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Toward an honest assessment of the governor’s performance

Melvin B. Miller | 7/24/2013, 11:04 a.m.
Deval Patrick boldly confronts the state’s major problems. In his first term as governor he vowed to change the way ...
“Deval is tough; it’s not over even if they overcome the veto”

Deval Patrick boldly confronts the state’s major problems. In his first term as governor he vowed to change the way business is done on Beacon Hill. He established more rigorous ethics laws and he reformed the pension system to eliminate excesses.

As might be expected, some of the old guard vigorously opposed Patrick’s reforms. He expanded the definition of lobbying and restricted government employees from accepting corporate gifts. Potential pensioners could no longer resort to accounting sleight of hand to inflate their payments.

Surprisingly, some of the press seemed to oppose the reform. However, the administration’s commitment to a higher level of public probity and its intense effort to improve the quality of public education earned Patrick a re-election victory.

A major agenda for Patrick in this term is to generate sufficient funds to finance public transportation and improve the quality of public education. He proposed a bill that would raise taxes on gas, cigarettes and computer software services. Republicans opposed any tax increases, but Democrats voted for an $800 million transportation bill that Patrick vetoed because “this good bill is not good enough” to do what needs to be accomplished.

During debate on this bill between the administration and legislative leaders, media criticism of the governor became harsh and personal. Patrick was cited as being liable for problems in government agencies even though political pundits know that the governor is never directly involved in the administration of those agencies.

Two issues have emerged that provide the press with administrative flaws to denounce. The first is at the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF). They permitted a 3-month-old child to be returned to his troubled home even after the DCF had earlier placed his 3-year-old brother in foster care, and the infant was killed allegedly by his mother’s boyfriend.

The other matter, fortunately, does not involve the loss of life. A state audit disclosed that the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) was sending payments to dead recipients and to guardians of dead people. It was also found that the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) accounts of some recipients contained excessive amounts. The state makes twice-a-month payments into the EBT accounts of recipients with the expectation that they will spend the funds for their support.

Patrick has taken the appropriate steps to resolve both problems. He has ordered the state’s Office of the Child Advocate to investigate the death to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies and procedures of the DCF. And the DTA has closed recipients’ accounts with large balances and is investigating payments to dead recipients. It should be pointed out that these deficiencies were not discovered by prior audits until the election of Suzanne Bump as auditor in 2012.

Indeed, it is the responsibility of the press to publicize such flaws in government. However, it is also important for the public to understand whether or not the governor is directly involved with management of the agencies, lest his competence be unfairly impugned.

Patrick will continue to find support for his transportation proposal and an attentive public will be able to evaluate its merits. There will be more to come as the governor works to implement his vision for the state. The controversy must be accurately covered by the media in order for the public to express informed opinions.