Tag Archives: Michael Hogan

If it didn’t happen in the Free Press, it didn’t happen

The Burlington Free Press takes tremendous pride in its scoops. Front-page placement, social media bragging. It’ll also follow up endlessly, whether fresh developments warrant it or not. And sometimes the “scoops” aren’t worth the paper they’re (at least for now) printed on.

Its pride in the Liquor Control Commission overtime affair is justified. Mike Donoghue discovered an abuse of the system and aired it out. One result: the amazingly well-timed retirement of Commissioner Michael Hogan.

Great. Good work. But I find it awfully curious that while the Free Press has devoted lots and lots of space to the LCC, it has published exactly one story — count it, one — about Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s refusal to investigate himself for possible campaign finance violations.

And that one story was an Associated Press production. No staff time whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

The only explanation I can think of: the story originated in Seven Days. The Free Press can’t claim credit; it’d just be playing catch-up.

If that’s not enough to get your Spidey Sense tingling, how about the fact that the Free Press has published not a word about State Police Corporal Jon Graham’s Facebook posts? The story first broke Friday night on WCAX, and has been widely re-reported elsewhere. But not in the Free Press (or on FreePressMedia).

Stories like these are usually catnip for the Free Press: allegations of official misconduct, of a kind that’s sure to generate pageviews and controversy.

Sorrell is supposedly testifying before a Senate committee this afternoon. I expect the Free Press will be there, and will report on the story — because now, it’ll have a fresh hook to hang the story on, and won’t have to credit Paul Heintz for the scoop.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But the Free Press’ track record informs my cynicism. And for the life of me, I can think of no other explanation for Our Former Newspaper Of Record almost completely ignoring two significant stories in state government.

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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.