Public relations firm Regan Communications Group, whose contract with Suffolk University was canceled last week, stands to soon lose another lucrative deal with the UMass Building Authority — an agreement originally executed by an authority leader who is also a Suffolk trustee.
The building authority, responsible for construction and renovation projects for the five-campus system, has paid Regan’s firm a $10,000 monthly retainer since 2011, contracts show.
At the time the contract was struck, the chairman of the building authority was Robert K. Sheridan, who is a close friend of Regan’s and a member of the Suffolk University board, which had a $294,000 contract with his firm.
The agreement with the building authority was extended twice during Sheridan’s tenure, including most recently in June 2013, the same month Sheridan’s five-year term ended. In total, Regan’s firm has received $557,295 from the building authority since 2011, records show.
The authority’s executive director, Patricia A. Filippone, said last week that she does not plan to renew the contract when it expires June 30. Authority chairman Philip Johnston said the decision was part of an overall cost-saving effort to bring more services in-house.
“Our executive director, working closely with the board, believes that communications is another area that can be handled by existing staff within the university, thereby eliminating cost to UMass,” Johnston said in a prepared statement.
Sheridan, the retired president and CEO of insurance company SBLI and one of several Suffolk trustees who tried to oust that university’s president earlier this month, did not respond to calls requesting comment about why he struck the deal with Regan, or why the building authority — which is in charge of issuing tax-exempt bonds for UMass — would need public relations assistance.
The two-page contract’s wording is vague. It says Regan Communications agrees to provide “services in the field of public relations as it may deem appropriate and as directed by [the building authority].”
Since 2011, the PR firm has also submitted receipts for reimbursements including $396 for UMass football magnets in 2012, $1,500 for a video about the Albert Sherman Center at the medical school in Worcester in 2013, and mileage to a groundbreaking at UMass Dartmouth in 2015, according to a spreadsheet of payments provided by UMass.
A Regan spokesman Friday said the firm is not aware of UMass’s intention not to renew the contract. The spokesman, Scott MacKenzie, also said the firm does not discuss the specifics of its assignments.
The building authority contract is one of two the UMass system has with Regan’s firm. UMassOnline recently extended a one-year agreement with the firm for another six months to help the online programs with branding, media, and public relations strategy, according to Som Seng-Tiarks, the program’s marketing director.
UMassOnline pays Regan $3,500 per month for those services, according to a copy of the contract given to the Globe. That contract was signed by Julie Kahn, a Regan employee who is also a Suffolk trustee.
Several other UMass campuses pay other outside public relations firms in addition to their in-house staff.
The UMass president’s office until September paid O’Neill and Associates $8,000 per month, according to UMass spokesman Robert Connolly. (The firm is run by perhaps Regan’s top rival, Thomas P. O’Neill III.)
Connolly said the decision not to renew that contract was a cost-saving measure and did not reflect poor performance.
Student charges rose this year for the first time in three years. UMass also had to trim $10.9 million from its budget because it did not receive as much money as it was counting on from the Legislature.
The UMass president’s public relations office has four full-time employees, including an administrative assistant, plus one employee who works four-fifths time, Connolly said.
The UMass Foundation, which oversees the school’s $770 million endowment, pays Howell Communications $6,000 per month for public relations services, Connolly said.
A survey of large private universities in Boston found that most do not employ outside PR firms. Boston University, Northeastern University, Boston College, Harvard, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology all rely on internal staff. Salem State pays $6,500 annually to an outside PR firm and Simmons College pays a firm $7,500 a year in addition to its in-house PR staff.
Brandeis University pays external consultants on a project basis and expects to spend between $10,000 and $15,000 on such services this year, a school spokesman said.
Former state inspector general Gregory Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute think tank, said recent events at Suffolk raise concerns about the UMass contract.
“A public university shouldn’t be hiring a spin/insider person,” Sullivan said. “It’s just one more expense which is piled onto UMass.”
Regan’s firm first signed a six-month contract with the building authority in 2011, when David J. MacKenzie was the authority’s executive director, and then another in 2012, when Katherine P. Craven had taken over.
In June 2013, days before Sheridan left the board, the agreement was extended under Craven for three years.