The puzzle at DCR

Auditor Suzanne Bump called in to review public lease oversight problems

State Auditor Suzanne Bump says she is puzzled why it took so long for anyone in state government to notice the haphazard way the Department of Conservation and Recreation was overseeing leases with private interests.

“This is not a sideline of the agency. This is what the agency does,” Bump said after dispatching a team of auditors to DCR to begin reviewing the agency’s 1,000 leases and permits.

Bump was called in by DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert after leasing problems were brought to light by a series of public record requests filed by CommonWealth that formed the basis for a story published this week by the magazine. The unearthed records reveal that rent from some of the agency’s leases is going uncollected, expiration dates on others are being ignored, and leases are being renewed in perpetuity at ridiculously low terms.

CommonWealth’s investigation found the agency’s records are in terrible shape, too few people are keeping track of the leases, and oversight of the leases is often split between two agencies. Bump says Lambert wants the situation addressed quickly and comprehensively.

“He [Lambert] characterized it as a seriously flawed system for tracking all of the monies and the leases, contracts, and permits,” Bump said. “He expressed grave concern about it.”

Bump says she doesn’t know the last time anyone reviewed DCR’s leases, but she suspects it has been quite awhile. “We can’t tell that it’s been done in recent history,” Bump said. “It’s puzzling that there hasn’t been greater attention to a system to track all of this.”

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Lambert took over as commissioner last February, replacing his current boss, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rick Sullivan. When he was heading up DCR, Sullivan apparently brought in the state’s Inspector General to review DCR’s cash management practices but never ordered a review of the agency’s leases. Lambert, in an interview, suggested the lease problems can be traced back to 2003, when former Gov. Mitt Romney created DCR by merging the Metropolitan District Commission with the Department of Environmental Management. Lambert said the agencies had two distinct cultures that never quite meshed.

Bump says her team will spend more than six months taking inventory of the agency’s leases and permits, analyzing a sample of the arrangements, and then making recommendations to improve the system of oversight.