Greenway Leadership Council Reviews Financials & Conflicts of Interest

Greenway Leadership Council Meeting - October 14, 2009
Greenway Leadership Council Meeting – October 14, 2009

The Greenway Leadership Council (GLC) met this week to review several Conservancy issues, including financial statements and a conflict of interest policy. There also was discussion about how the GLC should interact with constituents.  The GLC is the advisory committee that was set up by legislation to consult on the activities of the Conservancy, the private, non-profit organization that manages the parks.

This was the first meeting in the Conservancy’s new headquarters at 185 Kneeland Street. The organization is transitioning out the space at International Place, that was donated by developer Chiofaro.

Financial Review
Fiscal Year 2009, ending June 2009 – $3.3 million expenses
28% Park Operations, 19% Administration, 4% Marketing, 18% Fundraising, 31% Programs

Fiscal Year 2010 Budget, ending June 2010 – $4.9 million expenses
54% Park Operations, 12% Administration, 4% Marketing, 14% Fundraising, 16% Programs

The amount going to Operations and Programs will increase from 59% to 70%. According to the Better Business Bureau, non-profits with “program ratios” under 65% are considered unacceptable. The average range for non-profits in this category is 85%-90%, according to Guidestar. For example, Millennium Park in Chicago has a program ratio of 94%.

My view:  These are not ideal comparisons, but the GLC should look to benchmark the Conservancy to achieve “best practices.” The trend is in the right direction, but they can do better. Based on the information provided, the public should expect higher levels of efficiency from the Conservancy in the years ahead.

When the Conservancy was formed in 2005, it was a vastly different environment than today. Currently, the State’s finances have been subject to severe cutbacks with more on the way. Having a park with a $5 million annual budget and a $12 million endowment (going to $20 million) simply appears excessive in today’s climate.  The cost to maintain the parks is approximately $500,000 per year, a fraction of the Conservancy’s budget. Much of the Conservancy’s endowment and up to half of its operating budget has been funded by taxpayer dollars.

Nancy Brennan, Executive Director, volunteered that her annual salary is $165,000 while the total compensation on the last Form 990 issued by the Conservancy shows $225,000. It was not clear why there is a discrepancy.

Conflicts of Interest
The GLC heard from Bob Hale of Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge to consider a draft for its Conflict of Interest policy. In brief, the emphasis is on disclosure of conflicts by GLC members and recusal in conflicted situations. From the draft, “to avoid the appearance or actual conflict of interest, members of the Council should refrain from individual discussions or meetings involving any developer or proposer of a proposal that requires action by the Council.” The Conservancy and GLC will be dealing with a number of developments on the Greenway as well as abutting the parks. Mr. Hale warned that the council members will likely be subject to lobbying by developers.

A question was raised regarding the Conservancy Board’s own conflict of interest policy which was established several years ago. Since then, Peter Meade has taken the position as chair of the Board despite working for a public relations firm that supports the Raymond Company, proponent of the Government Center Garage Redevelopment.

Role of the GLC with Constituents
In many respects, the GLC is replacing what would otherwise be a public body, so attendees at the meeting encouraged the council to have open meetings. To date, the GLC said its meetings have been open, other than educational sessions. A repeated comment from those on the council and in the audience was that the GLC should rotate its meetings around to the neighborhoods.

My view – I was happy to see the GLC taking a closer look at the Conservancy’s financials and move forward with a firm conflict of interest policy. The public is counting on the GLC to ask the questions to protect public’s large investment in the Greenway.

In less than a week, the GLC will be having another meeting on Tuesday, October 20th at 4pm at 185 Kneeland Street. More information on the GLC can be seen at their website:

See also:
Greenway Conservancy Comes to the Neighborhood
Fun Facts From Greenway Conservancy‘s Annual Report – Following the Money
Greenway Article: What about Neighborhood Parks?