Cronyism IV, Nepotism I

August 5, 2010

Our Cronyism series (see Part I, II, and III) continues today as we get into what we believe is the homestretch on this topic—at least for the time being. We have gotten a lot of messages about this topic, both in new hiring and in shuffling people around internally, and will probably come back to it.  Today we cover another unlikely hire, a little nepotism, and an example of internal shuffling.

Today’s unlikely hire does not have an office in Braintree, but rather has one in Boston.  Edward Saunders, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, holds another of those six-figure jobs that does not appear in the archdiocesan annual report.  Saunders was hired in 2005 by a search committee headed by Fr. Bryan Hehir. Nobody had ever heard of Saunders before he was hired, and people familiar with the search inform us his name appeared from out of nowhere near the end of the process while qualified candidates tell us they were unable to get an interview. When his hiring was announced in mid-July of 2005, it was sufficiently controversial that the announcement article in The Pilot mentioned objections as well as a statement by Terry Donilon defending Saunders as being a strong candidate for the position. The highly experienced associate director for public policy at MCC and interim MCC director, Maria P, did apply for the job, but was rejected and took “early retirement.”  Saunders previously worked as SVP and legislative counsel (meaning ‘lobbyist’) for the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island Credit Union Leagues, so it might be that banking industry experience was an important prerequisite to hiring by the archdiocese even as early as 2005, before the Abington Bank crew arrived.  Or perhaps his being a Boston College alumnus (1971) got him an “in.”  We would like to hear from anyone who knows who Ed knew.  Regardness, his name has rarely been seen or heard in communications to rank-and-file Catholics since 2005, and most of the time when his name is published or appears on legislative testimony, it is because it has been added to a statement or testimony that was actually prepared by loyal assoc director of policy and research, Dan A.

In the nepotism department, we return to Braintree.  In the spring of 2007, Chancellor Jim McDonough (through HR exec director Mrs. Carol G) announced that there would be zero nepotism at chancery.  No more children, siblings or spouses would be newly hired.  Within six months, Mrs. G hired Kristen M, (who happened to be the Chancellor’s daughter) to work in the Finance Department.  Ms. M, a recent college graduate, had not found a job after graduating from Marist College.  She was not at the archdiocese long—just long enough for her to coincidentally get hired as assistant media planner by Hill Holiday, the advertising firm founded and formerly chaired by Jack Connors Jr.  In July, 2008, Mrs. G  hired McDonough’s son, Brian M, to work at the front desk of the new building in Braintree for the summer.  By then of course, the daughter had left. 

Speaking of Mrs. Carol G, in the area of internal shuffling of employees, we are told that she is no longer heading HR, and has been moved over to the area of benefits, as in pension and/or health insurance benefits.  We’re told that there are some accounting rules that somehow allow the archdiocese to pay her salary from interest on one of the funds (either interest from the health insurance “endowment” or from a  pension fund).  So her salary is “off the books” in the main Braintree operating budget, and there is a search now underway for a new director of HR.  We invite clarification and additional information from the archdiocese regarding Carol G’s current salary and how much of her salary comes from these funds.  By the way, how many people are working under the function of “Benefits” these days?

Next up, stay tuned for a very funny short video clip of a candidate interviewing with the HR department for a job in the Pastoral Center.

Cronyism: Part III

August 1, 2010

Based on the popularity of Cronyism Part I and Part II, we continue the series today with Part III.  We plan to wind down this topic shortly (with a little bit of nepotism next time) to start discussing what these conflicts of interest and the cronyism  cost the archdiocese, parishes, donors, and other stakeholders–and that is where your confidential input will be helpful.  Please see below for how you can help us with some key information.  Now onto Cronyism Part 3, featuring Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mary Grassa O’Neill and Dr. Ralph de la Torre, CEO at Caritas Christi.

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill first caught our attention when people saw her published annual salary of $325,000, making her the highest-paid employee in the Boston archdiocese.  In fact, we have been unable to identify a higher-paid public or Catholic school superintendent in the United States, and she may be the highest-paid administrator of any function in any diocese in the country.  Her school administrative competency is not being questioned here.  But, her salary and her hiring are both subjects of controversy, so first allow us to cover the pay.

