Friday, March 13, 2009

Deval .. how could he do this?

Governor Deval Patrick, who campaigned on a platform to fight business as usual on Beacon Hill, has given one of his earliest political supporters a $175,000-a-year job as an assistant director at a state bonding authority, a position that had sat vacant for more than a dozen years.

State Senator Marian Walsh's appointment was approved yesterday by the board of the Massachusetts Health and Education Facilities Authority, which is dominated by Patrick appointees. The new post will give her a pay raise of nearly $100,000 a year. The agency said Walsh will head its new effort to reach out to other authorities and state agencies to create savings by pooling resources.

Republicans sharply criticized Patrick yesterday for appointing Walsh, a nine-term West Roxbury Democrat, to such a high-paying post as the nation slides into serious recession and the state government is slashing its budget and laying people off. The appointment comes as unemployment in the private sector has risen to 7.4 percent.

"Creating a job for Marian Walsh does not count as one of the thousands of jobs Governor Patrick promised to create in Massachusetts," said Barney Keller, the GOP spokesman. "Instead of rewarding supporters with high-paying jobs, the governor should focus on creating jobs for the thousands of unemployed taxpayers."

Two years ago, Patrick appointed Walsh's husband - Paul V. Buckley, a retired District Court judge - to the state's Industrial Accident Board, a post that pays $113,000 a year. That job will sharply increase his state pension. Walsh had applied to Patrick's Judicial Nominating Commission to become a district court judge, but she withdrew her name a year ago.

Joseph Landolfi, the governor's spokesman, did not respond directly to the GOP criticism. He issued a statement saying that Walsh was "highly qualified" for the post and that the governor's office looks forward to working with her.

Walsh's office said she would not be available to comment on her new job.

In a joint statement, the Massachusetts Health and Education Facilities Authority chairman, Allen Larson, and its executive director, Benson Caswell, said Walsh's 20 years of experience in the Legislature gives her the credentials for the job. "She is a highly qualified and well-respected individual," they said in the written statement.

Walsh had originally been slated to take over as executive director of the facilities authority, but the governor's staff backed down after the Globe published an e-mail in May 2008 from a Walsh adviser to Patrick's chief of staff that detailed a plan to push Caswell out of the $225,000-a-year position, pack the board with Patrick supporters, and then have the board appoint her to his position.

Walsh, the Senate majority whip, will see a significant boost in her current $76,440 state salary. But the authority is not part of the state pension system, and her new salary will not boost her state retirement benefits. The agency, which secures tax-exempt capital financing for hospitals, colleges and universities, cultural and research institutions, and human service providers, has a private savings retirement system.The veteran lawmaker had been looking to give up her seat for a state job for several years. Beacon Hill officials have said her relationship with Senate President Therese Murray has been strained. She has held the Senate seat since 1992, after serving two terms in the House.

Murray issued a statement yesterday praising Walsh, saying she has been a "strong advocate for her constituents and a champion of important issues."'

Caswell has extensive experience in public bonding and non-profit debt.

Walsh's credentials in public bonding are not as strong. She holds a theological degree from Harvard Divinity School and a law degree from Suffolk University. She has worked on state finance and financial regulation issues, serving as Senate chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Joint Committee on Banks and Banking. She also led efforts in the Senate to force private, nonprofit organizations to open their books to the public.

Walsh was one of the first state political figures to back what was then considered a long-shot bid by Patrick to win the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006. Within days after winning the governor's race, Patrick, having vowed to upend the political culture on Beacon Hill, told reporters that state legislators should not expect patronage appointments from him.

DiMasi/DeLeo twins?

What was a bad week for Salvatore F. DiMasi when he resigned as House speaker turned out to be a great week for a dozen House staff members, who got raises and promotions on DiMasi's way out the door.

On his second to last day in office in January, DiMasi boosted the pay of 10 House employees, including his driver, Daniel Petrigno, whom he made a court officer, one of a cadre of uniformed men and women whose primary responsibility is keeping order in the House.

He gave thousands of dollars in raises to two other court officers and to staff members working for favored committee chairman. The pay increases ranged from 4 to 66 percent and cost $65,000.

That tally increased when his successor, Representative Robert A. DeLeo, assumed office the same week and immediately gave his entire staff raises, some as high as 56 percent. In the following weeks, he hiked the pay of several staff members working for his new leadership team.

It is not unprecedented for a new speaker to give raises to his staff members, to reflect their new responsibilities, nor is it routine. But some questioned whether it was appropriate for an outgoing speaker to be so generous, especially given the ethical cloud hanging over DiMasi when he left, or for any raises to be given at all, in such grim economic times.

