Ok, my first entry ever had to do with a certain Governor of the State of New Hampshire. Here are some articles that clearly display what I was talking about then:
Editorial: Shadow puppets
Friday, December 5, 2003
Governing cannot be delegated to unaccountable volunteers.
Gov. Craig Benson is running the state like a business - the kind that gets investigated, sued and possibly indicted.
Ethics has not been the Benson administration's strong suit. But the latest travesty involving Linda Pepin, one of a coterie of Cabletron cronies brought into state government by their old boss, sets a new low.
State Personnel Director Joe D'Alessandro, also a former Cabletron employee, chose Pepin to be on the state team that negotiates health insurance contracts. Before Benson tapped him for a state job, D'Alessandro had worked for AlphaDirections, Pepin's consulting company.
Pepin also worked as a paid consultant to the state's insurance broker, Dennis French. French was appointed to his job by D'Alessandro.
Pepin earned some part of $15,000 a month in commissions for her role in negotiating health insurance for state employees. Her windfall means that taxpayers will ultimately pay more to insure state workers.
Another member of the state's volunteer negotiating team was former Cabletron employee Ray Marshall. Their presence in negotiations as private "volunteers" was, if not unprecedented, highly irregular. It was also wrong.
As a volunteer, Pepin was given the job of finding companies capable of allowing state employees to manage their personal health plan online. Her search, D'Alessandro told the Executive Council, which must approve all state contracts, turned up five potential firms. But only one, Choicelinx, had the technology to get the job done, D'Allesandro told councilors.
The council approved the $885,000 contract, but soon thereafter New Hampshire Public Radio disclosed that at least four of the five possible contenders said they had no knowledge of having been invited to bid by Pepin. The deck had been stacked.
Benson fired Pepin and asked the Attorney General Peter Heed's office to investigate. The governor has refused to answer any substantive questions about the matter pending the outcome of that investigation.
That Heed is himself a Benson appointee would normally be no reason for concern. But Heed has allowed Deputy Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to participate in the investigation and be his office's spokesperson about it.
Ayotte served as Benson's legal counsel and spokeswoman until just a few months ago. That relationship can't help but undermine public confidence in the fairness of the attorney general's investigation. It also suggests that, to paraphrase the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Heed and Ayotte don't know a conflict of interest when they see it.
Earlier this year, Nick Vailas, Benson's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, showed similar blindness. Vailas was forced to resign when news broke that he was serving as commissioner while trying to start his own health insurance business. While heading an agency that regulates health care, he was also working as a lobbyist for a national ambulatory surgery organization.
Benson learned nothing from the Vailas matter. He learned nothing from complaints that he paid former Cabletron employee Angela Blaisdell off the books and made her the state's homeland security liaison despite her lack of qualifications. It's only a matter of time before the next scandal.
The real problem, of course, is not Blaisdell, Pepin or D'Alessandro. It's Benson. The governor has installed a shadow government of unaccountable so-called volunteers who are not answerable to the public. Authority without accountability is tyranny.
Friday, December 5, 2003
A revolving door for Cabletron
Pepin's out, but another Benson pal is on his way in
Sunday, December 7, 2003
Also, the Democratic presidential candidates report they're drug-free, and Judge Bob Lynn's elevation to head of the superior court system has run into trouble.
Gov. Craig Benson sacked one Cabletron buddy last week, but there's already another one coming down the pipeline.
Benson dismissed Linda Pepin, a former Cabletron executive and Benson "volunteer," after allegations that she misled the Executive Council in preparing an $885,000 contract. The attorney general has opened an investigation into Pepin's work at the State House.
But the Cabletron revolving door seemed to be working fine last week, as Benson nominated another former employee from his defunct technology company to a state position.
Eric MacDonald, a one-time Cabletron engineer, was nominated to the state's Health Services Planning and Review Board. The panel, better known as the "certificate of need" board, reviews all big-ticket medical proposals: new health care facilities, equipment or programs. The nine-member board includes representatives from various health-care professions, as well as four open "consumer" slots. MacDonald was nominated to one of those.
MacDonald would replace Elizabeth Crory, a former state representative from Hanover who often took the lead on health insurance-related issues while in the State House.
At least a couple of Executive Council members, who will have to approve MacDonald's nomination, say they're concerned by an apparent lack of public health interest or experience in MacDonald's past. MacDonald worked as an engineer at Cabletron in the early '90s. In 1997, he and three partners sold their start-up tech company to a larger firm for $150 million.
A spokesman for Benson said the position on the board doesn't allow anyone with a background in health care, but others disagree.
"Most people who fill the consumer slot have a little bit of knowledge of the medical field," said Councilor Ruth Griffin, who also sits on the board. Paula Minnehan, of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, agreed.
Current "consumer" board members include a former state health department employee, a trained nurse and legislators with experience in health policy.
Sure, MacDonald's resume has zilch in the way of health care know-how. But it does have that magic word: "entrepreneur."
"My background is one in which I frequently sought out new professional challenges, whether as an engineer early in my career, or an entrepreneur, or manager," his resume reads. On Friday, MacDonald said his background in finance would be the biggest asset he brings to the board.
You may recall that Benson backed legislation earlier this year, proposed by Rep. Fran Wendelboe, that would have eliminated the review board. (Benson said the board hampered competition in the health care industry and drove up costs.)
In October, Benson reappointed Nick Vailas, who resigned as Health and Human Services director three months ago over a conflict of interest, to the board.