Community Government

The Axe Comes Down: State Plans To Pull All Funding From Greenway Conservancy

The State’s regulator and owner of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway parks, MassDOT, issued a strident and clear set of conditions to the Greenway Conservancy as part of a lease extension coming up in 2014. MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey reminds the Conservancy that it was always supposed to be self-sustaining through private funds. Instead, the Conservancy has requested, and received, tens of millions in State money including current funding for about half of its $4.7 million annual budget. Under current legislation, the State is on the hook for up to $5.5 million per year.

MassDOT sees the next five year lease having a much different financial structure:

While MassDOT and the former Turnpike Authority have supported maintenance and horticulture operations since 2008, I believe it is prudent for the Conservancy to begin to wean itself off government support. … Furthermore, while financial assistance for the Greenway is currently supported by this Administration, it is unclear what assistance, if any, will be available under new leadership.

The conditions for transparency, salaries and process for removing government support:

  1. The Greenway shall make itself subject to the Commonwealth’s open meeting laws and freedom of information act requests.
  2. There shall be an independent review of the compensation of the Executive Director and senior staff to verify those salaries are comparable at other state-supported non-profits in the region.
  3. The Conservancy shall, within six months, submit to MassDOT a business plan that would result in the Conservancy being entirely self-sufficient by the end of the five-year lease extension.

The State is obviously not satisfied with the answers it received from the Conservancy after last week’s media blitz on the Conservancy’s poor record of transparency, compensation and carrying out the public’s interest.

Without State funding, the Conservancy will look much different in five years, if it survives at all. The prospects for a business improvement district (BID) tax have reportedly evaporated and it is questionable whether private donors will come forward now that they know what has transpired within the private, non-profit organization.

In the short-term, the perceived failure of the Conservancy could result in a leadership change. (The Boston Globe might even have to retract its nomination of Ms. Brennan for Bostonian of the Year.)

Another question is the status of pending legislation introduced by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz that would have continued funding with a lower maximum contribution by the State. The legislative draft would have also given some power to the current advisory Greenway Leadership Council. In his letter, Secretary Davey refers to changing the current legislation to include MassDOT voting rights on the Conservancy’s Board of Directors.

The full January 31, 2012 letter from MassDOT’s Secretary Richard Davey to Nancy Brennan, Executive Director of the Greenway Conservancy, is shown below or click here for the pdf. There is more background on the years leading up to this crisis in this summary post.