Sheila Burgess is the Director of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division, appointed by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration in 2007. “Her mission is to reduce accidents by promoting good driving practices. She oversees public campaigns on the dangers of speeding, texting while driving, driving while impaired, and failing to wear a seat belt, among other hazards”. Although she has no official experience with the subject of driver safety, or highway safety, she has a different kind of experience.
Sheila Burgess has 32 entries on her driving record since 1982. “Her driving record includes seven accidents, four speeding violations, two failures to stop for a police officer, one failure to stay in her lane, one driving without registration or license in possession, and one driving without wearing a seat belt”. In 1999 she failed to show up at a New Hampshire hearing for speeding. Also, due to her failure to pay local excise taxes, her license was on non-renewal status, until the Globe started making inquiries, at which point the taxes were paid. Sheila Burgess’ most recent addition to her highway safety resume came on August 24th of this year, at 1:16pm on a sunny, clear day, driving a state owned vehicle. She veered off the road for an unknown reason, and slammed into a rock outcropping in Milton.
So how did a person with such a driving record get appointed to a position such as Director of Highway Safety? She has friends in all the right places. In Massachusetts politics you do not have to have experience, or relevant skills, you just have to spend enough time in democratic politics. According to a spokesman for the Patrick Administration, Sheila Burgess was hired on the recommendation of US Representative Jim McGovern. He could not comment on why she had been given that particular post, considering her past driving record.
Sheila also worked with Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray:
Her experience was in Democratic Party politics. For almost two decades as a paid consultant and congressional aide, she had raised money and advised candidates for public office, including, according to her resume, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who had taken office six months earlier [to her appointment] as part of the new Patrick administration…
Tim Murray has said in recent weeks that he would like to be governor, and is expected to run in 2014 when Deval Patrick vacates the office. Having totaled a state owned vehicle himself while on duty, maybe Murray feels a special connection to Burgess. Despite their similarities however, Murray is not the type of person I would like appointing people to important positions in Massachusetts. With such an obvious political appointment, it is reasonable to assume Murray does not have the safety interests of Massachusetts citizens at heart, but instead his own political ambitions. Massachusetts deserves competent people who are seriously committed to fulfilling the roles of appointed positions; not some random congressional aide who wanted a job in politics.
Appointees should be scrutinized, and not just at a state level. Sheila Burgess has a relatively docile record compared to some of the people brought into the Obama administration. “Some 36 members of Obama’s executive staff owe more than $800,000 in back taxes” (source).
Information and quotations are taken from a Boston Globe Article on Sunday, November 18, 2012. After the Globe broke the story, Burgess was removed from her post as Director of Highway Safety, and reassigned within the department. Apparently she is too well connected to be fired.