After facing months of criticism for failing to fill hundreds of vacancies on state boards and commissions, Governor Deval Patrick is making up for lost time in his final weeks in office, naming 150 to panels that oversee everything from auto emissions to gambling policy.
The avalanche of last-minute appointments to the mostly unpaid positions, which include several former Patrick administration staffers and supporters, will in many cases extend the governor’s influence for years after he leaves office by having people loyal to him in key policy-shaping positions.
In waiting until the last minute to fill so many vacancies, Patrick is following something of a tradition. Governor Mitt Romney installed more than 200 Republican activists, current and former state employees, and others to boards and commissions in his final month in office in 2006, including his departing lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey.
“It’s about taking care of people at the end of the administration, who have wanted to participate in some way and he hasn’t been able to find a place for them,” said Marty Linsky, a Harvard University instructor who helped handle appointments for Governor William F. Weld. If the appointees are well qualified, “there’s nothing to be alarmed about.”
Patrick made more than 300 appointments over the last six months, similar to the number of appointees named by Acting Governor Jane Swift during her final six months in 2002.
But Patrick picked up the pace in recent days, in part to ensure that Governor-elect Charlie Baker does not rescind any appointments. Under state law, Baker can undo any appointments made in the final 15 days of Patrick’s tenure, which ends with Baker’s inauguration on Jan. 8.
When Romney took office in 2003, he immediately rescinded 27 lame-duck appointments made by Swift.
Patrick’s appointees include two aides: Jamie Hoag, the governor’s deputy chief counsel, who was named a trustee of Massachusetts Bay Community College, and Rosemary Powers, Patrick’s deputy chief of staff for government affairs. Powers was named to the board of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, which provides millions of dollars in funding for affordable housing.
He also reappointed Ronald Marlow, an assistant secretary of administration and finance, for a spot on the Mass. Growth Capital Corporation, a Patrick-created agency that provides financing for small businesses.
In addition, Patrick appointed several former or defeated politicians, including former state senator Patricia McGovern, who was named to the Mass. Development Finance Agency board of directors. Former state senator Linda Melconian was named a trustee of Greenfield Community College, while unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor Leland Cheung was appointed to the Mass. Technology Collaborative board.
Other last-minute appointees have no apparent ties to Patrick, including former Boston city councilor and former Suffolk County register of probate Richard Iannella, named to the Boston Finance Commission. He also chose Mayor Dean Mazzarella of Leominster, who criticized Patrick before he took office in 2007 for supporting convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer, for the Joint Labor Management Committee.
Iannella, a member of a well-known political family, said he welcomed a chance to serve in the unpaid position on the Finance Commission, an independent watchdog agency.
Baker has little power to reverse the appointments that Patrick made before his final 15 days in office, but a spokesman said Baker will review the late appointees nonetheless.
“The governor-elect feels the boards and commissions are important bodies and that the people of Massachusetts deserve only qualified individuals to serve on them,” said spokesman Tim Buckley.
Though appointments to boards and commissions can be a way to reward loyalists and influence policy-making, they can also be an administrative headache, forcing the governor’s office to find hundreds of potential appointees, sometimes with specific areas of expertise.
Few of Patrick’s late appointees will get paid positions. Charlene Bonner, elevated to chairman of the Parole Board in November, is one of the few exceptions. She earned $120,000 as a board member this year.
Meanwhile, pension reform in 2009 prevents board members from counting their unpaid board service toward their state pensions, reducing the financial incentive to serve.
Patrick’s office has struggled to keep up with all the vacancies. The Globe found earlier this year that more than one-third of the seats on 640 state boards and commissions tracked by the governor’s office were either vacant or filled by members whose terms had expired.
In some cases, boards had to cancel meetings regularly for lack of enough members to do business, while other boards simply met anyway, leaving votes open to a potential court challenge.
Though Patrick has been working to fill the vacancies, as of Dec. 26, the governor’s office still lists 583 vacancies and 732 holdover board and commission members who are serving beyond the end of their official terms.
Patrick’s late appointees also include his former lieutenant governor, Timothy P. Murray, who resigned the state’s number-two job under fire in May 2013 to take a job with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. In October, Patrick named Murray to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Advisory Council.
Patrick also named nine members to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy, which was faulted for lax oversight of the Framingham company blamed for a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that killed 64 people in 2012. Patrick fired the director of the pharmacy board, James D. Coffey.
“We are governing through the last day of the Patrick administration, and that includes continuing to appoint highly qualified individuals to serve on boards and commissions in state government,” explained Jesse Mermell, Patrick’s communication director.
John Walsh, director of Patrick’s political action committee, said the governor’s goal has always been to choose the best person for a job, not to dole out political rewards.
“If you look at his appointments from the beginning of his administration, there wasn’t a tight screen where you had to be a true-blue believer — just that you had to be good for the job,” said Walsh.