Adrian Walker

Who should own the failings of the Registry and the MBTA?

Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and Governor Charlie Baker.
Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and Governor Charlie Baker. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Even as Governor Charlie Baker rightly declared the Registry of Motor Vehicles a complete disaster Tuesday, he voiced his support for Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack.

Mind you, Erin Deveney, who was running the RMV, was quickly pushed out last month after it surfaced that the truck driver who is charged with killing seven people on motorcycles should have had his license revoked months earlier.

But the governor has “complete confidence” in Pollack, whose department includes both the Registry and the MBTA.

He had been similarly supportive of Pollack in the wake of the MBTA fiasco in which a single derailed Red Line train has disrupted transportation for thousands of daily commuters, with more months of terrible service in store.


Which raises a question: For God’s sake, why?

Pollack has served as secretary since the beginning of the Baker administration, after a lengthy tenure as head of the Conservation Law Foundation. An MIT and Harvard Law School graduate who was associate director of the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University, she’s widely regarded as one of the smartest people in state government.

But maybe smarts aren’t necessarily enough in this role, given that her secretariat is currently in blazes.

There isn’t any question that accountability is in short supply at the Registry. The case of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy graphically — and tragically — illustrates that.

Within days of the crash in New Hampshire, it was revealed that he had faced drunken driving charges in multiple states, including an arrest on May 11 that should have triggered the immediate suspension of his Massachusetts commercial driver’s license.

The news has gone from bad to worse. State officials have learned that Registry officials have paid little or no attention to the notices of motor vehicle arrests from other states that are supposed to spark action.

Ten of thousands of notifications from other states — yes, you read that total right — have been found unprocessed in mail bins in the Registry’s Quincy headquarters. At least 540 drivers whose licenses should have been suspended were able to keep driving, essentially because no one bothered to open the mail. I think it’s fair to assume that no one really knows how many drivers were affected.


This is the professionally run, well-managed Baker administration that we keep hearing about?

I knew Deveney was done as soon as I read a headline demanding to know what Zhukovskyy was doing on the road — and, sure enough, she was out by the end of the day. Someone had to take the fall, and it was her day. That’s how the State House works.

But that’s fake accountability, and we should all be tired of such superficial responses.

When Pollack was hired, the one rap against her was that she didn’t have experience running big agencies — and now she was going to oversee a bunch of them. CLF is a pretty small shop.

Five years later, she’s worked diligently to craft a long-term vision for transportation in the state. We have a bunch of impressive plans for improving transportation, though many of them will take many years to come to fruition. The T’s longstanding fiscal woes are substantially improved. At one level, the transportation agencies are far better run.

But, meanwhile, we suffer with a Red Line that can barely get my Dorchester neighbors to work downtown. A Green Line that derails, too. A Registry where critical communications about dangerous drivers go unread, much less acted upon. If Pollack gets credit for all the successes in her agencies, it’s only fair that she receive blame for their failures, too.


We’re expected to believe that getting rid of the registrar and conducting a review after the fact constitute bold and effective action. Does Pollack deserve permanent immunity because she’s really smart?

At a time when state government is demonstrably failing us in life-and-death ways, firing the registrar isn’t leadership; it’s theater.

Real accountability would be holding the really powerful people accountable. And for all Baker’s bluster, he has no appetite for doing anything real.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.