Joe Ferreira has been serving the public his whole life.
While he may not be a household name here in Falmouth, the former top cop from Somerset currently serves in a critical role as a Governor’s Councilor, meeting weekly to approve billions in state spending and provide advice and consent on important gubernatorial appointments, including judgeships, magistrates, notaries, justices of the peace, and other quasi-judicial positions.
The districts for the Governor’s Councilors are larger than the nine Congressional districts in the commonwealth, as there are only eight elected councilors. Joe’s district includes all of Cape Cod and the islands, most of the South Shore, and a good portion of the South Coast, encompassing a diverse and varied population and political geography.
Being far from an expert myself on the duties of this enduring and time-tested but somewhat obscure office, I recently reached out to Councilor Ferreira to explore his take on the office he has held since January 2015. I expected a typical polished but political response and a referral to a staff member or website for my research. What I got was much more. I got information, experience, and a new, durable relationship. He not only graciously gave of his time to talk to me about the council and its role in the executive branch, but also invited me to attend one of their weekly meetings in the Governor’s Executive Offices at the State House, which have been held regularly since the council was established in 1780. I arrived at the State House and made an acquaintance with a newly minted politician. I left several hours later with a new friend and fellow public servant. I was impressed with his temperament, his compassion, and his humanistic approach to his work. He has no ‘litmus test’ for judicial appointees, other than being steadfast in his belief that they must possess the proper temperament to allow for fair and reasoned deliberation.
The councilors are modestly compensated for their important weekly work—they are paid slightly over $26,000 annually to sit in judgment on some of the most important decisions any governor can make, the makeup and composition of the jurists and magistrates who comprise the third branch of government—the judiciary. That makes Joe’s work as a Governor’s Councilor a labor of love—and true public service. He handles it with a steady but open hand, taking his elected role as holder of the public trust seriously.
Adroitly run by veteran Boston-based Councilor Christopher Iannella, the council meetings are a fascinating study in the machinations behind this ancient but efficient body. The meeting I attended was a mix of humor, respect, and tradition, blending the entertainment of political banter with the serious business of approving an appointment to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. The nominee, Vicki Henry, was later approved by a wide margin, but the hearing was proof-positive that the council takes its role seriously. They peppered the nominee with thoughtful and pithy questions, and although she answered them with equal thought and pith, their role as arbiters of the governor’s judicial nominating judgment is professionally and thoroughly fulfilled. Joe asked tough, fair questions. He read Justice Henry’s application carefully and met with her, sizing up the temperament that is the cornerstone of his judicial philosophy. He took the time to ask me what I thought as a long-time political observer,and listened intently as I shared my thoughts on the comprehensive, caring, and insightful answers by the intellectual and social justice heavyweight who now sits on the Appeals Court.
As a former police officer who rose to the rank of chief in Somerset, Joe understands local issues. Having also served on that community’s planning board, he also understands the value of volunteers and citizen participation in our government. He passed out 10,000 nail files as he traversed the district during his hard-fought campaign in 2014, stumping 16 hours a day from Brewster to Berkley, and Falmouth to Freetown, meeting a population concerned about their future and those entrusted to guide us toward it.
Before we left the State House for a quick bite to eat, where we sized up the meeting and day’s events over a burger at the 21st Amendment, we stopped by the unpretentiously appointed offices for the councilors, drably appointed with gray cubicles and a telephone, and checked the messages left for the still-new councilor. There is no real pomp—just real work—in the offices of the Governor’s Council. Joe let me listen to a couple to get a flavor for the full-time demands on this part-time job. From objections to the deer hunt on the Blue Hills Reservation, a location far from Joe’s sea-hugging district, to requests for help with a Justice of the Peace license, to calls of frustration on federal immigration policies, the voicemails were a microcosm of the varied nature of today’s public discourse. He handled them like he did his deliberative duties at the meeting—with fairness and care.
Like I said, being a Governor’s Councilor is both a labor of love and true public service. I’m glad to know and to share that we’ve got a true public servant on the job.