Tag Archives: Department of Children and Families

The Augean Stable of state government

The Agency of Human Services comes in for a lot of green-eyeshade scrutiny when budget time rolls around. With good reason; thanks to outmoded software and management, I’m sure AHS could do a better job than it does. And thanks to our jobless, middle-class-killing “recovery”, it’s coping with ever-increasing demand.

Mr. Hoffer detects an unpleasant odor. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

Mr. Hoffer detects an unpleasant odor. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

But pound-for-pound, I doubt that any part of state government can top the Agency of Commerce and Community Development for waste, futility, and inside deals.

In the latter category, we had the backroom agreement last spring that landed Lake Champlain Region Chamber of Commerce a $100,000 no-bid grant for developing business with Quebec. And now, in the second category, we have a rather devastating memo about the inadequate structure of the Vermont Training Program, which provides grants to businesses for employee training.

In his memo*, Auditor Doug Hoffer is far too politic to use the most appropriate term — “clusterf*ck.” But that’s the message. As I was reading the memo, my thought was, “Maybe we should just burn down the whole place and start from scratch.” His bullet-point highlights:

*As of this writing, not available online. But check the Auditor’s website; it should be posted soon.

— The VTP has no effective internal controls to ensure that applicants meet the various eligibility requirements or that grant funds are only used for supplemental, rather than replacement, training.

— The wage increases reported for trainees may not accurately reflect changes in hourly wages and may reflect other factors not related to VTP training.

— A substantial portion of VTP’s total resources are directed to a few large corporations year after year.


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Vermont’s newest pundit

Er, that would be me.

I just got off the phone after spending almost 90 minutes on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show, looking back at the gubernatorial election, how we got it so wrong, and what it all means. There were a lot of great phone calls from all parts of the political spectrum, and Mark was (as always) a great host, gently guiding the discussion while allowing plenty of room for callers to drive the conversation.

I didn’t always agree with the callers, and I’m sure they didn’t always agree with me. But they were intelligent and thoughtful. They saw things from their own viewpoints and interpreted events accordingly, but they weren’t shrill or doctrinaire. It was a pleasure to spend time and share ideas with them.

My big takeaways are:

— People are smarter than the likes of me give them credit for. One of the structural drawbacks of being a writer or reporter or politician is that you live in your own little world. I do my writing from my home office. Reporters spend the vast majority of their time in their offices. Reporters and politicians spend their time talking to each other. Sure, politicians hit the road and press the flesh. But that’s a small part of what they do.  Our perspectives are skewed by how and where we spend our time and who we talk to.

— Governor Shumlin’s biggest problems are that he’s seen as out of touch, and as a bad manager. And that’s job one, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative: take care of business. Get the roads plowed and the cops on the beat and the teachers in the classrooms. Spend the people’s money wisely and well. If you do that, people will reward you, no matter what your ideology.

His out-of-touchness was a constellation of things: the outside travel, the fundraising from corporate interests, his habit of saying whatever he thinks his current audience wants to hear.

Look at the people who’ve won respect in Vermont. People like George Aiken and Dick Snelling and Bernie Sanders and Jim Douglas and Pat Leahy and Phil Scott. Ideologically, they have very little in common. But they are seen as honest brokers who care about doing government well and taking care of the people as best they can.

Governor Shumlin was brilliant during and after Tropical Storm Irene. He has been far less effective in the day-to-day business of government. The continued failure of Vermont Health Connect is the single biggest thing, but there’s also the problems at the Department of Children and Families and the failure to address rising school costs and the failed IT contracts (which was also a trouble spot for Jim Douglas, but Shumlin hasn’t fixed it).

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few other things. But the point is, if the voters entrust you with public office, you have to carry out the office’s duties effectively. That’s the most important thing. Especially if you’re a liberal who wants government to do more. People will go along with you if they think you’re doing a good job.

And pretty much nobody, on the left, right, or center, thought Shumlin was doing a good job.

— By contrast, Scott Milne, for all his faults (in some ways, because of his faults), did seem authentic. He was a real person, warts and all. He was open to new ideas from all sides, and his primary focus was to make government work well. In many ways, he was the perfect anti-Shumlin.

That’s the message I got over and over again on the radio this morning. Well, there were many messages, but those are the big ones. It was informative, and it was a lot of fun. Thanks to Mark, his listeners, and WDEV for giving me the opportunity.

The most significant thing about Governor Shumlin’s first TV ad of 2014

The Shumlin campaign has taken to the airwaves with a 30-second commercial that features real-life Vermonters who have benefited from Shumlin initiatives. The aim of the ad is to remind viewers of the administration’s many accomplishments — to counteract the stream of bad news about Vermont Health Connect and the Department of Children and Families, and to remind liberal voters that the Governor has, indeed, delivered on many of his promises.

All he needs is rainbows and unicorns.

All he needs is rainbows and unicorns.

Pretty standard stuff, and it’s been duly reported in the media. But they haven’t noticed* the most significant thing about the launch: its timing.

*Correction: All but one of them failed to notice. Sevan Days’ Paul Heintz reported it two days before I did. That’s why they call him The Huntsman.

In 2012, the Shumlin campaign didn’t take to the airwaves until roughly two weeks before Election Day.

This year, the campaign hits your TV screens almost a full month earlier.

According to campaign finance reports, the Shumlin camp spent $125,000 on ad buys in 2012. Campaign manager Scott Coriell isn’t saying how much they’ll spend this year, but it figures to be a lot more.  They’ll be filling airtime for six weeks instead of two, so it’s fair to guess that they’ll triple their spending this year. Or more.

So, why?

In 2012 Shumlin faced an underfunded, underorganized, mismanaged opponent. Shumiin’s re-election was never in doubt. This year, he faces one opponent who’s far worse in all three categories, and another who represents a fringe viewpoint with a proven track record of appealing to a sliver of the electorate. Recent polls (and deeply flawed polls at that) notwithstanding, his re-election is once again in the bag.

But the Governor isn’t aiming his campaign at the broad electorate. He’s trying to pump up the base and generate higher turnout by core Democratic voters. Hence the reminders of popular Democratic initiatives.

If he can get a pure majority of the vote — at least 50% plus one — he’ll have a lot of political capital to spend in next year’s debate over single-payer health care.

But if he wins with a plurality and, worse case, he gets fewer votes than the Republican and Libertarian candidates combined, he’ll have a lot less pull with the Legislature. And right now, he’s polling in the mid-40s. He needs a boost.

Plus, of course, the higher his vote total, the more Dems and Progs will ride his coattails to victory. And he’ll need every liberal vote he can get, if single-payer is to pass next year.

That’s the significance of the early TV launch this year.