The biography of Dr. Grassa O’Neill lists impressive accomplishments, especially in her most recent stint as Milton superintendent of schools from 1993 to 2003, where she raised $100 million to modernize schools and where her annual compensation was about $138,000 in 2003.  (This chart of Mass superintendent salaries says her successor was paid $168K in 2004, an increase of 22% from 2003, so that means Dr. O’Neill was making $138K in 2003).  By means of comparison, blog reader JamesBC commented on July 6:

Joel Klein, chancellor of the NY City public schools [editorial note,  the largest school system in the country], makes $250K/year. They teach 1.1 million students in 1600 schools with an annual budget of $17 billion. Ramon Cortines, the superintendent of the second-largest school system in the country, Los Angeles, also makes $250K/year. They have 694,288 students, 45,473 teachers and 38,494 other employees, and 1044 schools. The total school district budget for 2009-2010 is $7.3 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”  According to this 2007 article, the Boston public schools superintendent makes $275K/year with a $20K bonus if she hit performance-based goals, [According to blog reader, Mike T, that would top out at a max of $303K in 2010. ] They have 56,000 students. This base salary is $70,000 MORE than that of Thomas W. Payzant, who served as superintendent for 11 years.

You can make the comparison yourself vs the Boston archdiocese.  James BC volunteered that “New York and Los Angeles are 15-20X bigger, where the cost of living is arguably higher and the demands of the job vastly greater.”  Boston has 43,000 students (Pre-K-12th Grade) at 126 schools, where Mary Grassa O’Neill makes $325K, a multiple of 2.3X more than in her last school superintendent job and a significant amount more than any other comparable superintendent in the country where published figures are available.

For that $325K/year salary (plus benefits), let us look briefly at how the schools are doing lately and what we are getting.  Catholic school enrollment is down across the country and Boston is no exception. In Boston, 50 Catholic schools have closed or merged in the last seven years. Enrollment was at 153,000 in 1965, at 51,000 in 2005, and at 43,000 for the 2009-2010 school year.  In 2005 we had 153 schools and now it is down to 126.  How are Boston Catholic schools doing these days?  We are not exactly sure.  It would be interesting to know what goals Dr. Grassa O’Neill has been asked to achieve and how is she doing at achieving them.  Is it increasing test score results?  Raising money? Increasing enrollment?  Consolidating parish schools into larger archdiocesan “academy” schools?  Something else?  It would also be interesting to know how the archdiocese assesses whether we are getting our moneys’ worth out of what Dr. Grassa O’Neill is paid, along with the Deputy Director for Academic Excellence, the Associate Superintendent for Academic Excellence, the Associate Superintendent for Administration and Finance, the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent, and other staff.

But enough about salary.  Let us move onto what she did after Milton, prior to landing the job with the Boston archdiocese.  After retiring from the Milton job in 2003, O’Neill was at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for 5 years, as Managing Director for Professional Ed Programs and Director of The Principals’ Center.  At Harvard, she was a short stones throw away from Fr. Bryan Hehir (Kennedy School of Government), Tiziana Dearing (former Exec Director of Harvard’s Hauser Center and outgoing President of Catholic Charities of Boston), and Jack McCarthy (also at the Hauser Center, lecturer at the Kennedy School, and member of the Archdiocesan Finance Council).  We cannot confirm definitively to what extent she  may have caught the eye of any of these individuals, but we do know that Harvard–along with the banking sector and knowing Jack Connors–have proven to be excellent stepping stones to working with the Boston Archdiocese these days.

Finally there is the matter of her hiring.  Sr. Janet Eisner, President of Emmanuel College, headed the search committee that hired Dr. Grassa O’Neill.  (Sr. Eisner co-chaired the Meade-Eisner Reconfiguration Committee that reviewed parish closings a few years back, and she is sufficiently close to Cabinet Secretary for Healthcare and Social Services Fr. Bryan Hehir that he celebrated her 30th anniversary as President Mass this past June).  We have been told that Dr. O’Neill was actually a member of the schools superintenent search committee .   Apparently they did not find a qualified candidate willing to take the role in the first round of the search and at some point Dr. O’Neill was asked to apply for the job.  Assuming that is true, that would represent a novel form of conflict of interest, even for this archdiocese.  Jack Connors (representing the “2010 Initiative”) and Chancellor Jim McDonough would have been the ones who approved her $325K annual salary.

Oh we almost forgot to mention how small a world it really is these days. Archdiocesan General Counsel, Beirne Lovely, started working at the Archdiocese on January 2, 2008.  He is from Milton, and was Chairman of the Milton School Committee who hired Dr. Grassa O’Neill as Milton Superintendent of Schools.  On January 11, 2008, just 9 days after Atty Lovely started at the chancery, the Archdiocese announced they had picked a second Milton resident to lead one of its departments, namely Dr. Grassa O’Neill.  Same neighborhood.  Same parish (St. Elizabeth in Milton).  Same school system.  What a coincidence!  The Pastoral Center in Braintree is starting to feel like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

