New Head for Mass Catholic Conference

April 7, 2011

On Wednesday the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) Board of Governors announced the appointment of James F. Driscoll as the new MCC Executive Director.  Mr. Driscoll succeeds Interim Executive Director Gerry D’Avolio who filled in after the death of Ed Saunders in August 2010. The biggest question people have been asking us over the past 24 hours is “Who is James F. Driscoll?”

BCI has never heard of him, nor has anyone else we asked.  Maybe he is a good fit for the job, but we just do not learn anything from the press release that suggests he has done something like this successfully before. We actually learn nothing in the press release about anything he has done successfully–all we learned is what titles he has held and what positions he has occupied:

Mr. Driscoll has served in the Office of General Counsel in the Office of the State Auditor as Associate General Counsel since 2007 and as General Counsel since 2009.  His previous public service was as General Counsel and Assistant Executive Director for the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission beginning there in 1984.  He began his career as legal counsel in the Office of the State Treasurer in 1983.

So, the announcement tells us he has worked for the state on the taxpayer dole, apparently for most of the past 27+ years, but what did he actually accomplish during that time to advance the quality of life for “Joe Average” citizen of the Commonwealth?  We do not know.

According to MCC, this job function advises the four Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts on issues of public policy and acts as the legislative agent for the Archdiocese of Boston and the Dioceses of Fall River, Springfield and Worcester.”  Maybe BCI is missing something. Does anyone else understand how working for the state lottery for 19 years and then the state auditors office gives him the depth of insights to advise the four Roman Catholic bishops in Massachusetts on public policy?  Seems like he is actually much more qualified and well-suited to be General Counsel of the Archdiocese, but that job is taken already by Beirne Lovely.

Anyway, this Associated Press report in the Boston Herald quoted him essentially as saying that despite his entire career spent working on Beacon Hill, he does not really know much about the  Catholic Church’s influence, or lack thereof, on lawmakers these days:

Massachusetts is a heavily Catholic state whose lawmakers have shown a consistent willingness to defy the church on issues such as abortion and gay marriage…He rejected the notion that the church has a diminished voice among lawmakers, but he added, “The best way I can answer that is by saying, ’I’ll find out.'”

Since this role is charged with lobbying legislators to impact public policy consistent with positions of the Catholic Church, it is particularly striking how nothing is said in the announcement about him having successfully advocated for anything. Hopefully, he has more expertise and for some reason, they just forgot to include it in the press release amidst all of the language they recycle from every other press release about how the person is a “gifted blah,” “a dedicated blah blah,” and “an experienced blah blah blah.”

The Herald quoted Driscoll as saying that gambling will be a big issue from the start of his new job, since lawmakers are considering legislation that would legalize casinos and slot machines in Massachusetts, a move the church opposes.  His new role lobbying against gambling should be interesting after he spent 19 years as the general counsel responsible for defending the lottery.

We assumed for MCC to spend all this time with an “extensive search process” and come up with Mr. Driscoll as the public voice of the four Massachusetts bishops, there had to be more about him and his qualifications that was just not in the press release.   So, we did what most people would do–we just checked the Boston Globe.  Anybody can do this, and you all probably have already seen these clips where James F. Driscoll was in the news. By the way, we did not pick-and-choose–these are basically all of the news items with his name mentioned:

  • August 3, 1993: Winchendon man taking his bid for lottery prize to state panel: “After disputing his allegations for weeks, the Massachusetts Lottery Commission has agreed to hear an appeal by a Winchendon man who contends he lost a lottery ticket that was found by a 8-year-old girl and turned in for a $10,000 prize. In an Aug. 4 letter, a lawyer for the commission, James F. Driscoll, rejected Dudley P. Haney’s claim that he lost a pair of Twin Spin tickets at a Winchendon video store July 19.”
  • April 30, 2003:  “O’Brien, Cahill Said to be Immersed in Feud: “They shared the same Democratic Party ticket last fall, but now former state treasurer Shannon O’Brien and current Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill are in an apparent grudge match that is turning increasingly ugly: He has fired former O’Brien aides in recent weeks and her allies are charging that Cahill is trashing her handling of the office….The tension has become more acute over the last several weeks when each side believed the other was planting negative stories in the Boston newspapers. O’Brien allies are convinced that that’s what triggered Cahill to fire O’Brien supporters in the office. One was the general counsel of the state Lottery, James Driscoll. O’Brien had kept him from past regimes, but removed him from union protection and gave him a raise.”
  • October 20, 2005:  Treasury Officials Say Lawyer Got $78K: State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill’s office made a $78,000 payment to the top lawyer in the Lottery Commission in 2003 as part of a confidential settlement shortly after Cahill took office, Treasury officials with knowledge of the deal said yesterday.The settlement with former lottery general counsel James F. Driscoll appears to contradict comments made by Cahill to the Globe on Tuesday, when he said, “To the best of my knowledge, there are no severance packages at all” involved with a series of seven confidentiality agreements that his office has executed since he became treasurer…The Driscoll settlement was the first of the confidential agreements struck by Cahill, who has insisted that such deals are necessary to protect proprietary information in the Treasury as well as the privacy rights of employees departing under less-than-ideal circumstances.Treasury officials yesterday insisted that the $78,000 payout was the result of settlement discussions with Driscoll, who was threatening to sue because he had signed a lucrative contract with the administration of former treasurer Shannon P. O’Brien on May 13, 1999. That contract called for him to receive two years’ pay, up to three years of vacation pay, and pay for the remainder of the calendar year if he were fired without cause.At the time of his ouster, Driscoll was making $105,000 annually, which means he may have been entitled to more than $300,000 under the terms of his contract.The sources in the Treasury yesterday said Cahill offered Driscoll nothing after asking him to resign. The demand prompted Driscoll’s Boston lawyer, Thomas Kiley, to draft a breach-of- contract suit, which he threatened to file but never did.In the end, Driscoll received $78,000 before federal taxes, the Treasury sources said.O’Brien, the former Democratic candidate for governor in 2002, said last night that she executed the earlier contract with Driscoll to remove him from a conflict of interest; he was a member of a union that he would negotiate with on behalf of management.  “We might have spent as much money being sued by Jim to save his union protection…”

(NOTE: Last time BCI checked, Massachusetts was an employee-at-will state. That means employers in Massachusetts, or in any other employee-at-will state, can fire any employee at any time for any reason — or even for no reason at all. An employer can terminate any employee, with or without notice).

So, readers, this is what we know about James Driscoll, the new executive director of the Mass Catholic Conference.  We feel badly if the press release did him an injustice by skipping a lot of his important accomplishments to help citizens of the commonwealth during his career in state government.  And for the sake of faithful Catholics, we hope and pray this “gifted public servant” from the South Shore brings a lot more to this position than the press release credits him with.

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