Transportation czar hired from within

Salary issues loom as Richard Davey replaces Jeffrey Mullan

Gov. Deval Patrick today filled the post of transportation secretary by promoting from within, handing the job off to Richard Davey, the state’s rail and transit administrator and the MBTA’s general manager.

Davey, who currently manages 6,000 employees at the T, will oversee a total of 10,000 employees statewide when he takes his new post Sept. 1. His new salary will be $150,000 a year, $5,000 more than he is making right now.

Patrick said his search for a new transportation secretary was “brief and focused,” mostly on internal candidates. He had little choice, given the relatively low salary he was offering. Jeffrey Mullan, the outgoing transportation secretary, left in part because he considered the salary too low given the responsibilities. He said he plans to return to his old law firm of Foley Hoag.

“This is an incredibly difficult job,” Patrick said of the transportation secretary’s post. But he declined to raise the salary above the $150,000 level he pays all his cabinet secretaries, a decision that effectively forced Mullan out. Top aides to the governor say Patrick expects cabinet secretaries to work for less money than they would receive in the public sector as a form of public service.

Brian Kane, the budget and policy analyst at the MBTA Advisory Board, said he would like to see Davey look outside the T for candidates to fill his current job but doesn’t think many would be interested at the current salary level. As CommonWealth recently reported, T officials say the $145,000-a-year salary is the lowest of 13 similar-size transit systems around the country and $132,000 below the average.

“What Davey makes is very low, but they got him,” Kane said. “But I think it’s going to be a challenge to get somebody from the outside at that salary level.”

While praising Davey, many observers say he is somewhat unique, a solid executive who is able to work for a relatively low salary because his wife is a partner at a major law firm and they have no children.

Kane said there are good candidates within the T, including current chief operating officer John Lewis and Anna Barry, another top executive.

After the State House press conference where his appointment was announced, Davey said he didn’t foresee any problems attracting qualified candidates for the T job from outside and inside the agency. “Absolutely,” he said, when asked if an outside candidate would take the job for $145,000 a year. He also insisted the transportation secretary’s job is not too big for one person. “It’s manageable, absolutely,” he said.

The job won’t be easy. By any measure, the state’s transportation system is old, run down, and short of cash. Davey’s biggest task will be finding the revenue to keep it operating and improve it. He and other members of the Patrick administration have started to make the case for new revenues, but without much specificity.

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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.

Asked about an increase in the gas tax, Patrick said it’s just one of many ideas that could be considered. Separately, US Sen. Scott Brown told reporters that he would not favor an increase in the gas tax.

Even with transportation funds tight, Patrick is asking his transportation secretary to keep expanding the state’s transit operations. He pledged to follow through on plans to extend the Green Line to Somerville and Medford (the timetable for that construction was recently pushed back to allow the state to acquire the land needed for construction and obtain the required environmental permits.) and to build a new commuter rail line to Fall River and New Bedford. Funding for the billion-dollar project is also a question mark.

“South Coast Rail is essential. It’s a question of economic justice. It’s a question of job creation,” Patrick said. (For an in-depth examination of South Coast Rail, click here for CommonWealth’s story.)