"Now is clearly not the time for us in government to be seeking pay raises, " said Representative Karyn Polito, Republican of Shrewsbury. "I'm hearing daily from individuals and families who are suffering more than ever. It is incumbent upon government officials to demonstrate a connection to our constituents. We may need to consider salary freezes, hiring freezes, and furloughs as a way to balance our budget during this crisis."

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell defended the raises for aides of the new speaker and the new leadership team, saying in an e-mailed statement that they "reflect entirely new jobs and expanded responsibilities." He said the total amount paid to staff in the speaker's office and House Ways and Means Committee is less than that of their predecessors.

Combined with increases DiMasi gave out in spurts over the past year, the two House speakers bumped staff pay more than $900,000 over the past 11 months as the national economy began a precipitous decline and the state confronted an ever greater deficit.

DiMasi could not be reached for comment.

Many of the increases in staff salaries were made as lawmakers themselves were receiving an automatic 5 percent pay raise in January that added more than $500,000 to the House payroll. Just 17 out of 160 representatives, including Polito, declined the raises, citing the weak economy and the financial struggles of their constituents.Continued...

DeLeo was not among those 17.

In his last days in office, DiMasi gave raises to aides of Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Democrat of Chicopee, and Representative John J. Binienda, Democrat of Worcester, according to payroll records. They are chairmen of the transportation and revenue committees. He also increased the hours and pay of an aide to Representative Richard J.Ross, Republican of Wrentham, whose last-minute switch on Governor Deval Patrick's casino plan helped ensure its defeat in committee last year. DiMasi was the proposal's most ardent foe.

He also found a job for defeated Gloucester representative Anthony J. Verga, who started working as a $40,000-a-year senior administrative aide in the House clerk's office on Jan. 7. DiMasi attempted to add a carpenter to the House payroll, according to one legislative official, but was thwarted by DeLeo, who halted the hiring before the man's paperwork was complete.

DiMasi gave a promotion and 3.7 percent raise to his driver, Petrigno, making him a $38,500-a-year court officer.

The House speaker has absolute authority to hire, promote, or grant pay raises. In 2008 DiMasi used that power to reward some and ignore others, handing out more than $700,000 in raises and promotions. In July, DiMasi gave his 19-member staff 6 percent raises. Deputy communications director Victoria Bonney, whose duties expanded last summer, saw her pay jump 35 percent. DiMasi also gave 6 percent raises to the 24 employees of the House human resources department, the House clerk's office, and House counsel's office.

Those employees had last received raises in 2007.

In September, DiMasi gave 3 percent raises to all other lawmakers' staff members and the 17 House court officers. For about two dozen aides, that bump came on top of raises of varying amounts they received earlier in the year, according to payroll records.

In the last few months of his speakership, DiMasi gave out another batch of raises, mostly to aides of his committee chairmen. Conspicuously missing from the list are aides to legislators backing Representative John H. Rogers, then the majority leader, who was battling DeLeo to succeed DiMasi. DeLeo was thought to be DiMasi's choice.

Binienda and Wagner said their ties to DiMasi had nothing to do with the promotions or raises their aides received in DiMasi's final days in office.

Binienda, the former Revenue Committee chairman, said he lost an aide last year and was not permitted to replace him. Because other staff members had to take up the slack, they received increases, he said.

"The hardest thing about being a chairman is keeping your staff happy," said Binienda, who now chairs the Rules Committee.

Wagner said the small raises his aides received were more than offset by cuts he made in other parts of his office budget.

"I'm not sure how many legislators offered to cut staff in response to things happening here economically," Wagner said. "I made that offer. In view of all I did on that front, these [pay raises] were very reasonable."

But Representative Daniel E. Bosley, Democrat of North Adams and one of DiMasi's closest allies, said he specifically did not ask for staff raises, though his employees deserved them.

"We're in fiscal crisis," said Bosley, who chaired the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. "We were down two people and didn't ask for permission to hire because we were in a fiscal crisis. My kids were working 12 or 14 hours a day. I would have loved to have given them something, but I chose not to do that."

Since his resignation, DiMasi too has been collecting checks compliments of the Commonwealth. Last month he started receiving a state pension of just under $60,000 a year, according to the State Retirement Board. The benefit is based on 33 years and three months of service. He received credit for a full year of service in 2009, even though he resigned in January.

Concert's on the Common

As those of you who live in and around Framingham know, Jim Egan and his crew have put on Concerts on the Green for years and is now in danger of not doing any concerts this summer because of funding. It costs a fair amount of money to sponsor these free events and I'm posting this as a way for us to help, (if you are employed) keep this great event going. Checks can be made out to Town of Framingham Concert Fund and mailed to Jim Egan at the Town Hall. This is one of this Town's great free family outdoor events that all of us can appreciate. I'm in for 100.00 but every donation counts.