This column starts where last week’s left off, with a simple question, the government’s nonresponsive response and what it all says about public transparency.
As we reported seven days ago, a state executive started a new state job one day before a state investigation portrayed her as a “non-reliable witness” in a state probe. An investigator found that the executive, Monica Rea, contradicted herself in written statements and interviews about an employee’s illegal promotion at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Ironic.
The day after the State Personnel Board issued its scathing assessment, The State Worker asked a few questions of the spokeswoman for Rea’s new employer, the Department of Aging. Spokeswoman Christin Hemann answered them all, confirming that Rae had started at Aging on July 14 as a deputy director earning $101,422 annually.
Other questions: Does the fact that employees are under investigation travel with them when they transfer? (Nope.) Did Aging know about the investigation into Rea’s role in the scandal at Fair Employment? (“We were not aware of the SPB investigation of Ms. Rea,” Hemann said.)
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The next day, the column about the Fair Employment investigation mentioned Rae. The report was posted on The State Worker blog.
On Friday, we called Rea’s former employer. Fair Employment spokeswoman Fahizah Alim said she had heard Rea was no longer working at the Department of Aging, Alim also said Rea could not come back to her old job. Attempts to reach Rea were unsuccessful.
We also contacted the Department of Aging, but. officials wouldn’t answer a simple question: Does Monica Rae still work for you?
“This is a personnel matter and (Aging) cannot comment,” Hemann said in an email.
Let’s put this in context. The courts have said public employees’ pay, employment history, pensions and job titles are all public record. The Department of Aging had already disclosed Rea worked there and when she started. Sure, disciplinary actions aren’t public, but that’s not what was asked.
“The fact that someone worked there on Monday and wasn’t working there on Friday can’t possibly be confidential,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of The First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael.
And the rationale that new roster information isn’t available, Scheer said, is “hiding behind a legal technicality” that the government must only produce a record that already exists.
“How can you possibly protect a date?” Scheer asked.
Other legitimate questions:
Why is Aging withholding innocuous information?
Does the leadership think refusing disclosure strengthens their public posture?
How would they react to a potentially embarrassing information request; how would they react to something more serious?
How far are they willing to go to keep public information from the public?