Offering what he described as a “strong medicine” for the Beacon Hill culture that allowed the Probation Department hiring scandal to occur, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker on Monday put forward several reforms he said would help ensure taxpayers get what they pay for.
“The thing I heard over and over again [from voters] is that this was that inside job. Who you know is more important than what you know,” Baker told the News Service, discussing the verdict in the just-finished trial of three former Probation Department officials and what he thinks should be done next.
Baker’s plan would require the inspector general to conduct random agency audits of hiring practices and direct the State Ethics Commission to intervene in state agencies with compliance rates under 90 percent for mandatory ethics training. The plan would also have the ethics commission facilitate annual in-person training days to supplement the online test required of state employees.
Not only does Baker want to see those compliance rates made public, he also called for information to be posted online when state job postings are filled, including the name of the person hired, their resume, and whether the hiring authority was contacted by a state official on behalf of the applicant.
“There were a lot of people getting employed into positions they weren’t qualified for,” Baker said, referring to probation. “We have a website that provides data on job postings but not on what actually happens to those jobs after they’re posted. People still might get jobs they’re not qualified for, but posting it online would give people a better appreciation of who is being hired. It would be a big step forward.”
The probation trial, which last week resulted in the convictions of three former officials, exposed what prosecutors described as a hiring system rigged to favor job applicants connected to powerful Beacon Hill pols in an attempt to curry legislative favor.
After the publication of an independent counsel report in 2010 on patronage in the department, the state Legislature passed a series of hiring reforms intended to address the report. Those reforms included mandated ethics training and a prohibition on letters of recommendation from politicians being considered until the final stage of hiring.
Asked if he believed the culture detailed during the trial was more pervasive in state government, Baker said, “Why don’t we put these reforms in place and see?”
Baker also recommended that the probation and parole departments establish a formal agreement each year to better coordinate services, overlapping goals, and responsibilities. Governor Deval Patrick has in the past proposed merging the two agencies under the executive branch, but Baker said that is not what he is suggesting.
“I think the merger has been discussed,” Baker said. “It didn’t happen. At this point, and I can see both sides of the argument, but what you really want is probation, parole, and corrections all singing off the same sheet of music with an understanding of their related duties.”
Baker, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor, is running against Tea Party Republican Mark Fisher, of Shrewsbury. If elected in November, Baker said he would try to implement whatever reforms he could without legislation, before considering filing a bill.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose name was linked by prosecutors to the scheme to curry favor with lawmakers by handing out probation jobs, has forcefully denied any wrongdoing, but acknowledged in television interviews last week that his reputation has taken a hit.