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Key state highway official is fired

Snow, ice removal spur investigation

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / January 29, 2011

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A high-ranking state highway official was fired yesterday and two employees were placed on leave as a result of an internal investigation into the state’s snow and ice removal operations. The Department of Transportation has turned over the investigation to the attorney general’s office for a possible criminal investigation, and Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey B. Mullan has hired an outside firm to review snow and ice practices, a source familiar with the investigation said.

Thomas Waruzila, who was in charge of state highway operations in a 77-town district anchored by Worcester and Framingham, was “terminated for failure to adhere to MassDOT’s policies and procedures,’’ Department of Transportation spokesman Adam Hurtubise said.

Hurtubise would say only that the issue came to the department’s attention from a third party, and that the internal inves tigation has been turned over to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. A spokesman for Coakley declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

But the source familiar with the matter said the investigation related to highway snow and ice contracts, and that Mullan had hired the international auditing firm KPMG to review the state’s snow-removal operations. The two union-represented employees who reported to Waruzila were placed on administrative leave, under the terms of their collective bargaining agreement, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

Reached at home in Worcester last night, Waruzila said, “I have no comment, thank you.’’

Waruzila was the director of District 3 for the Department of Transportation’s Highway Division, one of six districts across Massachusetts charged with maintaining the state’s 10,000-plus miles of highway lanes. In the winter, the districts rely heavily on a network of more than 2,000 private contractors to clear snow and ice from state-managed roadways, spending tens of millions of dollars each year on labor and materials for snow and ice removal.

Matthew A. Frazier, president of the Massachusetts Snow and Ice Contractors Association, which negotiates with the state on behalf of the independent contractors, said he learned Waruzila had been fired late yesterday. But Frazier, who is based on Cape Cod, said a number of plow drivers in the District 3 area — which covers part of MetroWest as well as Central Massachusetts — had expressed concerns over changes in which drivers get the calls and in what order when the snow hits.

“Several contractors from that section . . . have questioned the — I should say — the management in District 3 in the last year or so. There’s been a lot of questions about promotions and hiring’’ of contractors, said Frazier, who as president yesterday encouraged all snow and ice contractors “to participate fully and honestly with any investigation that Martha Coakley’s office might push forward.’’

Waruzila, who had worked for the state for decades, served in 2005 as acting commissioner of an agency then known as the Massachusetts Highway Department, and he had hoped to be named to the position on a permanent basis. But he lost out on the promotion to former deputy commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky, with the Boston Herald reporting at the time that Governor Mitt Romney was pressured by women’s organizations as an aspiring presidential candidate to select a woman.

In place of Waruzila, the state yesterday named Ronald Dionne, a veteran engineer who has been working in the Boston area’s District 6, as interim director for District 3.

“Dionne will assume the acting position immediately to ensure that the daily operations, including snow and ice removal and road and bridge repair in the district . . . continue to operate efficiently,’’ Hurtubise said.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.