State still in hunt for permanent rating board chief

Boston Statehouse

Division of Insurance employee Paolo Franzese’s tenure as interim director of the Merit Rating Board was extended Thursday by the unit’s oversight panel. (Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – The temporary leader of a Registry of Motor Vehicles department at the center of a record-keeping scandal will remain in place for at least another month, where he will be tasked with further cutting down a backlog as a board searches for a permanent replacement.

With Paolo Franzese’s temporary appointment set to expire in about two weeks, the Merit Rating Board — a previously inactive three-member panel with the same name as the RMV department it manages — voted Thursday to extend Franzese another 30 days.

Franzese was tapped in late August to serve for two months after the board, at its first meeting since 2015, fired former MRB Director Thomas Bowes. At the time, they said the department needed new leadership to steady itself after it failed for years to process tens of thousands of electronic notices about Massachusetts driver violations that occurred in other states.

Members instructed Franzese Thursday to prepare a presentation for the next board meeting about the department’s efforts to clear out the remaining queue of “work items.” Since Franzese started, the MRB has cut down that backlog from about 22,000 cases needing attention to roughly 13,000, though some of those are likely duplicates and not every single one refers to a discrete driving violation.

Franzese said during the meeting that he expects the department to bring the queue below 10,000 items “pretty quickly,” but that work beyond that point may take some more time because the remainder consists of “labor intensive” cases.

Two weeks ago, members of the board said they hoped to bring Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s office into the fold to add another layer of oversight and build up the defenses that failed for years to catch a growing problem within the RMV.

Cunha was quick to express interest, and he met with Interim Registrar Jamey Tesler and Franzese this week, Tesler said during Thursday’s meeting.

“We had an extensive conversation focusing on risk and risk identification,” Tesler said, explaining that Cunha’s office plans to work closely with the board moving forward.

The revived oversight board is still searching for a full-time Merit Rating Board director. Staff posted a job opening on the state’s site and five other sites on Oct. 4, and since then have received 33 applications, according to a Thursday presentation from Department of Transportation Human Resources Chief Boris Lazic.

“That’s a very successful six days,” Lazic said.

From that pool, the department identified seven strong candidates, conducted phone screenings with four, and believes two are viable to be interviewed by the board, Lazic said. Recruiters also contacted 20 potential candidates on LinkedIn, though none of those have resulted in recommended finalists yet.

Board members spoke at length Thursday about the hiring process, pressing Lazic for details on how candidates were rated and whether a standardized set of questions was used.

The Merit Rating Board director position is a unique one within the department: by state law, the director is supposed to be selected by the board, although Bowes was hired outside that process.

The oversight board decided Thursday to see how many more applications they get before scheduling interviews. Members must interview the ultimate finalists in public session under the Open Meeting Law, but they may narrow the pool to two or three candidates in executive session before then.

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