Oops! Conservancy Exec’s E-mail to PR Advisor – Sent to Reporter in Error

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January 27, 2012; Source: Boston Globe | How many times have NPQ Newswire readers sent errant e-mails to the wrong person? The CEO of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy meant to ask her PR advisor about how to dodge a reporter’s request for public information on Greenway salaries, including her own, but she accidentally sent it to the Boston Herald reporter. In Rick Perry’s words, “Oops!”

The nonprofit Greenway, half of whose $4.7 million budget comes from the state, was created to manage parkland that resulted from Boston’s famous “Big Dig” submersion of downtown highways. The Conservancy has apparently had a long history of squabbles about transparency and openness. This has resulted in a bill, recently introduced by a state legislator (who apparently helped create the Greenway), to cap its budget and establish some rules for greater transparency. An example of such a transparency problem emerged last week when a reporter for the Boston Herald (the major Boston newspaper that has been a persistent critic of the Conservancy) asked the Greenway’s executive director, Nancy Brennan, for updated information on her compensation.

Brennan then wrote an e-mail to her PR advisor asking for help with responding. Brennan was apparently trying to figure out whether to reveal her FY2012 actual salary or refer the reporter to the publicly available 990s, which date from 2010. She asked her PR consultant whether she should, “a. Ignore; b. Write her now; c. Respond after deadline later tonight.” Unfortunately, she erroneously sent that e-mail to the Herald reporter. Um…

Brennan’s eventual response, referring the reporter to the 990s and declining to reveal current salaries due to “staff privacy,” rings artificial and hollow.

The actual salary levels aren’t eye-poppingly huge (Brennan’s base salary is $185,000, though she gets benefits and bonuses, and five members of the 28-person staff make six-figure salaries).   So while the Herald is making an issue of the salaries, the real problem is the Conservancy’s discomfort with transparency. Its major funder, Department of Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, followed up to officially ask Brennan for “all financial statements, quarterly reports, and salaries, as well as other sources of income.” To us it seems like he should already have had much of this material.  

Although the Globe has seemed a bit lackadaisical in its coverage of the Conservancy, the Herald has been pouring over the organization’s financial records to find nuggets such as: Brennan’s $160,000 in bonuses since 2006 (including $25,000 bonuses in both 2009 and 2010); the Conservancy’s per-acre maintenance costs of $300,000 (compared to the $50,300 per acre required by New York City’s Central Park, which is also managed by a nonprofit conservancy); and its fundraising costs, which exceed the revenues it got from cash donations and fundraisers in 2010.

The Conservancy might not have been known to NPQ Newswire readers if not for Occupy Boston protesters who camped out on property managed by the Greenway. Last fall, the Greenway asked Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to get Occupy off—and out—of the Greenway. The message for the Conservancy and Brennan in light of this e-mail imbroglio? Occupy transparency. —Rick Cohen