Reporting Worth Supporting

CommonWealth magazine doesn’t make policy, but its reporting often shapes the debate and sometimes even starts it. We thought it would make sense to share with you examples of our reporting that have had real impact and made a difference in the lives of Massachusetts residents. It’s reporting that’s getting harder and harder to find. It’s reporting worth supporting.  Click here to support the news.

Department of Conservation and Recreation Leases

CommonWealth reported in its January cover story on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s lax oversight of the leases and related agreements it manages. In one particularly problematic instance, the Wollaston Yacht Club had neglected to pay its rent to DCR for six years. Following publication of the story, Auditor Suzanne Bump was called in by DCR commissioner Ed Lambert to review the agency’s oversight practices. The investigation ulitmately led to a deal between DCR and the club in which the club agreed to pay a $5,000 per year lease, with extra payments to make up for cover the unpaid rent.

Massachusetts’ Tax Credit Program

CommonWealth magazine has for years reported on the state’s opaque tax credit program. In fact, the Patrick administration has said that the idea of tax credit transparency legislation came from CommonWealth’s extensive coverage. Bruce Mohl first raised the issue in 2008 with an investigation into tax breaks for companies that film in Massachusetts (“Subsidizing the stars” Spring 2008). Mohl then followed up with a look at Secretary of State William Galvin’s personal control over the historic rehabilitation tax credit program (“Preserving power” Summer 2008). Since that time CommonWealth has followed the legislature’s attempts at tax credit reform and called for greater transparency. You can see a complete list of our coverage here.

Patronage at the Probation Department

CommonWealth helped expose the state’s Probation Department as a patronage haven in February 2010 with “All in the Family,” a story by Bruce Mohl and Jack Sullivan that focused on jobs in the department going to applicants who were well-connected. “All in the Family” was one of many articles CommonWealth magazine has written (both online and in print) covering the political free-for-all for control of the agency between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The coverage, along with stories by the Boston Globe Spotlight Team, were cited by Governor Patrick as cause for an independent inquiry into the department. For a rundown of our coverage of the government’s attempts to control the Probation Department and the department’s issues of nepotism, please click here.

South Shore Rail Safety

CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan takes the commuter rail into Boston from Plymouth, so it was only natural for him to take an interest in the safety of his ride. When he learned the relatively new concrete ties on the rail line were crumbling, he began to investigate. He spent two months scouring contracts, talking to engineers, and learning the science of concrete. He discovered the concrete ties, which were supposed to last 50 years, were defective and falling apart in less than 10. And while the MBTA was aware of the problem, officials weren’t eager to publicize it, particularly since the cash-strapped agency had no idea how to pay for it. The manufacturer was threatening bankruptcy if forced to stand behind its warranty and T officials were quietly and unsuccessfully negotiating a resolution.

Sullivan’s story on the crumbling concrete ties appeared in CommonWealth’s Summer 2009 issue. It caused a sensation on the South Shore and forced the T to slowly begin to confront the problem. But it wasn’t until this month that T officials finally conceded they would have to replace at least 150,000 concrete ties with wooden ties, at a cost that could approach $100 million. The agency will bear the cost while going after the manufacturer. Commuters will also be inconvenienced. While repairs are being made over the next two years, trains will continue to run during peak travel periods but at sharply reduced speeds. During off-peak periods, the line will be shut down entirely and passengers will travel on buses.  On weekends, there will be no service at all on the line being repaired.

Sullivan’s story had real impact. A multimillion dollar safety problem is now being addressed. Fixing the rail ties will be inconvenient and costly, but at least a serious accident is being avoided.