The newly selected director of the MBTA was required to undergo counseling with a business psychology consulting firm while she was running the mass transit system in Atlanta, a fact that state officials say they were not aware of when they hired her.
Beverly Scott’s relationship with her board of directors in Atlanta had grown so strained that the board in 2010 paid $144,000 to a business psychologist to help Scott and her leadership team improve their management styles.
After a preliminary, two-month round of interviews with board members and Scott’s senior staff, the business psychologist reported back to the board that Scott’s performance could significantly improve if, among other things, she met monthly with the psychologist “for individual coaching and consultation.”
The results of the full, yearlong evaluation and counseling of Scott and her staff did not become public as the consultations were underway. As the consultations wound down, Scott first told the board of directors in Atlanta in December 2011 that she would not seek renewal of her contract.
Scott’s five-year contract in Atlanta expires at the end of this year. Her total compensation is reported as $370,000 a year. She is scheduled to take over as MBTA general manager Dec. 17, under a three-year contract that would pay her far less — $220,000 a year.
Cyndi Roy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said state officials learned of Scott’s evaluation and counseling by The Business Psychology Company LLC only after signing Scott to a contract. Roy said MassDOT was alerted to Scott’s evaluation and counseling by officials at the Atlanta transit system — called MARTA — after the Globe and reporters in Atlanta made inquiries to MARTA in the days after Scott accepted the T job.
Likewise, Roy said MassDOT was previously unaware of a major management audit of MARTA that was conducted in the months leading up to Scott’s candidacy for the T job. The results of that audit by the national firm KPMG were made public in Atlanta on the afternoon of Sept. 24, at the same time Scott was busy in Boston meeting with state officials to finalize her hiring at the MBTA.
The KPMG audit found MARTA to be in deep trouble, with a operating budget deficit of as much as $33 million a year, a shortfall that is being made up by dipping into reserves. The audit projects complete depletion of the system’s reserves in 2018. The “current economic model is unsustainable,” the audit said.
KPMG itemized tens of millions of dollars in potential savings that could be realized if MARTA privatized certain functions, restructured excessive compensation to employees, and curbed high absenteeism among its 4,500 workers.
“Successful strategies to reduce costs in healthcare, retirement, absentee, and workers compensation areas could save up to $50 million a year,” the audit says.
Roy said there’s no reason to rethink Scott’s hiring, based on either revelation.
Scott “took whatever feedback she got and made improvements, and that’s the hallmark of a good leader,” she said. “She will be an excellent leader.”
Further, Roy said “it is our understanding that she requested the audit to identify areas of improvement at MARTA.”
Scott, 61, a nationally known and well-regarded transit leader with decades of experience, was recruited by a three-person committee made up of Richard Davey, the state transportation secretary, and two members of the MassDOT/MBTA board of directors.The full board later confirmed her selection by unanimous vote. She declined a request for an interview for this story. Instead, a spokesman for the Atlanta transit system provided a statement to the Globe.
“The MARTA Board of Directors hired an organizational consultant to further assist its leadership team in building trust, promoting openness and fostering teamwork which has strengthened this organization to the benefit of our customers and our employees,” the statement said. “We stand by that decision which has enhanced individual and overall team performance.”
Walter Kimbrough, one of the MARTA board members who hired Scott in 2007, helped arrange Scott’s evaluation and counseling in 2010. He said in an interview that management problems were obvious and pressing and that the board felt a “moral obligation” to step in and do something.
“There was strong recognition by the board that assistance was needed,” said Kimbrough, who is no longer on the board.
Kimbrough said he, like others, was interviewed by the business psychology firm. “They wanted to know what was going on . . . to get at whatever issues might be existing,” he said. Asked whether Scott welcomed the evaluation and counseling, Kimbrough said, “I can’t say she happily accepted it.”Continued...