The Boston Globe
Sunday, May 1, 2005
Costs rise for little-known benefit
By Rick Kahn, Globe Staff
Imagine being able to give yourself a raise.
For three years running.
And then have it count toward your pension plan.
Just because you could.
That's what some long-serving teachers and administrators in Brookline and
Somerville are doing under a little-known, but widely used, union perk. Not so
in Boston or Cambridge, however.
It's an easy sell to the local citizenry, as the annual net cost to the
municipality can be piddling -- $850 per teacher and midlevel administrator in
Brookline, or about $16,000 this year.
But with teachers in at least 50 Greater Boston communities grabbing the benefit
since the late 1990s and many of them stitching the extra dollars onto their
state-subsidized pensions, the Commonwealth has been left -- to paraphrase a
popular song -- trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup.
Now, after projecting that some bennies could put as much as an extra $155,000
into a veteran teacher's wallet during the retirement years, officials with the
Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement Board have filed legislation to negate such
temporary salary boosts.
For fiscal watchdogs, asking state taxpayers to pay for bonuses they were not a
party to at the local negotiating table is like sticking Joe Schmoe with a bill
for a plasma TV that he didn't order.
"Can we all do that -- party A and party B agree that party C will pay for
whatever we want?" says Barbara Anderson, executive director of
Citizens for Limited Taxation.
You can if you sign up for the Lexington Plan, which sounds like a trip to the
northwestern suburb to watch a Revolutionary War reenactment but is really a
longevity payment for educators.
It began in the early '90s as a supplemental cash bonanza for a small group of
longtime Lexington teachers. But since the move was upheld by the Massachusetts
Court of Appeals in 1997, the provision has spread rapidly to other cities and
With municipal budgets battered by cutbacks, both unions and school officials
have seen the light of incorporating Lexington Plan benefits into teacher
Although they may have to give up other benefits, like cashing in their unused
sick days, teachers who choose the Lexington way during their last three years
of service are able to bump up their pensions, which can be as much as 80
percent of their average salaries during their three highest consecutive years
"It's a fair part of someone's lifetime earnings, it was negotiated," says
Philip Katz, head of the Brookline Educators Association. "When it comes to
money, teachers are underpaid."
For school officials, it allows them to broker labor peace by showering
long-lasting gifts on teachers who forgo short-term pay increases, without
raising the dander of local taxpayers. They can also usher younger teachers into
the newly opened slots, sometimes at about half the $60,000 salaries earned by
many retiring vets.
In an urban system like Somerville, which estimates it will spend $136,500 on
Lexington Plan salary increases to 60 teachers and 10 administrators this year,
officials use longevity rewards that expand beyond the simple cost of $5,500 for
teachers over three years to help recruit new staff away from communities that
pay higher wages.
"How do I attract teachers into our system -- the same bodies as other systems?"
says Tony Caliri, human resources manager for the Somerville School Department.
"I can give them new buildings ... technology." And this: "Longevity -- it's the
gift that keeps on giving."
Both school and union leaders note that the teachers pay into their own
retirement fund, so the Retirement Board shouldn't have a squawk.
But the Retirement Board says the teachers pension fund is not self-sufficient.
Indeed, according to a retirement official, the state this year has
contributed $682 million to the teachers fund, though the money was not
specifically earmarked for Lexington Plan payouts.
"It is a classic Massachusetts hidden benefit," says Michael Widmer, president
of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "And it's not even the municipalities
that have to pay, it's the state."
But longtime Brookline School Committee member Marcia Heist, who is leaving the
board this month, defends the Lexington Plan calculus, even if state taxpayers
have to share the burden. After all, she says, Brookline taxpayer money is part
of the overall pot that helps sustain more needy cities and towns.
"That's what a democracy is all about," she says.
Matt Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
The Boston Globe
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Up to $6m pushed for agency of ex-official
Nonprofit gets backing over state tourism office
By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff
Beacon Hill Democrats are looking to steer up to $6 million to a new nonprofit
organization to boost international tourism in the Bay State, even though
Massachusetts already has an official state agency to lure visitors.
Massachusetts International Marketing Partnership Inc. is headed by former state
travel official William H. MacDougall, who was fired in 2001 shortly after he
was forced to pay back the state for unsubstantiated travel expenses. His
nonprofit, which was formed last year, has already been awarded a $2 million
no-bid contract, and Democratic leaders are pushing for $4 million more in next
The contract has outraged officials at the Massachusetts Office of Travel and
Tourism, which for years has struggled under budget cuts that officials there
said left little money for international marketing. While Governor Mitt Romney
proposed to nearly double the agency's budget this year from $6.7 million to $12
million to beef up international marketing, Democrats are instead proposing to
increase its spending by $1 million, and give $4 million to MacDougall's firm to
conduct overseas advertising.
