I-Team: Higher Ed Commissioner Gets Free Ride At Taxpayer’s Expense
BOSTON (CBS) – The cost of someone else’s pricey car plus gas and tolls, all coming out of your wallet. They’re approved perks for one of the state’s highest paid bureaucrats.
Our cameras capture a parking attendant helping Richard Freeland into a state car outside his two million dollar plus Back Bay home. Freeland is the Commissioner of Higher Education for the state. He makes a hefty $206,000 salary plus the I-Team has learned taxpayers pick up the tab for the lease on his Chevy Hybrid, and the cost of gas and tolls.
WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports
Freeland uses the car to visit colleges and to attend department-related meetings across the state but we discovered taxpayers are also paying for his personal rides. The I-Team found the commissioner frequently driving to the Cape and out of state, gassing up on your dime. When asked if he thought it was excessive Freeland replied, “I think that’s standard in our industry.”
The commissioner says THIS is standard: $689 a month for a lease on a car plus hundreds on fuel and Fast Lane charges, totaling almost $11,000 a year. The records show fill-ups in Falmouth on the weekends and tolls and gas heading to Connecticut where his wife is President of a state university.
Barbara Anderson, head of the watchdog group Citizens for Limited Taxation, says with the price of tuition at public colleges skyrocketing and budgets getting slashed an approved perk like this is over the top. “He certainly doesn’t need a car for any emergency travel, this man should not have a car at all, it shouldn’t be part of the package. If I were a parent of a kid in college or if I were one of the students taking out loans myself I would certainly be sick about it,” Anderson said.
Freeland said, “It’s standard practice in higher education for college presidents and executives to have cars as part of their package. We just hired four new college presidents and every one of them has a car.”
We showed the bills to Kristin Sullivan, a former employee under Freeland, who says her job was eliminated due to budget cuts while she was out on family leave after the death of her newborn baby. Sullivan is suing the department. She added, “I can see for business reasons to use a car in the fleet but to get whatever car you want, a hybrid and have the taxpayers pay for that?”
Having a state car for personal use IS NOT the standard for the state’s other education commissioner, Mitchell Chester. Chester heads up the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Chester doesn’t use the state car to go to the grocery store or any personal use.
Freeland said, “What I want taxpayers to know is that college presidents, myself as well as others who earn these salaries work very hard for the state of Massachusetts.”
A spokesperson for the department tells us it’s been a longstanding policy by the Board of Higher Education to provide the Commissioner of the Department the use of a vehicle. The intent of the policy is to offer comparable benefits to attract and maintain diverse and highly qualified candidates to fill the position.