Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Joe Pa could learn from Danny Hakim

The first order of business is to acknowledge this man’s work. Pick your superlative. They all apply. Quite simply, Danny Hakim of the New York Times may be the best reporter covering state government.
The second order of business, which I think he’d appreciate far more than any compliment, is to act on the problems that he has identified with his reporting.
In this regard, Hakim wrote this weekend about state officials failing to protect the confidentiality of whistleblowers in a state agency that provides services to the developmentally disabled.
I believe the proper response to this scandal is to investigate and prosecute. That’s right. There should be a thorough investigation of the agency’s ombudsmen program, and any individual who knowingly and intentionally violated confidentiality policies should be held accountable.
Think about the consequences of this particular conduct. Instead of having their identity protected, the whistleblowers were ratted out by the ombudsmen. And at least one individual then faced retaliation as a result.
At a minimum, such actions discourage whistle blowing. More troubling is the prospect that abuse was perpetuated. And remember what we’re talking about. This isn’t your typical ethics problem involving self-dealing or conflict of interest.  We’re talking about physical abuse of helpless people.
Think of the Penn State situation. At Happy Valley, people who knew about abuse stood by and did nothing. In Albany, people who knew about abuse and actually tried to report it were, in effect, harassed for their efforts.
These facts should give everyone pause, but there’s even more at stake.
Think of the chilling effect this story has on potential whistleblowers throughout state government. Who would now step forward knowing that they could face exposure and retaliation?
Clearly, this situation cries out for action. But as I’ve said so many times before, there’s no functioning state ethics panel. If there was, the panel would find, at a minimum, that state officials had failed to fulfill their duties and failed to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
This matter could be referred to the state Inspector General, but I don’t think the administration should go that route. Why? Because the administration’s handling of the matter is in question as well. The Hakim article makes clear that administration officials gave conflicting and misleading statements to the Times and we all know where the directives in dealing with the media originate.
Given this situation, it is imperative that the Governor seek a thorough and independent review of the matter.  Now is the time for the Governor to live up to his promise “to run the most open, accountable and ethical government in history.”
This is a serious problem with wide ramifications. The Governor must act in a way that reassures whistleblowers throughout state government. The way to do that is with an independent review that holds people accountable for their actions.  

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