At Cultural Council, Arrogance on the Menu
Rarely will you find a group of more voracious eaters of fine cuisine or more seasoned travelers to beautiful destinations than at the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
As the Boston Herald’s Joe Dwinell reports, the agency has spent $3,685 since July 1 on air fare to California, Utah, Texas and Connecticut, spending that has the agency well on track to top last fiscal year’s $4,500 air fare bill.
Did you know there were flights from Boston to Connecticut? That seems like the kind of info shared in VIP lounges among the jet-set class when the taxpayer is footing the bill.
On the road again, they just can’t wait to get on the road again, and with a $9,000-plus bill for hotel stays in Memphis, Detroit, Maryland, Springfield, Eastham and Stockbridge, it’s fair to ask if the Cultural Council is touring more than Willie Nelson.
The Stockbridge bill, about $2,000, was all at the Red Lion Inn, an old Yankee jewel, originally established in 1773 by Silas Pepoon. On the website, guests are encouraged, “Don’t forget to meet Norman, our feline lobby ambassador during your visit. He’s usually hanging out in our side parlor people watching and soaking up rays.”
The agency dropped $1,273 for one night last July 2 at the Red Lion Inn, records show. That was a Monday. The agency is not saying what it was for. Maybe Norman will tell us.
There’s no question, no one spends money on the finer things like they do at the Cultural Council. They’re masterful at every aspect of marvelous travel and leisure -- except for one: Showing the taxpayer how and why their money was spent.
Agency spokeswoman Carmen Plazas declined to discuss any expenditures last week, saying any questions would be treated as a public records request, giving the agency 10 days to respond. The Herald already had the agency’s spending records from the Comptroller’s Office in hand and only asked for explanations.
Executive Director Anita Walker, who is paid $176,494 annually, directed our calls to an assistant.
Greg Liakos, the agency’s former $109,000-a-year spokesman, is now director of external affairs and was not taking calls. Last year, when Massachusetts Cultural Council foodies racked up $3,700 in meals at Davio’s on a state-issued credit card, Liakos was miffed that the Herald was asking questions. “What’s the matter with Davio’s? It’s Davio’s takeout,” he told the Herald. “This is the best you can do? For goodness’ sake, we’re a $20 million agency and you’re talking about sandwiches.”
The state agency, with offices in the swanky Back Bay (at $332,000 a year in rent) and a take-home state-provided car for the director, won’t answer questions about their lavish spending but astoundingly now ask taxpayers for another $2 million budget hike. Indeed, amid a year filled with jaunts across the country, luxurious cuisine and meet-and-greets with high-level hotel cats, the Mass Cultural Council is lobbying the Legislature for more -- a $2 million, 11 percent bump to its current $18 million budget.
All joking aside, this agency needs to be held responsible. It is not acceptable that they show no accountability to the taxpayer and instead compel media outlets to use public records laws to excavate their mass of receipts.