"We do not need competing [organizations] when we already have a successful
agency, MOTT, marketing Massachusetts," said office spokesman Joseph Donovan.
"Duplicate functions waste taxpayer money. We are concerned that another
[organization] will be duplicating the efforts of MOTT and using scarce
resources that can be better used by the state agency that is responsible by
statute for marketing Massachusetts."
Though a Republican, MacDougall has forged a close alliance with Democrats on
Beacon Hill. He leases office space from the Rendon Group, a Boston Democratic
consulting and public relations firm, and until recently MacDougall's second in
command was the wife of Rendon Group executive Richard Rendon. Tara Rendon, who
worked with MacDougall at the state Office of Travel and Tourism, has since
become the top aide to state Representative Eric Turkington, a Democrat who
cochairs the Joint Committee on Tourism. Rendon declined to comment, but
Turkington insisted that Rendon no longer has any ties to MacDougall's firm.
Senate Ways and Means chairwoman Therese Murray, a Democrat whose district
covers parts of tourist-reliant Plymouth and Barnstable counties, has championed
steering money away from the state office to MacDougall's company, along with
Representative Daniel E. Bosley of North Adams, another Democrat whose district
relies heavily on tourism.
"I'm not partisan, and if it takes a Republican to do this job in the private
sector, then I say let's do it," Bosley said.
MacDougall, in an interview, said he won the contract based on his ability to
market Massachusetts, not his ties to Democratic lawmakers. He insisted that the
state office no longer has the capability to launch an effective international
marketing campaign because it severed virtually all its ties with public
relations agencies and the travel press in recent years.
"MOTT is saying they're doing something, but they're really not doing it,"
In early 2001, Governor Paul Cellucci asked MacDougall to step down from the
office post after MacDougall was forced to reimburse the state $1,007 for a
plane ticket to London, records and interviews with MacDougall show. The ticket
was issued by Virgin Atlantic Airways, an airline that the office and MacDougall
were working closely with at the time to promote Massachusetts.
In documents obtained last week by the Globe, MacDougall explained that he
purchased the ticket with cash on the day of departure in 1998, but he could not
provide documentation to state Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci's office or to travel
office officials to prove that he paid cash in the transaction.
In a routine May 2000 audit, DeNucci chided the office for loose financial
controls and ethically questionable practices, such as receiving free seat
upgrades from airlines it was promoting.
In an interview last week, MacDougall insisted the Virgin flight was not the
reason he was let go. Rather, he said, Cellucci was unhappy that the office and
the Massachusetts Port Authority competed with each other to promote the state
to international travelers, a situation that resulted in an embarrassing Wall
Street Journal article. Soon, both agencies dramatically pared down their
international marketing efforts, and infuriated hospitality industry members
have been lobbying lawmakers ever since to restore funding for international
marketing, saying such visitors stay longer and spend more than domestic
The Journal article ran in May 2000. MacDougall paid the travel office back for
the flight in December 2000. His last day on the job was Feb. 1, 2001.
MacDougall insisted that his new company will have stringent financial controls,
and that his firm will be independently audited and will report to the travel
But Donovan, spokesman for the office, said the agency will have almost no
oversight of the MacDougall organization.
In 2003, Murray championed legislation that would have paid $2 million for a
competitively bid contract to market Massachusetts overseas. But the process was
never completed because two of the three board members of the agency chosen to
award the contract, the Massachusetts International Trade Council, resigned.
With the money in danger of being returned to the Legislature's general fund
unused, Murray and Bosley this year encouraged the two organizations that put in
the strongest bids to merge so they could simply be granted the $2 million. They
did so, and, in the end, no formal bid process was completed.
Murray, in an interview, said the no-bid award to MacDougall's partnership was
legal. She also said that the travel office had failed to demonstrate an
interest or ability in marketing Massachusetts to international tourists.
"We have been extremely frustrated, those of us representing large areas of the
tourist industry, that we have not been in the international market," Murray
US Commerce Department statistics indicate that Massachusetts has witnessed a
slide in international tourism. In 2001, Massachusetts was ranked sixth
nationally in share of overseas visitors with 5.4 percent of such tourism in the
nation. In 2003, the most recent year available, Massachusetts had dropped to
seventh, with 4.6 percent of such tourism.
Arthur A. Canter, president of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, which
agreed to work with MacDougall after bidding on the contract, said he hopes the
compromise solution now backed by the Legislature brings results.
