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State agency chief got top severance deal

$510,000 pact for GOP appointee

Mitchell Adams was appointed in 2001 to head the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

With a Democratic takeover of the governor's office looking highly likely last September, Mitchell Adams, a stalwart Republican gubernatorial appointee who heads the state's technology development office, negotiated a severance package that will hand him more than $500,000 if he is replaced by a new governor.

The severance deal, which appears to be unrivaled in state government, was agreed to by a 23-member board with a majority of Republican appointees.

At the same time, Adams, who was appointed in 2001, persuaded the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative board to raise his pay by $15,000 to $255,000.

The threat of a Democratic takeover of the corner office was one consideration as the board and Adams worked into the fall to craft the new contract that insulated his job from political change, said a board member who negotiated the deal.

"There was uncertainty, but it was future uncertainty," said David Fleming, a senior vice president at Genzyme Corporation, and a board member of the Technology Collaborative who helped to negotiate Adams's new contract. "It was early in the election process. My biggest concern was that we would lose him to the private sector."

Under the agreement, the board will pay Adams two years of salary, currently $510,000, if he were removed without cause. His previous contract called for a year of severance pay. In exchange, he will give the agency a year's notice if he plans to step down, rather than three months'.

A source who talked with Adams at the time confirmed that he was concerned about gaining some protection from a Democratic takeover. Polls at the time were showing all the Democratic contenders winning easily over the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Patrick trounced Healey in the November election.

Adams declined to be interviewed.

His package is unusually generous by state government standards. He oversees a little-known agency that operates largely out of the public spotlight, with responsibilities far less complex and voluminous than the major state authorities. He oversees 65 employees and a $12 million operating budget.

Frederick A. Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, who oversees 1,240 employees and a $557 million budget, is paid $154,524 a year but has no provision for severance if the authority's board decided to remove him.

Thomas J. Kinton, Jr., executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, is paid $255,000 a year under a five-year contract that also provides him a year's salary if he is let go. Massport has an operating budget of $349 million and has 1,178 employees.

Among the highest paid in state government is the president of MassDevelopment, Robert Culver, who earns just under $280,000 a year. But he serves without a contract and has no provision for a severance payment. He could be let go at any time by the board.

The newly enhanced severance package poses a major and potentially expensive problem for Governor Deval Patrick, who is seeking to gain more control over the numerous state agencies and authorities that are part of the executive branch but often function fairly independently.

Under the current system, a new governor must wait years to gain control of the authorities because they are run by appointed boards with staggered terms. It sometimes takes a governor until the final year of a four-year term to establish a majority on an authority's board and begin to shape its policy or appoint an executive of his choosing to run the agency.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative could not provide the appointment dates for all members of the agency's board or say how long Patrick must wait before he can establish a majority.

But the spokesman, Chris Kealey, confirmed that at least 14 of the 23 members were appointed by Republicans.

One advisor to Adams who did not wish to be named said it is inaccurate to depict Adams simply as a Republican loyalist, pointing out that Adams's partner, Kevin Smith, who m he married in 2004, has opposed former governor Mitt Romney's stand on gay marriage.

Adams, a 1966 Harvard University graduate who also earned a Harvard master's in business administration, served from 1991 to 1998 as the state's commissioner of revenue, where he touted a 30 percent reduction in staff through introduction of new information technology. He later headed a company that developed data mining techniques for healthcare payment systems. He is a member of Harvard's Board of Overseers.

Fleming said that Adams is highly respected by the board and others who are involved in the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's work. The collaborative gave out $210 million in awards in the last six years to encourage renewable energy industry and construction of green houses, workplaces, and schools. It is funded by a surcharge on electric bills. It also manages a $45 million taxpayer-funded trust used to help universities and research centers provide matching funds to qualify for federal grants.

"Mitch is the consummate professional with a very strong track performance," Fleming said. " He's very creative, very innovative. . . . We wanted to lock him in."

The issue of severance flared last year, when Romney's allies on the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board moved to oust chairman Matthew J . Amorello after the Big Dig tunnel collapse. The board found that Amorello, who was paid $255,000 a year, had a one-year severance clause in his contract. They negotiated it down to six months.

The public wrangling over Amorello's fate and his severance package last August was about the same time that Adams began renegotiating his own contract.

Two other highly paid state officials who serve under contract do not have severance provisions like Adams. But James E. Rooney, the $255,000-a-year executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, has a three-year contract that runs to March 1, 2009. If he is let go before then, he would be paid the balance of the contract. That authority has an operating budget of $58 million and has 160 employees.

Daniel A. Grabauskas, MBTA general manager, gets $247,000 a year to oversee the state's most complicated transportation system. If he is let go, he is paid the balance of his five-year contract.