At the risk of beating that one to death, let us move onto Dr. Ralph de la Torre, chief executive of Caritas Christi, or Caritas, as they seem to be calling it these days.  When the search was underway for the new CEO of Caritas in early 2008, the search committee had narrowed the field to three finalists when Jack Connors, chairman of the rival hospital network, Partners Healthcare, recommended de la Torre be considered. In April of 2008, de la Torre was hired.  Shortly thereafter, Caritas Norwood’s previous efforts that publicly condemned an unlevel playing field against Partners evaporated. Caritas had previously decried a “medical arms race in which the rich get richer and the poor face extinction competition” and called for action by the attorney general, but after de la Torre started, the Caritas complaints ceased and scheduled interviews with the Boston Globe were canceled.  In December of 2008, de la Torre hired as one of his first management hires, a former top executive of Jack Connors’ advertising firm (Hill Holliday), Brian Carty, in the role of chief marketing officer of Caritas.   If Caritas, or pieces of it, were to be sold by Cerberus, it would not be surprising to see Partners pick up some or all of it in the future. We also know that de la Torre and his Caritas colleagues  and relatives donated more than $34,000 to the senate campaign of Martha Coakley, who as Attorney General, now has critical responsibility for approving the sale of Caritas to Cerberus.  Granted, they may have supported Coakley for other reasons (e.g. her position on healthcare reform) and had Coakley won the seat, she would not be in the position to review and approve the sale.  But, she did not win the seat.  So today she sits with $34K received from Caritas people who have a vested interest in her giving approval for the deal.

We do not question Dr. de la Torre’s medical competence or hospital management competence—he turned a profit of $30 million last year and got the hospital’s bond rating up so they could reduce their debt fees and borrow $100 million to finance improvements, and he negotiated the deal with Cerberus to bring in even more money for the hospital, himself, and his management team.  But De la Torre was paid well–$1.3 million in 2009–for leading the hospital.  And he may become more controversial in Catholic circles based on fears about maintenance of the Catholic identity of Caritas.  Beyond the concerns we and others have reported, numerous reports received indicate that someone in a high position at Caritas has already authorized the removal of symbols of Catholic faith and Catholic identity at Caritas hospitals.  If anyone has photos of the lobby of St. Elizabeth Hospital before and after the portrait of Cardinal O’Malley was removed, please send them our way and the same holds for before/after photos of the statue of the Blessed Mother which has also apparently been removed from the Emergency Room area at St. E’s.  These moves would seem to validate the fears voiced previously.

Lastly, as we move in a few days from cronyism to how the conflicts cost parishes, we would like to ask for your help.  We have received several reports by laity, priests and pastors about concerns in working with the  Archdiocesan Parish Services office, and about real estate sales.  If a parish wants to undertake a renovation or improvement, they get a reasonable estimate from a local contractor, but it has to run through Parish Services, and they usually come back with a different architect or contractor who the parish must work with (apparently another example of cronyism) and at a higher cost as well.  Can you share examples in confidence to us by sending us confidential email via “Contact Us.”  Also, our mention of the former Abington Bank employee turned diocesan Real Estate Director brought emails from people complaining about improprieties in how the archdiocese is selling real estate to cronies of certain people without proper oversight.  We welcome additional specific details if you have them of past sales or properties to watch in the near future. News tips, videos, guest-blogger submissions, and other comments are welcome, and we will always protect the identity of contributors unless you wish to be identified.

Cronyism: Part II

July 29, 2010

We are working hard to keep our cool after getting yet more reports of cronyism in the Archdiocese of Boston.  With so many former Abington Bank employees now working in key roles at the Pastoral Center, “Fr. Ned” wrote and asked us to sponsor a contest to rename the archdiocese.  His two submissions were “Abington Bank Employee Alumni Association” and  “Archdiocesan Bank of Boston.”  If readers have other ideas, feel free to send them via confidential email or public comments.

You read in Conflicts of Interest Part I and Part II about how Ann Carter, a former Abington Bank board member whose PR firm is paid perhaps as much as $1 million/year or more from the Archdiocese, played a key role in hiring former Abington Bank CEO James McDonough as Chancellor.  (Ann did PR for Jim at the bank and made lots of money when the bank was sold, and now Jim watches over how much Ann’s firm is paid after she helped hire him).  We wrote to the archdiocese and Ms. Carter asking for answers to a few questions about the conflict of interest and are still awaiting a response. Earlier this week you learned how a former head teller and branch manager at Abington Bank, Judy H, became executive assistant/office manager for Cardinal O’Malley with no prior church experience after a “worldwide search.”  There is more we can barely keep up with.

