In just her first week stationed at City Hall, Diane Lees – an aide to State Rep. Joe McGonagle – has been able to solve housing issues and even insurance quandaries.
Those are likely questions that would have lingered for years or required a visit into Boston to solve before Lees began keeping office hours at City Hall on Jan. 21 – a move championed by Rep. McGonagle through Speaker Bob DeLeo’s agreement to provide him more staff members.
Now, Lees can be permanently stationed in the district, while a new staffer takes over for her at the State House.
“Before this, I was at the Connolly Center on Fridays only, and now I’m here in City Hall four days a week from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” she said. “I can come in any time with an appointment. I have a phone here, and I’m stationed in the front lobby at the desk.”
McGonagle said he has asked for several years to get additional funding from the Speaker to hire more staff. He said he had always hoped to work with Mayor Carlo DeMaria to get a staff member from the State House in City Hall. That, he said, allows residents to have easier access to state leaders, but also it allows City officials to be able to access that same knowledge base.
“I’m grateful to the Speaker and the mayor for bringing my office here,” he said. “It gets immediate results. People are more comfortable coming to City Hall with their issues. They won’t come into Boston from Everett. It’s extremely important we deal with these issues here. We want to get this down so that if we need to go to someone’s house, then we can do that for them.”
Mayor DeMaria said he was happy to provide the space.
“We are happy to provide space for Diane to work on state issues in City Hall,” he said. “This partnership will offer a combination of services to city residents, which then will allow residents to access both state and city services at one location. Convenience is our top priority.”
Lees said during one of her first days, she had a woman in public housing who was told she had to move from veterans’ housing as her husband had passed away. It was causing the woman a lot of stress, and she was able to connect with Lees. Using her years of experience and contacts at the State House, she was able to resolve the issue in a matter of hours and ensure that the woman didn’t have to move.
“This is the type of thing if you’re not in the situation and don’t feel it, you may not know how critical it is to someone,” McGonagle said. “People come into City Hall with these issues. They are willing to talk about them here. That was huge for that woman not to have to relocate. That’s peace of mind we can offer. It’s big.”
Added Lees, “When people call into these state offices, they get no information. It’s not that I’m doing anything magical, but it makes a difference when we call. Over the last five years, I’ve developed a rapport with many of the state offices and commissioners. Sometimes I can call the right person and it gets done quicker.”
There is also more opportunity for residents to provide feedback on certain bills without having to call the State House or make a trip. They are free to let Lees know what their opinions are, which she will relay to Rep. McGonagle.
Lees will work Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Her direct number at City Hall is (617) 944-0237.