A choreographed hiring process

MassHousing skips search, follows script in hiring Sullivan

The Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency selected new executive director Timothy Sullivan in a matter of minutes in January, and internal documents obtained through a public records request show just how choreographed the hiring process was.

The day before the board meeting on January 12 where he was going to relinquish his post, then-executive director Thomas Gleason sent an email to board chairman Michael Dirrane attaching a “script” for the meeting. The four-page document suggested what Dirrane should say at both the open board meeting and in the private executive session regarding the appointment of Sullivan, a veteran MassHousing employee who was then the agency’s chief financial officer.

The script for the open meeting had Dirrane saying: “The motion [to appoint Sullivan] passes.  Thank you for your approval of this matter.”  The script then advised Dirrane: “At this point there may be some applause.”

The internal records also include a draft of a press release written a full six days before the board meeting. It included a quote from Sullivan saying he was honored to land the job.

Dirrane was also given a list of three potential questions that could come up at the executive session along with a number of proposed responses. For example, if someone asked why the board wasn’t conducting a national search for its next executive director, Dirrane was given six possible responses, including, “You all know Tim and what he is capable of doing” and, “We can look [for someone else], but I know that we will end up in the same place and we will have wasted some very valuable time.”

For another question about looking to build diversity within the executive team, Dirrane was given four potential responses, including: “I have spoken with Tim already and he knows how I feel about expanding the balance on our team.”

The public records request asked the quasi-public MassHousing for all communications related to the hiring of Sullivan as executive director. In response, the authority provided emails between Sullivan, Gleason, and Dirrane, but no emails to other board members, so either they didn’t know about the well-orchestrated transfer of power or they were told verbally.

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Some communications were withheld by MassHousing based on attorney/client privilege and the privacy and deliberative process exemptions of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. Records were also withheld because the authority said it was fearful their release could trigger lawsuits brought by employees.

“These communications incorporate a plan containing proposals to restructure certain agency functions and discussing both the employees who might hold senior positions and those who would no longer be part of the management team,” the authority said in a letter. “The plan was prepared in preparation for a meeting with the agency’s external counsel on December 8, 2015, for the purpose of obtaining legal advice and in anticipation of litigation that could arise from the personnel decisions.”