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OIG Bulletin, October 2021: An Interview with Mary Kolesar, the OIG’s Longest-Serving Staff Member

Mary Kolesar, Senior Policy Analyst and Curriculum Specialist for the OIG’s Policy and Government Division, started with the Office in 1986. Mary spoke with OIG staff about her experiences and unique perspective as the only staff member who has worked with all four Massachusetts Inspectors General.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Table of Contents

An Interview with Mary Kolesar

OIG Employee Mary Kolesar with Inspector General Glenn Cunha

Mary Kolesar, right, pictured with Glenn Cunha

Mary, why did you choose to work at the OIG?

I saw an ad in the newspaper for an agency that was into good government and making changes, so I applied. My dad was an investigative journalist and did similar kinds of work for the private sector and newspapers. So I was interested in the Office.

I joined as an administrative assistant in the management division in 1986. I had to interview with all seven management analysts, the division director, the first assistant and Inspector General Joe Barresi. I was very nervous. I also had to take a typing test. Now, with computers, you don’t have to do that. But I got hired, and here I am, 35 years later.

It was all typewriters then?

Right - when I came in, we were still using simple monitors known as “dumb terminals.” One of the first things I did when I got to the Office was start on the implementation of the new server and networking device. We had our first server in probably 1986, and I got trained on that. We also brought in computers and attached them to the network, which was huge. After that, we had more editing capability. Before that, you had to type everything up, and if you made a mistake, you would have to take out the whole page and get out that white strip stuff. It was a long time ago. (laughs)

Do you remember your initial impressions of the Office when you first started working here?

It was a pretty small office. My main impression was that it was a very quiet place. Occasionally, a visitor would ask, “How’s the library doing?” because it was so quiet. Right away, I could tell everybody was very hard-working – very into their work.

When I came in, we had an investigation unit and a management division. In the investigation unit, there were people I didn’t meet for a couple of years because they were out on an undercover investigation. But I’d read about the successful outcomes of their investigation in our reports.

Folks in our office were out on an undercover investigation for two years?

Basically, they got jobs with this company that was committing fraud and, working undercover, the OIG employees were able to witness in real time the frauds that were occurring. It was amazing.

Are there ways the OIG has changed since you started that stand out in your mind?

Not too much because the mission has always been the same. From the very beginning, prevention of fraud, waste and abuse of public funds was emphasized a lot, and detection has always been paramount. You need the investigations to go forward as they inform what you do for prevention. Bob Cerasoli started the MCPPO program, and that was a very formalized way of doing prevention that was, in retrospect, very successful. Getting the Uniform Procurement Act passed – which Joe Barresi got through the Legislature – that was another effort aimed at prevention.

We’ve always had a hotline, which we’re reactive to, but we’re also proactive. We look for investigations or reviews, or we get tips, or someone thinks of something to investigate, and we look into it.

Are there functions of the OIG that are different now?

Different IGs have had different legislative focuses.

Glenn Cunha has looked at employee-related issues, like pensions and retirement matters.

Greg Sullivan was interested in housing and Chapter 40B bills specifically.

Bob Cerasoli focused on long-term operational contracts for wastewater treatment plants and legislation authorizing jurisdictions to enter into public-private partnerships. He would often oppose those partnerships based on advice from the Office’s general counsel and the in-house engineer and reviews that found that these partnerships can lead to waste. We still have that concern, and we comment on proposals where appropriate.

In the earlier days, under Joe Barresi, we did a lot of design and construction reviews since the Office was created in response to the building corruption that was rampant in the 1970s.

It sounds like public-private partnerships were a big focus for the Office in the 1990s. In the 2000s and 2010s, how has the Office’s focus changed?

I would say there has been a move towards healthcare – the big budget things. We have a whole division dedicated to healthcare and social services, which are huge budget items. I would say another focus that has grown has been financial fraud or financial abuse.

In the 2000s, I focused a lot on energy contracts, in particular energy management services contracts. We did a big program review of the city of Quincy and energy management contracts in general. We also worked with the Department of Energy Resources at that time to come up with regulations and contracts.

We also worked on construction reform. There was big construction reform in the 1990s: alternative construction methods were authorized, and several alternative construction programs went forward. I worked on developing some of the rules and procedures for those alternative construction methods. Then in 2004, the Legislature passed the Construction Reform Act. That produced new thresholds, new ways of doing business and better contract certification processes to get more qualified contractors and sub-bidders. Passage of the Act was a huge effort, involving many OIG staff members, and we were very proud.

Mary, what’s it like to work here every day?

I would say it’s still a very interesting job. I have never ever regretted getting up in the morning and coming to One Ashburton Place to go to work. Same with teleworking too. You wake up, you get ready, you log in. There might be a new project that just arrived today. It might be a short and sweet one, where it’s just a quick appraisal review. But it could also be a huge construction project that we’re going to review, or a new public-private partnership, or proposed legislation. As long as I’ve worked here, it’s always been interesting and different every single day.

What do you want the public to know or understand about the Office?

I would want the public to know that each Inspector General is different, but each Inspector General has hired really smart, committed, honest people. The work we produce, the methods we use to produce it, the quality of our reports and our responses to the Legislature, and everything else – it’s all a reflection of the people who make up the Office. Our mission hasn’t changed over the years; every Inspector General is really focused on prevention and detection and tries to balance the two. I think that everyone who works for the Office really cares about the mission and is committed to the high-quality work that comes out of the Office. We would never do an investigation and present anything that we did not think is truthful. Throughout my tenure, the integrity of the Office has been 100%.

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Date published: October 25, 2021
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