DCR aide with Karyn Polito ties abruptly departs post
A political appointee to an $82,000 job in a Baker administration environmental agency has abruptly left his position — a quiet departure that the governor’s aides have declined to explain.
A state environmental spokesman confirmed that 30-year-old Nicholas A. Panarelli, whose family has close ties to Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, resigned Aug. 8 as the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s acting central regional director.
The spokesman said the reason for Panarelli’s departure after a year on the job is not public information.
“As this is a personnel matter, no other information is available,’’ said Peter Lorenz, communications director for Energy and Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton, who oversees DCR.
Panarelli, a Shrewsbury resident, was one of more than a half dozen hires named in a Globe article in May that highlighted several staff with political connections in Governor Charlie Baker’s environmental department — despite the governor’s campaign pledge to “root out” the long-held Beacon Hill practice of patronage.
When he was hired, Panarelli listed on his resume his work experience on Beaton’s 2012 reelection campaign for the Shrewsbury-based state representative’s seat.
A Globe review of Panarelli’s resume this week produced doubts about his educational credentials when he was hired in 2015 for a lower-paying DCR position. Panarelli did not return calls left on his cellphone or an e-mail seeking comment.
The document, which has been viewed by the Globe, states that he had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2009 from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus. A spokesman for the university said Tuesday that Panarelli had attended the university but never graduated.
“We have no record indicating that he received a UMass Dartmouth degree,’’ said John Hoey, the university’s assistant chancellor of public affairs.
Lorenz would neither confirm nor deny that questions about Panarelli’s claims to having received a degree from UMass Dartmouth was a reason for Panarelli leaving his job.
In his 2014 campaign, Baker, playing to furor over the probation department patronage scandal, pledged to administer “strong medicine” to Beacon Hill by implementing an antipatronage initiative. It would include the creation of an online hiring website aimed at showing a person’s qualifications for the position. Baker said in that campaign that the postings would allow the public to see what an applicant’s resume “says.”
The plan was implemented in late 2016. But, a survey of a scores of new hires listed on the website shows it offers only minimal information on an employee’s background. His administration has consistently rejected public records requests for copies of resumes, even with redactions to meet legal guidelines concerning personal information.
Meanwhile, two other planks in the plan have never been put in place. They would have required the state inspector general to conduct audits of state agencies’ hiring practices and would have directed the State Ethics Commission to intervene in state agencies with compliance rates under 90 percent for mandatory ethics training.
Panarelli and his family supported Polito and Beaton when both were representing a Shrewsbury-based district as state representatives. His parents ran the Lakeside Bar & Grill in that town for many years until they sold it in 2015. Their son was listed as a co-owner in their final years of ownership. Beaton and the lieutenant governor have used the facility for political gatherings.
Polito, who has political connections to a number of DCR appointments, has insisted she does not get involved in the administration’s hiring practices. “I don’t have the details of that level of hiring,’’ she said when asked earlier this year about a fired trial court officer whom she helped land a $72,000 job in Beaton’s office.
When Beaton, with Polito’s backing, took over as Baker’s energy and environmental affairs secretary in 2015, he hired Panarelli as a $75,000-a-year director of ice rink operations for the DCR, a newly created position. Nothing on his resume indicates the then-28-year old had experience operating ice rinks. In 2016, Panarelli was promoted to the job of running the DCR’s operations in its central region, working out of its Clinton office.