When Pondering the Wreckage in Probation, Don't Ignore 'Minimum Qualifications'

Friday, July 11, 2014

The other day, while thinking about the trial of the three former big shots in the Massachusetts Probation Department, which is mercifully drawing to a close at the Moakley federal courthouse in Boston, I remembered that the Ethics Commission had issued an advisory on the making and receiving of recommendations for jobs in the public sector.  I went to the state government web site, clicked on Ethics Commission, and easily located the document in question: Advisory 13-1, dated January 18, 2013.

Under the heading of “Recommendations of Constituents,” it said, in part:
“To comply with the prohibition against giving unwarranted privileges imposed by Section 23(b)(2) (Chapter 268A of the Massachusetts General Laws), an elected public employee should have some reason to believe that the constituent possesses the minimum qualifications for the position  for which he is being recommended.  The elected public employee may already be familiar with the constituent’s qualifications for the desired position.  If not, the elected public employee should obtain sufficient information to satisfy himself that the constituent possesses the minimum qualifications for the position before making the recommendation.”

There are problems in advancing the candidacies of job applicants possessing only minimal qualifications, as any unit of state government with more than a few minimally qualified persons in its ranks is bound to defeat the hopes of the citizens in need of its services, but there are bigger problems, in the first place, in having elected public employees, especially legislators, who are supposed to be making laws and deciding on public expenditures, routinely involved in the hiring and promoting of public employees.
Yes, I know it’s always been that way, and, yes, I understand that legislators have taken on the burden of facilitating hiring and promoting in the public sector at the behest, nay the insistence, of we the public.

(One member of the House, called to testify Wednesday at the Probation trial, said he had often joked that his State House office was “the Eighteenth Suffolk Employment Agency,” suggesting how thoroughly the demand for job placement services had overtaken the agenda of the representative from the 18th district in Suffolk County.)
But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or that there are not superior alternatives to arming our lawmakers, de facto, with inordinate powers in the realm of human resources.  The trial in federal court of John O’Brien, the former Probation Commissioner, and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke, on charges related to an allegedly fraudulent hiring system, has served, if as nothing else, as a sorry reminder of how a vital public safety function in a democracy, i.e., the supervision of criminals ostensibly travelling a path to redemption, may be drained of vitality by too much politics.

It would be asking too much, it would be aiming too high, it would be contending too strenuously with human nature, to propose that elected public employees be prevented by law from providing any help whatsoever to constituents aspiring to the public payroll.
I’d settle for changes in our general laws stipulating that no more than 20 percent of the employees in any unit of state or local government at any time could possess only minimal job qualifications, and that at least 20 percent of those employees be maximally qualified.

Going back to the Probation trial, did you see that the defense attorneys declined today to present any of their own evidence?  They obviously believe their clients will be acquitted. 
If O’Brien, et al. are found not guilty, as now seems quite likely, make no mistake, they still will have lost a great deal.  And those losses may prove irreparable.   Having your reputation continuously assailed over a period of years and losing your life savings, if not your home, to lawyer’s fees is but the half of it.

While it does not always have the ability to convict, our government is always able to destroy.

1 comment:

Paul Bolden said...

You seemed to have opened the door on another dusty practice that is in need of a little sunlight and scrutiny. Much on Beacon Hill has been embedded, handed down and accepted as: “has always been that way.” The commonwealth was so named because it is supposed to be a valuable resource for the benefit of all the citizenry – as you point out; politics can easily drain that treasure.

Good thoughts Mr. Hahesy.

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