The townsfolk are all horns and rattles, I never seen such a fuss. Must be that cold-blooded sidewinder Doug Hoffer’s back in town and up to no good.
This time, the ol’ gunslinger has taken aim at OneCare Vermont. Hoffer’released an audit on Monday finding that OneCare, which was supposed to glean savings from the healthcare system, has cost millions more than it’s saved.
The normal official response to a Hoffer audit is along the lines of “Well, he found some interesting information, but nothing we didn’t already know and weren’t already doing something about.” But the reaction to this audit is more direct, if not downright hostile. Mind you, they didn’t contest Hoffer’s findings, not at all. But they didn’t like his conclusions, not one little bit.
One might even detect a faint whiff of panic. Considering that free-lance health care expert Hamilton Davis just called OneCare “a dumpster fire,” I can see why Our Leaders would be unreceptive to a critical audit right now.
Well, it’s Monday, and once again we’ve got a full crop of stupidity in the public sphere. I didn’t intend for this to be a weekly feature, but hey, if they keep serving up the meatballs, I’ll keep swinging for the fences.
This week, the stupid was strong in positions of prominence. We’ve got a U.S. Senator, a State Senate committee, a state’s attorney, and not one but two agencies in the Scott administration. So let’s not keep these important slash self-important folks waiting.
To begin, we’ve got our first-ever Provisional Veepie and our first-ever Sub-Veepie. The P.V. is the I’ma Throw Everybody Under the Bus Award, which goes to none other than St. Patrick Leahy. It’s provisional because it’s about an anonymous second-hand quote from Politico, so there’s a chance that Leahy didn’t say, or mean, this. But if he did, what a doozy.
The article reports that Leahy is expected to run for re-election next year. It includes this line: “The 81-year-old has also indicated to them that he believes he’s ‘the only Democrat that can win the seat,’ said a person briefed on the conversations.”
Woof. Way to simultaneously diss every Democrat in Vermont, Senator.
For those just joining us, The Veepies are my occasional awards for stupidity in the public sphere. We’re still setting a brisk pace in that regard. So, here we go…
The We Gave You a Crappy Half-Apology Because We Had To, But We Really Didn’t Mean It Award goes to the Bennington Selectboard. Last month, the town reached a settlement with former state representative Kiah Morris over the police department’s actions, or inactions, regarding threats against Morris. This came after the state Human Rights Commission issued a preliminary finding that the Bennington PD had discriminated against Morris and her husband James Lawton. As part of the deal, Bennington had to issue a formal apology. And it was kind of half-assed, blame-the-victim stuff: “It is clear that Kiah, James and their family felt unsafe and unprotected by the town of Bennington.”
See, it’s not that the town did anything wrong; it’s just that Morris and her family felt unsafe. Put the onus on the victim. But wait, there’s more!
Whatever little value there was in that “apology” was completely undercut by the town’s attorney Michael Leddy, who insisted that there are “no reasonable grounds to believe” that the town was guilty of discrimination, and by Selectboard chair Jeanne Jenkins, who told VTDigger last week doesn’t believe the police department discriminated against Morris.
All they will acknowledge is that Morris “felt unsafe.” Well, Morris and her family have since relocated to Chittenden County, so problem solved, I guess?
After the jump: Empty climate rhetoric, Medicaid money for school cops, and propping up a dying industry.
A few days ago, I wrote about two performance audits conducted by Auditor Doug Hoffer concerning Vermont’s approved independent schools. His findings, in brief: they are growing and consuming more Education Fund dollars, and state oversight is lax in a number of important ways. (The two reports are available by way of the Auditor’s website, specifically this page.)
I mentioned in passing that the two audits had gotten very little coverage in the media. The second one went almost completely under the radar; the Big Three of Vermont media (VTDigger, Seven Days, VPR) didn’t cover it at all.
It’s part of a pattern; Hoffer’s audits and reports get perfunctory coverage at best. But this year it took a turn for the worse. At the same time that major media outlets were giving scant attention to Hoffer’s actual work, they were giving plenty of space to Oliver Olsen, a relentless Hoffer critic (and longtime supporter of AIS’s).
