BOSTON (SHNS) – A controversial member of the state Parole Board quietly resigned in July, less than a year after she fought to keep her job and narrowly won another term, leaving the board’s membership even further depleted.
Colette Santa “resigned from her position with the Parole Board and retired from state service effective July 7,” a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security said Monday in response to a News Service inquiry.
A former Massachusetts Department of Correction employee and prison warden in Puerto Rico’s correctional system, Santa was first nominated to the board in 2017 by Gov. Charlie Baker. A contentious hearing on her reappointment in 2022 featured allegations from former Parole Board colleague Lucy Soto-Abbe that Santa brought “chaos and destruction of morale” to the agency.
“I think it’s a good thing for the parole department to have her gone,” Councilor Eileen Duff told the News Service on Monday. “I think she was bad for morale, and I think she was too controversial a figure.”
Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney said she hoped to see a new Parole Board member “that will bring justice and fairness, because people weren’t treated right.”
It was not clear when Santa informed the agency of her plans to resign. The EOPSS spokeswoman said that the News Service’s request for a copy of her resignation letter was under review by the legal and human resources departments.
Santa’s July 7 departure came just 16 days after the Governor’s Council, which has final approval over the Parole Board’s membership, heard testimony about how the board was coping with an immense workload while operating with two fewer members than usual.
Baker did not fill Gloriann Moroney’s seat on the board after tapping her for a judgeship last year, and Dr. Maryanne Galvin resigned from the board in May.
The seven-seat Parole Board is now down to four members after Santa’s resignation. The board conducts hearings and renders decisions on parole for inmates along with advising the governor on applications for pardons and commutations.
“One of the things that surprises me is when people come in to watch hearings, or I meet them for the first time, they think it’s a very simple and uncomplicated job. But we’re all very, very busy. There’s a lot of work,” the board’s chair, Tina Hurley, told Governor’s Council members in June.
Hurley added that the volume of parole and life sentence hearings has “increased tremendously” since the height of the pandemic, and said some binders of background information they need to read before hearings can be 900 pages in length.
This latest resignation means the panel’s workload “has increased exponentially,” Duff said Monday.
“However, they have been moving mountains down there. It’s been stunning how well they have been working despite this handicap. And what I think it means is that the governor and the Governor’s Council needs to get on it, fill these slots. We’ve got work to do and we better get to it,” Duff said.
Hurley and two other remaining board members — Tonomey Coleman and Dr. Charlene Bonner — are appointees of Gov. Deval Patrick whom Baker supported for reappointment to new terms. With Santa’s resignation, just one member remains who was originally picked by Baker: former Rep. James Kelcourse.
The three vacancies are Gov. Maura Healey’s to fill, subject to confirmation by the elected Governor’s Council.
Parole Board members serve for five years, and the governor can then choose to nominate them for reappointment to subsequent terms.
Santa scored a renomination from Baker last summer to serve a second term that would have stretched into 2027, and she ultimately won approval from a divided Governor’s Council after Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito broke a 4-4 tie last August.
The former correctional official faced a months-long bumpy confirmation process before the Council in 2022, with a public interview postponed multiple times and an initial confirmation vote cancelled at the last minute.
Soto-Abbe, who served on the board from 2011 to 2019, told councilors in a scorching email that Santa “lacked the necessary skills to perform effectively” and had “brought nothing to the agency other than chaos and destruction of morale,” and that during Santa’s prior employment as the agency’s transitional services chief she had “ruled with intimidation tactics” including cyberbullying and “violating civil service rules.”
At the public hearing where those accusations were raised along with an anonymous list of complaints from parole staff members, Santa declined to look at a copy of the email and repeatedly said she was “baffled” by the allegations.
Duff, a Gloucester Democrat, focused much of her public question time on Santa’s use of paid vacation days and said last August she thought Santa “might owe the commonwealth money for time off.”
Devaney said Monday that she hoped Healey would “put someone in [Santa’s] place that will represent the people, not herself, [nor] do things that are unethical.”
“So, it’s sad,” said the Watertown Democrat, who voted against Santa in 2017 and 2022. “I don’t like to talk badly about anyone. I really don’t. I’m a very positive person. But I stand by my ‘no,’ and let’s hope for someone that really will serve the constituents well.”