Senator says transportation choice should quit because of conflict

By Kyle Cheney
State House News Service / November 11, 2009

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In an escalating conflict with the administration, a state senator called yesterday for one of Governor Deval Patrick’s appointees to a powerful transportation board to step down.

Janice Loux, appointed 11 days ago to the board of the new Department of Transportation - a mega-agency that oversees rail, automobile, air, road, and bridge transportation divisions - would be unable to serve the taxpayers because of her membership on the MBTA Retirement Board, said Senator Steven Baddour, Democrat of Methuen.

Loux, the head of a hotel workers union, was unanimously named vice chairwoman of the Transportation Department board on Monday and appointed by her fellow board members to head a “compensation and labor relations’’ subcommittee, which is helping facilitate the merger of thousands of employees from across state transportation agencies under one umbrella.

“She has a fiduciary obligation to the retirees that would trump her obligation to the taxpayers as a member of the DOT board,’’ Baddour said. “That is clearly a conflict of interest. Therefore, she should either step down from the MassDOT board, the MBTA retirement, or both. I believe it should be both.’’

Baddour said that if Loux does not step down, she would probably have to file a statement of a conflict of interest with the state Ethics Commission and recuse herself from transportation votes that would be seen as conflicting with her role on the retirement board.

During a Transportation Committee hearing, Baddour asked Secretary Jeffrey Mullan to describe Loux’s qualifications, as well as those of the other four members of the transportation board. Mullan said Loux, who served for 12 years on the MBTA board before it was merged, has “a reputation of asking the tough questions’’ and has “a background in labor negotiations.’’

“I understand what people are saying when you say you want a fresh start, but there needs to be a balance between understanding the past and moving toward the future,’’ Mullan said.

Through a spokesman, Loux declined to comment. However, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s annual pension fund report, the seven-member MBTA Retirement Board must include at least one director on the MBTA board, a role Loux filled before the MBTA merger with the Transportation Department. Because of the transportation board’s dual role as the MBTA board, one of its members is required to sit on the retirement board.

Although members of the transportation board were invited to attend the hearing, only Liz Levin, a Democrat and urban planner serving a three-year term on the board, showed up. Mullan said board members were given late notice.

Afterward, Baddour said he was “disappointed that only one member was willing to attend.’’ He and his cochairman, Representative Joseph Wagner, Democrat of Chicopee, said they hoped to have five members of the board on hand for the committee’s next hearing, which was scheduled for Dec. 8 but will probably be moved because it coincides with the primary in the special election to succeed the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

The clash over Loux’s appointment is the latest salvo in an often-fraught relationship between Baddour and the Patrick administration. Most recently, Baddour ripped the administration for forcing out MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas in August.