Friday, April 10, 2009

Deval's "Trivial" Pursuit

"Every time you think you've heard them all, you find something else. You can't blame people for thinking there's a tremendous amount of waste layered in throughout state government."
- Senator Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield), The Boston Globe, 4/10/09

MBTA rehired retired officials
4 got contract on top of pension
The Boston Globe, 4/10/09
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff

Four MBTA officials who retired under the agency's generous pension plan were then rehired under contracts to do their old jobs, earning large consulting checks even while they continued to receive their full pension payments, according to public records.

One of the officials worked as a government affairs coordinator and legislative liaison, a job that put him in close contact with lawmakers including House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. The others were a commuter rail construction manager, an agency lawyer, and a workforce manager.

This week, the MBTA said it will eliminate the consulting contracts for the four employees - Dino DiFronzo, James Eng, Maryellen Boyle, and Mary Skerry - after the Globe made inquiries about their status. None of the officials responded to requests for comment yesterday.

The T said it will allow the contracts to expire without renewal after Secretary of Transportation James A. Aloisi Jr. requested the action in a memo Tuesday to the MBTA's general manager, Daniel A. Grabauskas. Both officials declined requests for interviews.

"You and I are in agreement that as we are engaged in an historic effort to implement important reforms in our transportation world, this practice should end, and any employment contracts should be terminated where MBTA retirees are accepting retirement benefits," Aloisi wrote to Grabauskas.

The arrangements were revealed as overhauling pensions has become a dominant issue on Beacon Hill. The Senate passed a package of changes last week, and the House is poised to take it up next week. Governor Deval Patrick has also made pensions a major priority in the first few months of the legislative session.

Lawmakers and the governor have particularly targeted the MBTA's pension system, which allows employees to retire and begin collecting benefits with just 23 years of service. That MBTA retirement policy has allowed many relatively young employees to retire and then start a second career.

Retirees from other agencies in state government who are rehired by a public agency are prohibited from making more in combined pension and salary than the salary of their original job. Among those who are collecting MBTA pensions and public salaries under the looser MBTA rules is James Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, who makes $276,000 while drawing an MBTA pension of more than $70,000. The Globe reported on that arrangement in 2007.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the four officials were hired back as consultants because they had special skills. Eng, for example, oversaw the construction of the Greenbush line and was uniquely qualified to see the project to its conclusion, he said. Skerry, an administrative coordinator who handles payroll matters for the Transit Police, was asked to return to work last year to fill in when the department's only payroll worker was out for an extended period.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who has been a vocal critic of the MBTA pension system, was unaware the MBTA allowed its retirees to come back as consultants.

"Is there no end to the indignity?" he said. "I'm speechless. It's amazing. It's the entitlement and the creativity. And it's all done out of public view. They have done these things for years with a wink and a nod of the Legislature."

DiFronzo, who served as a liaison between the MBTA and the city and the Legislature, was a frequent visitor to DeLeo's office when DeLeo was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and also to the office of DeLeo's predecessor as House speaker, Salvatore F. DiMasi.

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell said of DiFronzo: "When he had business up at the State House, he would stop by."
Since DiFronzo's retirement in February 2007, his earnings have gone far beyond what he made as the MBTA's project coordinator.

After retiring from his $87,259-a-year job once he reached 23 years of service, he began collecting a pension of just under $50,000. He was immediately rehired on a contract that last year paid him $78,338 in addition to his pension. The total of $128,353 was $41,094 more than he made when he worked full time, according to figures provided by Pesaturo. Meanwhile, his job description was almost identical to what he was doing before he retired.

Eng, the construction director for the Greenbush commuter line, retired in 2004 with a pension of $60,000 after 25 years. Last year he was hired on a consulting contract to continue overseeing the project and made a total of $220,665 - $123,275 more than he made while working full time.

Boyle worked as an assistant general counsel at the MBTA until she retired in 2002 after 23 years of service. She came back to work immediately, to "provide legal advice, review draft and final leases," and generally practice real estate law "as it relates to the business interest of the MBTA," according to the contract description. Between her pension and her consulting contract, Boyle last year made $75,203 - slightly more than she was making while a $68,238-a-year full-time lawyer for the agency.

Skerry retired as the $52,982 coordinator of workforce planning after 24 years in March of last year, qualifying for a $31,437 pension. After being rehired last May, she earned $49,103 last year.

Senator Richard R. Tisei, Republican from Wakefield, called the postretirement contracts "just another way to game the system.

"Every time you think you've heard them all, you find something else," he said. "You can't blame people for thinking there's a tremendous amount of waste layered in throughout state government."

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