BOSTON (State House News Service) – Gov. Charlie Baker facilitated a rare tie-breaking vote of the Governor’s Council to win approval Wednesday for former corrections official Colette Santa to serve another five-year term on the Parole Board.
Councilors were split 4-4 on Santa’s reappointment when Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito placed the session in recess to call Baker into the room.
“Too bad,” Councilor Marilyn Devaney said during the recess after one of her colleagues repeated the 4-4 tally to her.
Councilors Eileen Duff of Gloucester, Paul DePalo of Worcester, Mary Hurley of East Longmeadow, and Devaney of Watertown voted against Santa’s continued service on the Parole Board. Voting in the affirmative were Terry Kennedy of Lynnfield, Joseph Ferreira of Swansea, Robert Jubinville of Milton, and Chris Iannella of Jamaica Plain.
The governor popped into the chamber after less than a minute.
When Baker takes the gavel from Polito, who customarily presides over council sessions, Polito is free to act as a ninth voting member in addition to the eight councilors, who are independently elected by districts around the state.
“Stand for the governor,” Jubinville called out as Baker walked in the back door.
“Stand for the governor,” echoed another councilor.
“Well, gee, thanks,” Baker said. “Let me just start by saying I understand you have a tied vote.”
Polito added her “yes” vote to the roll call and Santa’s second term was approved 5-4.
Santa’s confirmation vote was delayed by a week after a sudden cancellation last Wednesday. Her public hearing was also postponed multiple times. When it did take place, numerous witnesses spoke in opposition and councilors peppered her with sharp questions.
Former Parole Board member Lucy Soto-Abbe forwarded to all council members a list of anonymous complaints from parole staff about a toxic work environment at their agency, along with a letter in which Soto-Abbe wrote that Santa “has brought nothing to the agency other than chaos and destruction of morale.”
Devaney referred back to those staff complaints about Santa on Wednesday and said that “we’re going to see how many people have left because of this woman.”
“It’s been a reign of terror,” the Watertown Democrat said. “And I don’t say that lightly, lieutenant governor. No one, no person working in the private sector in any office, should go through what these people have gone through in the parole department. And it’s just so upsetting. You know, we don’t use the adjective too much, kind. This person is not kind.”
Despite the split vote, a rare occurrence in the council where Baker’s nominees are almost always approved, no other members rose to debate Santa’s reappointment.
Santa in 2017 cruised to a first term on a 5-2 vote, with Devaney and Iannella voting in the negative.
At a public council hearing earlier this month, Iannella dug into allegations about Santa’s conduct and behavior and questioned the nominee about various charges, like the fact that Santa “ruled with intimidation tactics” when she was the board’s transitional services chief.
“It’s an unbelievable amount of people who are against you. To me, it’s mindblowing,” Iannella told Santa on Aug. 3. He added, “Talking a lot more than one or two. I mean, are they all wrong?”
After supporting Santa’s second term Wednesday, Iannella told the News Service he believes Santa is “acting appropriately” and is “fair.”
The Boston Democrat said he liked her record, which he called “the highest parole rate,” and said that “no one else speaks Spanish on the Parole Board.”
“Nobody loves everyone,” Iannella said. “Everybody — Who’s perfect? You know, she had some issues with people, but overall, decent parole rate, and she’s Spanish. And I think that’s important.”
Much of Santa’s earlier career was in Puerto Rico’s corrections system, where she was a warden and regional director. She joined the Massachusetts Department of Correction in 2009.
DePalo told the News Service his “no” vote is consistent with his record of supporting Parole Board candidates with backgrounds in areas like social work and psychology.
“When I look at the job the Parole Board has, it’s strictly to evaluate the person’s likelihood of success upon reentry,” DePalo said. “And I don’t know how someone without — again, whether it’s social work, substance abuse treatment, even child development, to be honest — I don’t see how any other skill really plays a role in making that determination.”
Devaney on Wednesday reiterated her call for a formal investigation into the workplace culture at the Parole Board, and zeroed in her focus on Parole Board Chair Gloriann Moroney.
“And you know,” Devaney said, “they say — who was it, Governor Dukakis said, ‘The fish rots at the head.’ Well, we’ve gotta look at the chair.”