Our Stubborn Governor

The ongoing controversy over Governor Patrick’s handling of the problems at the state’s Department of Children and Families helps provide some political science insight into the running of bureaucracies and perhaps into the governor’s own managerial approach.

Governor Patrick stuck by Olga Roche, the DCF commissioner whose resignation he finally accepted on Tuesday, about as long as he possibly could. Just a week ago, when the body of the missing 5 year old Jeremiah Oliver was found, the governor was still backing Roche, according to a report in the Boston Herald. He stressed that DCF has a difficult job most of us don’t understand and that it needs more “resources and people and technology” but no criticism of management. He stuck with Roche right up until Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray stated that Roche should go. The speaker and president made their announcements in the wake of yet another tragedy, the death of four week old Aliana Lavigne. Grafton police had notified DCF by fax of possible abuse or neglect in the infant’s home, but the agency misplaced the fax and no social worker was sent to investigate.

As James Q. Wilson wrote in Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It, “When criticized, some organizations hunker down and others conduct a searching self-examination.” Hunkering down seems to have been the governor’s approach in the DCF matter.

That brought me back to research I had done for my book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting, and the Department of Justice, which in part reviewed Patrick’s tenure as Chief of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In a case in which CRD (originally under the first Bush administration) had required Louisiana to draw two majority-minority congressional districts, the federal district court threw out the two-seat plan as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The legislature was back at work when a letter from Chief Patrick went public stressing that only a two-seat plan would be acceptable to the DOJ, which had to “preclear” any Louisiana election law change under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Given DOJ’s position the Louisiana legislature passed a two seat plan which the court again vacated as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. The court imposed a one-seat plan but the governor called a special legislative session which passed its own one-seat plan. The state sent the plan to DOJ for preclearance and sure enough Chief Patrick signed a letter objecting in favor of a two-seat plan, this time under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, using a legal theory that had already been rejected by four other district courts (the Supreme Court eventually rejected the theory in 1997).

Say this for Governor Patrick, when he thinks he is right on something he is a real bulldog. This can be a strength too. For instance, I admire his unbending approach to the manufactured EBT card controversy. On the other hand, when Auditor Suzanne Bump issued a report revealing poor management practices at the Department of Transitional Assistance, the governor wasn’t exactly on administrative reform like a bulldog, either.

Before leaving the topic of hunkering down, let’s pause to consider the performance of the Grafton police department in the Aliana Lavigne case. Grafton PD sent the fax to DCF, which was then misplaced for six crucial days. DCF criticized Grafton PD for not also verbally notifying the agency, as it argues is required by regulations. The Grafton police chief, reports the Herald, “angrily” defended his officers: “They’re (DCF) trying to deflect off their office,” Grafton Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau Jr. said in an interview at his home yesterday. “I take offense to that, our officers did what they were supposed to do.”

And that is our final word on public administration for today.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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7 Responses to Our Stubborn Governor

  1. MJM says:

    Have to disagree with you.

    Obviously it would have been politically wise to immediately can Ms. Roche. But he didn’t.

    Is it because he “hunkered down?” Or is it because Gov. Patrick realizes we are too quick to make snap changes that get a quick headline but don’t fix the underlying issues?

    Nothing in your article shows why it is the first versus the second.

  2. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Your comment raises an issue I really didn’t have the space to address. It is possible that Roche was doing a good job, as the governor had indicated, and that the recent tragedies were outlying extreme events that occurred in temporal proximity. Or it is possible that Roche really was doing an inadequate job as a manager. Either way you seem to agree that she had to go because of politics (leaders like the senate president and house speaker being responsive to the public) and because Roche could no longer be effective as head of DCF.

    Our social service agencies have perhaps the most difficult jobs in the commonwealth. In the case of DCF, for instance, take Aliana Lavigne’s mother, who reportedly has a history of mental health issues and drug dependency. Such individuals can be very unpredictable in their behavior and ability to properly care for a child. As we know, we will never hear of the daily successes of DCF workers nor can we ever know that “but for” a timely visit something unfortunate might have but did not happen.

