Fehrnstrom’s Appointment Flap

A play for a state pension? Dukakis was outraged.

As his term as Governor of Massachusetts drew to a close in 2006, Governor Mitt Romney filled more than 200 slots on boards and commissions with party loyalists and state employees according to a 2006 report in the Boston Globe. Among them was current Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, who was forced to resign from his position after drawing heat for becoming eligible for a hefty state pension.

Romney appointed Fehrnstrom to the Brookline Housing Authority in November of 2006. Fehrnstrom, who earned $161,000 as an aide to Romney would have been out of a state job when Romney left office in January 2007, and would have fallen two years short of requirement to invest in the state pension system.

The added years serving as a state employee made Fehrnstrom eligible to receive a few hundred thousand dollars during retirement that he would not have been eligible to receive if he had not been on the Housing Authority.

The Romney campaign today is attacking President Obama for his appointments with a new ad saying the President paid off donors with White House privileges and stimulus money while falling short on helping the middle class.

The Romney case is much smaller ball. The position on the Brookline Authority was only part-time with a salary of $5,000, but Fehrnstrom’s pension would have been based off his highest three earning years in the state government.

The Boston Globe reported that in the weeks prior to the appointment, Fehrnstrom had bought back into the state pension system by repaying the cash he had withdrawn when he left his previous state job as a spokesman for the Massachusetts Treasurer in 1999.

Fehrnstrom denied that his appointment was political and to receive a state pension, saying it was entirely based off his desire to serve the community.

“I’ve lived in Brookline for the past 20 years, and I have two children in the public schools, and I look forward to serving my local community,” he told the Boston Globe in a statement.

Both Romney and his chief of staff defend Fehrnstrom’s appointment.

“When the appointment was made, the governor did not know that Eric Fehrnstrom could accumulate service time toward his pension,” said Mark Nielsen, Romney’s chief of staff.

Romney said the pension was of no concern to him.

“I don’t disqualify someone because appointing them would mean they would get pension benefits,” Romney said. “I think it would be an inappropriate way to make any appointment.”

The head of the state’s $44 billion pension fund, Michael Travaglini, a Romney appointee, blasted Romney for the appointment.

“This smacks of collusion. Mr. Fehrnstrom shopped around for a position that would allow him to be eligible for a pension. And by appointing him to the housing board, the governor is complicit,” Travaglini said. “You don’t need a forensic accountant to connect the dots. This is precisely the type of manipulation of the pension law that the governor and Mr. Fehrnstrom have railed about.”

Former Governor Michael Dukakis, who was also a resident of Brookline, also hit Romney for the appointment.

“The real point is, this guy has never been involved in the civic life of the community and has absolutely no track record when it comes to affordable housing,” Dukakis said. “This thing was made on the merits? How can that possibly be?”’

Fehrnstrom rejected Dukakis’s comments.

“Just because I don’t attend Democratic Town Committee meetings with Mike Dukakis doesn’t mean I’m not involved in my community. As the father of two young children, I’ve been active at many different levels, and my wife is a social worker with clients who live in subsidized housing in Brookline,” said Fehrnstrom. “We’re well aware of the importance of keeping Brookline affordable for working families.”

Eventually, Fehrnstrom succumb to political pressure and resigned his post saying in a statement “I never anticipated that my desire to serve my town would be criticized or used to make unwarranted political attacks against Gov. Romney.”

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