Posted February 9, 2007
It’s lonely at the top. Or, so it’s been said. Gov. Jim Douglas must be feeling that now and again. What with fewer and fewer Republicans left in higher office, or the Legislature, and with no sign that this trend is slowing, it’s got to get under your skin.
At a recent press conference, Douglas was irked by some critical questions about his handling of recent events in Bennington, at a state office building where a number of employees have been diagnosed with sarcidosis in recent years — many of them on his watch, among other things.
Maybe the questioning of his competence as governor irked him? He seemed to intimate, according to several accounts, that reporters were carrying the water for Democrats, or at least asking questions on their behalf. And, he went on to lay blame for the problems his administration is facing at the feet of his predecessor — Gov. Howard Dean.
Now into his third term, Douglas needs to leave Dean behind him and focus on his own agenda.
Whether he likes it or not, the state budget, its facilities, and its people are under his control, not Dean’s.
This has been a constant theme with Douglas. Bad roads? Blame Dean. Crumbling state psychiatric hospital? Blame Dean. Act 60? Blame Dean. Computer technology failures? Blame Dean.
No governor inherits a clean slate when he or she takes office — not in Vermont or anywhere else.
There is plenty to criticize Dean over in terms of budget priorities and unfinished business — namely in terms of the decrepit Vermont State Hospital, neglected highway maintenance, and a property tax financing system on the verge of falling apart.
But, Douglas is smart and politically astute. If he didn’t know there might be some budgetary, or policy, landmines in his future, then he should have stayed as treasurer or moved on to something else.
Blaming the other guy is a classic routine in state government, and when the buck stops with you, just say it was your predecessor.
There is a difference here, however. When Dean came into office, he did something that irked his own party, and many supporters. He said he would carry out the fiscal austerity programs of his predecessor, Gov. Richard Snelling.
Right now, Douglas needs to step out of the shadow of Dean and his own 30 years in elective office in Montpelier and stop blaming the media and Dean for his struggles in office.
Conflicts know no party
While Gov. Jim Douglas was having a bad week, it was also a bad week for members of two other political parties — the Progressive Mayor of Burlington Bob Kiss, and the Democratic Auditor Tom Salmon, Jr.
In Kiss’ case, it was the actions of the city attorney that raised eyebrows. Namely, it came to the attention of the City Council that a consultant with a “close personal relationship” to City Attorney Joe McNeil had netted more than $200,000 in a rewrite of the city’s zoning regulations.
City taxpayers deserve to know if the work being performed was proper, and appropriate, and if not then they should be made whole for McNeil’s indiscretion.
In Salmon’s case, it was his appointment of a private contractor who provides financial accounting software to towns on a panel advising towns on finance procedures that raised eyebrows. Salmon’s predecessor — Republican Randy Brock — rightly chastised Salmon’s poor judgment.
“It is inconceivable to me that a state auditor would appoint a municipal software vendor to a position that will likely be recommending software solutions to Vermont’s cities and towns,” said Brock.
Salmon dismissed Brock’s argument, saying it was silly to compare Saunders to Halliburton. Saunders, too, admitted there might be an appearance of conflict, but that towns seeking the kinds of services his firm provides usually do so through an open bidding process, not backroom deals.
Still, if there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, then treat it like a conflict of interest and avoid it at all costs. The state’s top watchdog should know better, as should a city attorney with decades of experience under mayors of multiple parties.
In both cases, the elected officials in charge — Mayor Kiss and Auditor Salmon — need to have the courage to understand that there was a trust broken on their watch, and find a way to make it right.