Walsh nominates 2 to replace longtime BRA board members

Carol Downs of Roslindale, who is co-owner of a popular Jamaica Plain restaurant, is one of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s nominees to join the Boston Redevelopment Authority board.
Carol Downs of Roslindale, who is co-owner of a popular Jamaica Plain restaurant, is one of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s nominees to join the Boston Redevelopment Authority board.Globe Staff/File 2008

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who is continuing to remake the Boston Redevelopment Authority, announced Monday that he will replace two longtime members of the board that oversees the powerful agency.

Out are two who served for years during the administration of the late mayor Thomas M. Menino: Consuelo Gonzales-Thornell, a construction company owner on the board since 1989, and former Reebok executive Paul Foster, appointed in 2006.

In their place, Walsh nominated Priscilla Rojas, an audit manager at John Hancock, and Carol Downs, the co-owner of a popular restaurant in Jamaica Plain.

The mayor said a professional auditor and a small-business owner will bring views the BRA needs to hear.


"When you think about the BRA, you think about small-project review, big-project design, financial services," Walsh said. "I think these two women will fit nicely into some of the revamping we're trying to do."

If they are confirmed by the City Council, Walsh will have three appointees on the BRA board, including Ted Landsmark, the former president of Boston Architectural College, whom the mayor installed last year.

Just one person appointed by Menino remains: labor leader Mike Monahan, tapped for a five-year term in Menino's final months in office.

The fifth spot is held by Timothy Burke, appointed by Deval Patrick when he was governor.

Foster declined to comment. Gonzales-Thornell did not respond to messages.

The changes are the latest bid by Walsh to put his stamp on one of the most influential agencies in Boston. He campaigned for mayor in part on a pledge to reform the BRA, which has broad sway over big real estate projects. After 18 months in office, those proposed reforms have come fast of late. In May, Walsh pushed out longtime chief planner Kairos Shen, an architect who had wielded great authority over the look of new buildings.


On Thursday, he released an audit by McKinsey & Co. — a follow-up to a similar review by KPMG a year ago — that pointed to poor staff morale, weak financial management, and an architectural review process governed by "unwritten rules" that frustrates developers and community groups alike. More shake-ups among senior staff accompanied the release of the audit.

During Menino's reign, the BRA board had long been seen by critics as a rubber stamp for a mayor who ran the agency from his office. A Globe investigation published in December 2013 found that board members voted unanimously to approve staff recommendations nearly 1,500 consecutive times over a 2½-year period. Most of those votes came with little board discussion.

Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, does not expect the new board to buck the current staff on a regular basis. But, Tyler said, the directors could take a stronger role in overseeing how the BRA is run.

"They have an oversight role that hasn't really been exercised," said Tyler, whose business-backed group monitors city government finances. "If they had played that role over the years, perhaps the KPMG report and the McKinsey report would have been different."

And with Boston in the midst of an epic building boom — the BRA board has approved $5.5 billion worth of projects in the past 18 months — it's especially important the agency be well-run, Tyler said.

"The city generates a lot of its revenue through property taxes," he said. "The development process has to continue. It needs to be streamlined."


Walsh agreed. He said the BRA needs to do a better job of managing development. With the changes to the agency, as well as the drafting of the city's first comprehensive master plan in 50 years, the mayor and his development team have a rare chance to reshape the city for decades to come.

"This is an important time for the BRA," he said. "And now's the time to do this, while we're in the midst of a big boom."

Downs, a Roslindale resident and co-owner of Bella Luna and The Milky Way restaurant and bar, has watched changes sweeping through her part of town, and heard longtime residents and business owners worry they'll be pushed out.

"Working families and residents who've been here a long time are worried about being able to afford to live in the city," she said. "It's really important to have a neighborhood perspective on the BRA board."

With her 12 years of working in auditing and consulting, Rojas said she can help clean up some of the mess identified in the McKinsey audit.

"Those are things all organizations struggle with," said Rojas, who lives downtown. "It's not the first time I've seen issues like that."

Walsh wants his appointees to take active roles at the BRA and to change the perception that the board, whose members receive $10,000 a year, is a rubber stamp. Even those unanimous votes, he said, may already be a thing of the past. Occasionally, members of the current board have voted against BRA staff recommendations on projects.


"They have never heard from me about it," Walsh said. "Things have definitely changed."

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.