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The Patrick administration staged a costly takeover of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Thursday, buying out General Manager Daniel Grabauskas's contract for $327,000 and vowing to install a new chief it said would be more focused on customer service and safety.
"It's in the public's interest to have a fresh perspective on the MBTA. It's in the public's interest to move away from the status quo. It's in the public's interest to move away from the kind of customer service that people haven't been satisfied with," Transportation Secretary James Aloisi told reporters after four hours of closed-door negotiations.
Grabauskas's resignation was effective immediately. His job atop the principal subway, bus and commuter rail provider for Greater Boston will be filled on an interim basis by William Mitchell, the T's general counsel.
Gov. Deval Patrick criticized the buyout package as excessive.
The governor "strongly disagrees with the decision of the board to approve a compensation agreement that is out of line with both the fiscal condition of the MBTA and the job performance of the general manager," spokesman Kyle Sullivan said.
The agency has been hurt by a high debt load, declining sales tax revenue and costly environmental settlements stemming from the Big Dig project in Boston.
Earlier in the day, Patrick said he opposed paying Grabauskas for the full remainder of his contract, but in the end, that is what happened. He will receive $215,000 in base compensation, $44,000 for unused vacation days, $32,000 for unused sick days, and $35,000 in deferred and other pay - plus full health insurance until the term of his contract ended on May 15, 2010.
While Aloisi helped negotiate the deal, he was among three board members who voted against it. The others were
board members Janice Loux and Darnell Williams, both appointed or reappointed by the governor.
Sen. Steve Baddour of Methuen, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, lambasted the deal. Though a Democrat like Patrick, he joined other prominent party officials such as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in lobbying to retain Grabauskas.
"It is discouraging beyond words to watch the governor and the soon-to-be-abolished MBTA board spend their time trying to settle a political score at taxpayers' expense, when we have so many serious matters that need focus," Baddour said.
Patrick told reporters he has safety concerns following two Green Line crashes in the past year. He also announced Thursday he had asked former John Hancock executive David D'Alessandro to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the MBTA, which carries 1.2 million passengers daily on subways, buses and commuter trains.
"With due respect to the general manager, my first concern is not the general manager," Patrick said during an appearance in Arlington. "I want to be respectful to him. I want to see that he is treated fairly. But my concern is about the safety of the riders."
Grabauskas argued Patrick and Aloisi, both Democrats, attacked him because he is a Republican appointee. He also pledged not to resign, setting up an impasse settled only through a contract buyout.
It comes at a politically sensitive time for the administration, which is already facing criticism for approving a 25 percent sales tax increase and is now moving toward an increase in MBTA fares and Massachusetts Turnpike tolls.
Aloisi, who doubles as the T's board chairman, said he would not ask his colleagues to approve a fare increase until D'Alessandro completed his review later this year.
During a regularly scheduled board meeting sandwiched around the settlement negotiations, Grabauskas told members he had decided to withhold a planned presentation responding to the conclusions in a recent federal investigation of a 2008 Green Line crash. The accident in suburban Newton killed 24-year-old trolley operator Terrese Edmonds and injured seven people.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report about the accident on Thursday.
"Discounting an intentional and willful disregard for her own safety and that of the passengers, for which the investigation found no evidence, the only reasonable explanation is that the operator - during or slightly after beginning to accelerate out of Waban station - lost awareness of her environment," the NTSB wrote. It blamed Edmonds's lack of awareness on an undiagnosed "micro-sleep" disorder.
Grabauskas told The Associated Press on Wednesday he planned to say some of the National Transportation Safety Board's findings - later seized upon by Patrick and Aloisi - were speculative or contained factual errors.
The presentation he prepared underscored the NTSB determined the crash was caused by operator error, not systematic problems. Her trolley ran a red light and collided with another train just leaving another stop light.
Grabauskas said the agency's conclusions about Edmonds were couched in tentative language. He said there were no medical findings to support it, and Edmonds' family disputed it.
The former general manager also bristled at criticism leveled by an NTSB board member, former airline pilot Robert Sumwalt. Sumwalt said during the board's crash hearing last month the T lacked a "safety culture."
Grabauskas, in his first public response, said: "I don't know why he went off like that, but it's blatantly false."
Cynthia Gallo, the T's director of system safety, accused the NTSB of reaching conclusions not supported by evidence.
"As an investigator myself, it's very difficult to admit you don't know," she told the AP. "I've been in that position myself. But you have to. If the dots don't connect, you can't connect them."
Grabauskas said an NTSB conclusion that the T did not require its drivers to report broken signals - one of the signals at the accident site was stuck on red - was contradicted by a longstanding rule requiring such reporting.
An NTSB spokesman had no immediate response.
This program aired on August 6, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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