Six members of the board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority have resigned under pressure from Governor Charlie Baker, officials said Tuesday, clearing the way for the governor to take control of the embattled agency.
Baker last week asked six of the seven Massachusetts Department of Transportation board members to step down as he seeks to overhaul the MBTA after its roundly criticized performance during the record winter storms.
With the board under his control, Baker will be able to install new leadership and have broader latitude to help remake an agency that a panel he appointed blasted for having “pervasive organizational failures.” Baker’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, will remain on the board.
John Jenkins, the chairman of the MassDOT board, sounded a note of defiance last week when he said only the Legislature — not the governor — could take away power from the board. But the governor’s spokesman, Tim Buckley, confirmed Tuesday that Jenkins and the other five had stepped down.
“The governor is grateful for all of the members’ service to the Commonwealth, is thankful for their recommendations, and looks forward to assembling a new team of transportation experts to assist MassDOT,” Buckley said in a statement.
After the MBTA stranded thousands of commuters during a disastrous winter, Baker has sought to take ownership of the troubles facing the beleaguered agency. An expert panel he appointed to examine the agency’s problems recommended that Baker ask for the resignations of the board members. The same panel also recommended the creation of a new board to oversee the agency for three to five years.
On Wednesday, Baker is expected to introduce new MBTA overhaul legislation that would put other proposed changes in place.
Buckley said Tuesday the administration had received the resignation letters of the six board members who were appointed by Baker’s predecessor, Deval Patrick.
Outgoing member Andrew Whittle, who has served since 2009, said he believed the governor deserved a new start. “I understand the need to have fresh faces,” said Whittle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Janice Loux was first appointed to a separate board overseeing the MBTA under Governor William Weld nearly two decades ago. She said she resigned last week after speaking with the governor’s chief of staff, Steven Kadish.
She told Kadish she was “grateful for the opportunity of public service for 18 years” and wished the new administration well, she said in an e-mail.
Jenkins and two other departing board members — Dominic Blue and Joseph C. Bonfiglio — did not return messages Tuesday seeking their comment. Outgoing member Robin Chase, who had been appointed to the board in November, declined to comment.
The unpaid MassDOT board was formed in 2009 after several transportation departments and authorities — such as the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and MassHighway — merged to form the state Department of Transportation, or MassDOT. Under the 2009 transportation reform law, the board was given oversight of both MassDOT and the MBTA. In 2012, the Legislature expanded the board to have seven members, including the transportation secretary.
But under the law, a new governor initially has little say over the T. Because the MassDOT board members are appointed in staggered four-year terms, Baker only had one appointee on the board this winter: his transportation secretary.
Transit experts saw that as a weakness, which was exposed when the T faltered during the record-setting onslaught of snow. Baker initially distanced himself from the agency, saying he had only one vote on the MassDOT board.
“I thought it was a major shortcoming for the governor not to have immediate control on something as important as the transportation network that the people who elected him depend on every day,” said Stephen J. Silveira, a former MBTA official who also helped chair a commission that studied the state’s transportation systems seven years ago.
But as service worsened, Baker took more public, direct responsibility of the agency, and he said last week that he needs to “own the T.”
The scathing report released by the governor’s expert panel recommended several measures that would give Baker more control of the transit agency. The report said Baker should now appoint new members to the MassDOT board, as well as spearhead legislation that would increase the number of members on the board and make the transportation secretary the chairwoman.
In addition, the governor is expected to follow a recommendation to file legislation for a new oversight board that would temporarily take away the MassDOT board’s oversight of the MBTA. Under the recommendations from the report, the new T oversight board would report to the transportation secretary and “manage and control revenues and costs aggressively.”
But it’s already clear the new board will face skepticism.
The T’s interim general manager, Frank DePaola, said last week he worried the board’s creation would undo some of the collaboration between MassDOT and the MBTA.
Thomas M. McGee, the Senate chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee, also said he will be pushing back on the panel’s findings. “They suggest a control board without identifying what that would be,” he said last week.
Whittle, the outgoing board member and MIT professor, also questioned how the new board would produce real change.
“Does it make sense to have two boards?” he asked.