The Quango Follies

Funny little piece of news, strikes me as just a bit off.

Mike Smith, former Douglas Administration functionary, then president of FairPoint and briefly co-prez of Burlington College, has a sweet new gig. He’ll be paid $70,000 for a six-month consultancy at the Emergency 911 Board.

This comes after the extremely sudden retirement of longtime E-911 chief Douglas Tucker. Smith’s brief is, curiously, both comprehensive and vague.

Smith will examine staffing and call volumes, and assist the interim executive director with day-to-day management issues.

… Smith will be responsible for developing a process to recruit and hire a new executive director. He will need to prepare a report for the E-911 board about how emergency telephone services should be organized in Vermont, and what models “could result in efficiencies.”

Now, the E-911 Board is what the Brits call a “quango” — a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization. It’s an entity with a public purpose but not directly answerable to central government authority. Quangos can perform critical functions; they can also be dumping grounds for hangers-on who need to be parachuted into a well-paid but not terribly demanding job. (See the classic “Yes, Prime Minister” episode, “Jobs For the Boys.”)

The E-911 Board didn’t have to get approval for the Smith contract from the Shumlin administration. And the contract is an interesting move for a number of different reasons:

— Smith is a notable Republican who serves as part-time “political analyst” for WCAX-TV. He has also written some unflattering opinion pieces about the Democratic administration.

— The E-911 Board faces a substantial budget cut that would force consolidation of its four call centers into two.

— The Shumlin administration has proposed folding the Board’s responsibilities into the Department of Public Safety, which would bring an end to its quango status.

— Because of his tenure at FairPoint, Smith “will not involve himself in any matters concerning FairPoint in order to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest.” Well, considering that FairPoint is in the middle of implementing an $11.2 million state contract for a new E-911 system, Smith will have to recuse himself from an awful lot of Board activities. If he keeps his promise, it seems to me that his ability to fulfill his duties will be limited.

Know what this looks like to me? An independent but publicly-funded agency, under pressure to cut costs and submit to administrative controls, has hired a prominent Shumlin critic to look for ways out of its situation — thus inflating its spending in the short run. If Smith comes up with savings comparable to the proposed call center cuts, then the Board will have grounds for insisting that the cuts don’t have to be made and its independence doesn’t need to be taken away.

Yeah, kinda smells a little.

2 thoughts on “The Quango Follies

  1. Louise M. Field

    The power grab to put a perfectly admirably functioning (it is cited constantly as an exemplary system nationwide…google it) 911 system under the State Police Umbrella SMELLS EVEN MORE!!!!…E-911 was set up purposely not to be a function of the State Police and in fact is not just a state agency – there are many smaller local police departments (St. Albans City PD, Shelburne PD, Hartford PD) who also provide 911 services to the residents of our state. The issue here is the funding – (E-911 is funded through special fees assigned to phone/communication devices) Because the State Police does not find it’s dispatchers (OK for senior staff to have personal vehicles paid for by the state but let’s close some Dispatch Centers) as essential are they looking for others ways to get access to more money than their already bloated budget??? And do you really think once they have control of the money they’re not going to interfere with how the local agencies provide the 911 services state wide?? And perhaps one of the reasons they let go of Mr. Tucker was his inability to provide a requested report after more than enough time to do so…cause it would conflict with this Governor’s budget maybe just a thought???


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