Said Canter: "We always look at anything as how is this going to affect the
industry. If it generates some heads in beds, then it is beneficial for our
The Boston Herald
Friday, May 13, 2005
Staties get raises for traffic work
By Thomas Caywood
State troopers working traffic details got a $5-an-hour raise last week - the
cost of which will filter down to state taxpayers and utility customers.
The price of having a statie watching over a roadside work project jumped from
$32 to $37 an hour effective May 1.
"It wasn't like we said let's just increase the rate," said state police
spokeswoman Lt. Sharon Costine. "We did a survey and checked to see what the
average rate is in big cities and we checked on the increase in cost of living."
Most states allow civilian flaggers to handle traffic directing duties at
construction sites, but business-backed efforts to get flaggers here have been
beaten back by police unions.
The nonprofit think tank Beacon Hill Institute calculates local police details
cost state residents $141 million a year in the form of higher utility rates and
other expenses, and that doesn't include the cost of state police details.
"It follows from our study that rather than raise the rate for state police
details there ought to be serious consideration of substitution of flaggers for
state police in many instances where they are currently employed," said David
Tuerck, the institute's executive director.
Col. Thomas Robbins, commander of the state police, signed off on the increase
after meetings with the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
"He knew there hadn't been an increase since 2000," Costine said. "There were
increases in 1998, 1999 and 2000, then it just stopped, and there were no
The increase will hit hardest at the Massachusetts Highway Department, the
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and big utilities such as Verizon
Communications, which spent $12.5 million on police details last year.
"It would become part of the cost of doing business," Verizon spokesman Jack
That means it factors into your telephone bill - and your power bill and your
state tax bill.
The Boston Herald
Monday, May 23, 2005
A Boston Herald editorial
Recovery no time to abandon reform
Here's a pop quiz. We're thinking of a word. It starts with "r" and was all the
rage on Beacon Hill a year or so ago. Give up? You're not alone. It seems the
Legislature has given up on reform, too.
An important, if incremental, reform adopted in the midst of the fiscal crisis
increased, on a sliding scale, the contribution state employees make to their
health insurance plans.
The budget adopted by the House and being considered by the Senate today kills
the modest change, costing taxpayers $30 million. Worse, the Legislature's
wimp-out sends the signal to every special interest that it's back to business
as usual at the State House.
The tiered system adopted in fiscal 2004 required new employees to contribute 25
percent, and employees making over $35,000 a year to pay 20 percent. Lower-wage
employees were held harmless at the historic 85/15 state-to-worker split.
Though Romney had sought an across the board 75/25 split, any change affecting
the politically powerful state employee unions was progress.
As of this June, some 8,921 new state employees out of 76,612 will be
contributing the 25 percent rate. And we're sure no one would be polishing his
resume if it stayed that way.
To its credit, the House Ways and Means Committee, under the new leadership of
Speaker Sal DiMasi and Chairman Robert DeLeo retained the reform (which
otherwise would have sunsetted this July.) But an amendment adopted during floor
debate reinstated the 85/15 split, except for new employees, who would
contribute 20 percent.
That's the proposal before the Senate now. Reform minded lawmakers ought to push
for the 75/25 split proposed by the governor for a savings of $75 million or, at
a minimum, retain the tiered system. Or they can slide back to the bad old days,
and give voters yet another reason not to put the governor's office back in
Democratic - and special interests' - hands.
May 25, 2005
Sex Changes Behind Bars
By Joe Bergantino - CBS4 I-Team
(WBZ-TV) Hard core criminals in our state prisons. You pay for their food,
clothing and general medical care. Now, you may end up paying for their sex
change surgery. I-Team reporter Joe Bergantino investigates what critics are
calling a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
Kenneth Catheena Hunt, serving a life sentence for first degree murder.
Sandy Jo Battista, child rapist, behind bars twenty-one years.
Michelle Kosilek, in prison for life for strangling his wife.
All three are violent criminals.
All three believe they are women trapped in menís bodies.
And all three want you to pay for their sex change operations.
The I-Team has learned there are twelve prisoners in our correction system who
have either been diagnosed with or are being diagnosed for gender identity
disorder. Four prisoners are receiving hormone treatments. So far, their medical
care and lawsuits have cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Sex changes for
all of them would cost you at least a quarter of a million dollars.
Taxpayer advocate Barbara Anderson.
Barbara Anderson, Citizens for Limited Taxation: "What bothers me
about that? What doesnít bother me about that? I canít even imagine seriously
considering this. Never mind doing this. Never mind paying for it."
