Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Patrick Administration Blunders Worsen

As the new administration of Deval Patrick lurched from one boneheaded blunder to the next, I once found myself thinking that, as dumb as each one was, they were all more or less "symbolic" and were the product of inexperience or amateurism.

That changed this morning with the revelation that Patrick's very experienced head of "workforce development" (formerly, and soon to be, "Secretary of Labor") Suzanne Bump admitted to accusations that she raised labor union political issues directly with commissioners of the independent Labor Relations Commission. Her actions represent an egregious breach of propriety and suggest that the public employee unions that supported Patrick in his campaign are enjoying a gaudy degree of influence.

Under state law, the Labor Relations Commission is an independent, quasi judicial panel that resolves labor disputes and enforces state labor laws. The commission falls within Bump's agency for budgetary reason, but under statute is "in no respect subject to the jurisdiction thereof."

Two commissioners, Paul T. O'Neill and Hugh L. Reilly, alleged to the Boston Globe that Bump committed two inappropriate acts:

Bump made an irate phone call to commission chairman John F. Jesensky after the agency made its initial ruling that the Boston Teachers Union was violating the law with its threats to call a strike. They said she complained to him that she had not been given notice before the decision was made in the case.

About a week later, O'Neill and Reilly said, during a review of the commission's budget, Bump expressed strong support for a petition pending before the commission by Service Employees International Union, Local 1199, which spent more than $600,000 last year in support of Patrick's candidacy.

The former incident could be construed as Bump asserted -- she was angry that she had not been given the "courtesy" of being notified in advance of the decision's release to the media. But as the commissioners observed, they hadn't extended this "courtesy" to the Romney people preceding her. I think this is more a statement about Romney's people than it is about Bump. Assuming that a vote had already been taken and the written decision prepared and filed, providing courtesy notice to the managing head of the department does not raise any ethical issue. What does stand out, however, is that she would allegedly express "extreme displeasure" with the oversight. What would she have preferred? And why would she be so upset?

The second incident is far more serious, and should not be permitted to pass without further review.

Just over a week after the phone call about the Boston teachers decision, according to O'Neill and Reilly, Bump inappropriately raised a pending case when she met with them and Jesensky to discuss the agency's budget requests. During the meeting, she conveyed the administration's strong support for a petition by Service Employees International Union, Local 1199, to extend collective bargaining rights to personal care attendants for Medicaid clients.

"The message was received that this issue was of great importance to them," O'Neill said. He said Bump's comments were made as the commissioners were arguing for more funding for their beleaguered agency, which the two commissioners described as swamped with more than 600 cases a year.

For an agency department head to raise the subject of a pending union petition in the midst of a discussion about the jurisdictional agency's budget is indefensible -- especially for a seasoned attorney, lobbyist and legislator such as Bump.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote about pornography in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio , "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."

In this instance, I think that intelligent people will know improper influence when they see it. A person of Bump's education and experience cannot credibly argue that she had no appreciation for the significance of her action. If she truly did not, she does not belong in the position. If she did appreciate it, she doesn't belong anywhere in an honest administration.

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