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Herman: Gov. Deval Patrick dropped the ball on Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

By Colman Herman, contributing writer, Commonwealth magazine

Despite Gov. Deval Patrick’s stated intent to introduce legislation to make the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy subject to the Massachusetts public records and open meeting laws, he dropped the ball — big time. First a little history.

Last January, when Boston Herald reporter Erin Smith was digging into the generous salaries, bonuses and expenses at the non-profit greenway conservancy, she received a misdirected email from the executive director, Nancy Brennan.

In that errant email — which was really meant for the eyes of one of her public relations flacks, Lisa Quackenbush, Brennan asks for advice on whether to and how to dodge Smith’s probe about her salary and those of her staffers. Brennan proposed options: “ignore” Smith, “write her now” or “respond after deadline later tonight.”

According to Smith, Brennan later emailed the Herald, declining to provide the most current salaries, citing staff privacy, and instead directed the reporter to the greenway’s most recent nonprofit filing with the IRS, which covered 2010.

This led to a media avalanche of stories and to Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey sending a letter to Brennan, saying, among many things, “I believe we have an obligation to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible with the public when taxpayer dollars are involved. . . . The greenway shall make itself subject to the Commonwealth’s open meeting laws and freedom of information act requests.” (DOT owns the greenway, leases it to the conservancy, and kicks in about half of the conservancy annual budget of $4.7 million.)

Brennan’s now makes $185,000 a year to run the 15-acre waterfront park situated above the submerged Central Artery. In contrast, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino earns $175,000 to run the entire city.

In April, the Herald twice reported that Patrick has filed a bill that, among other things, would require the conservancy to comply with the state’s public records and open meeting laws.

“I believe that the Commonwealth should require accountability from those who utilize state funding for the administration of our public facilities,” Patrick wrote in the March 28 cover letter to his bill. “This legislation requires that any future lease agreements with the conservancy include compliance with the open meeting and public records laws in order to preserve accountability well into the future.”

A few days later, I asked DOT for a copy of the portion of the legislation that deals with making the conservancy subject to these two laws. But what spokeswoman Cyndi Roy provided to me made no mention of this.

“It looks like that section was inadvertently left out,” Roy told me. “We’re intending to add it back via amendment.” Given all that had transpired, this lapse is troubling.

Over the course of the next two months, I kept asking Roy for a copy of the amendment, but none was to be had. Finally, on May 31, in response to yet another inquiry from me, she came clean: “It is my understanding that it was not included in the version reported out by the transportation committee,” Roy said.

When I asked Roy whether Patrick and Davey actually tried to get the committee to put the public records/opening meeting piece in the bill when it was realized it was missing, the flack went silent.

I am reminded of a line from Macbeth: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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