November 21, 2012

Driving record forces Mass. highway safety director to resign

Sheila Burgess has been in seven crashes and received four speeding tickets over the last 30 years, according to the Boston Globe.

The Associated Press

BOSTON — The politically connected former head of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division resigned from state government on Wednesday after a report that her driving history included multiple accidents and traffic violations.

Sheila Burgess submitted her resignation, effective Dec. 31, in a letter on Wednesday to state Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan.

Gov. Deval Patrick said his administration made a mistake when it hired Burgess in 2007, given her driving background.

Heffernan on Sunday removed Burgess from her post and ordered her reassigned within the public safety department after The Boston Globe reported that her driving record dating back to 1982 included seven accidents, four speeding violations and one failure to wear a seat belt. Burgess had been on medical leave since sustaining a head injury in an August crash while driving a state vehicle.

In her brief, one-paragraph resignation letter, Burgess made no mention of the controversy over her driving record, but said she felt her health must be her "first priority." She wrote that it had been a pleasure to serve the administration during the past five years and that she looked forward to assisting with the transition.

Burgess' resume indicated that she had served as a fundraiser and paid consultant in Democratic Party politics and had worked for U.S. Rep. James McGovern before being hired as the $87,000-a-year highway safety director in 2007, based in part on a recommendation from McGovern, a Worcester Democrat.

Patrick, who on Monday called the hiring of Burgess an apparent "screw up," released a statement following her resignation on Wednesday acknowledging that his administration had erred.

"We have made great effort to make sure our administration is staffed with committed, qualified and dedicated professionals," Patrick said. "That is overwhelmingly the case and I am proud to work with so many talented people."

"However, we don't always get it right. And when we don't, we fix it," the governor added.

He did note that Burgess in her job had been successful in securing millions of dollars in federal funding for Massachusetts and that he hopes she can now focus on her health.

In the August crash in Milton, state police said Burgess was driving a state vehicle during work hours when her car veered off the road and slammed into a rock outcropping on a sunny afternoon. She was not cited in the crash.

Her duties as highway safety director included overseeing public campaigns on the dangers of speeding, impaired driving, texting while driving and not wearing seat belts.


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