Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mitt & The Big Dig

I’m assuming that Mitt Romney is arriving in Des Moines sometime this morning, flying in to flyover country with a marketable caucus chit in his pocket. Yesterday in Boston, Romney forced the resignation of the Republican in charge of the now notorious Big Dig. Excerpts from a story out of yesterday’s Boston Globe (registration required or just google Amorello)

Matthew J. Amorello agreed to step down as Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Chairman early this morning because his termination hearing in the governor's office scheduled for today was a "foregone conclusion." …

… The chairman, who had repeatedly rebuffed calls for his resignation since a motorist died in the partial collapse of a Big Dig tunnel, lost a bid Wednesday to block today’s hearing before a state Supreme Judicial Court justice.

Amorello, who will leave the Turnpike Authority Aug. 15, signed a six-month severance package which includes health coverage. He makes $223,000 a year and will continue to be paid through February 2007.

Governor Mitt Romney heralded Amorello’s department as a new era for the Turnpike Authority, which oversees the $14.6 billion Big Dig project.

"Patronage will be replaced by professionalism," Romney said. "Secrecy will be replaced by openness." …

… Romney signed a 1 ½ page agreement finalizing Amorello’s departure after a long night of negotiations. Amorello signed the document this morning.

"Clearly it will save the taxpayers and the ratepayers the cost of an extensive legal battle," Romney said. "And it also allows the citizens and toll payers to have confidence again the Turnpike Authority."

On July 10, 12 tons of concrete ceiling tiles cascaded into the Interstate 90 connector tunnel and killed Milena Del Valle, 38, of Jamaica Plain. The connector, which links Massachusetts Turnpike with the Ted Williams Tunnel, has been closed since the accident. Officials have shutdown additional sections of the tunnel system after inspectors found more potentially dangerous bolt fixtures.

Amorello, 48, a former Republican state senator, was appointed chairman of the Turnpike Authority by Governor Jane M. Swift in February 2002. … (link)
It’s certainly fortunate timing that the erstwhile “poster boy” for all that is wrong with the massive highway and tunnel construction project in and around Boston was successfully forced out of the job a day before Mitt arrives in Iowa for some serious caucus campaigning. What's more fortunate, and not lost on this blogger or others I am guessing, is the fact that Romney ousted one of his own – a Republican and former state legislator.

This election year, and probably well into the 08 season, candidates will need to face down the specter of cronyism through their rhetoric and action. We all know that the concept of loyalty can be taken too far (the Bush administration FEMA operation post Katrina), and the next batch of presidential wannabes must demonstrate that they ‘get’ that competence is more important than connections when it comes to public sector management.

Romney achieved this particular goal, albeit through tragedy, by beginning to dismantle the bureaucratic underpinnings of Massachusetts’ failing road construction system. Imagine in Iowa if a Republican governor attempted to remove a lobbyist-endorsed Republican hack from the head of our Department of Transportation.

I’m still a little cynical (big surprise) about the timing and the focus on one individual for multiple GOP administrations failure (Weld, Cellucci, Swift, Romney) in securing a safe and efficiently managed highway construction project. But for potential Iowa caucus goers, it’s encouraging to see that Romney understands how important it is for political appointees to get a job done correctly – people’s lives depend upon it.

MA resident & Brother-in-law Dave contributed to this post.

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