Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cuomo Hammered In Editorials Over Secrecy And Abuses Of Power

The Times Union:


A DOT engineer is out of a job after he praised the Cuomo administration in a newspaper interview.


Talk about a chilling effect.

We would fully understand if Mike Fayette didn't care to work again, after being forced into retirement at age 55 by his heavy-handed bosses at the state Department of Transportation. But it wouldn't surprise us if he'd prefer an employer that places a higher value on loyalty and dedication.
Those ought to be invaluable qualities in any workplace. At the DOT, however, and elsewhere in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, a troubling preoccupation with controlling public information has turned dedication into its own perverse form of insubordination.

In Mr. Fayette's case, it's even cause for a top gubernatorial aide to drag out what really is the unrelated dirty laundry of his disciplinary record at DOT.

Mr. Fayette is out of the job he held for 30 years because he dared to speak. That's right; he had the temerity to tell a North Country newspaper what a good job the DOT did cleaning up the damage to the Adirondacks from Tropical Storm Irene.

"DOT engineer on Irene: 'We were up for it,'" read the headline in the Aug. 30 edition of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Mr. Fayette said he was motivated to talk to the paper on the one-year anniversary of that brutal storm to rebut criticism of the DOT for its job repaving Route 86 between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
"The DOT as a whole, and maintenance staff in particular, we like to think we can take care of everything, and you fight it as long as you can, saying, 'I can take care of this,' " he said. "For a while we were holding on, but it just turned into something we had never seen before."

Mr. Fayette went on to describe how the DOT was able to reopen Route 73, also in Essex County.
"I told the governor we could do it," he said. "He wanted it open, and that's what we do. We like challenges, and we were up for it."

Up for natural disasters, perhaps, but not an obstacle course of political protocol. Mr. Fayette's pride in his agency's work, expressed in appropriately deferential terms, ran afoul of the DOT's rigid rules requiring his bosses' permission to talk to the press.

They were all set to fire him. Instead, he chose to retire.

And now comes Howard Glaser, the director of operations for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, so eager to talk about how Mr. Fayette had an affair with a subordinate and how he used the state's computers to carry on with her.

Mr. Fayette's defense, in part, is that the warning not to talk to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise came a day after he did just that.

So, really, what's the scandal here? Doesn't an administration ostensibly so committed to making state government work again have much more vexing worries than retaliating against a career civil servant who seems to believe in that very mission?

You would think that Mr. Fayette was another Ward Stone, the now-retired state wildlife pathologist who repeatedly ran afoul of state officials, particularly when Mr. Cuomo's father was governor, for talking about things his bosses preferred to keep quiet, like harm to the environment.

"The end result is I got screwed," he told the Plattsburgh Press Republican. "Hugely screwed. At the end of the day the taxpayers of the state lose, too."

And the state's answer is to drag up his sexual history.

Mr. Fayette's fate is an injustice that can't be ignored and needs to be fixed. Unless of course, in promising to promote more transparency in state government, Mr. Cuomo actually meant fear and intimidation.
Talk to the press if you work for the state and you could get fired.

Protest your poor treatment, and the Cuomo administration will ransack your files for any black marks and try to wreck your life.

That is what happened to Mike Fayette, a Transportation Department engineer for Essex County, who made the mistake last summer of praising to a reporter the department’s response to Hurricane Irene.
The problem, according to a “notice of discipline” letter Fayette received, was the department’s commissioner, Joan McDonald, had wanted to do the interview herself.

Fayette explained he talked to the press because reporters had been trying for days to get comments from McDonald or other Transportation Department officials, with no luck. Fayette didn’t want the department to look bad, so when a reporter called with questions, he answered them.

It is right for public employees, paid by our tax dollars, to provide information to the public by answering questions from reporters. State employees can be held accountable and state operations opened to public scrutiny through the medium of the press.

Abuses flourish in a secretive environment, but that is unfortunately what the Cuomo administration is creating in Albany.

The state has long made it a practice to hire overpaid, uninformed public information officers to stand between state employees and the press. These mouthpieces are merely messengers; they do not know anything themselves. So reporters must engage in a game of telephone in their dealings with the state, asking questions of an information officer, then waiting for a return call while the information officer asks someone who knows.

Past administrations have left some flexibility in the system — places where trickles of truth could leak out. But the Cuomo administration is working to keep the public as ignorant about state operations as its own information officers are.

After Mr. Fayette talked to the press, he was told he was being demoted and would have to relocate to Albany. He retired instead.

Then, he committed the sin of talking to the press again, explaining to reporters why he was disciplined. In response, Cuomo consigliere Howard Glaser dug up an old disciplinary matter from Fayette’s file and set about destroying his reputation.

Mr. Fayette was disciplined previously for having an affair with a subordinate and using work email and telephones to communicate with her. That case was over, he was punished for it, and it had no connection to the discipline he received for talking to the press.

The details of Mr. Fayette’s earlier disciplinary case are the sort of private personnel information state officials would be unlikely to reveal, even if asked.

In this case, Mr. Glaser was not asked. He volunteered the information to besmirch and punish Mr. Fayette.

The paranoid persecution of Mr. Fayette, with the childish insistence by the commissioner she should have been the one who got to talk to the press, would be amusing if it weren’t so destructive. But this case demonstrates a penchant for secrecy and willingness to abuse power that has become a pattern with the Cuomo administration.

One manifestation of this pattern has been the governor’s reliance on messages of necessity to rush bills through the Legislature without giving political representatives or the public time to consider them.

One of those bills, NY Safe Act, included a provision that limits access to public records, in this case, handgun registrations.

Similarly, a recent court ruling limited public access to teachers’ pension records, which have for years been available on websites, such as Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY.

That court ruling grew out of an earlier, equally misguided one denying access to the names of New York City Police Pension Fund recipients. The public has an unequivocal right to know who is receiving public money, and how much they are getting. The Cuomo administration should be acting to reverse the effect of these court rulings, but unfortunately, the governor has instead been turning away from the traditions of open government.

The way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him, preferably with a crowd of allies behind you. We need to stand beside Mike Fayette now, before the bullying from the governor goes any further, and demand he get his job back, and an apology from Andrew Cuomo to go with it.
As I wrote yesterday, there is no way this guy is getting through a presidential primary season.

Politico ran a story today saying Cuomo has become obsessed with the Clintons and everything he has been doing in recent months is meant to position him to an advantage in 2016.

As the Politico story notes, it's hard to see how the firing of Fayette and going nuclear on him by revealing his disciplinary record helps Cuomo in that.

It's also hard to see how someone as controlling, paranoid, and vindictive as Cuomo gets through the press scrutiny of a presidential campaign


  1. The Cuomo's will have a hard time defeating Hillary Clinton in Queens county let alone the democratic national primary. Andrew will suffer the same faith as his father, he has climbed as high as he can and now his power will decline ever so slowly, but it will decline. Political over reach such as this episode will become the norm not the exception.