Straus targets Pollack, d’Arbeloff on RMV

New documents shed light on Registry issues

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.

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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.

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.