Government Generates Endless Stream of Press Releases. Bring It On, I Say.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Habits are hard to break and I have long been in the habit of reading every press release I come across from a state agency or an elected official.

A habit like this is, choose one: (a) a sign of mental illness, (b) a harmless waste of time, (c) a geek's fantasy come true, or (d) typical behavior of a conscientious employee?

When I invited all my friends to take this quiz, one said (a) and the other said (c).

I'm not crazy. I know there's little value in perusing press releases like "Kerry to Hold Field Hearing on Massachusetts Fishing Industry," or "Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Shelton to Discuss Competitive Workforce Strategies at Breakfast Event with Business Leaders," or "Public Market Commission Public Meeting in Boston Monday."

My view is, you have to be willing to endure government-inflicted boredom on a vast scale in order to discover the occasional story that makes you sit up and take notice, the piece that maybe makes you exclaim, "Now, that is my idea of our tax dollars at work!"

Take, for example, the 9/22/11 announcement from Attorney General Martha Coakley's office, the one that was headlined: "Former Manager of Milford Water Company Indicted for Allegedly Tampering with Samples of Contaminated Water."

Reading it, I learned that Henry Papuga, who once managed the private company in charge of the town's water system, had been indicted by a Worcester County grand jury on six counts of tampering with an environmental monitoring device or method and two counts of making false statements.

According to the AG's office, Papuga allegedly tampered with drinking water samples in August of 2009 by adding chlorine to them in the hope of ending an order requiring all citizens to boil water before using it. The order was in place because samples had tested positive for E. coli bacteria, which can cause illnesses that cause serious discomfort and pain, and occasionally even death.

"...the defendant was entrusted with the safety and wellbeing of the people in the community," Coakley was quoted as saying. "We allege the defendant tampered with water samples which potentially put the health of thousands at risk."

Also quoted was Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, who said, "Public water systems are expected to accurately collect samples for testing. These samples are essential to the work MassDEP does to ensure water quality and the public's confidence in its drinking water. Tampering with samples is a serious attack on the integrity of this system. This case shows how seriously we will respond to tampering."

The charges against Mr. Papuga stem from an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, an interagency unit composed of prosecutors from the AG's office and investigators and engineers from the MassDEP. The unit prosecutes crimes that harm or threaten the state's water, air or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.

For the record, Mr. Papuga intends to plead innocent when arraigned in court. His attorney, William Kettlewell, told the Milford Daily News, "We intend to fight these unfounded charges and expect that Mr. Papuga will be fully exonerated when all the facts are brought forth."

I can't remember the last time I saw something in the news about the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, so it was good to be reminded there is one. I was also grateful to the AG for putting my fears into a newer perspective. Otherwise I might start to enjoy life too much.

In this age of terror, we rightly worry about terrorists poisoning our water supplies, yet seldom if ever do we ponder the risks posed by slipshod and negligent management of our infrastructure.

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