You’d think that at a time when the state is about to cut 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, this wouldn’t happen: A state official who was forced out of her post last summer is still drawing a consultant’s salary of more than $6,000 a month. That’s what the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University has learned is happening.
The former state official is Shelly Taylor. In August, she was forced out as head of an obscure but critical state agency, the state's Division of Administrative Law Appeals, or DALA.
The agency is supposed to decide hundreds of cases a year. Professionals, including doctors and day care operators, appeal to DALA when their state-issued licenses are revoked or suspended. Government workers unhappy with their pension calculations do the same.
“As a taxpayer, I am furious,” said Jeff Waite, a former state prison guard. He has been waiting 16 months for Shelly Taylor to decide whether he will get a disability pension.
"She heard the evidence, make a decision. They paid her to do a job, now do it,” Waite said.
Taylor’s 16-month delay in issuing a decision in Waite’s case violates the agency’s own rules that require Taylor to issue a decision within three months.
“It’s like your whole life is on hold,” Waite said.
In August, we told you about Taylor’s record at DALA. Gov. Deval Patrick hired her in 2007 to improve the agency’s efficiency. Instead the waiting time for a hearing almost doubled from one year to two. The number of decisions issued by DALA dropped by half during her tenure.
“We went months and months with no hearing notices. Nothing was scheduled,” said Deborah Kohl, Jeff Waite’s attorney.
The Patrick administration knew about the problems but failed to act until we started asking questions this past summer. Now we’ve learned that Taylor had her own backlog of decisions she was supposed to have written but never did.
And for that Taylor got a reward of sorts: a consultant contract at a rate of $6,300 a month for two months — starting in early September, to finish the work she should have done in her two years on the job.
"That’s absolutely crazy. No sense whatsoever," Waite said.
Dick Heidlage, who Taylor hired as her second in command when she was in charge, is now acting head of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. It was his call to keep Taylor on as a consultant to write decisions Taylor should have written several months ago.
"She believed that she would have the time to write the decisions, have the hearings and write the decisions," Heidlage said. "It just didn’t happen."
In fact, Taylor wrote only two complete case decisions during her two years on the job.
"That is pathetic," said Chris Connolly, who was the head of DALA before Taylor took over the agency and fired him in early 2008. Connolly said he wrote 18-24 decisions a year when he was DALA’s chief magistrate.
"She (Taylor) was unable to get decisions out," Heidlage conceded.
Heidlage said Taylor’s first mistake was assigning herself 41 cases, given her other responsibilities for managing the agency.
“She (Taylor) should not have assigned those cases to herself because she had too much other stuff to do,” Heidlage said.
That other “stuff” included eliminating the Division’s backlog. But Heidlage says Taylor failed at that too.
“She (Taylor) was essentially a choke point for getting work out of the agency. That was the problem,” Heidlage said.
Heidlage says, after Taylor was forced out as the head of DALA, he was faced with the choice of either keeping her on as a consultant to write her backlogged decisions or assigning Taylor’s cases to other magistrates.
“For me to reassign those to another magistrate would have meant for most of them that we would have had to have a rehearing and we were trying to avoid that,” Heidlage said.
In early September, Taylor began the task of writing decisions in 12 cases she had heard during the past two years. She’s been working out of her apartment in Cambridge. As of early this week, she had handed in seven decisions. Five more are due by Friday.
Deborah Kohl, Jeff Waite’s attorney, is concerned.
“That shows to me a lack of supervision of her activities. I would have hoped someone is supervising and saying that these are the expectations out of you, that we will get this many completed on a weekly basis," Kohl said, "not wait until the last minute."
Jeff Waite has all but given up hope that he’ll get a thorough and fair decision.
”She was incapable of doing it while she was on the job. Why should I believe she is capable now?” Waite said.
Dick Heidlage says he will not extend Taylor’s consultant contract beyond this week and that Taylor has agreed to finish her work by Saturday — the end of her contract — or within the next few weeks at no extra charge.
Shelly Taylor did not respond to our requests for an interview.
The state auditor’s office, which began its own investigation of the state Division of Administrative Law Appeals last spring, says it will issue a report on the agency in the next few months.
This story was the result of a joint effort with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University. The center is an investigative reporting collaborative that includes WBUR, The Boston Globe, New England Cable News and El Planeta.
This program aired on November 5, 2009.