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T chief resigns under pressure

Grabauskas gets $327,000 package

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By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / August 7, 2009

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Daniel A. Grabauskas, the embattled general manager of the MBTA, resigned under pressure last night after a marathon meeting of the agency’s board, completing what will be a costly takeover by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration.

The board, by a 5-to-3 vote, agreed to pay Grabauskas $327,487 to settle the remaining nine months of his contract, including salary, vacation, and sick days. Grabauskas’s resignation was effective immediately, and his job will be filled by William Mitchell, the T’s general counsel, until a permanent general manager can be found.

Grabauskas was forced out at a critical time for the state’s transportation beauracracy, which will be reorganized as a result of a new transportation law approved by the Legislature.

“I’m hoping that we can get back on track, no pun intended,’’ Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi told reporters after four hours of closed-door negotiations, “and demonstrate our commitment to the riders of the T, that we put them first.’’

Aloisi pledged that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will focus more on customer service and safety, promising improvements in punctuality and the addition of amenities such as air conditioning on trains.

Patrick had questioned the management of the public transit agency following two Green Line crashes and financial troubles. But Grabuaskas’s backers, who include legislative leaders and members of the T board, have praised his leadership of the chronically troubled transit agency and say Patrick’s campaign to remove him is purely political.

Grabauskas, a Republican appointed by Governor Mitt Romney, had several high-profile Democratic proponents, including House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, but Patrick persisted in seeking his ouster.

“It’s in the public’s interest to have a fresh perspective on the MBTA,’’ Aloisi said last night. “It’s in the public’s interest to move away from the status quo. It’s in the public’s interest to move away from the kind of customer service that people haven’t been satisfied with.’’

Aloisi also suggested that a fare increase may not go into effect, depending on the results of a review of the MBTA’s finances.

“I’m not going to bring a fare increase to the board based on these circumstances, until we have this top-to-bottom review and until I’m convinced we’ve kicked the tires on it to know we don’t have any options,’’ he said.

He would not provide a timeline for completion of the review, although he said public hearings on the proposed increase would continue this month. The fare increases, which include raising single bus or subway rides by 50 cents, could go into effect by January.

The MBTA board spent hours behind closed doors with Grabauskas yesterday hashing out his fate. Patrick’s administration, led by Aloisi, who chairs the T board, had been pushing members to place Grabauskas, whose salary this year is $255,000, on a paid administrative leave as the Patrick administration maneuvered his removal.

Grabauskas left the meeting last night without addressing reporters, and his spokesman did not return calls seeking comment. Some of his supporters, though, rose to his defense and criticized Patrick for orchestrating his ouster.

“The public interest has not been well-served,’’ Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat and cochairman of the Transportation Committee, said last night in a statement. “It is discouraging beyond words to watch the governor and the soon-to-be-abolished MBTA board spend their time trying to settle a political score at taxpayer’s expense when we have so many serious matters that need focus.’’

The board meeting yesterday began with a call for civility from Aloisi, who quoted Thomas Jefferson and urged members “to rise above heated words’’ in an escalating row with Grabauskas.

“I will not do to others what has often been done to me,’’ Aloisi said during the public portion of the meeting at the state Transportation Building. “Questions about motive or character have no place in this discussion.’’

The eight-member board later voted unanimously to go behind closed doors with Grabauskas to discuss personnel issues.

During the day, Aloisi left the room several times. When asked later if he was speaking to the governor, he declined to comment.

Patrick yesterday confirmed that he had asked former John Hancock chief executive officer David D’Alessandro to conduct a “top-to-bottom review’’ of the MBTA.

Patrick said on WTKK-FM’s show “Ask the Governor’’ that he had asked D’Alessandro to “gather a couple of others who know their way around managing large organizations and complex finances to give us some fresh eyes’’ on the agency.

The board later in the afternoon approved such a study, which will be done at no cost to the state.

Asked by talk show host Jim Braude if Grabauskas was going to be fired yesterday, Patrick said, “With due respect to the general manager, he is not my first concern. My first concern is the safety of the riders and the competence of the financial oversight at the MBTA and I think there’s some serious question on both those fronts.’’

Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan last night said the governor “understands the board’s desire to seek new leadership of the MBTA.’’

But Sullivan said he “strongly disagrees with the decision of the Board to approve a compensation agreement that is out of line with both the fiscal condition of the MBTA but also with the job performance of the general manager.’’

Under the terms of the deal, Grabauskas will receive $215,000 in base compensation, $44,000 for unused vacation days, $32,000 for unused sick days, and $35,000 in deferred and other pay. He will also receive full health insurance until his contract expires on May 15, 2010.

Although Aloisi helped engineer the deal, he was among three board members that ultimately voted against it because they thought it was too generous. The others were Janice Loux and Darnell Williams, both who were appointed or reappointed by Patrick.

Each member said they thought the agreement was too favorable to Grabauskas and they wanted a better deal.

“To me this has always been about performance, not politics,’’ Loux said. “I opposed giving him a golden handshake.’’

Grabauskas signed the agreement at 7:29 last night, and resigned 1 minute later.

Martin Finucane and Andrew Ryan contributed to this report.

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