OK, I tried in my previous post to give a higher level policy analysis of why you should care about the unfolding scandal regarding what appears to be an egregious corruption at the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative and Merrimack Education Center. Next, we’ll move on the prurient details:
When was the last time you had nine drinks? Each guest at the non-profit Merrimack Education Center’s 2008 annual meeting Friday dinner averaged 8.8 drinks at the event. The dinner the next night was a model of decorum with the average plummeting to just under seven drinks per person. All told, the weekend event had a bar tab of $154 per attendee.
Three times better than the Secretary? Merrimack Education Center’s Executive Director John Barranco’s 2010 total compensation was $525,198 for running a local non-profit that had essentially one client. That’s a jaw-dropping 3.4 times what the state secretary of education pulls in salary.
No-show pension inflation. Barranco exploited an egregious loophole in our current law to put Richard McDonough (the lobbyist from the Cognos case, who is still active on Beacon Hill) onto the payroll of the state entity for three years at a high salary. Unfortunately, no one at the state entity can recall seeing him working, had did not have an office or a telephone and no one can produce any work-related product that was produced by him. But that didn’t stop him from earning $96k+ from 2006 to 2008, looking in a pension of $31k per life. Oh, and he was running a ‘side’ business as a lobbyist and pulled in $2.9 million outside of his state job during the three years (2006 – 2008) used to compute his state pension.
Double-dipping. Barranco served for a long period as the head of the state entity (the Collaborative) and the non-profit (the Center) but was credited with full time service at the state entity for the purposes of his pension. By ‘retiring’ from the state entity in 2005, he triggered his pension, which amounted to $157k per year. So, in 2010, he took in $157k from his state pension plus his $525k from the non-profit. Yet he was still doing the same thing he had always done: operate two related entities providing special ed-related services from the same office with the same staff.
Credit card follies. Using the credit card for the education non-profit, Barranco made lots of questionable charges – $1k plus on cigars and poker chips shipped to Barranco’s Florida home, a swimming pool cleaning robot, and the piece de resistance, $3k for rooms and dinner at a Kentucky Derby junket with … wait for it … Joe Lally, of Cognos fame. It also charged huge entertainment bills on the card, generating almost $7k in ‘rewards’, which were taken in Home Depot gift cards (with no record of who got them and what they funded).
Blatant conflict of interest. Two entities, A (the Collaborative) and B (the Center). A agrees to pay $7m to B for ‘historic underfunding’ despite valid contracts having been in place. The Executive Directors of A and B are in a n 8 year relationship and live together. And the Executive Director of A receives $140k bonus from B four months later. Also, the Boards for A and B that approved this massive, extraordinary transfer were made up of the same people (yes, each entity had the same board membership). And three of those Board members were hired by B shortly after the vote took place. This really happened in Merrimack Valley and no one batted an eye.
These are all written in a light-hearted vein. But then you consider the source of all these funds – your state and local tax dollars – and the intent – to educate children with special needs – and it gets a lot less amusing.