Former T chief refused to keep exit pay secret
Former MBTA general manager Daniel Grabauskas said the transit authority tried to keep his $327,487 severance secret when he agreed to resign two years ago, but he refused to sign an agreement keeping it confidential.
As the Globe reported last month, the MBTA and other state agencies have sworn dozens of workers to secrecy as part of lucrative severance and settlement agreements since 2005, according to documents the agencies provided to the Globe.
The Globe initially cited Grabauskas’s severance agreement as one of the confidential pacts signed by the MBTA, based on a copy of the document the agency provided to the Globe. But the MBTA later acknowledged it sent the Globe an early draft of the document by mistake and that the confidentiality clause was removed from the final version at Grabauskas’s insistence.
“I wasn’t going to sell my soul for any amount of money,’’ Grabauskas said. “You can’t legally keep public dollars secret.’’
He recalled telling the MBTA’s lawyer that “any attempt to keep the use of public funds secret is at best silly, injuring public confidence, and at worst simply illegal.’’
Grabauskas was forced to resign in August 2009 after the Patrick administration publicly questioned his leadership. He said he thought the MBTA was trying to avoid the embarrassment of paying him so much to leave before his contract ended.
Grabauskas’s attorney in the negotiations, Mark Ventola, confirmed his client’s account and added that agency officials did not say why they wanted the secrecy clause.
But MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said “such language is standard in all separation/settlement agreements’’ the authority uses. He said the MBTA typically tries to keep payments confidential to prevent them from being used as precedents for future settlements.
Former transportation secretary James A. Aloisi Jr., who was involved in the negotiations, declined to comment.
Government watchdogs questioned why the MBTA would try to keep Grabauskas’s six-figure payment secret, especially when the Patrick administration and other officials have vowed to be open about public spending.
“I don’t understand what public good is served by suppressing the information,’’ said Steve Poftak, research director for the Pioneer Institute, a public policy research group in Boston. “I think it is very inconsistent with public statements of openness.’’
Others said it seems hard to fathom how the MBTA could hope to keep Grabauskas’s payment confidential, given his high-profile position. Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA advisory board, said that at the time the Patrick administration signaled it might fire him, many involved in the transit system were already calculating how much money Grabauskas would receive. “I don’t think there was any realistic chance that his severance was ever going to remain a secret,’’ Regan said.
The state attorney general’s office has advised agencies for years to avoid confidentiality clauses in settlement pacts, except in special circumstances. And state Comptroller Martin Benison recently vowed to do the same, noting such clauses might not hold up in court.
Shortly after Grabauskas signed the revised pact — without the confidentiality clause — transit officials said that the MBTA board of directors voted 5 to 3 to pay Grabauskas $327,487 to settle the remaining nine months of his contract, including salary, vacation, and sick days.
Patrick officials had criticized Grabauskas’s management after two crashes on the Green Line and the MBTA’s continuing financial problems. His backers said Grabauskas was pushed out for political reasons. He was originally appointed by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney.
Since then, the Patrick administration has replaced a number of heads at quasi-public agencies — at least one of whom agreed to sign a confidentiality clause.
For instance, after forcing Massachusetts Development Finance Agency chief executive Robert Culver to step down in March, the state agreed to pay him $169,159, which included six months’ salary and the amount of money the agency would have spent on disability insurance and retirement benefits. The government also agreed to pay his health insurance premiums for six months.
The March 23 pact bars Culver from criticizing MassDevelopment or disclosing “any of the terms, the facts or the negotiations leading to this agreement.’’
The agreement did not bar MassDevelopment from disclosing the details of the agreement, which the Globe obtained under the state public records law.
But Poftak of the Pioneer Institute said the secrecy clause could potentially keep Culver from saying anything to reporters that could be embarrassing for the administration.
By contrast, a $264,000 separation agreement with the former head of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Mitchell Adams, signed last month contained no such restrictions.
Culver declined to comment. MassDevelopment spokesman Mark Sternman said the provisions “are standard contract language in separation agreements’’ and noted the agency has used them in other pacts.
Todd Wallack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.