So why is state funding for prisoner sex changes -- something insurance
companies wonít pay for -- even a possibility?
Blame it on the federal court. Thatís where Michelle, once Robert, Kosilek took
Before Kosilek sued, the stateís policy was this: Individuals receiving hormone
treatment before imprisonment could continue it behind bars but no sex change
But two years ago, Judge Mark Wolf handed down this decision saying Kosilek has
a "rare, medically recognized, major mental illness" and that the state must
follow doctors prescribed treatment.
Correction Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy.
Kathleen Dennehy, DOC Commissioner: "The courts are telling us that medical
professionals make medical recommendations and correctional administrators
assess the safety and security concerns."
Now, a doctor hired by the state is recommending that Kosilek, who has twice
attempted suicide, undergo a sex change operation as treatment for her disorder.
If the state refuses to do it, Kosilek will ask the federal court to order the
surgery, at your expense.
Senator Scott Brown: "I think itís unconscionable that the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts and the citizens of the Commonwealth would have to pay for any
type of elective sex change operations for any prisoners."
But is sex change surgery elective?
Most doctors and psychotherapists, include Diane Ellaborn, say in some cases
itís medically necessary.
Joe Bergantino: "What are the consequences for these men if the state says
forget about it, youíre on your own, live with it, get over it?"
Diane Ellaborn: "I think the psychological consequences are severe. I think
people have severe depression, severe anxiety. These could be highly suicidal
prisoners usually and also prisoners that are at very high risk for self
Denise Leclair, who once was a man, heads up the International Foundation for
Denise Leclair: "We should rely on what doctors say the proper course of
treatment is, not subject peopleís medical treatment to popular vote. That seems
Because of our investigation, Senator Scott Brown has filed legislation
prohibiting the state from paying for prisoner sex changes.
Senator Scott Brown: "When you go to prison, you lose some rights. You also lose
your rights to get a sex change operation."
Later this week, the state will tell the federal court that sex surgery for
Michelle Kosilek would result in a security nightmare. When that happens, expect
Kosilek to pursue her lawsuit. Then a federal judge will eventually decide
whether you will pay the bill for Kosilekís operation and beyond that, sex
surgeries for other convicts serving times for horrendous crimes.
The Boston Herald
Friday, July 1, 2005
Terror hacks do nothing:
'Amateursí produce zip, demand $7,500 for their 'workí
By Thomas Caywood - Herald Exclusive
Five members of an obscure do-nothing state commission supposedly responsible
for overseeing federal homeland security grants are demanding an unprecedented
$7,500-a-year stipend although they can't point to a single accomplishment, the
Herald has learned.
The commission includes politically connected insiders with no clear terrorism
expertise, including former Massport lobbyist David McCool, who was aboard the
infamous Massport "booze cruise" in August 1999. At the time he told the Herald:
"When I get a chance to go hog wild, I do."
"I feel like this has been imposed on us so a group of people can just collect
some money and take the rest of the year off," grumbled Public Safety Secretary
Edward Flynn, who said the commission is a waste of taxpayer dollars at best and
at worst could interfere with homeland security funding.
"We are frequently audited by the federal government," Flynn added. "We don't
need the original amateur hour mucking about in our homeland security funding
The first order of business at the commission's inaugural meeting in October was
for members to vote themselves a $7,500-a-year stipend each, according to
meeting minutes. Only one of the roughly two dozen other similar commissions
under the Executive Office of Public Safety receives a stipend, and that one
gets just $50 a meeting for members.
Gov. Mitt Romney vetoed the State Resilience Development and Anti-Terrorism
Commission's $50,000 funding yesterday afternoon for the second time. Romney
vetoed the commission's funding last year as well, but it was reversed by state
lawmakers, who created the controversial panel.
The only members with law enforcement credentials are retired state police Col.
John DiFava and Maurice DelVendo, former chief investigator of the state
Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
"I'm not taking that money. I'm on record now saying I'm not taking the money,"
DiFava said, who said the commission had been gathering information and doing
interviews with police and fire officials on their funding needs.
"If we are seen to not be necessary, that's fine," DiFava said. "But I think
we're looking at it from a point of view that nobody else does."
None of the other members returned calls left at their home, offices or both
yesterday afternoon. Flynn met with the new commission's members, all of whom
are appointed - with no minimum qualifications required - by state Inspector
General Gregory Sullivan in January.
"We didn't hear from them again until June, when they asked for their stipend,"
said Flynn spokeswoman Katie Ford.
Flynn's office responded by asking to see the commission's work. That was early
"We have yet to receive any evidence from the commission of what they have been
doing," Ford said.
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