Today’s Special at Phil’s Diner: Nothingburger

In the best political tradition of “ready/fire/aim,” Phil Scott and friends sent out a letter this week accusing the Shumlin administration of playing politics with state jobs. Specifically, of shifting political appointees into permanent state positions. It’s a way to reward your loyalists and extend your influence into putatively non-political areas of government.

The letter was addressed to Human Resources Commissioner Maribeth Spellman, but it was released to the media on the same day it was written. (A sure sign of political motivation.) The letter cites “concerning reports” that the administration is either reclassifying exempt (political) positions into classified (nonpolitical) ones, or creating new classified positions that political appointees could slide into.

It would be a minor scandal if true. Unfortunately, Scott has no concrete evidence, no published reports, and not a single example.

I reached out to Rachel Feldman, Scott’s chief of staff, in search of documentation. This is all I got:

The information comes from a reliable whistleblower within State government.

Okay, well, that’s not much, is it?

First, in an instant we’ve gone from “concerning reports,” plural, to a single anonymous source.

Second, whistleblowers can be invaluable sources, but they can also be self-interested ax-grinders.  There are plenty of Republicans in state government who have tried to cause trouble by “whistleblowing” what they see as scandalous activity by Democrats. By itself, this one anonymous source proves nothing.

Most telling, Feldman did not provide a single example of an exempt employee getting a permanent state job.

“I’m struggling to figure out what they’re talking about,” Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell told me. “We’re not transferring anybody, and we’re not reclassifying any positions.”

There are circumstances that might seem fishy at first glance. For instance, if a person was a classified state employee for ten or more years and then served in an exempt position, they would have the right — under state law — to seek a classified position. And, Coriell again:

“Of course, any exempt employees who want another job with the state are welcome to apply for another job, but we’re not creating jobs for anyone.”

There’s a lot of moving around in the exempt workforce these days, as there always is in a lame-duck administration. It’s possible that a political appointee or two have found new jobs in the permanent workforce; but there is no evidence to support Scott’s accusation.

One would hope that our self-described embodiment of leadership and transparency is more careful behind the wheel of the #14 car than he is with his premature press releases.

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