Agency heads differ on expense reimbursements

the people who run the state’s quasi-public agencies have very different philosophies about seeking reimbursement for the expenses they incur.

Noting that “perceptions matter a lot,” Clark Ziegler, the executive director of the Mass Housing Partnership, says he is averse to conducting meetings with bankers, developers, and others over lunch or dinner. “When we schedule a meeting with somebody from the outside, or they want to schedule a meeting with me, the instinct is always to do that in somebody’s office during normal business hours,” he says. “That’s just the way 99 percent of our business gets done.” Agency records bear that out.

By contrast, Pamela Goldberg, the CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, regularly holds business meetings at restaurants and lets the agency pick up the tab. For example, MassTech paid for Goldberg’s $57 lunch at The Kinsale across from Government Center with political strategist and lobbyist Doug Rubin and one of his colleagues. The Kinsale is located in the same building as Goldberg’s Boston office. She also dined with Greg Bialecki, the secretary of housing and economic development, and a MassTech board member, at the nearby Scollay Square restaurant and had the collaborative foot the $49 tab.

Susan Windham-Bannister, head of the Life Sciences Center, expensed a cup of

Goldberg even had the agency pick up the $500 bill for her membership dues for The Boston Club, an organization for female executives.

Thomas Glynn, the chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, also frequently conducts business over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A few examples: a $50 breakfast with Milton Benjamin, an “expert on disadvantaged business enterprise,” according to Massport; a $56 lunch with Department of Transportation board chairman John Jenkins; and a $76 dinner with attorney/lobbyist Steven Baddour, a former state Senator.

There are about 40 quasi-public agencies, or authorities, in Massachusetts. They are technically public entities, but they are given far more financial and operational independence than regular state agencies so they can be more entrepreneurial. While state officials face specific limits on meals and other reimbursements, the quasi-public agencies set their own rules.

Through public records requests, CommonWealth sought expense records from January 1, 2012, to August 2013 from the leaders of a number of the state’s quasi-public agencies. Officials at the agencies said all spending was within their board-approved reimbursement guidelines. They also noted that none of the expenditures involved taxpayer dollars. But the expense reports suggest wide disagreement among agency heads on what they consider acceptable.

John McCarthy, the executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, travels all over the state to visit schools and attend meetings, groundbreakings, and ribbon cuttings. But he only bills his agency for mileage, tolls, and parking—never for food out on the road.

“I don’t think I should get reimbursed for things I’m going to do anyhow, like eat no matter where I am,” says McCarthy, who is paid $154,000 a year, on the low side compared to other agency heads. “The same holds true for the people working for me.”

Charles Grigsby, the president of the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, whose mission is to help create and preserve jobs at small businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses, feels much the same way.

“I view minor expenses such as parking, occasional meals, and travel for local company visits to be my responsibility in doing my job,” he says. “The organization pays me well enough [$150,000 a year] to cover my local expenses… We manage funds originally appropriated from public funds. I’m also a Massachusetts taxpayer.”

James Rooney, who runs the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, rarely
seeks reimbursement for food.

James Rooney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, who billed the agency for nearly $34,000 in travel-related expenses, rarely sought reimbursement for food. The records show that Rooney billed for only one meal over the 20-month period—$602 for a local dinner that included Rooney, his general manager, and four people from Pax East, which runs an annual video game convention.

“If Jim is hosting a business meal, he files for reimbursement,” says MCCA spokesman Mac Daniel who has since left the agency. “[But] if it’s a minor or low-cost meal, he does not seek reimbursement. And if he’s having a personal meal, even when traveling, he pays for it himself.”

But other leaders at quasi-public agencies regularly seek reimbursements, big and small, for meals and other expenses while traveling. Goldberg, who makes $211,500 a year, billed MassTech for a $5 snack on a plane. When she needed a lock for her luggage, the agency picked up the $14 cost.

Susan Windham-Bannister, who is stepping down as the $285,000-a-year head of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, has submitted expense reports seeking reimbursement for $1.50 for a cherry scone, $1.65 for a cup of coffee, and $3.50 for a slice of pound cake.

When she travels, Windham-Bannister often calls room service. At a hotel in Shanghai, for example, she used room service eight times at a cost to her agency of $275. An airline seat change for Windham-Bannister and Bryan Jamele, a vice president at the center at the time, came to $198. Windham-Bannister also received a $50 reimbursement for using valet parking on two occasions at the Mandarin Oriental in Boston.

Nancy Snyder, the president and CEO of the Commonwealth Corporation, whose mission is to “strengthen the skills of Massachusetts youth and adults,” often dines alone when she travels. For example, she ran up tabs of $64, $57, and $50 that were paid for by her agency.

Thomas Gleason, the executive director of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MassHousing), likes to go out of state a lot. His expense reports reveal that he traveled 13 times to destinations such as Washington, DC, San Francisco, Denver, and New York, all paid for by MassHousing to the tune of close to $12,000 for the 17-month period covered by Gleason’s expense reports. Hotel rates ran as high as $423 a night, with Gleason using room service five times at a total cost of $169.

Marty Jones, the president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, whose mission is to strengthen the Massachusetts economy, got reimbursed $50 and $43 for when she dined by herself in Washington, DC, and Denver, respectively. In Boston, Jones was reimbursed the $31 tab for lunch at Beantown Pub with then-board member Ronald Marlow. Jones and Marlow have offices within walking distance of each other.

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When Thomas Graff, the executive director of the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, attended a conference being held in a hotel/spa in California, MEFA picked up the $262 tab for two dinners at the bluEmber restaurant at the hotel, which included paying for other people.

“Colleagues from other states joined me,” Graf says. “I think I had been there first, and the expense went on my room. That’s just the way it worked out.”