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North End Greenway Parks (Photo by Matt Conti)

The State House of Representatives and Senate resolved differences this week to pass reform legislation that would increase the transparency and accountability of the Rose F. Greenway Conservancy. The Greenway Amendment was sponsored by State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz in the House and supported by State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli in the Senate. Both legislators represent neighborhoods that surround the Greenway parks, including the North End / Waterfront.

Referring to the evolution of specific elements in the amendment, Rep. Michlewitz said, “From when I first introduced it in January 2011, I think we are in a much better spot with this legislation.” The bill now sits on the desk of Governor Deval Patrick who has made previous statements in support of the bill’s concepts. The law would be effective starting January 1, 2013.

The reform bill addresses issues that have been questioned since the creation of the private, non-profit organization (See Greenway Conservancy Exposed – We Knew That, But Thanks Herald.) The current Greenway Conservancy Board has not supported the legislative changes referring to its status as a private, non-profit corporation. (See Transparency Policy Discussion at Greenway Conservancy Meeting.) In the end, the Greenway is public land and it was that reasoning that won over the legislature.

Specifically, the Greenway Conservancy will be subject to the State’s Open Meeting and Public Records laws, similar to agencies that oversee other public parks and resources. There is an exception to allow anonymous donors to stay private. One change from the originally proposed House bill,is to also preserve the privacy of email and documents relating to such anonymous donations.

The bill would also 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.

Wharf District Greenway Parks and Rings Fountain (Photo by Matt Conti)

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.

  • 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 new legislation does not address the Conservancy’s funding issues. A 5-year plan was scheduled to be submitted on July 31, 2012 by the non-profit to the land owner, Mass. Department of Transporation (MassDOT). (See Greenway Conservancy: “State Support Cannot Go To Zero”.) Observers close to the situation expect MassDOT to support the pending FY13 budget submitted by the Conservancy and look for ways to reduce the State’s contribution in favor of a voluntary tax on neighboring businesses and increased fundraising.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I'm glad to hear that the Michlewitz-Petruccelli bill has been passed in the legislature. Since Deval Patrick refused to put these provisions into a bill of his own recently, I'm wondering if he'll sign, but he'd be in a very awkward position if he didn't. On January 1, 2013, the public can request the check-book level expenditure details the Conservancy has refused to disclose (in violation of its enabling law). Presumably, the Conservancy will comply with this more explicit law, and we can see how they spend nearly half a million dollars an acre annually, while the City spends $6,800 and the DCR now operates on only $150 an acre (and we wonder why it can't take care of its holdings!). The Open Meeting Law normally prohibits private, closed meetings of the board except for publicly voted, minuted executive sessions whose minutes are to be disclosed once the confidentiality on discussed issues is no longer necessary, but the Conservancy will skirt that by claiming to be holding executive sessions about anonymous donors. The Public Record Law requirement, however, will be very useful. Thanks to the legislators for this step toward protecting the public interest.

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