Former T boss on track for $30G/month

September 2, 2017 GMT

The MBTA has hired ex-general manager Dan Grabauskas back as a $30,000-per-month contractor to oversee its commuter rail contract, roughly a year after he unceremoniously resigned as head of the Honolulu transit agency amid escalating costs and criticisms of his handling of its own rail project.

Grabauskas — who was forced out as the T’s GM in 2009 by Gov. Deval Patrick — stands to collect up to $360,000 under the “initial” one-year deal, according to T officials, who touted his addition as a move to “strengthen our team.”

He’s been designated executive director of commuter rail, where he’ll oversee the T’s $2.69 billion contract with operator Keolis and, among others, “identify significant contractual gaps” in how the French company is adhering to the deal.

Grabauskas resigned in August 2016 under a cloud from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, where as its chief executive he oversaw a 20-mile, 21-stop rail project that was supposed to cost $5.2 billion and start offering interim service in mid-2016.

But costs quickly climbed, growing to $6.5 billion by the spring of 2016 amid pointed criticisms of Grabauskas’ leadership, according to local reports. In April 2016, the city auditor’s office released a report that accused him of running an agency with opaque accounting and having “not regularly updated and reported accurate and reliable project cost information.”

He resigned last August with a $282,250 severance, and the project has continued to face escalating costs. It now has an $8.3 billion price tag, and interim service isn’t slated to begin until late 2020, according to Damien Kim, who chairs the HART board.

Kim said Grabauskas — who publicly locked horns with city officials, at one point telling reporters the audit “is a joke” — may also have been caught in what “politically was going on.”

“Dan was just trying to fit into our culture. ... I think maybe some bad advice was given; maybe Dan himself had not known certain things,” Kim said. “Dan was never shy about being up front. If he needs to take the blame, he takes the blame.”

Grabauskas did not return requests for comment yesterday. Efforts to reach Colleen Hanabusa, who chaired the HART board last year and now represents Hawaii in Congress, were also unsuccessful.

Chris Dempsey, who worked at MassDOT while Grabauskas ran the T and now heads the group Transportation for Massachusetts, said he sees Grabauskas’ hire as a key step to monitoring a “challenging” contract.

“I think with the other things he’s done in his career, it’s a sign that he’s someone who hasn’t been afraid to take on some very challenging jobs,” Dempsey said.

Grabauskas has since registered as a lobbyist in Massachusetts, where records show his firm has been paid $40,000 since March by Roddy Road LLC on development and transportation “matters” around Attleboro.

Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said Grabauskas will work “exclusively” with the T and have no clients with interests before a state agency once he begins Sept. 25.

His pay could exceed that of the T’s controversial pick for its new general manager, Luis Ramirez, whose base salary is $320,000. Ramirez’s own selection has come under fire in recent weeks amid questions about his reputation as a “turnaround” executive given his former company, Global Power Equipment, has come under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged erroneous financial statements it filed while Ramirez was CEO.