Reactions to the Probation Department scandal over hiring and promotion practices

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

“The (Ware) Report describes in careful detail a systemic abuse and corruption of the hiring and promotion practices of the Probation Department. Such abuse and corruption are intolerable and are a betrayal of the just expectations of the public and of employees in the judicial branch, including those in the Probation Department.”

That’s how the justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court summarized, in part, the findings of Paul F. Ware, Jr., the independent counsel they appointed to investigate the Probation Department following an expose by The Boston Globe, (“An Agency Where Patronage Is Job One,” 5/23/10).

“Systemic abuse and corruption.”

The now suspended Commissioner of Probation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is accused of masterminding a long-running scheme to hire and promote un-qualified and under-qualified candidates sponsored mainly by members of the legislature.

Many are rightly outraged by the news.

But on Beacon Hill, many are rightly pointing out that recommending constituents for jobs in government has always been a big part of a legislator’s role.

People turn to their reps and senators on a daily basis seeking employment for themselves, their children, nephews and nieces, cousins, et al.

You’d be hard-pressed to find even one legislator out of 200 in Massachusetts who would tell you that he or she has a policy of refusing to help constituents secure government employment, and has never recommended a constituent for a government job.

Indeed, we the voters elect legislators because we think they will be responsive to our pleas, no matter the nature of the request.

And we re-elect them because they have been responsive.

Who among us would today swear off ever asking a legislator to support a job candidacy?

You might say to yourself, “I don’t believe in patronage, and I’m all set in my career anyway. I’ll never need a politician to put a paycheck in my pocket.”

But what about your daughter or son?

If she or he had graduated from college this past May and been unable to land a job ever since, would you deny yourself the option of asking your local rep and senator to give your kid a little career boost? I know I would’nt.

One can argue that the problem in Probation has been one of degree, not of practice, and that the Commissioner, et al., embraced the age-old practice of patronage, added some interesting refinements, put it on steroids, and took it to a new level in Probation.

Systemic abuse and corruption should be ended, of course.

But, until all of us are ready to promise never to ask an elected official to help get us somebody (maybe us?) a job, we shouldn’t feel superior to any official or politician caught in the current scandal.

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