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The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board has accomplished a lot in its six years of existence.
It helped the beleaguered transit agency emerge from the crippling winter of 2015. It reduced the T’s operating deficit. It oversaw a threefold increase in long-term capital investments to hopefully improve service. The list goes on.
But one thing that the five-member board, which officially dissolves Wednesday, has failed to do is get the public to actually remember its clunky name.
Journalists and elected officials alike have continually tripped over the sequencing of those five words: Fiscal and Management Control Board.
Or is it Fiscal Management and Control Board? No, it’s the former. But literally since its creation, it seems that no one has quite figured it out.
In the 2015 press release announcing Gov. Charlie Baker’s original five appointees to the board, state officials repeatedly misplaced the “and” after “Management.” Baker himself made the same mistake during a press conference last week.
The governor is hardly alone. Official press releases, news articles (including from yours truly), legislation, and MassDOT’s own meeting minutes are awash with the incorrectly ordered name. According to Google, there are 37,000 results for “Fiscal Management and Control Board.” The MBTA itself has even repeatedly slipped up.
“The name is a mouthful,” says Brian Kane, the executive director of the MBTA’ s Advisory Board and former principal staffer for the FMCB.
“And it’s been butchered by everybody, including me,” Kane said.
It’s not merely the placement of the “and” in the name. Reporters and lawmakers have, with surprising frequency, dubbed the panel the “Fiscal Control and Management Board.”
No one is jumping to take responsibility for coming up with the FMCB’s name.
A spokeswoman for the MBTA declined to comment, deferring to state lawmakers on the State House’s joint transportation committee, which technically created the FMCB. However, state Rep. Bill Straus, a co-chair of the committee, noted that the name originally dates back to a special panel created by Baker to review the MBTA in the wake of the 2015 snowmageddon.
That panel had recommended creating a “Fiscal and Management Control Board” to manage the MBTA, which was previously overseen by MassDOT’s Board of Directors. During those years, Kane says the MBTA would come up for maybe 10 to 15 minutes during MassDOT’s wide-ranging meetings.
“Otherwise, it was all about highway and registry and, God help us, the aeronautics division,” he said.
The nine-syllable name takes inspiration from the type of control boards that have been appointed in the past to manage financially struggling cities, like Springfield and Chelsea, as well as school districts. But as Straus notes, the FMCB “really isn’t a control board in the sense of the school district takeovers, which had occurred in prior years.” Rather, it was formed so that the MBTA had its own governing board.
Anyhow, copy editors’ long, low-pitch nightmare does appear to be coming to an end.
After lawmakers gave the FMCB a one-year extension in 2020 after its five-year term expired, the board will officially dissolve Wednesday as a new, permanent seven-member board takes shape.
And for one thing, it will have a much simpler name: MBTA Board of Directors.
There are, however, other details that still need to be ironed out.
Lawmakers have been working on establishing a replacement board as part of the state budget, which will again come late this year. So for the next week or two, the FMCB will be replaced by nothing. But according to Baker, the lapse shouldn’t create any major issues.
“[The FMCB] made a decision at the last meeting to vote on a whole bunch of things that basically make it possible for the T to continue to operate, even if there isn’t an FMCB for some period of time,” he told reporters last week.
Both the House and Senate proposals call for the new board to be filled by the the transportation secretary, five appointees by the governor, and one appointee by the MBTA advisory board, which represents the 176 cities and towns in the MBTA’s service area (officials in Boston had called for the city to have its own representative on the board, but that now appears unlikely).
The House and Senate bills differ on the qualifications of each of the appointees, as well as their stipends (the FMCB members have been unpaid) and the number of meetings they’re required to hold.
Baker noted that the FMCB put in an “extraordinary amount of time” — at least 36, hours-long meetings a year — to the point that outside experts recommended lightening their schedule to take the pressure off MBTA staff.
Despite the differences, Kanes says the House and Senate proposals try to “accomplish the same thing,” which is to continue the FMCB’s work to “strengthen the T.”
While the panel had its critics, even many of the activists who pressed the FMCB to be more aggressive thanked the five members for their work during their final meeting last week.
“You have brought to reality the Green Line Extension, five battery electric buses, removal of the cash payment surcharge, increased frequency to the Fairmount Line, and more,” said Staci Rubin, the vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation, adding that the FMCB “brought unprecedented transparency and public engagement” to the MBTA.
Rubin also lauded FMCB members for sitting “incredibly patiently for many hours on Mondays listening to a robust public comment period.”
“Despite its name, they did a great job,” Kane said. “While they might not have done everything everybody wanted, I think they met their mandate.”
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