How state officials enjoy everything from dinner to satellite radio to a pricey home desk chair on your dime
Imagine having an expense account where the state picks up the tab for your fine dining. And for trips abroad. And for an $850 desk chair.
In order to identify state government officials who enjoy such privileges, using the public records law I got hold of the 2022 expense records of a number of the officials and plowed through hundreds of pages of documents. Here are some highlights …
At a cost to Massachusetts taxpayers of $11,630, UMass President Martin Meehan along with the chancellor of his Boston campus, Marcello Suárez-Orozco, attended a program at the Vatican run by a Catholic group with the imposing title of Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which was established by Pope John Paul II. “Each of the academy’s meetings begins with a report of the Church’s social teachings relative to the topic in question,” the academy’s website states.
They both gave talks: Meehan on “Things that Matter: Descending into Deceit and the Impact of the Post-Truth Era” and Suárez-Orozco on Quid Est Veritas?” — Latin for “What is the truth?”
Charles Hipwood, the president and CEO of the quasi-public MassVentures, used agency money to buy himself some pricey pieces of office furniture: a desk chair for $850 and a desk to go along with it for $627, making for a total of $1,477. According to Hipwood, the money came out of a one-time reimbursement of up to $1,500 for each MassVenture employee to buy office equipment for use while working at home. Hipwood, who pulls down a hefty annual salary of $281,810, ignored an inquiry asking him to justify his purchases.
Carolyn Kirk, the executive director of another quasi-public state agency, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, gets a highly unusual, if not unique, perk. She gets reimbursed for her roundtrip mileage from her home to work at the agency’s headquarters in Westborough. Why, you ask? Because her “permanent worksite” is the agency’s Boston office, according to her spokesperson. As a result, Kirk, who makes $256,563 a year, got a boost in her paycheck of $1,177. (When she goes to the agency’s Westborough office, her normal daily commute mileage is subtracted out from the calculation.)
Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz has his taxpayer-funded car fitted with Sirius XM satellite radio at an annual cost to taxpayers of $335.
When Julie Chen became chancellor of UMass Lowell last year, she was a novice at the job, which pays her $495,000 a year. In an effort to bring her up to speed, the school shelled out $9,050 for Chen to attend a five-day seminar for new presidents at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
It was a similar situation last year for Michael Bobbitt when he became executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, an independent state agency. Bobbitt too was new to such a leadership position; in his prior job, he was artistic director of a local theater company. So the council paid $2,500 for Bobbitt to go to an executive education program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, another independent state agency, spent more than $12,000 for four people to go to Las Vegas to attend a program dealing with sports wagering.
Some UMass chancellors partook in some pricey dining paid for by taxpayers. For example, the chancellor of UMass Dartmouth, Mark Fuller, ran up restaurant bills costing taxpayers $2,700.
Fuller’s counterpart at the UMass Amherst flagship campus, Kumble Subbaswamy, spent less money on meals—$1,545. Still, he chowed down at some of Boston’s fancier dining spots, which included a $210 check on the taxpayer’s dime from Davio’s.
The chancellor of the UMass Medical School in Worcester, Michael Collins, gets the prize for the most expensive meal—$1,338, which included filet mignon for $82. In his defense, Collins is known to be an exceptional fundraiser.
Lastly, for now, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin incurred $3,857 in automobile expenses traveling around locally. But it’s not clear where the veteran pol goes.
“I do not have a log of his travels to provide, as no such record exists,” a Galvin spokesperson said.
This article is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. If you want to see more reporting like this, make a contribution at givetobinj.org
Colman M. Herman is a freelance investigative reporter. Most recently he has been writing about sexual misconduct and bullying at Boston Public Schools. He broke the story on the City of Boston refusing to release a critical report on sexual misconduct and bullying at the Mission Hill School in Jamaica Plain. Herman also writes about the many problems with the Massachusetts Public Records Law, the state’s counterpart to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).