RMV board asks for watchdog’s help

Invites inspector general to keep an eye on things

 

THE QUASI-INDEPENDENT board tasked with overseeing the state’s driver’s license database asked for a little help from the inspector general on Wednesday, and took some steps towards hiring a new permanent director.

It was only the second meeting of the Merit Rating Board in several years and the first since the organization publicly fired Tom Bowes, the former director. Bowes subsequently finished a distant fourth in the preliminary election for mayor of Braintree.

The long-defunct board housed within the Registry of Motor Vehicles was thrown into the spotlight after systemic problems were uncovered this summer with how the registry handles out-of-state infractions. Before Bowes’s ouster, the merit rating office let notifications about Massachusetts drivers from other states pile up unaddressed.

Bowes had been hired by the former registrar, Erin Deveney, without sign-off or even consultation with the three-member board tasked with overseeing the office, and the newly invigorated board is aiming for a much more public role in hiring a permanent replacement.

Paul Franzese, the merit rating office’s interim director who is on loan from the Division of Insurance, said after the meeting that he would be open to seeking the permanent post.

“Right now I’m focused on the interim position, and I’m grateful for the trust the board has put in me for right now,” Franzese said. “And if that’s something that if they want to consider, then I’d consider it based on the evaluation of my job performance and their feedback.”

With a budget of about $9 million and a staff of about 70, the merit rating office is responsible for maintaining an accurate database of driver records that can be used by the insurance industry to adjust premiums.

The board consists of Division of Insurance Commissioner Gary Anderson, Assistant Attorney General Glenn Kaplan, and Acting Registrar Jamey Tesler, who was delegated by the other two to find an acting director. Tesler’s selection of Franzese was announced on Aug. 22.

Much of Wednesday’s meeting was focused on developing the job description for the permanent position, and going over the logistics of the hiring process with Boris Lazic, MassDOT’s chief human resources officer.

Kaplan had repeatedly called for meetings of the rating board during its unexplained years-long hiatus, and he seemed eager Wednesday to exert his authority as a board member, suggesting changes to the job description and raising the idea of giving the inspector general a new role in the office.

Applicants for the position of merit rating director should “understand the importance of communicating with the board and board members,” said Kaplan, who also asked for access to any applications that come through MassDOT – even if they are rejected by the screening committee. Lazic couldn’t say how many total applications he expects to receive.

During discussion about the idea of inviting an inspector general staffer into the merit rating office, some tensions emerged between Kaplan, who suggested the idea, and Anderson, who initially questioned it but then ultimately came around to support it.

Anderson questioned whether the additional staff might create an “unsure bureaucratic process,” and asked whether the inspector general’s staff would be in place indefinitely. Kaplan said he didn’t want to put a time limit on the idea, and said the organizational chain-of-command would remain unchanged. Anderson finally said he doesn’t “necessarily have qualms with the idea,” and voted to support it.

Similar to the Merit Rating Board, Inspector General Glenn Cuhna reports to three different officials in state government. By statute, the inspector general is appointed to a five-year term by a majority vote of the governor, the state auditor, and the attorney general.

Placing one of the inspector general’s staff within the merit rating office would provide an “additional check,” said Kaplan before the three-member board unanimously agreed to ask Cunha for someone to keep tabs on the office and provide reports to the Merit Rating Board.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

The board also agreed to plan on meeting every other Wednesday. At the next meeting, scheduled for October 9, the board plans to discuss the leadership of the agency going forward.