Straus targets Pollack, d’Arbeloff on RMV

On television Wednesday night, Rep. William Straus laid the blame for lapses within the Registry of Motor Vehicles at the feet of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Mindy d’Arbeloff, the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

The House chairman of the Transportation Committee told Greater Boston’s Jim Braude that Pollack and d’Arbeloff had ample opportunity to learn about the RMV’s difficulty handling its safety responsibilities following a major tech upgrade in March 2018.

“I believe the information was in front of them. Whether they consciously knew it, that’s for them to say,” Straus said.

That is a potent charge to level against top Baker administration officials because the underlying problems at the registry were so destructive. The RMV’s inattention to out-of-state infractions left it unaware that Volodymyr Zhukovskyy’s driver’s license should have been suspended weeks before the 23-year-old allegedly crashed into motorcyclists in New Hampshire last summer, killing seven.

Erin Deveney, the former registrar, took much of the blame for that tragedy when she resigned. But Deveney also claimed that she had told Pollack and d’Arbeloff about the document-processing problems – an assertion both Pollack and d’Arbeloff essentially deny, saying they don’t remember Deveney telling them about that. 

“If [Pollack] didn’t know, she should have,” Straus said. “If the governor and his deputy chief of staff didn’t know, they should have.” 

Straus’s latest volley is of a theme with the investigation his committee launched last summer, which from the get-go took an adversarial approach towards the administration.

About a week ago, Straus and the Boston Globe wrested a trove of information from the Baker administration’s audit firm, Grant Thornton, obtaining the raw interview notes used to assemble a report into what went wrong.

If you missed reporter Matt Stout’s story based on those notes, it may be because you were tucking into some stuffing or taking a post-dinner nap, as the Baker administration released the documents just in time for Thanksgiving. But there are plenty of morsels left to chew over: RMV workers scanning the driving records of Tom Brady and Gov. Charlie Baker for seemingly no legitimate reason; MassDOT auditor Jim Logan knocking the way d’Arbeloff oversaw the agency; and Betsy Taylor, the chairwoman of MassDOT’s Finance and Audit Committee, suggesting the rest of the board is uninterested in the haphazard way that RMV staff handled cash.

The interviews also buttress a theory that Stout had explored earlier about how the Baker administration’s focus on customer service at the RMV may have come at the expense of safety considerations.

Customer service, especially reducing wait times at the registry offices, was the sole focus of the Baker administration, and top officials made that clear to the agency’s workers, Straus told Braude.

“Clearly everyone knew in the registry that this was the thing that mattered to the bosses,” Straus said. 

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

The state comptroller and Gov. Charlie Baker offer up different versions of a bare-bones, closeout budget for fiscal 2019, which wrapped up more than five months ago. (CommonWealth)

Despite having been demoted and suspended for two weeks without pay last year for fabricating a master’s degree she did not have, Lisa Riccobene was recently promoted by the state medical examiner and now earns a higher salary that before the credential controversy. (Boston Globe

Dr. Anthony Schlaff calls on the Legislature to end the religious exemption for vaccinations. (CommonWealth)

The just-passed ban on flavored tobacco products, even when combined with a new 75 percent excise tax on vapes, is going to cost the state an estimated $93 million a year. (MassLive) Meanwhile, vape sales in New Hampshire and Maine are booming, as state residents flock across the border to buy their wares in the wake of the Massachusetts ban imposed in late September. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lawrence planning board approved three projects that would create more than 300 new apartments and bring up to 1,000 new residents to the city. (Eagle-Tribune) 

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini hopes Daniel Murray, a private plow driver, serves time if he is convicted of attacking Highway Superintendent Brian Zaniboni. Murray was allegedly upset that he wasn’t hired to plow during the recent snowstorm. (Eagle-Tribune

A Salem office building was evacuated and three hospitalized after a carbon monoxide leak. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this morning that the House will begin drafting impeachment charges against President Trump. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Bourne Selectman Jared MacDonald is running for state Senate in the Plymouth & Barnstable District as a Republican.  (Cape Cod Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fall River city councilors unanimously approved a tax break intended to incentivize Rhode Island-based cybersecurity firm SecZetta’s planned move to Massachusetts, adding a stipulation that the company make an effort to hire local residents during its expansion.(Herald News) 

A Muslim electrician employed by Boston College is suing the university and his union, the Service Employees International Union, in federal court, claiming a religious exemption to paying union dues. (Boston Globe

Worcester laid out a much richer set of public subsidies to woo the soon-to-be WooSox baseball team from Pawtucket than are being offered in Rhode Island, where plans were unveiled this week for a Pawtucket soccer stadium. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

North Shore Community College president Patricia Gentile plans to retire next July and the school hopes to find a permanent replacement soon after. (Gloucester Daily Times

A UMass Amherst lecturer is barred from teaching an accounting class for the rest of this semester after complaints about two extra credit videos she showed in class, one using footage of Adolph Hitler. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION 

The MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board has started meeting fewer times per month than the law requires so that T staff can spend more time working and less time sitting in and preparing for meetings. (CommonWealth).

The T says a problem with “uncommon noise” from the underside of new Orange Line cars that caused the agency to pull them from service should be resolved soon. “But what if it’s not?” asks Joan Vennochi. (Boston Globe) Gov. Charlie Baker called the problems with the new cars, a separate power failure that shut down a central chunk of the Orange Line for an hour on Tuesday, and mechanical issues on Wednesday with three Orange Line cars  “unfortunate.” (Boston Herald)

Keolis Commuter Services, the company that runs commuter rail for the MBTA, has spent about $240,000 a year lobbying Beacon Hill since 2014. (Salem News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT/SCIENCE

The Museum of Science names a new president, Tim Ritchie, who will take the reins as it navigates a challenging financial climate. (Boston Globe

Four people were arrested blocking construction crews at the Weymouth compressor site. Crews recently started preliminary work on a station that will allow for the expansion of a natural gas pipeline from New Jersey into Canada. (Patriot Ledger) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments next week on whether Northeastern University can be held responsible for creating conditions that led to the rape of a student on campus. (MassLive)

Hundreds of emails obtained by the ACLU and shared with Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham show Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s fawning devotion to President Trump as well as controversial White House adviser Stephen Miller.