Washington, DC — Brushing aside the objections of his own department head, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took approximately $45,000 in states parks and conservation money to stage a pre-Super Bowl send-off rally for the New England Patriots football team. Romney then summarily fired the state's Conservation and Recreation chief and her top deputy.
Approximately 2,500 people attended the January 30th rally at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium that prominently featured Romney. This low attendance meant that DCR spent approximately $18 per attendee. In addition, the Governor’s office admits that DCR was not the only state agency making a financial contribution toward the Patriots event; thus, the final taxpayer subsidy will be even higher.
On Friday, February 4th, Romney abruptly terminated DCR Commissioner Katherine Abbott who had opposed using that much money for the celebration. On February 7th, the number two official at DCR, Pam DiBona, was also forced to resign.
“Mitt Romney believes in bread and circuses but not checks and balances,” stated Kyla Bennett, the New England Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which has criticized Romney for shortchanging environmental programs. “Under Romney, the level of commitment that the Commonwealth will make toward the environment for the rest of this year evidently depends on how good a season the Celtics and the Red Sox have.”
Meanwhile, members of the Massachusetts Legislature have vowed an investigation and are pledging to introduce legislation barring Romney from spending state funds, as he has in the past, on 4th of July and World Series celebrations. Meanwhile, there remain lingering questions about the extent to which –
- Romney’s raid on DCR funds contributed to an accident along an allegedly unplowed portion of a parkway in which four teenagers were injured;
- Under-funding of DCR has hurt removal of hazardous wastes, protection of water supplies, maintenance of parks and playgrounds, and other DCR priorities; and
- Abbott’s refusal to hire a failed Republican office-seeker being pushed by Romney’s office led to her dismissal.
“For professionals within the Commonwealth’s environmental agencies, Romney’s tenure has been characterized by paralyzing purges, retaliatory re-assignments and crude gag orders,” Bennett added, noting that fund diversions, such as the Super Bowl incident, are compounding the impact of across-the-board environmental cutbacks. “The human consequences of his actions, unfortunately, extend to diminished public health protections, pollution control and natural resource conservation.”