Dueling viewpoints on the Greenway

Davey, Murray make their case on funding, transparency

Secretary Davey’s letter to the Rose Fitzgerald Greenway Conservancy:

Nancy Brennan, Executive Director

Rose Fitzgerald Greenway Conservancy
185 Kneeland Street, 7th Fl.
Boston, MA 02111

Dear Nancy:

Thank you for sending the documents requested last week. On behalf of MassDOT, I appreciate the Conservancy’s work as a responsible and engaged steward of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Consistent with that, I believe we all have an obligation to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible with the public when taxpayer dollars are involved.

As you know, when the Conservancy was established in 2004 to operate and manage the Rose Kennedy Greenway, it was intended to be a self-sustaining entity with the ability to raise private funds. As a non-profit, its funding stream would not be subject to legislative appropriation or political will. As a non-governmental entity, the conservancy could effectively fundraise, create an endowment and create partnerships with the business community.

I understand you are continuing to work with my staff on a five-year lease extension of the Greenway that would begin in 2014. This moment provides us an opportunity to improve the lease arrangement between MassDOT and the Conservancy, guaranteeing further transparency and setting up the Greenway for financial independence in the future.

While MassDOT and the former Turnpike Authority have supported maintenance and horticulture operations since 2008, I believe it is prudent for the Conservancy to begin to wean itself off government support. In this economic climate, state support for many worthy programs has been subject to cuts and elimination. Furthermore, while financial assistance for the Greenway is currently supported by this Administration, it is unclear what assistance, if any, will be available under new leadership. Together, we need to ensure that adequate resources are available to maintain and program a world class park.

As we work towards that extension, I believe we can strengthen transparency and accountability at the Greenway Conservancy. As such and as a precondition of signing a lease extension, MassDOT will require the following:

  1. The Greenway shall make itself subject to the Commonwealth’s open meeting laws and freedom of information act requests.
  2. There shall be an independent review of the compensation of the Executive Director and senior staff to verify those salaries are comparable to those at other state-supported non-profits in the region.
  3. The Conservancy shall, within six months, submit to MassDOT a business plan that would result in the Conservancy being entirely self-sufficient by the end of the five-year lease extension. That business plan shall assume an annual decrease in state support such that there is zero state support in the final year of the lease extension.

Additionally, MassDOT will be seeking legislation to change the status of the Administration’s two board members form ex-officio to voting members with the full rights and responsibilities of other voting members.

Thank you for your cooperation. My staff and I are happy to discuss further or answer any questions.

Sincerely,
Richard A. Davey
Secretary & CEO

Response by Georgia Murray, Chair of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy Board of Directors:

February 1, 2012

Dear Friends of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy,     

We wanted you to hear from us directly about recent developments affecting the Greenway parks.  We were surprised to receive the letter yesterday afternoon from Secretary Davey that proposes that the State withdraw from the financial model that has been in place since the park opened. The change is significant and unexpected.  Over the next few weeks we anticipate conversations with park supporters and with Secretary Davey to clarify the future funding structure for the Greenway.

Transparency in our operations is important to all Greenway stakeholders. As the Board, we have had a commitment to transparency since our inception. We have posted our audits and tax returns on our website for years, and  GuideStar, the non-profit watchdog group, has given the Conservancy its Guidestar Seal for transparency. This transparency certainly extends to members of the press.  Last week, our Director of Business Operations, Director of Finance, and Nancy Brennan spent more than three hours sharing our financial information with a local reporter, consistent with our policy of maintaining productive working relationships with the media.  Later the reporter sent an email to Nancy for senior staff’s FY12 salary information and specifically for hers, which were not yet publicly available. As you know, when she reached out for counsel from the Conservancy’s public affairs consultant, she accidentally sent the email to the reporter instead.  Unfortunately, while many of us can relate to that moment, this has morphed into questioning the very essence of the public/private partnership that is the Greenway. 

We continue to believe in the public-private partnership model because of the results we’ve achieved. We view this as an opportunity to remind the Public Parties and the general public of some salient facts:

  • The Conservancy model is a proven one – developed for parks in Boston and other cities, and adopted for the Greenway in 2004. It is a public/private partnership that allows each public dollar to be leveraged by private philanthropy. Since inception, Government has contributed 40% ($14.1M) of total Greenway revenue, while the Conservancy has brought in 60%, including $18.2M of private philanthropy:

    For our audited financials, tax documents, and other information, you can visit our website  or GuideStar, the non-profit watchdog group mentioned previously.

  • As an organization, we have raised funds efficiently. The $18.2M was raised with $2.4M of fundraising costs – a better than 7-to-1 ratio. This is a solid ratio for most non-profits, but a truly excellent ratio for a start-up:
  • Our operating costs are reasonable and competitive. We regularly benchmark our costs against similar parks in other parts of the country. These “new urban parks” – like Millennium Park in Chicago and Bryant Park in New York – have hardscape, special features, and combine active use with great public programs. The chart below summarizes the findings from a third-party study, which shows that the Greenway’s costs are lower than five of six comparable parks:

The Board sets the executive director’s compensation annually in line with comparable park, civic, and cultural non-profit organizations in Boston and nationally.  As our publicly-available 990’s filings demonstrate, Nancy’s total compensation declined during the recession, from $225,000 in FY08 ($165,000 plus bonus), to $165,000 in FY11 (no bonus).  We reviewed compensation at ten organizations including non-profits in Boston, and nonprofits which run comparable parks in other parts of the country.  The average compensation was $226,000, and therefore the board believed an increase to a salary $185,000 was quite justified. 

We share this information with you to help you gauge for yourself how we are fulfilling our responsibility to contribute to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston by constantly improving the Greenway. Over the last three years that the Conservancy has operated the park, we have accomplished the following:

Is the Greenway complete?  No, and the Board embraces that concept. Great public parks are essential to the ability of a city to attract both residents and businesses.   We reject the notion that we must make the choice between a neighborhood park and a world-class park open to all, that somehow public dollars cannot be leveraged with private funds. We at the Greenway – our Board, Leadership Council, and our staff – are committed to creating a truly excellent public park, and run it in a cost effective manner, and we believe we are doing just that.

Best,

Georgia Murray

Chair, Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy Board of Directors

Homepage photo by Cody_7147 and published under a Creative Commons license.