Gov. Baker Asks Transportation Board To Resign

Gov. Charlie Baker has asked members of the state transportation board, with the exception of his transportation secretary, to resign after Wednesday's board meeting.

A representative from the governor's office asked the members to resign, and the request was also made in writing, according to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who also serves on the board.

A task force convened by Baker to review the MBTA's operations called for the transportation board to be replaced by a temporary fiscal control board overseeing the MBTA and a new Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Board. Legislation authorizing a fiscal control board has not surfaced yet on Beacon Hill.

The current board was set up during a past transportation reform effort and consists of six members appointed by Deval Patrick, the previous governor, to oversee the MBTA and MassDOT.

In the last 24 hours, the six transportation board members were specifically asked to not resign before the Wednesday board meeting in order for the board to conduct its business, which included passing a fiscal 2016 budget proposal and reducing late night MBTA service, Pollack said.

"At this point we're expecting resignations, I think the hope would be that we would have a quorum of a new board in place for the regularly scheduled May meeting," she told reporters after the meeting.

During their meeting on Wednesday, board members avoided talk of the resignation requests or the recommendation for a finance control board. Janice Loux, the longest serving member of the board and a top union official, did not attend the meeting.

The meeting was the board's first since the task force report was released a week ago.

Pollack provided board members and state transportation staffers with a general overview of the panel report but she did not mention the recommendation for a fiscal control board. Interim MBTA general manager Frank DePaola also did not mention the fiscal control board during his report to the board.

The chair of the current board, John Jenkins, then moved on to reports from other administrators.

Asked if the governor contacted him to resign, Jenkins declined comment to reporters after the meeting.

"The Legislature created us, and the Legislature will have to eliminate us," Jenkins said, as Pollack stood a few feet away. "So that report means nothing until the Legislature acts."

Jenkins was also asked whether he agreed with the task force's report. He again pointed to the Legislature and said, "I will respect whatever they come up with, really."

Peppered with further questions by reporters, Jenkins finally said, "I've got a 4:30 in town, I gotta run, thank you."

The task force report was deeply critical of MBTA management, citing that as among the reasons that the transit authority was reeling.

Pollack said there didn't appear to be any reason to bring up the governor's request for their resignations during the meeting.

"The governor and I both share the belief that the panel did not ask this group to resign because of anything they did, but in order to basically hit the re-set button and give the MBTA a fresh start," she said. "And he wanted to make the request in a way that he considered respectful, so there has been a quiet request made."

According to MassDOT's website, the current board members are Jenkins, a Natick resident and president of the West Insurance Agency; Dominic Blue, Longmeadow resident and vice president and assistant general counsel of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company; Joseph Bonfiglio, business manager for the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers' District Council; Robin Chase, founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the car-sharing company; Andrew Whittle, a geotechnical engineer, and Loux.

All were previously appointed to staggered four-year terms. The terms of Chase and Bonfiglio are up in September 2015, while Whittle's is due to expire in 2016. The terms of Jenkins and Blue are due to expire in 2017, and Loux's term expires in 2018.

Pollack, the seventh member as transportation secretary, is co-terminus with the governor.

The task force report called for legislation that would establish of a five-member fiscal control and management board to oversee the MBTA for three to five years. The report also called for a change in current law to allow for the transportation secretary to chair a MassDOT board, with a majority of members serving conterminously with the governor.

During Wednesday's board meeting, Pollack said the panel's report included a number of recommendations for the executive branch that do not need legislative approval. "We're not waiting for the Legislature," she said, while adding that they will work with lawmakers for recommendations that do require legislative approval.

Pollack said she's pursuing the idea of bringing on a consultant to help fight potential abuse of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act at the MBTA. According to the task force report, 30 percent of the workforce is certified to take paid unscheduled, intermittent leave under the act.

Pollack added the administration will set up a system to internally track how well they're complying with the panel's recommendations for the executive branch, which she described as a "tough love prescription."

Pollack also mentioned the proposed $38 billion budget proposal House Democrats released Wednesday, saying it contains "good news in there, I think, for all of us."

The House Democrats' proposal includes $187 million for the MBTA that Gov. Baker has also proposed. The proposal also includes a task force recommendation to lift the Pacheco Law for five years for the MBTA. That law sets standards that must be met in order to facilitate private delivery of public services.

This article was originally published on April 15, 2015.



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