Environmental hires have ties to top level of Baker administration
More than half a dozen hires in Governor Charlie Baker’s environmental agencies have political and personal connections at the highest levels of the administration — despite his campaign promises to wring patronage out of the state’s hiring practices.
The appointees have ties to Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, or Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton. Of the jobs the Globe reviewed, at least five were newly created under the Baker administration, and at least six were management jobs that agency heads could fill without the jobs being advertised publicly.
At least two are relatively low-paying posts, such as cutting brush on state property, clearing snow, or patrolling the state’s water supply system. The rest are better-paying management-level jobs. The people who filled the jobs include children of Polito’s supporters, political donors, and even a family in-law.
A spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs called the staffers “well-qualified, hardworking individuals,” some of whom bring “over 40 years of relevant experience to state government.” And, said spokesman Peter Lorenz, “several” of the newly created jobs were the result of consolidating multiple existing positions to increase efficiency.
Aides said Baker, Polito, and Beaton declined requests to comment directly on these hirings, but the administration stressed that it has been a responsible steward of the state workforce.
“The Baker-Polito Administration has shrunk the size of state government for the first time in nearly 20 years, saving taxpayers millions, and has created the state’s first online system for government employment to provide the public with the greatest level of transparency ever available,” said Lizzy Guyton, the governor’s communications director.
The hiring practices appear to be in sharp contrast to what Baker promised as a 2014 candidate for governor.
“I am the only candidate in the race to propose real reforms to state government to root out patronage,’’ Baker told Common Cause Massachusetts, the leading advocacy group for good government, when he filled out a questionnaire prepared by the organization.
Two hires in the state’s environmental agencies have direct connections to Baker himself. His 2014 campaign driver, an experienced law enforcement official, ended up as head of the Massachusetts Environmental Police. An aide who worked on his staff when he was president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Nadine Johnson-Jesionek, is on the payroll of the Department of Conservation and Recreation as the “metro-Boston aquatics manager,” where she oversees pools and waterfront facilities and recruits staff.
But most of the connections are to Polito and Beaton, Republican political allies from Shrewsbury. Beaton won Polito’s former seat in the Legislature in 2010, the year she ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer. Later, Baker chose him to be his environmental secretary, with Polito’s backing.
In Beaton’s first year as secretary, the DCR created a $66,000-a-year job that was filled by his brother’s father-in-law, Robert P. Healey, who is now working at the agency’s central regional headquarters in Clinton. Because it is a management-level position, the agency did not need to publicly advertise it.
Healey, 63, is the father of Jennifer Healey Beaton, the wife of the secretary’s brother, Brian. He used their Shrewsbury address when he was hired and works as a facilities manager at the Park Support Division, assisting DCR fleet management statewide and inspecting construction work in all DCR parks.
He is a certified electrician, working for several decades in Massachusetts and, for 10 years, at the Sugarloaf ski resort in Maine.
Nanci Guido, the daughter of a close Polito associate, was given a $54,000-a-year job, also at the DCR. She is charged with coordinating volunteer work at the agency’s properties, a newly created position. She had worked previously as an administrative assistant in a commercial office and coordinating volunteer work for various hospital and community efforts.
Guido is the daughter of a Revere police captain, James Guido, a supporter of the lieutenant governor who headed up the 2014 political effort and get-out-the-vote campaign for the Baker/Polito ticket in Revere and surrounding communities.
Nicholas A. Panarelli, another DCR hire, owned the Lakeside Bar & Grille in Shrewsbury along with his parents, until they sold it in 2015. The family has close connections to Polito and Beaton. The lieutenant governor, Baker, Beaton and other office-seekers have used the restaurant for political functions; Baker and Polito appeared at a crowded campaign event at the Lakeside Bar & Grille just days before the November 2014 gubernatorial election. And the family has consistently contributed to Baker, Polito, and Beaton’s political committees.
Panarelli, who worked on Beaton’s 2012 legislative campaign, listed that experience on his original resume, which was obtained by the Globe, but never mentioned any work in facility management and leasing, although administration aides cite that background as a reason for his hiring in 2015 to be the DCR’s $75,000-a-year director of ice rink operations, a newly created position.
In 2016, Panarelli was promoted to acting director of the DCR’s central region, where he earns $81,548 annually. He’s responsible for day-to-day park operations across Central Massachusetts.
Another Polito donor, James A. Esposito of Holden, was given a newly created job of deputy aquatics director, making $75,000 a year. The 59-year-old Esposito, who has an MBA from Anna Maria College, ran a “luxury transportation” company for eight years until his state employment.
His job is to help oversee the DCR’s pools, salt and fresh water beaches, and lifeguard programs. He and his wife have donated $2,200 to Polito over the last several years.
Timothy O’Connor, who worked for five years at Beaton’s former energy-efficiency company in Shrewsbury, landed a state position as a forest and parks supervisor and was later promoted to laborer II, responsible for facilities maintenance, vehicle repair, and snow removal. With overtime, he made $59,085 last year, according to state payroll records. Because it is a union job, the DCR was required to open it up for applications. He had spent several months as a part-time seasonal worker before he applied for the permanent job.
According to two people familiar with the hiring, Beaton took an active role in O’Connor’s hiring at the DCR and his move in December to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s payroll, with a base salary of $44,476. Beaton, as the environmental secretary, chairs the authority’s board.
None of the individuals hired for the positions reviewed by the Globe responded to phone calls requesting comment.
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has been plagued by a series of small-bore scandals in recent months. Baker faced embarrassing headlines last year when employees of the agency’s Department of Conservation and Recreation used state resources at a July 4 party for GOP insiders.
Last fall, environment officials were accused of retaliating against an employee whose fiance was running against a Republican senator; the episode resulted in the resignation of one top agency official and the firing of another. Another had to resign for misusing his state car’s flashing lights and siren.
More recently, the Globe reported that Beaton’s office had hired Anthony Virgilio Jr., the son of supporters of Polito, for a $72,000-a-year job as a facility manager. He had left his job as a court officer after he was charged with operating under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. Because it is a management position, his new state job did not require a public posting or a background check.
After the story appeared, Polito denied she had anything to do with Virgilio’s hiring or any other patronage hiring.
“I don’t have the details of that level of hiring,’’ she told reporters, while acknowledging she had met Virgilio’s parents at campaign events. “But the hiring process is one that’s taken care of through our HR team, and it’s not the kind of detail that I would get involved in.”