There has been a lot of discussion in the past few days about intentional lack of transparency with the development and enactment of the Affordable Care Act, but Kentuckians don’t have to look to Washington for examples of the public’s business being kept from the public and their elected officials.
In fact, a story WDRB is breaking in Louisville shows the elected officials at the Jefferson County Board of Education were kept in the dark regarding questionable employee actions and an expensive settlement negotiated behind closed doors.
The issue concerns a former employee who once held a six-figure salary job as Jefferson County’s public information officer. That job was cut and the employee moved to human resources, getting a lower-paying – but still six-figure – salary. The employee didn’t last long in human resources, getting fired “for misconduct and insubordination, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.”
All of this happened without the vast majority, perhaps all, of the Jefferson County Board of Education having even a clue about what was occurring.
The school district defended the secrecy surrounding a $200,000 settlement, saying:
“While we stand behind what we have done, you have to weigh a lot of things. Do we fight the fight that we think is the right fight and do so with an open-ended checkbook, which is the taxpayers’ checkbook, or do we try to settle a situation and make a good business decision?”
Well, here are just a few questions about management in Jefferson County Schools all the secrecy has left unanswered. In raising them, I want to stress that the secrecy in this situation does not allow the public to know if the employee actually was wronged or was in the wrong.
• If the six-figure salary job of public information officer was eliminated, who now performs those functions? Were there two very highly paid people nominally doing this at Jefferson County?
• Was the employee’s move from public information to a six-figure salary human resources position a good skills fit? Who determined that? Was this really just a make-work action?
• Was the firing actually justified? Does the district’s refusal to defend its action actually indicate the firing might not be justified? If the firing was actually questionable, who is being held accountable? How would a similar mistake be avoided in the future if everything is secret?
• If the firing was justified, what kind of precedent is set by the district’s failure to stand behind its actions? Doesn’t this open the taxpayer up to unending, expensive settlements that might not be justified?
• Should the elected board of education be involved with actions, especially job terminations, involving high level district personnel? Is there a legal requirement for such involvement? If so, is there a salary point or job description that would determine the need for board involvement?
• Most important of all, what is being done, if anything, to preclude another expensive action like this in the future? Are the best interests of the taxpayers served by just sweeping this under the rug?
Keep in mind that Jefferson County School’s management history is already under question for being far from stellar. A recent audit by Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen raised lots of questions about how the district was handling the public’s tax dollars. Right now, it looks like somewhere around $200,000 more of those tax dollars might have been poorly spent while the local board of education – again – was left without a clue.