Interim T chief to be paid $260,000

Salary seen as signal to candidates for GM post

STEVE POFTAK, who will be taking over as interim general manager of the MBTA on July 1, signed a contract with the authority that calls for him to be paid at a rate of $260,000 a year.

Officials said Poftak’s salary is intended to show potential candidates for the permanent job that the T is willing to appropriately compensate a new general manager willing to stay at least three to five years. The T in the past has been plagued by rapid turnover in the GM post.

State transportation officials said a permanent general manager could be paid more than $260,000, depending on the individual selected. Officials have said a salary in the low $300,000 range is not out of the question.

Poftak’s salary is significantly higher than what Gov. Charlie Baker is paid ($151,800 a year) and more than what Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack receives ($161,500). It is also higher than the $175,000 salary paid to Brian Shortsleeve, who currently serves as acting general manager and chief administrator of the T. Officials say Shortsleeve has turned down a number of pay hikes.

The interim appointment of Poftak was announced by Baker in late May as part of a series of management changes at the T that were set in motion when Shortsleeve decided to leave at the end of June, with the search for a permanent general manager still going on.

Poftak currently works at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and serves as vice chair of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, a voluntary position. He will serve as the T’s interim general manager until a permanent replacement is found, and then will return to the control board and his job at Harvard. Two of Shortsleeve’s lieutenants will move up to support Poftak. Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s chief operating officer, will become deputy general manager, and Michael Abramo, the chief financial officer, will become chief administrator.

Shortsleeve, after he leaves the T, will fill Poftak’s position on the control board. When Poftak returns to the control board, board member Lisa Calise is expected to step down to focus on her job as vice president of administration and finance at UMass Boston.

Even though Poftak’s salary is much higher than most T employees, it is not the highest. John Dalton was hired last November as an independent contractor to manage the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford. His five-year contract pays him a base salary of $280,000 a year, but he also receives additional payments and bonuses that could bring his annual pay to more than $380,000 and his first-year pay to as much as $442,000.

Poftak gave a presentation to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board last November where he said top management salaries at the authority were 25 percent below the national average. His presentation indicated the national average for the general manager or CEO of a transit agency was $313,000.

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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.

Poftak said in a telephone interview that his contract with the T requires the authority to reimburse him for his share of the cost of his health benefits from Harvard, which he will continue to receive. He said he will receive no T benefits.

Poftak also said his length of service as the MBTA’s interim GM is open-ended. “I’ll be there as long as it takes,” he said. “It’s important to do this right, not to do it quickly.”