Patrick aides directed hiring

Set Walsh's salary, wrote job description E-mails detail their level of involvement

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / March 28, 2009
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Contradicting a series of steadfast denials, internal e-mails show that Governor Deval Patrick's top aides controlled the appointment of state Senator Marian Walsh to a high-paying job at a state authority, from setting her salary to crafting her job description.

They also provided the agency's talking points for the news media in an attempt to quell a public uproar.

"I'm going to send you a proposed job description from [Patrick chief of staff Doug Rubin] soon," Patrick senior adviser Jay Gonzalez told the two top officials at the Massachusetts Health and Education Facilities Authority in a March 11 e-mail.

As of late this week, one of those officials, HEFA chairman Allen Larson, continued to say that the push to hire Walsh came from the authority.

"I would deny that," he said when asked if the Patrick administration engineered the hiring. "We have been looking for the additional staff expertise since I got on the board. We have been working with the administration to figure that out. But I do not consider this an orchestrated matter."

The e-mails indicate, however, that Larson and his staff worked closely with Gonzalez, Patrick's undersecretary of administration and finance, in the days leading up to the board's decision on March 12 to hire Walsh as a $175,000 a year assistant executive director. (After Patrick's action kicked up a political firestorm, Walsh requested this week that the salary be reduced to $120,000.)

The e-mails were released to the Globe after a public records request.

The salary level of $175,000 originated with the administration, the e-mails indicate. They also show that Rubin drafted Walsh's job description. Patrick's press office wrote the script for public statements by the agency.

On the weekend before the Patrick-controlled HEFA board unanimously approved Walsh's appointment as assistant director, Larson asked Gonzalez to justify why the Democratic lawmaker should be paid more than $128,500. That was the amount that a Burlington-based consulting firm, The Survey Group, reported as the average market base pay for the position.

Larson asked Gonzalez to contact Rubin for backup information that would support a $175,000 salary.

"Generally, it's lower than the $175,000 figure," Larson wrote to Gonzalez, referring to the consultant's survey of pay at other government agencies. "It would be helpful if Doug or others could send along some comparables so that we have substantive justifications."

There is no e-mail that describes how the administration responded, but other documents show that after the board vote, the agency's executive director, Benson Caswell, wrote Walsh offering her the job at the $175,000 salary. Another document shows Walsh's total salary package, which includes retirement benefits and healthcare coverage, would have totaled $242,442.

The appointment, coming amid talk of tax and toll hikes, has generated public anger directed at Patrick, who ran for election in 2006 as a reformer vowing to end patronage hiring on Beacon Hill. In the face of the criticism, Patrick has said the deputy director job at HEFA needed to be filled, even though it has been vacant for 12 years.

Patrick's director of communications, Joseph Landolfi, said yesterday in response to the evidence in the e-mails that Patrick's staff acted appropriately. He said the contacts involved "personnel decisions with chairman Larson that related to HEFA's role in supporting the governor's economic development agenda."

The e-mails about the salary also contradict statements from Walsh, a West Roxbury Democrat and one of Patrick's earliest political supporters. Walsh said this week that the authority had proposed the $175,000 salary after looking at the compensation levels of other, similar agencies.

"They made the offer based on a due diligence," she said after announcing she wanted the salary reduced to $120,000 in wake of the public outrage over her appointment.

The records also reveal that Gonzalez needed clearance from the governor's senior staff on several of the major issues.

The day before the board meeting where Walsh was formally selected, Gonzalez told Caswell that Rubin would create the job description that would be presented to the board. Caswell had already written and sent to Gonzalez a two-page job description for an assistant executive director. But that job description outlined duties that included working to develop new projects and procure new financing, expertise that Walsh did not possess.

The revised description, which is one paragraph, focused her duties on government-relations work, including merging the agency with the Massachusetts Development Authority, and not on tax exempt capital financing.

Gonzalez also edited a draft e-mail that Larson wrote for board members, telling them that Walsh had been "nominated" for the job and that her hiring would be taken up at the Thursday meeting.

"I think this is great," Gonzalez told Larson late Sunday afternoon after reading his final draft of the statement. "I have forwarded it on to a couple of others internally and asked them to get back to me by the end of the day today if they have any concerns."

As the story of Walsh's appointment unfolded, the governor's press operation was in close touch with Liam Sullivan, who handles media relations for the authority.

On the day the board voted to hire Walsh, Patrick's deputy press secretary, Rebecca Deusser, e-mailed Sullivan directing him to release a joint statement by Larson and Caswell praising Walsh as highly qualified for the job. Deusser had written most of the two-sentence statement.

Sullivan was also in constant touch with Patrick's press office, getting approval for talking points for dealing with reporters and providing it with information on press inquiries he was getting. Landolfi said his press office became involved the day the board hired Walsh. The "sole purpose" he said was to coordinate "who responds to various media inquiries ensuring that responses were accurate."

The governor's hiring of Walsh has prompted some who have worked with independent state authorities to sharply criticize the intrusion of political influence on the agencies. David T. Hannan, a former chairman of the authority, said the appointment is a breach in the legislative intent to create independent authorities that would be insulated from political pressures or become patronage dumping grounds.

"That is political mischief," said Hannan. "The Legislature created the authorities to avoid this kind of political mischief."

Scot Lehigh of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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