Greenway’s history leaves it vulnerable

Back in the days of the typewriter, when an anonymous tip was passed onto newspapers, it was called “coming in over the transom,” a reference to the vent window above an office door that brings in light and air.

It conjures up an image of a stealthy tipster passing a plain manila envelope chock full of documents into the publisher’s office then taking off before being discovered. The information was quite often solid but still needed reporting and verification.

The nonprofit Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy appears to be the target of such action by an anonymous group which apparently passed a damning report on the organization’s finances to the Boston Herald. The Herald’s stories, since picked up by the Boston Globe, don’t appear to have been reported beyond the contents of the one-sided report, which the paper says came from a group calling itself the “’Greenway Whistleblowers,’ which claims it’s a group of past and present volunteers and staff members.” If the Herald knew who the authors were, it would undoubtedly eliminate the word “claims.”

But anonymity aside, the information apparently hit bone. The Conservancy, which oversees the 1.3-mile stretch of greenspace and parks where the elevated Central Artery once passed, has appointed one of its own to investigate the claims while Gov. Charlie Baker says the report has reinforced his intention to wean the nonprofit off of state funds for good.

The report blasts the Conservancy for spending millions on public arts projects, including the recent floating sculpture “As If It Were Already Here,” whose cost went from $500,000 to more than $1.7 million. The Herald story downplays the Conservancy’s contention that most of the money for the project came from private funds while the Globe prominently featured the defense, as well as the group’s chief of staff Michael Nichols lambasting the report as fraught with innuendo and inaccuracies.

But the reason the report resonates is the history of the Conservancy and what some say is the group’s tone-deaf reaction to how it uses public space and public money. Four years ago, CommonWealth took a long look at the fight over using taxpayer money and the political insider dealing that led to the creation of the nonprofit parks manager.

But several missteps at the time pushed then-Transportation Secretary Rich Davey, whose agency owns the strip, to declare the Conservancy had to wean itself off the public dole. Among those issues was the salary of former Conservancy executive director Nancy Brennan, who was the focus of a Herald investigation into her pay, as well as four other staffers who received six-figure salaries. While the story itself would have been little more than a one-day hit with maybe a follow-up, it was sent into overdrive with an email from Brennan to her bosses about how she was going to blow off the tabloid – which she mistakenly sent to Herald reporters. A report by the Boston Business Journal that the Conservancy wanted prospective board members to donate a minimum $5,000 also did not sit well with lawmakers.

The Herald, far more than the Globe, has been dogged in its reporting of the Greenway and its perceived elitist posture in running the public park. The paper reported in April that the state quietly signed a two-year extension to continue receiving state funds, which would bring it to the 2018 deadline set by Davey.

Regardless of how the information came to light, the report makes a salient point about the need for a watchdog over such a prominent public space.

“It is imperative that the right actions are taken and the appropriate changes are implemented in order to hold the Greenway at the same standards as the rest of the public-funded organizations in Massachusetts,” the report reads.




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