The director of real estate for the Archdiocese today is Ms. Deborah D, who replaced a long-time archdiocesan employee.  Here’s what they do:

The Real Estate office assists in the sale, purchase or lease of all Archdiocesan real estate as well as all parish property. The Real Estate office acts a liaison between the realtors, attorneys, tenants and the parish. The Real Estate office facilitates the hiring of all appraisers, realtors and counsel, when needed. Additionally the Real Estate office will manage all approvals for sale/lease/purchase transactions.

Where did Ms. D work before this that prepared her for her job in the church selling real estate?  You guessed it–she was at Abington Bank, as Loans Review Officer.

Then there’s the new “executive assistant” in the Chancellor’s office, Ms. Joanne S.  Where did Mrs. S. work before this?  She  is listed as “clerk” in this Abington Bank proxy statement.  Many insiders report that Chancellor McDonough’s exec admin makes more than $100K/year.  Apparently a loyal, long-time admin for the chancellor’s office was pushed out on “early retirement” to make room for the newcomer.

The Chancellor’s office also has on staff a full-time “operations associate,” Mr. Jed H.  We are told he is a  recent college grad with no prior church experience getting paid a salary well above normal college grad starting salaries and more than many long-time Pastoral Center employees. We are trying to determine exactly what he does that is different from the administrative staff in the Chancellor’s office. [UPDATE: We have been told he may no longer be at the archdiocese]t

Is anyone wondering how much of the 18% tithe they need from parishes is going toward these sorts of expenses?  Didn’t they just lay people off to save money and balance the budget?

Not to be forgotten about is Mrs. Carol G, the Executive Director of Human Resources, who oversees all of this hiring.  She of course reports to the Chancellor himself.  Mrs. G has also become a protege of Fr. Bryan H, who apparently authorized having Ann Carter (the PR vendor) on the search committees for both  the Chancellor and the communications secretary despite the clear-cut conflict of interest.

It is normally a positive sign when a business leader attracts former employees who want to work for him or her again–BUT that holds when it is a similar business or organization.  If Jim McDonough were CEO of another bank, it would be a good thing for him to bring former “rock-star” employees experienced in banking to work for him again where their experience would help the business.  But this is the Catholic Church, not a bank.  It’s a non-profit that can’t afford to pay high salaries with a mission to spread the gospel and carry out the saving ministry of Jesus Christ, not a bank where people get paid high salaries and the goal is making money.

To summarize for today, we reference several of the Pastoral Center Operating Principles

We seek to give glory and honor to God and rebuild trust in Christ’s Church, following the guidance of the Holy Father and Archbishop of Boston.

We treat each other and those whom we serve fairly, with dignity and with honor, holding ourselves accountable for our commitment to service.

In consideration of the grave conflicts of interest this blog has reported already, we welcome your comments on how you think the archdiocese is doing in the trust and accountability departments these days?

Cronyism: Part I

July 26, 2010

cronyism [kroh-nee-iz-uh m]
noun the practice of favoring one’s close friends, esp. in political appointments.

You should note that we the blog writers cannot verify every comment posted by a reader—some are accurate, some are not necessarily—but the comment posted on July 22 by “concerned” in response to Conflits of Interest: Part II is consistent with what we have observed and what many other  people have told us.   “Concerned” wrote: “ There were a lot of long-term and loyal employees that were forced out. It’s interesting that the place has actually gotten worse with all of the McDonough clones now there. Somewhere, there should be a balance between Christianity and good business practices. Right now neither Christianity nor good business practice exists.”

Thus, we continue our reporting about conflicts of interest with a small but important example.  When the Cardinal’s office was purged of all the experienced staff except one, the HR director, Ms. G.  contacted an outside search firm to fill the position of executive secretary (administrative assistant) to the Cardinal.  After a worldwide search, they ended up hiring the former head teller from the Abington Bank, Ms. H.  We are told that she literally did not know how to spell “Monsignor.”  You can see her background easily yourself.  Just check out the Pastoral Center directory here and look for the person who is Office Manager in the Cardinal’s Office.  Now look here, or here to see who held the branch manager for Sovereign Bank (which acquired Abington Bank) here.

A lot of sensitive information passes through the Cardinal’s office.  Most priests, pastoral center employees, and laity would no doubt like to know that whomever is immediately serving the Cardinal have some history in the Church and knowledge of the Church, has primary loyalty and trustworthiness to the Cardinal rather than another cabinet member, and came into the role solely on their merits.   In this case, what we know is that the Chancellor came into his role via a conflict of interest with influence from a former board member of his bank on the search committee who is also friends with Jack Connors, and then the new office manager for the Cardinal’s office came into her role via prior working relationship with Chancellor at the bank he was running.  We often hear that people write personal and confidential letters to the Cardinal and do not get any response.  A reasonable person might ask whether this has something to do with it.

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