The Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed a major legislative amendment on Wednesday that would significantly change the governance structure of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. Should the Senate and Governor’s office also approve, the legislation would require a higher level of transparency by the private, non-profit operator of the public parks as well as completely revamp the Board structure to add significant neighborhood representation.
The legislation was introduced by State Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) to incorporate some of his previously proposed bill but with more governance changes and leaving aside the funding question.
“In addition to the increased transparency, this legislation would allow the neighborhoods around the Greenway to have a seat at the table in the decision making process,” said Rep. Michlewitz in an interview. “That has been my goal from the start.” The Greenway Conservancy did not answer a request for comment after the House bill passed.
State House action has long been expected after public pressure and media exposure (including North End Waterfront.com), raised serious questions regarding transparency, disclosure and use of public and private funds by the Conservancy. (See Greenway Conservancy Exposed – We Knew That, But Thanks Herald.)
The legislation that passed the House this week would make the Greenway Conservancy subject to the State’s Open Meeting and Public Records laws, similar to agencies that oversee parks and other state resources. There is one exception to the disclosure of records, allowing donors to keep their anonymity if they wish.
The bill would substantially change the makeup of the Conservancy’s Board of Directors, increasing its members from 15 to 21 by adding representatives from six neighborhood groups. Under the bill, about 1/3 of the Board will be made up of representatives from the surrounding Greenway neighborhoods, 1/3 political appointees and 1/3 selected by the Board itself.
Currently, nine Board members are selected by the Board itself with another seven being political appointees. The bill takes 2 seats away from the Board, and gives those seats to the State’s transportation authority, MassDOT and the State Energy and Environment Affairs agency. Those agencies have held non-voting positions on the Board and the new legislation would change those to voting seats.
The six new members of the Board will come from the North End / Waterfront, Wharf District, Leather District and Chinatown neighborhood groups. The specific organizations are:
- North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council, NEWNC
- North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association, NEWRA
- Chinatown Neighborhood Council, CNC
- Chinatown Residents’ Association, CRA
- Leather District Neighborhood Association, LDNA
- Wharf District Council, WDC
The Greenway Leadership Council would be disbanded under the new legislation. The GLC is a current group of 13 non-voting advisors to the Board that included neighborhood representatives but lacked any teeth to impact policy at the Conservancy.
The funding question of the Greenway Conservancy, a political football, is unanswered by the House legislation and may remain so. Rep. Michlewitz’s previous bill continued the State subsidy for up to half of the Conservancy’s budget, but reduced the State’s maximum requirement from $5.5 million to $4.0 million.
With its fiscal year ending and State funding running out on June 30, 2012, the money decision now falls upon the State’s regulator, the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT). The Secretary of Transportation previously issued a strident letter to the Greenway Conservancy, indicating the agency would fund the non-profit in the short-term, but eventually would like to see the parks entirely privately funded. (See The Axe Comes Down: State Plans To Pull All Funding From Greenway Conservancy.)
Interestingly, the House legislation passed unanimously, without objection, by voice vote at the State House. This comes despite high profile complaints by Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer) who has proposed his own bill to turn over the Greenway parks to the State’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Durant’s bill, similar to Michlewitz’s original bill, appears unlikely to make it out of committee.
In the end, the public will now know where every dollar goes on the Greenway under a newly revamped and neighborhood-inclusive Board. However, it is still not clear where those dollars will come from.
The full House legislation, passed on June 21, 2012, is shown below:[box]
Amendment #244 to H04179
Mr. Michlewitz of Boston move that the bill be amended inserting at the end the following:
SECTION XX. Chapter 306 of the Acts of 2008 is hereby amended by adding the following Section 8A:-
SECTION 8A. The board shall comply with sections 18-25 of chapter 30A of the General Laws except as otherwise set forth below. The board shall be subject to oversight and enforcement by the Attorney General as set forth in sections 18-25 of chapter 30A of the General Laws, except as otherwise set forth below. Any lease between the department of transportation and the Conservancy described in Section 10 shall provide that any material failure of the board to comply with the provisions of sections 18-25 of chapter 30A that is not cured in accordance with the terms of the lease or as ordered by the Attorney General shall be considered a default under said lease, and shall be subject to such remedies for default set forth in said lease.
Notwithstanding anything in section 18-25 of chapter 30A of the General Laws to the contrary, the board may meet in executive session for any of the purposes set forth in section 21(a) of chapter 30A, as well as for the following purposes:
(a) To discuss fundraising and non-governmental revenue issues and opportunities, including but not limited to fundraising prospects, fundraising or grant agreements, or fundraising strategy; or
SECTION 2. Chapter 306 of the Acts of 2008 is herby amended by adding the following Section 8B:-
SECTION 8B. The Board shall comply with the requirements of clause 26 of section 7 of chapter 4, section 10 of chapter 66. Provided further that any donations received by the Conservancy from a private individual, corporation, or any other private source shall be exempted from the provisions of this section. Any lease between the department of transportation and the Conservancy described in Section 10 shall provide that any material failure of the board to comply with the requirements of clause 26 of section 7 of chapter 4, section 10 of chapter 66 that is not cured in accordance with the terms of the lease, shall be considered a default under said lease, and shall be subject to such remedies for default set forth in said lease.
SECTION 3. Section 8 of Chapter 306 of the Acts of 2008 is herby amended by striking out the second paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
The board of directors shall consist of 21 persons who shall be voting members. The by-laws shall contain provisions ensuring that as a director’s term expires, the board of directors fill each vacant position, provided that: (i) 1 such director shall be voted from nominees selected by the state representative representing the third suffolk district for a term of 5 years and 1 such director shall be voted from nominees selected by the state senator representing the first suffolk and first middlesex district for a term of 5 years; (iii) 2 directors shall be selected by the board from a list of names provided by the governor; (iv) 2 director shall be selected by the board from a list of names provided by the mayor of the city of Boston; (v) 1 director shall be selected by the board from a list of names provided by the Secretary of the Department on Transportation; (vi) 1 director shall be selected from a list of names provided by the Secretary of the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs; (vi) 1 director shall be selected from a list of names provided by the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Council; (vii) 1 director shall be selected from a list of names provided by the Wharf District Council; (viii) 1 director shall be selected from a list of names provided by the Chinatown Neighborhood Council; (ix) 1 director shall be selected from a list of names provided by the Leather District Neighborhood Association; (x) the remaining directors shall be selected for 3 year terms by a majority vote of said board then serving, notwithstanding the two term limited Board appointments from May of 2009. Those appointments shall expire and they shall revert to the North End/Waterfront Residents Association and the Chinatown Residents Association who shall each respectively submit a list of names for the board to select 1 director from each organization.
All directors and committee members shall serve without compensation. No director or committee member shall be deemed a public employee or a state, special state, municipal or special municipal employee or a civil officer by virtue of his position as a director or committee member. Other provisions relative to tenure, removal, resignation, quorum, meetings, notices, and the like shall be contained in the by-laws, which may be amended, revised and adopted by the conservancy as it deems appropriate and in a manner not inconsistent with this act or the agreement.
SECTION 4. Chapter 306 of the Acts of 2008 is hereby amended by striking out Section 9 in its entirety.[/box]