The old boys’ network at Liquor Control

The Burlington Free Press’ Mike Donoghue has been doing what he always does — carpet-bombing government agencies with public records requests* — and his mighty labors have once again brought forth a mouse. Relative to other public-sector featherbedding scandals.

*I wonder how much he’s cost the taxpayers of Vermont with all his requests. Gee, somebody ought to file a public records request for that.

But it is an interesting mouse, I’ll give him that.

The story concerns an off-the-books arrangement between Liquor Control Commissioner Michael Hogan and LCC staffer WIlliam Goggins, whereby Goggins was promised at least ten hours per week of paid overtime “without having to provide any documentation.”

This arrangement went on for 14 1/2 years, and enriched Goggins to the tune of $162,857. That’s about 12K per year; not that many dollars, really.

But while the money isn’t huge, the process stinks to high heaven. It’s a fine example of the Old Boys’ Network, where unwritten deals between longtime colleagues can fly under the radar for years without any questions being raised. It’s not the Shumlin administration at fault; it’s the Vermont Way. This arrangement began when Howard Dean was governor, continued throughout the Douglas years, and came to an end by Jeb Spaulding’s order this January. And only then because the budget was so tight, the administration was looking everywhere for ways to save.

As Donoghue reports, the Hogan/Goggins deal was unusual for state employees of equivalent rank and responsibility: top administrators don’t usually qualify for overtime. They’re stuck with their salaries. (In Goggins’ case, $75K per year.)

Hogan and Goggins insist there was nothing untoward about their arrangement. I’ll acknowledge that Goggins may well have earned his pay, although since he didn’t have to keep records we’ll never know; but the nature of their deal raises a giant red flag. And yes, I’ve got some questions:

— How many other sub rosa deals are there in the back offices of state government?

— How many such deals might exist in bodies like the LCC, which is directly overseen by the Liquor Control Board, not the central administration?

— Are there any other irregular arrangements in the LCC specifically? Mr. Hogan’s occupied that chair for a long time, and he seems to enjoy a liberal interpretation of his administrative discretion.

— And finally, should we perhaps take a second look at Auditor Doug Hoffer’s examination of the LCC, which got nary a glance the first time around? If the Hogan/Goggins agreement is any indication, the commission might need a good air-clearing. Now would seem to be the time to ask more questions, instead of blithely accepting Hogan’s response to the Hoffer audit:

“There are some things in the report that we could do, and are doing,” Hogan said. “But time has proven [this system] works. I don’t think it’s a broken system.”

Perhaps Michael Hogan isn’t the best judge of whether Michael Hogan’s own administration is “a broken system.” Reminds me of Bill Sorrell blandly assuring us all that Bill Sorrell has done nothing wrong.

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3 thoughts on “The old boys’ network at Liquor Control

  1. chuck gregory

    So, who does one find out whether there are other deals like this one? Would Hoffer have the ability to find out?

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      He could, but he can’t audit everything. That’s my big problem with the Hogan/Goggins thing; it’s not the amount of money, it’s the casualness of the process. Agreements like this ought to be put in writing and be subject to approval from the next level above. Hogan felt he had the authority, all by himself, to routinely give Goggins overtime pay without documentation. That’s wrong on both ends. There needs to be some serious administrative tightening. And as I said, this isn’t a Shumlin problem; this is a Vermont problem. There’s way too much informality in our managerial systems, and not only in the public sector. (That’s why we’re a hotbed of embezzlement, public and private sectors alike.)

      Reply

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