The head of the MBTA on Tuesday accused Gov. Deval Patrick and his appointees of a "pathetic" attempt to pray on the public's fears by falsely accusing him of being AWOL and lacking focus on safety concerns at the mass transit agency.
"I guess they've crossed a line I never would in politics, to exploit what was somebody's death and a lot of serious injuries," MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said during an interview with The Associated Press.
READ THE LETTER: Three MBTA Board Members Question Grabauskas's "Commitment" (PDF)
Grabauskas leveled the charge after three Patrick appointees on the T's board of directors said they had lost confidence in him and complained he was "conspicuously absent" when the National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this month the T lacked a "safety culture."
The agency made the statement following its investigation of a fatal 2008 Green Line crash. It blamed the crash on operator error but chided the T for not installing an automatic braking system that might have prevented two trains from colliding in suburban Newton.
A non-fatal Green Line crash in Boston this May was also blamed on a driver who was sending a text message at the time. The NTSB is also investigating that crash, but Grabauskas has said the Green Line's tight corners and narrow passageways would make using an auto-brake impossible without severely slowing service.
"We have certainly lost confidence in the general manager's ability to take ownership of the failings of an agency he has led for nearly five years," board members Janice Loux, Ferdinand Alvaro and Darnell Williams said Monday in a letter to Transportation Secretary James Aloisi. Also a Patrick appointee, Aloisi doubles at the T's board chairman.
Futhermore, they said they lacked "any confidence that (Grabauskas) can execute a plan that will address our concerns at this critical juncture."
Grabauskas complained that none of the board members had expressed their concerns to him. He also complained he learned of the private letter to Aloisi only from reporters who had received a copy and called to seek his response.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is purely politically motivated by the Patrick administration and the Patrick appointees on this board," he said. "There clearly is no merit to the points in this letter."
Grabauskas picked up support from Sen. Steve Baddour off Methuen, who is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
"Dan has done a very good job, and to attack his integrity and professionalism for political purposes is just wrong," said Baddour, a Democrat like Patrick. "This is an insult to every professional employee in the commonwealth."
The circumstances led him to conclude he was falling victim to a political set-up.
Grabauskas is a Republican. Patrick is a Democrat and has been eager to replace him, but the general manager is under contract for the $255,000-per-year position for the next year.
In the aftermath of the NTSB report, Aloisi claimed Grabauskas didn't return his calls. Grabauskas was on a mandatory furlough due to budget cuts and branded the comment "a lie." He played voicemail messages he said disproved it.
On Tuesday, he said: "Trying to create fear in the public about the safety of transit system to get at one guy is pathetic."
The general manager said he had been planning to review the NTSB's report at the board's next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 6.
He also cited his work on safety issues, including increasing the number of police officers, installing surveillance cameras, seeking extra maintenance funding and employee training.
Patrick's office deferred comment to Aloisi.
In a statement, Aloisi said Tuesday: "I have received correspondence from three MBTA board members that enumerates significant concerns they have about the general manager's performance regarding a variety of safety and operational issues. I will ensure that in the very near future the board and the general manager have the opportunity to fully discuss these issues."
This program aired on July 28, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.