For those just joining us, in December and early January Olsen inundated the auditor’s office with requests for records and information — a total of 18 inquiries, four of them filed on Christmas Eve. At the time, Olsen hinted at a deep expose of serious flaws in Hoffer’s work. In a letter to House and Senate leadership, he wrote “My review, which is not yet complete, has identified a number of problems with the auditor’s work that I hope to bring to the Legislature’s attention in the new biennium.”
What have we gotten from Olsen since then? A wet fart. Have the breathless media covered his failure to deliver? Not on your life.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer recently issued the second of two performance audits on Vermont’s approved independent schools. You may have missed it because it was virtually ignored by the #vtpoli media. (Both reports can be accessed here.)
The lack of coverage deserves a post of its own. For now, let’s get to the meat of Hoffer’s work. He didn’t find any smoking guns, but he did identify a striking trend and some definite lapses in oversight by the state. It’s a dangerous combination, especially with so many indy-related people on the state board of education.
Hoffer’s first report focused on an educational double standard: the rules for public schools and AIS’s are quite different, and favor the latter. The high points:
The Education Secretary is required in state law to ensure that public schools comply with the law. There is no such provision for AIS’s.
Public schools must follow public-records and open-meetings laws, ensuring a measure of transparency and accountability. The AIS’s do not.
Educational quality standards are much looser for AIS’s than for public schools.
Public schoolteachers must be licensed by the state. Not so for AIS’s.
There’s more, but that gives you the general idea that the indies can cut lots and lots of corners, and are less accountable for how they spend Education Fund money.
Now we get to Hoffer’s second report, which reveals that the AIS’s are taking a larger and larger share of K-12 dollars. Details after the jump.
So, only nine months after losing the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in spectacular fashion, former Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe has landed a new gig. He’ll be Doug Hoffer’s deputy state auditor.
I’ve had more than my share of fun at Ashe’s expense (including the irresistible headline above), but I have to say this job is a perfect fit all around. Ashe is good at finances and numbers, and he knows state government as thoroughly as anyone.
And it provides a side-door re-entry into statewide politics, something that seemed unlikely to happen so quickly after he got his ass handed to him in the primary.
OK, I’ll stop mentioning the primary now.
The first thought that crossed my mind is that maybe, after several years of rumors, Hoffer is actually planning to retire next year and he wanted to give his fellow Progressive/Democrat the inside track to succeed him. It makes all the sense in the world, assuming that Hoffer is thinking politically. As he basically never does, so grain of salt and all that.
Another political thought: Ashe might lend a little more Statehouse heft to the auditor’s office. Hoffer has had a hard time getting the Legislature to take him seriously. In my experience, every time Hoffer testifies before a legislative committee, they politely thank him and then ignore what he had to say. Ashe might help, at least in the Senate. He has many friends in Vermont’s most self-regarding deliberative body, especially among the senior Senators who occupy virtually all the committee chairships.
This hire is also good news for the Progressive Party, which saw its two real contenders for statewide office lose badly last year (Ashe and Dave Zuckerman). Ashe now has the opportunity to re-establish himself in Montpelier, and blaze a trail to a second bid for statewide office.
And a reminder: Although it seems like he’s been around for almost ever, Ashe is still only 44 years old. Time is on his side.
But even if you leave politics aside, it’s a good fit for Hoffer, for Ashe, and for the office of auditor. Kudos all around.
Last week, VTDigger posted a curiously lopsided story that trumpeted the intention of former state lawmaker Oliver Olsen to “audit the auditor.”
That would be state auditor Doug Hoffer, who seems to have gotten deeply under Olsen’s skin.The Digger piece went on and on about Olsen’s dim view of Hoffer’s work, cited the views of lawmakers with similar misgivings, and… um… barely quoted Hoffer at all. Nor did it include comments from the many lawmakers who have think highly of Hoffer. It kind of reads like a hit job.
