The Patrick Administration announced yesterday the resignations of Secretary of Economic Affairs Daniel O’Connell and Secretary of Elder Affairs Michael Festa, O’Connell will be replaced by Greg Bialecki.
Festa’s portfolio was reduced in the new budget submitted by Governor Patrick, who moved some responsibility to JudyAnn Bigby, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Bigby is, as I understand it, Festa’s immediate boss under the organizational structure, although they both carry the title of Secretary. The proposed re-organization contained in the budget was the culmination of a turf war between Festa and Bigby. Bigby is the obvious winner, but the Governor has had to retreat in the face of resistance from elder support groups outraged by the changes and by Festa’s departure. From the Globe:
Festa’s departure comes as seniors groups blast the administration for, they say, diminishing its commitment to seniors. Facing stiff opposition from advocates, the governor this week postponed a plan to shift a wide range of services and programs for the elderly out of Festa’s office. Critics said the shift would risk letting elderly residents fall between bureaucratic cracks.
Saying they are “deeply disturbed” by Festa’s departure, a dozen groups led by AARP Massachusetts sent a strongly worded letter to Patrick yesterday stating that they are “perplexed as to why the Executive Office of Elder Affairs is being dramatically weakened at a time when 25 percent of the state’s households include at least someone age 65 or older.”
Key programs in the office have been cut substantially, including one that helps defray prescription costs for tens of thousands of seniors, but “if it wasn’t for [Festa’s] leadership, it would have been so much worse,” AARP Massachusetts director Deborah Banda said in an interview.
“He brought an energy to that office,” Banda said. “He was out in the community . . . and he made sure that the people who relied on these services had a voice at the table.”
Ouch! The Governor stepped in it a little bit here, with Festa’s departure handled in a very clumsy fashion. Festa is a popular figure with the senior community as well as with his former colleagues in the Legislature. Maybe vetting the prospective changes through the senior community would have been helpful to the Governor here. I know that Festa is the only Secretary in my time in Methuen to have visited our senior center, and he has been a fine Secretary to work with. I wish him the very best.