Are Boards of Directors The Weakest Link?

Like most places, Massachusetts uses elections to ensure accountability in government. Don’t like how things are being run? Vote ’em out.

So, it’s interesting that some of the most egregious breakdowns in public accountability over the past few years have occurred in that netherworld between bureaucrats and elected officials — the board of directors.

To be sure, the private sector has struggled with how to ensure the accountability of boards of directors, but the public sector seems to be far behind in this area.

What are the key indicators of weak governance? Review the performance of the Essex Country Regional Retirement Board, the Chelsea Housing Authority Board, and the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative Board.

In each case, a board appointed by elected officials has egregiously failed to protect the public interest — either through ‘capture’ by a powerful chief executive or an inability or unwillingness to understand what exactly they were approving.

Massachusetts’ public sector governance is marbled with hundreds of appointed boards designed to protect the public interest. If we can’t solve the intrinsic weakness of this level of oversight, we risk wasting more of the taxpayers’ money.