There are two quotations from Hoffer, both apparently taken from emails. In fact, I asked Hoffer if he’d been interviewed by the reporter. “We had no phone conversations at all,” he said. “I had no chance to respond to the allegations [by Olsen].”
Well, that’s Journalism 101, isn’t it? A former editor of mine used to hammer repeatedly on the obligation of reporters to talk to everyone mentioned in a story. That doesn’t seem to be the standard at Digger.
So the article was a little malpractice-y. What about the substance?
As is his wont, State Auditor Doug Hoffer is questioning conventional wisdom. And it’ll probably win him as many popularity points as it usually does.
This week, Hoffer released a performance audit of Vermont’s “approved independent schools,” as they like to call themselves. (Heaven forbid you should call them “private schools,” which is what they are.) What he found, in the words of his report’s title, is that these schools “are not subject to most of the statutes and rules that govern public schools.”
These are private schools that have been approved by the state Board of Education to receive public tuition dollars. They are located in rural areas where it might not be practical for each district to serve its entire K-12 population. That may be enough of a public service to compensate for the fact that they are taking students and dollars away from the public school system.
But perhaps, if they’re accepting tens of millions in public funding every year, they should be held to the same standards as public schools.
And as Hoffer points out, they are decidedly not. This allows them to cut corners in ways that public schools cannot, and shields them from the kind of rigorous oversight that public schools are subject to from state officials and district voters.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer, whose work is more honored in the breach than in the observance, has released a report that’s critical of the Vermont Economic Growth Initiative.
(Before he sends me a correction, please note that this report is not a formal “audit,” my whimsical headline notwithstanding.)
The report came out one week ago today. You might well have missed it, because it was pretty much ignored by the Vermont media. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t covered by Seven Days or VTDigger or any of our sadly diminished dailies. (The Vermont Business Journal did post Hoffer’s press release on its website without any actual reportage, but that’s about it.)
Which is kind of sad. Hoffer is the chief watchdog of state government, after all. His reports ought to be newsworthy. But the media ecosystem is so diminished that a lot of stuff falls through the cracks.
I also suspect that Hoffer has gotten a reputation as The Auditor Who Cries Wolf, especially when it comes to economic incentive programs. His skepticism runs counter to the conventional wisdom, which is that these incentives are a valuable tool in the box. And that if the state doesn’t offer incentives, it might lose out to all the other jurisdictions that offer incentives.
That conventional wisdom is treated as gospel by the executive branch and the Legislature. Hoffer always gets a polite hearing before the appropriate House and Senate committees, who then proceed to ignore whatever he has to say. And that’s a shame, because Hoffer is a smart fellow with a real dedication to making government run as efficiently as possible. His work should be taken seriously.
Nothing against our incumbent state treasurer, but she’s sailing to re-election and a bunch of liberal PACs have just made big donations to her campaign. Sure, reward a faithful officeholder and all that, but she doesn’t need the money and she’s not spending the money.
Look: Her Republican opponent, Carolyn Branagan, has filed her October 15 campaign finance report — and it shows no activity whatsoever since the previous reporting deadline of October 1. No fundraising, no spending, nothing. Before that, Branagan’s campaign had been a low-budget affair largely funded by herself. She’d raised $26,000 including $20,000 from herself, and spent $18,000. Total. On a statewide campaign.
Pearce, meanwhile, had raised $25,000 and spent a little less than 10 grand as of October 1. Her opponent has essentially given up, she drew 68% of the vote in 2018 and hasn’t been seriously challenged since her first run for the office in 2012. If she has a pulse on November 3, she’s gonna win.
During this 15-day reporting period, the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education gave Pearce the maximum $4,160. The VSEA PAC has donated $1,500. VPIRG Votes chipped in $400. And she got $250 apiece from the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and the Vermont Building Trades PAC.
(She’s also received $2,000 from Emily’s List, but those are pass-through contributions from individuals giving to Pearce through the List. No conscious effort on Emily’s part.)
This shouldn’t really bother me, but it does. I mean, why?