Journalists, whether perceived as leaning to the right or left, share some common expectations of state and local leaders: they demand transparency, and adherence to the democratic process. Lawmakers have already earned the ire of editorial boards across Michigan over their repeated efforts to block voters from participating in citizen-driven ballot questions.
Now, it’s Gov. Snyder who’s drawing their scorn over transparency — a development that bodes poorly if he expects to gain endorsements in his bid for re-election, especially as he continues to slip in the polls.
The Grand Haven Tribune recently expressed skepticism over Snyder’s executive action moving oversight of the $145 million Aramark prison food contract to the governor’s office. The inept private food service company has demonstrated, in both Michigan and Ohio, that they are unable to live up to the conditions of their contract. They have been fined twice by both states for the same infractions: understaffing, food shortages, improper food substitutions, smuggling of contraband, unsanitary conditions, and hanky-panky with the inmates.
Gov. Snyder opted to turn a blind eye to many of these offenses, in fact, he referred to the numerous infractions as mere “hiccups” when asked about them on a recent visit to Marquette. Additionally, he expressed concern that these incidents were possibly manufactured by inspectors who were sympathetic to the 370 union members that lost their jobs due to the contract. In a remedy designed to avoid a massive public policy failure so close to an election, he transferred oversight to his office where they are subject to the shroud of executive privilege. From the Grand Haven Tribune editorial:
So, now that the duties of monitoring the Aramark contract have been shifted to the governor’s office, what will be done differently? Will it stop this unacceptable behavior and service? Union officials are skeptical and believe the governor seeks to shield the contract from public scrutiny because his office is exempt from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
As taxpayers who pay for the contract with Aramark, we have the right to know how that contract is being serviced, and that only those services within the contract are being rendered. Obviously, that hasn’t been the case.
Ohio has developed a process of accountability that remains open. The Toledo Blade editorial board offers praise of the system, while still calling for termination of the contract:
To its credit, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) has put in place a rigorous monitoring system. Still, ending the state’s two-year, $110 million contract with Aramark would best serve Ohio’s $1.5 billion prison system. If not, the General Assembly must directly oversee the state’s contract with Aramark, ordering regular reports from DRC and holding public hearings.
Another related concern was expressed by John Lindstrom, publisher of Gongwer News Service. In his blog, he challenged the notion that government should be run like a business — a core principle of the Snyder administration. Lindstrom cited some of the recent scandals that are, in part, due to that ethos:
In recent weeks, Mr. Snyder has been battered by two scandals involving top officials. First, there was the matter of Scott Woosley, former head of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Then there was Rich Baird, one of Mr. Snyder’s closest advisors, who was getting primary homeowner tax breaks on a house here and another in the Chicago suburbs. Mr. Woosley has resigned his post, and Mr. Baird has paid the taxes he owes here.
Government does things more slowly, there are more rules and regulations to follow largely because all parties and all sides want to be sure that taxpayer dollars are protected, theoretically anyway, that all points of view are considered and that the decisions are in the best interest of the greater public.
The Aramark contract oversight has fallen victim to that same business mindset — potentially blocking citizens (and journalists) from access to the particulars –hiding them behind boardroom doors.
Lest we forget, Snyder’s 2010 campaign promise:
The Michigan Dashboard has also lost that new car smell, with few recent statistics for public review, and some of them as old as 2010-11. Snyder certainly isn’t earning style points among media watchdogs when it comes to transparency and public accountability.
The governor has demonstrated that, when the rubber hits the road, he is unsuited for public sector service.