Ten years is a long time to partner with someone who is doing mediocre work.
But the nonprofit conservancy that runs the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway now insists longstanding management and equipment problems led to its recent decision to replace WORK Inc. — a Dorchester nonprofit that employed people with disabilities for some of the maintenance jobs at the park — with Block by Block, a for-profit firm from Kentucky. According to Jesse Brackenbury, executive director of the Greenway Conservancy, when WORK Inc.’s contract was up for renewal, Block by Block submitted a better proposal at a lower cost. Choosing the Louisville-based company, which already maintains Downtown Crossing, is “in keeping with our fiduciary responsibility,” he said.
That’s Brackenbury’s explanation, and he and the Greenway’s board are sticking to it. However, with a nonprofit like the conservancy, success can’t be measured only in dollars and cents. It should also be measured by right and wrong. And it would be wrong if the decision led to fewer opportunities for people with disabilities to work on the Greenway.
Brackenbury says he’s working to ensure that won’t happen. At Downtown Crossing, Block by Block already partners with Project Place, a nonprofit that connects homeless and low-income people with jobs. And Brackenbury said he’s drawing up a memorandum of understanding with Block by Block that will set specific hiring goals in writing. He should get Block by Block to sign onto such an agreement as soon as possible, and quickly make it public.
The Greenway is a 17-acre, state-owned park that stretches 1.4 miles from Chinatown to the North End. It was named after the matriarch of the Kennedy family, whose members have long taken up the cause of people with disabilities. It receives 80 percent of its funding from private sources and 20 percent from public funds, including $1.1 million from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation
After 10 years of shoveling snow, mowing grass, power-washing concrete, and picking up trash to keep the Greenway clean and safe, WORK Inc. has been very public about its unhappiness over this breakup. On Thursday, the nonprofit filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against the Greenway Conservancy and Brackenbury. The complaint alleges that the decision to ditch WORK Inc. was a discriminatory action in violation of state law, based on “contrived and conflated complaints that were made after the contract was put out to bid.” The complaint also notes that Brackenbury raised concerns about the ability of WORK Inc. crews to represent the Greenway “brand.”
Pressed for details about specific problems with WORK Inc., Brackenbury said the crews ran out of salt after a snow storm, didn’t power-wash after an equipment breakdown, and had failed to adjust to an uptick in maintenance needs at the northern end of the park. Over the years more food trucks have been using the Greenway, he said, creating trash that too often wasn’t picked up quickly.
James Cassetta, president of WORK Inc., said there were complaints about workers using ear buds when wielding noisy equipment and wearing untucked shirts. “Of course our shirts were untucked. We’re landscaping. Once in a while we get dirty,” he said.
“It’s all language,” Cassetta said of the conservancy’s complaints about the company’s work. Conservancy officials don’t “want people with disabilities on the Greenway.”
The Greenway rejects the accusation of discrimination. Here’s how the park can prove Cassetta wrong: Get a written commitment from Block by Block to employ people with disabilities, and then hold them to it.