating an unregistered motor vehicle, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, driving with a suspended license, and operating negligently and recklessly permitting bodily injury to a child.

Walter Wuthmann General Assignment Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live