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Katherine Craven, superstar

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When one state official does a superlative job, does anybody notice?

Which brings us to the case of Katherine Craven.  Craven, the first executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority  and first deputy state treasurer, was named executive director of the University of Massachusetts Building Authority on Monday.

Craven is probably one of the only people in state government who is routinely described by Beacon Hill insiders as a superstar.

Tapped to handle state budget chores by Thomas Finneran, the former House speaker and one-time ways and means chairman, nearly 20 years ago, Craven is a proven watchdog.  Not only did the Boston native help draft the state’s school building reform program, she oversaw its implementation after she became head of the school building authority in 2004. She has monitored $3 billion in state school building assistance spending.  

The authority’s accomplishments are impressive and include saving $2.9 billion on interest costs for cities, towns, and regional school districts;  $1 billion by clearing up a massive backlog of audits; and $230 million by forcing school districts to focus on classrooms and other academic facilities rather than extras like pools or  press boxes.

By Craven’s own account, she made “a lot of enemies” in the job. When she capped the building projects waiting list, many municipal officials were not amused. But her work helped bring discipline to the notoriously chaotic school building process, which took  years to reimburse communities for building expenses, allowed districts to jockey for positions on the school building list, and failed to audit building projects.

In her new position, Craven will oversee a five-year, $3 billion capital spending plan designed to move the University of Massachusetts system up in the ranks of the country’s leading public universities. New science facilities for the five campuses are at the top of the building projects list, along with housing, administrative and recreational plans.

Why does the UMass building process need a watchdog of Craven’s caliber? Recall that in 1977, two state senators, Majority Leader Joseph DiCarlo, a Revere Democrat, and Assistant Minority Whip Ronald MacKenzie, a Burlington Republican, were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in taking bribes related to the construction of the UMass Boston’s campus on Columbia Point.

The Ward Commission investigated that episode and concluded, “We have learned that corruption is a way of life in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Some people might argue that not much has changed, which puts even more pressure on Craven. 

                                                                                                                                                --GABRIELLE GURLEY



BEACON HILL

Buzz kill: Two bills that would recriminalize marijuana possession are slated for a hearing today on Beacon Hill.

Ron Bell, a top aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, was arrested on drunk driving charges in Brookline early Sunday morning. The administration has put him on unpaid leave.

Massachusetts tax revenues were up by 9 percent last month, WBUR reports. Via the AP.

The Judiciary Committee will hear a bill that would include pets in domestic violence restraining orders.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The North Shore is drying out after a burst of thunderstorms yesterday caused flooding in several Essex County communities.

Abington School Committee chairman Russ FitzGerald has resigned over the furor caused by his “magic bra trick.” Meanwhile, School Superintendent Peter Schaefer, who has custody of the meeting’s videotape, is refusing requests to release it even though it is considered a public record under state law.

State Rep. Antonio Cabral and former federal prosecutor Jon Mitchell were the top two vote-getters for mayor in yesterday’s preliminary in New Bedford and will face off in the general election on November 8.

A Brockton city councilor wants to launch an inquiry into reports by the Enterprise of nepotism in hiring at the Department of Public Works.

The Gloucester Times argues in an editorial that the process to find a replacement for a vacant school board seat in Rockport should be by election, not appointment.

A judge has dismissed most lawsuits against the City of Salem brought by the City of Lynn and stemming from a dispute over development of big box stores on the Lynn-Salem border.

Methuen Mayor William Manzi said he will not enforce a new ordinance passed by the City Council that requires municipal employees to sign in and out of their departments each day, the Eagle Tribune reports.

The Eagle Tribune editorializes in favor of earlier club closing times in Lawrence.

Former Boston mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty tweaks Mayor Tom Menino over Wal-Mart’s bid to build a store in Roxbury. Surprisingly, Menino loyalist Bill Linehan piles on.  Brian McGrory wonders about Tom Menino’s preference for North Korean-style central planning over capitalism and the wisdom of free markets.

An Attleboro city councilor has been indicted on charges she stole from a retired judge.

Attorney General Martha Coakley rejects Foxborough’s proposed public drunkenness fine. The town may appeal to the state.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Weekly Standard says “enough” with military budget cuts and says mandated reductions of $600 billion from the congressional deficit committee if no agreements are reached could decimate the armed services.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend gives Sarah Palin a big, warm hug.

So, if cutting government spending creates jobs, why is Washington, DC, heading downhill?

ELECTION 2012

President Obama takes a page out of the Harry Truman playbook.

The Globe’s Michael Levenson looks at Mitt Romney’s difficulty closing the deal with Republican pooh-bahs who keep casting their eye on other candidates and would-be candidates. But now that Chris Christie will be staying where he is, Romney may be the pooh-bahs’ only choice.

The six Democrats vying for the US Senate nomination faced off last night in their first debate, with front-runner Elizabeth Warren holding her own. The Globe’s Glen Johnson rates the performances. The Herald gives Warren glowing coverage, and notes that she isn’t the leftiest lefty in the race.

The Newton Tab says that Setti Warren was a much better mayor than Senate candidate during his five months on the campaign trail.

Eric Cantor wants to be vice president, and he has a Super PAC that says so.

Today in bellwether elections: Democrats hold the West Virginia governor’s office.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Friendly’s files for bankruptcy. NECN has a list of locations scheduled for closing.

The Wall Street Journal profiles the CEO of Standard & Poor’s, “the rating industry’s bad cop.”

Farmers find that the harvest is difficult, minus migrant immigrants.

EDUCATION

Raytheon is expected to announce today a $1 million gift to Boston’s Museum of Science to support its efforts to spur interest in engineering among school children.

HEALTH CARE

WBUR’s CommonHealth blog looks at the dramatic increase in the country’s c-section rate, from six percent in the 1950’s to 32 percent today.

The Springfield Republican says health workers should be required to get flu shots.

The state needs to take steps to deal with the primary care doctor shortage, says The Berkshire Eagle.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Fall River man was arrested after paying his excise tax with a pile of bills that included a counterfeit $20 bill. A clerk-magistrate told the Herald News she’s been seeing “more and more” charges against people passing counterfeit bills during the down economy.

The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the growing use of chest cameras by the police. Currently, about 6 percent of police departments use them, but they are expected to grow in popularity.

Peter Gelzinis checks on the other Whitey Bulger court fight -- the one between Bulger’s victims and the Justice Department that doesn’t want to pay them.

 

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