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New chief shakes up Turnpike Authority

3 top managers fired, staff leader replaced

Mary Jane O'Meara said more changes are possible. Mary Jane O'Meara said more changes are possible.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's newly appointed interim leader has replaced the agency's chief of staff and fired three top managers, including the Big Dig's financial director, in a high-level shakeup that may involve additional dismissals, she said.

It is the latest management overhaul at a quasi- public transportation agency still struggling to recover from the Big Dig tunnel collapse and the project's massive cost overruns.

"It was a question of having the wrong people in the wrong jobs," said Mary Jane O'Meara, who is acting executive director of the 1,400-employee agency. "We want to identify where the weaknesses are, so we become stronger and the best-run transportation agency in Massachusetts."

Dismissed were Bernard Meyler, the $100,000-a-year comptroller; management information systems director Linda Modiste, who made $113,000 a year; and Michael Foley, the Big Dig's director of financial management, who was paid $93,666 a year.

O'Meara has also replaced Lauren Adams, the agency's $108,000-a-year chief of staff, who resigned late last month, according to John Lamontagne, spokesman for the Executive Office of Transportation. Also leaving within a month is Jon Carlisle, communications director.

Modiste and Foley were hired by former chairman Matthew J . Amorello, who was forced to resign soon after the July 10, 2006, ceiling panel collapse in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel. Meyler was hired in 2000, two years before Amorello started at the agency. Adams and Carlisle were brought to the agency by Transportation Secretary John Cogliano, a Romney appointee who took over when Amorello left.

Cogliano himself cleaned house when he assumed control last summer, almost immediately firing six top managers, including the human services director, chief information officer, and the manager of facilities operations.

The latest changes were made with little fanfare, in contrast to the public announcement earlier this week of a new communications director, Globe transportation reporter Mac Daniel.

Turnpike Authority board member Mary Connaughton, appointed to the board by former governor Mitt Romney, was angry that the board was not informed about the key management changes.

"In this new era of openness touted by the Patrick administration, I find it surprising that board members would find out about such sweeping changes through the media," she said. "That's the outrage. Certainly it's appropriate for a new administration to come in and put in place the people they think will do the best job, but communications is of the utmost importance. These are all very significant players within the . . . organization. I'm hopeful this lapse is an anomaly and not a sign of things to come from this administration."

O'Meara has named Steve Collins, a Big Dig assistant project director, as her chief of staff. She said she did not consider removing any managers who oversaw the construction of the Big Dig, despite findings by the National Safety Transportation Board that the Big Dig supervisors at the Turnpike Authority failed to properly inspect the tunnels.

"People who had oversight over the Big Dig did a fabulous job," she said. "It's already recognized as the greatest construction project in the world. People come here from around the world to see the project. They're not interested in the issues we deal with. They're more interested in the engineering phenomenon we accomplished in Massachusetts."

O'Meara said the agency's financial condition, which has been described as precarious by outside consultants and transportation groups, was not a factor in her decision to fire some of the agency's financial leaders.

"The financial situation is in great shape," she said. "All we're trying to do is fill in gaps where it can be even better."

Last year, state Finance Secretary Eric Kriss told the authority's board that the agency had a growing debt of $2.1 billion and did not have the reserves to deal with current and future deficits.

O'Meara said the dismissals also had nothing to do with politics.

"I've not asked and do not want to know who is affiliated with whom," she said. "I just want to know, 'Do we have the best people in the best place?' [Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen] asked me to come in and manage the operations of this authority and to make recommendations as to what I think should be done or not done here. That's what I'm trying to do."

Cohen defended the terminations. "It is not unreasonable to expect that personnel turnover will be part of the overall management change process we have set in place," he said.