Fiandaca departing after short stint as Massachusetts Transportation Secretary
Just three months after she finished building out her Cabinet, Gov. Maura Healey suddenly has an impending vacancy to fill.
The governor's office announced Monday that Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca plans to step down on Sept. 11, making her the first secretary to depart since Healey began her term in January. The leadership change comes as the state is sinking hundreds of millions of new tax dollars into transportation.
Fiandaca will continue to serve in an advisory role until the end of the year. Undersecretary for Transportation Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a veteran of the field who earned rave reviews from transit advocates, will take over as acting transportation secretary.
In announcing her planned departure, neither Healey nor the secretary explained why her time in the administration, which featured a repair-related closure of the Sumner Tunnel and persistent problems with MBTA service, will come to an end less than nine months after it began.
Asked to elaborate on the circumstances of Fiandaca's departure, a Healey spokesperson said only that "the Secretary made the decision to step down and we are grateful for her service."
"[Fiandaca] came to our administration with over four decades of experience in transportation and a proven track record of getting things done. She hit the ground running and has delivered on many of our key transportation priorities," Healey said a statement. "We are confident that the Department of Transportation will be in good hands and well-positioned to continue this important work with Monica Tibbits-Nutt as Acting Secretary, as she has a deep knowledge of our transportation system and a commitment to public engagement and equity. We thank Gina for all her work on behalf of the Healey-Driscoll Administration, for her willingness to be available to continue to assist us through the end of the year, and we wish her well in all of her future endeavors."
According to records compiled by the MBTA Advisory Board, Fiandaca is on track to become the shortest-tenured non-acting transportation secretary since at least 1972. She will beat out James Aloisi, who joined and then left Gov. Deval Patrick's Cabinet in 2009, for that spot by a few weeks.
Fiandaca, who was paid at an annual rate of $181,722 for her work as secretary, was sworn in on Jan. 30. She came to the administration from Austin, Texas, where she served for about four years as assistant city manager and managed Austin Transportation.
Before that, Fiandaca compiled a long resume in Boston. She started her career as a transportation clerk for the city, became director of its Office of the Parking Clerk, and spent four years as transportation commissioner under former Mayor Martin Walsh.
"I am grateful for the trust Governor Healey placed in me that led to significant progress in virtually every facet of transportation in the Commonwealth," Fiandaca said in a statement provided by Healey's office. "Together, we have hired new leadership at the MBTA, implemented the Work and Family Mobility Act, reached approximately the half-way point with the Sumner Tunnel Restoration Project and helped drivers 'ditch the drive', and led efforts to obtain more than 2 billion dollars in federal funding. In all of these areas and many others, the Governor's leadership was the driving force of our success. I know I am leaving the department in capable hands with Monica Tibbits-Nutt as Acting Secretary and with an Administration dedicated to addressing our transportation challenges by putting people first and a workforce ready to carry on this work. I wish the Healey-Driscoll Administration continued success."
In addition to overseeing the Department of Transportation, MBTA and Registry of Motor Vehicles, Fiandaca sat on the MassDOT, MBTA and Massachusetts Port Authority boards as transportation secretary.
Massport similarly has a vacancy opening up: CEO Lisa Wieland announced earlier this month she plans to leave the quasi-public agency, which oversees Logan Airport and the Port of Boston, this fall for a high-ranking job at National Grid.
Wieland earned $417,609 in total pay as Massport CEO last year, according to state payroll records.
In May, the Boston Globe reported that the MBTA awarded a $900,000 no-bid contract to a firm led by Fiandaca's former brother-in-law, whom she had approached months earlier about the work.
Some reports have circulated in recent days, including in an Aug. 17 column from the Boston Herald's Peter Lucas, about behind-the-scenes tension between Fiandaca and MBTA leadership.
Her time in the state's top transportation job drew mixed reviews from outside Beacon Hill.
Asked how he would rate Fiandaca's performance, MBTA Advisory Board Executive Director Brian Kane replied, "I think the governor has answered that question for us."
"She's the first Cabinet secretary to move on. I'll leave it at that," Kane, whose group represents cities and towns that help fund the MBTA, said.
Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance advocacy group, said it's difficult to grade Fiandaca for such a short span. Thompson said the state completed "a series of really important hiring and leadership shifts" at the MBTA during Fiandaca's tenure, including the hiring of General Manager Phil Eng and installation of board chair Thomas Glynn, and that MassDOT made it to the end of a dramatic Sumner Tunnel closure "relatively unscathed."
"But we didn't really see Gina out front a lot," she said. "It's hard to exactly name what she was or was not doing."
Both Kane and Thompson praised Tibbits-Nutt. Kane called her a "slam dunk," and Thompson dubbed her a "rock star."
Tibbits-Nutt has deep roots in transportation policy and state government. She spent six years as vice chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, the predecessor to the MBTA Board of Directors that met several times per month. During that time, she regularly pressed MBTA staff to improve service and called for launching a discount fare option for low-income riders.
Kane described that experience as being "in the trenches on some real tough MBTA issues."
"I hope that Monica Tibbits-Nutt gets the acting part of her job removed as soon as possible. I think she'd be an amazing secretary of transportation," he said.
Tibbits-Nutt also previously served as executive director of the 128 Business Council, a privately funded transportation provider that, according to Kane, "moved more people, pre-COVID, than most RTAs did in a year."
She co-led the transportation committee for Healey's gubernatorial transition alongside Glynn, a former MBTA general manager whom the governor later appointed to chair the agency's board of directors.
"She has been in the role of undersecretary for eight months, so she doesn't have to play catch-up. She knows what's going on," Thompson said. "Many of us always thought of her as a potential contender for secretary anyway."