TRUST BUT verify. Governor Charlie Baker is learning that lesson the hard way, after another high-level volunteer advisor had to resign following a failure to disclose personal financial problems.
Paul L. Barrett, who was chosen by Baker to head a critical review of the troubled MBTA, resigned after questions were raised by the Globe about the troubled state of his own financial affairs, which included unpaid federal income taxes of nearly $200,000. Public records examined by the Globe showed multiple state and federal tax liens, several foreclosures on Barrett’s home, and a $1 million legal judgment stemming from a Cape Cod real estate development deal.
Barrett, a onetime director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, told the Globe that most of the matters were settled “a while ago.” But Baker knew nothing about them, because Barrett didn’t tell him and the Baker administration didn’t do the kind of background check that would have swiftly revealed them. Barrett’s fiscal baggage created a serious credibility problem, given that he would be in charge of assessing the T’s fiscal baggage. Barrett’s problem was compounded by a decision to go ahead with a family trip to Jamaica after Baker picked him to head a panel that was given only 30 days to confront the Bay State’s public transit crisis.
It’s the second time Baker was burned by faith in people who did not warrant it. In November, right after Baker’s election, he chose Richard L. Taylor, a onetime transportation secretary, to play a prominent role on his transition team. But Taylor also had to resign after the Globe raised questions about unpaid tax and business judgments of more than $1 million.
Both of these personnel choices were made when Baker was working quickly to assemble a group. In Taylor’s case, Baker had just won election. In Barrett’s case, Baker was grappling with consecutive snowstorms that brought T service to a halt. The new governor was rushing to address the public’s howls for accountability. But the urgency of the situation is no excuse for failing to do an adequate background check on Barrett, or on future candidates for volunteer or staff positions.
The Baker administration needs to apply a high level of scrutiny to all personnel decisions. After all, Baker ran for governor on his record as a public and private sector manager. He set a high standard for competence and sound judgment, and voters deserve nothing less.