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Kennedy Greenway Conservancy pledges more transparency

Public firestorm spurs promise of transparency

Under fire from news organizations and state officials, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy voted yesterday to adopt a new transparency policy that largely restates its existing practices.

The vote followed criticism that began late last month when the Boston Herald reported that Nancy Brennan, the conservancy’s executive director, had initially declined a request to disclose the salaries for herself and her staff and instead asked a consultant for advice on revealing the information.

Brennan is paid $185,000 a year, and the Globe later reported that she is one of five conservancy officials with six-figure salaries.

State legislators publicly criticized Brennan and the conservancy for lack of transparency. Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey also suggested that the nonprofit organization run without state funding by the end of the decade and urged it to be more compliant with state open meeting laws and Freedom of Information Act requests.

In a letter to Brennan late last month, Davey wrote that the conservancy was “intended to be a self-sustaining entity.’’

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Davey demanded that the conservancy submit a business plan that would result in total self-sufficiency by the end of an upcoming five-year lease extension to begin in 2014.

At yesterday’s quarterly public meeting, Georgia Murray, chairwoman of the conservancy’s board of directors, presented a transparency policy that did not directly address Davey’s demands. Murray said the board has not yet met with Davey.

The policy, approved unanimously by the board, included the continued online publication of the conservancy’s financial, legal, and design documents, as well as an annual report and regular reporting to the state Transportation Department as required under the statute establishing the conservancy.

The policy also calls for public meetings of the board of directors to deliberate the use of public funds and agreements with public agencies.

And it listed existing polices on corporate governance, ethics, whistleblowers, and conflicts of interest.

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MassDOT officials declined to comment directly on the action yesterday, but a spokeswoman issued a statement saying the agency had high expectations of the conservancy.

“As an organization that receives significant state funds and manages state property, we believe the conservancy should be held to a very high standard of transparency,’’ wrote Cyndi Roy, MassDOT communications director. “We look forward to discussing this important issue with officials from the conservancy soon.’’

Murray said the introduction of the policy gave her a chance “to really say we’re endorsing a total culture of transparency at the Greenway, from the staff to the board to everyone who we work with, that we know that this was our practice but we also know that we want the first reaction to be, ‘How can we get you information?’ not, ‘What do we have the right to withhold?’ ’’

Murray said the conservancy now operates with greater transparency than many nonprofits, posting tax returns and independent audits on its website.

The nonprofit watchdog GuideStar has given the conservancy its seal for transparency, she said, adding that it was necessary to keep some donor information and internal deliberations private for the conservancy to operate properly and fulfill its mission.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremycfox@gmail.com.