I have to hand it to the Boston Herald this week with multiple cover stories on transparency issues at the Greenway Conservancy. The GC is a private non-profit that leases the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway public parks and is largely funded with taxpayer dollars. There is nothing like an insulting, errant email to motivate a reporter. Even the Globe chimed in, sort of, after the State demanded disclosure of Greenway records.
To NorthEndWaterfront.com readers, this week’s revelations are nothing new. I feel a bit vindicated that the concerns reported here for several years are starting to make it to the mainstream news media. If you search “Greenway Conservancy” on this website, you will many positive stories about the Greenway as well as a steady stream of posts questioning the Conservancy’s governance, transparency, and yes, compensation. Let’s review and see how we got here.
Back at the 2009 Greenway Conservancy (GC) Annual Meeting, I vividly remember being snapped at by the GC’s Board Chair for asking a question about conflicts in the park guidelines that could hurt the public’s interest. (See Debating Development & Conflict Issues at the Greenway Conservancy Meeting and What is the Quid Pro Quo Between Developer Chiofaro & the Greenway Conservancy?).
Shortly thereafter, Executive Director Nancy Brennan came to a North End neighborhood meeting. Residents pinged her with many community concerns. (See Greenway Conservancy Comes to the Neighborhood.) It was then, I penned a piece about how the Greenway was not being integrated into the community. (See Greenway Article: What about Neighborhood Parks?)
In late 2009, I started following the money trail more closely. With 31% of the total expenses going to salaries and almost nothing into horticulture, something did not smell right. (See Fun Facts From Greenway Conservancy’s Annual Report – Following the Money.) In response to questions about the money being spent on the Greenway, benchmarking became the answer and how it really isn’t that much compared to other “signature” parks in other cities. (See Greenway Leadership Council Talks 2010 Budget, Plans & Programming.) After that round of questions, the Conservancy learned how to categorize expenses into line items that appeared more operational than administrative. This has made the money trail more difficult to follow. Still, the cost per acre is clearly well above anything ever seen before in Boston, even at treasures like the Public Garden or Esplanade.
In 2010, there was a series of apologetic Globe articles planted with pleas of poverty by the Conservancy that sounded awfully familiar to the hearty few of us that regularly attended the meetings. Ironically, I have to thank Dante Ramos at the Boston Globe for some advice. When I penned a letter to the editor, he called me and I happened to mention Nancy Brennan’s salary and bonuses totaled over $220,000 that year. He immediately advised me to change my lead and hammer that one point to bring awareness to everything else.
The Globe published my letter which was the first time that Nancy Brennan’s compensation was widely published outside of IRS forms. (See Greenway Needs to Watch Spending.)
Then came a game changer in July 2010 from State officials who seemed to be increasingly unamused by the Conservancy’s antics. The GC’s regulator and funding source distributed a harsh analysis and strong public chiding of the Conservancy budget and transparency issues. (See State Demands Greater Accountability From Greenway Conservancy.) Surely, I thought, now things would change.
I started to lose faith after nothing happened. I, among others, became unofficially blacklisted by Conservancy personnel who repeatedly dropped me from their distribution lists. At the same time, the Conservancy’s power appeared to grow because of the money they wielded and the political support behind them.
One person who did respond was the North End’s State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz. He listened to constituents and concerns raised by the Greenway Leadership Council, the citizens oversight group that ended up powerless under provisions in the original 2008 legislation. In the Spring of 2011, Michlewitz filed new legislation to increase oversight and transparency at the Greenway Conservancy. (See Greenway Reform and Transparency Legislation Filed by State Representative Aaron Michlewitz). He helped write the original legislation creating the Conservancy and seemed to understand not everything was working in the public’s interest.
I give Michlewitz credit for drafting the pending legislation. If passed, it will cap the State’s funding obligation to $4 million, down from $5.5 and give the GLC veto power over the Conservancy’s budget. Even though the proposed changes are mild and in the public’s interest, Michlewitz took a lot of flak from the Conservancy and other public officials who claim the legislation has no chance.
More recently, I have questioned the logic behind the $3 million custom carousel (See Spinning the Greenway Carousel which was back when it was only $1 million project). Boston.com’s Jeremy C. Fox also looked into it: Globe Site Asks Questions About the $2.9 Million Greenway Carousel. Shockingly, the Conservancy’s pet project just received $250,000 in State money. I also recently documented the change in heart behind the Conservancy’s stance on Occupy Boston (See Occupy Boston “Messy But Democracy at Work” According to Greenway Conservancy at the beginning which soon thereafter brought us to Greenway Conservancy Asks City of Boston to Clear Occupy Boston From Dewey Square.)
So, here we are today after a flurry of articles by the Herald’s Erin Smith and followed up by many other well-respected reporters. The State’s demand for documentation resulted in a data dump. We knew most of this, but now everyone else does too. Some bullet points:
- $4.7 million is the Conservancy’s annual budget, about half of which comes from taxpayers.
- 5 of the 28 full-time employees make six-figure salaries.
- Executive Director Nancy Brennan just received a $20,000 raise, increasing her base to $185,000 (with bonuses as in past years, the total compensation would go over $220,000).
The Conservancy’s lease from the State is up for renewal in a little over a year. Maybe legislators and officials will start listening to well-meaning park experts, many of whom have experienced the wrath of the Conservancy (See The Greenway Conservancy Rift with MassHort). Others that have been on the fence are swaying in the right direction. This week, Union Park Press’ Meg Muckenhoupt blogs:
So complain all you like. Nothing is going to change unless the Greenway is made into a public park, or completely privatized and has to raise all its own funds—a condition which tends to encourage thrift.
Complain we will. I want to thank the diligent group of meeting-goers and concerned community citizens … some who are activists and others just regular people … that pushed me to keep going with these reports. You know who you are.
My work is done.
(Yeah, right … see you at the February 7th Greenway Conservancy meeting, 185 Kneeland St., Boston, 9am-11 am, open to the public.)