  3. MJM says:

    Agreed. It’s too bad we never hear of DCF’s successes.

    I wonder if the Globe or anyone has compared MA DCF to other states. I’ll have to check.

  4. Ed Lyons says:

    Professor Cunningham,

    Thank you for a thoughtful and original post.

    I would also mention that more than two years of failure by the Health Connector never got any public attention from Governor Patrick, and the incompetent Executive Director of the Health Connector, Jean Yang, is the only head of a failed connector in any state that has not been fired or has resigned. The waste in the EBT program is miniscule compared to the tens of millions of federal and even millions of state dollars wasted with zero accountability, and no significant reform.


  5. HesterPrynne says:

    Dear Professor Cunningham,

    I only wish that Governor Patrick had remained unbending on the EBT card issue. Although he did stand up to the Legislature for a time (including by making the very reasonable request that the state consider how cost effective the Photo ID requirement would be — a request that the Legislature rejected), his agency then rushed to implement the requirement in a way that caused many food stamp recipients to lose their benefits for some period of time — an unnecessary hardship.


  6. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Thanks to all for the comments which serve to fill in the very large gaps in my knowledge. The MPPs appreciate the thoughtful posts.

  7. Dr. Ed Cutting says:

    “By law, mandated reporters are required to verbally report allegations of abuse or neglect to DCF and follow up with a written report within 48 hours,”

    OK — I always thought this meant that you had two days to write up the report, which is very carefully worded, but that you had to let them know immediately. Now if the Grafton PD did it all at once, I fail to understand exactly what DSS/DCFS can say about that. I agree with the Chief here — they gave all their stuff right up front and this is bullbleep.

    I have filed numerous 51As as a Section 8 Inspector and I don’t think they ever investigated any of them. I do know that they never had the curtsey to let me know that they’d actually dispatched someone to check them out. I know that they can’t tell me what they did — I don’t want to KNOW either, trust me, I absolutely do not want to know….

    But they could have said “Hey Ed, we checked it out, thank you for telling us.”
    Or maybe a postcard that said the same thing — or maybe a $10 gift certificate at McDonalds — I’m reasonably certain that McD’s and BK and D&D and the rest would be happy to donate them, and there probably is some way this could be done in compliance with the ethics laws and such — they really do want people to file 51As don’t they?

    The most extreme situation I filed a 51A on involved a situation where grandmother was dying of cancer and in the hospital at the time. I go in the apartment with the maintenance supervisor and we aren’t trying to surprise anyone and make a lot of noise but there doesn’t appear to be anyone in the apartment. But there are open pill bottles EVERYWHERE. They are in plain sight — on a bookcase, kitchen table and such — and there are a LOT of them, and most are open (no cover on them). I don’t touch but I read the labels, and most of the drug names I don’t recognize but a couple I do and they are Schedule II Narcotics — Opiates — and something that absolutely should never be confused for candy.

    I have a gut feeling that this is REALLY NOT GOOD — I was doing a thousand inspections a year at the time and I’d never seen anything like this. Nothing even close, and neither of us are really not quite sure how we are going to proceed.

    And then the 12 year old granddaughter comes floating out to the upstairs landing. She’s high as a kite, her behavior (including her attempt to speak) is consistent with Opiate abuse — I believe that she thought she was talking to the maint guy, and she was making noises, but they weren’t close to being words let alone sentences. Loosing the ability to speak is serious — and if it wasn’t Opiates doing this, then it was something else.

    It is an understatement to say that she was inappropriately attired — she appeared to have some sort of white gauze thing on her which may or may not have been covering the parts of her body that needed covering — I didn’t look that closely and we were both heading for the door at this point. Two men, both independently and almost instantly realizing that we needed to be OUT OF THERE RIGHT NOW and we were.

    This is a specific and serious report — a girl who is nonchalantly comes wandering out damn near naked to greet two adult males, who has lost the ability to talk and who very much appears to be on something, who’s living in an apartment strewn with drugs, and who ought to have been in school that day — I gave DSS lots of specific things that they could have checked out — and to the best of my knowledge, they never did.

    It’s the sort of thing that makes you ask why bother even report it…

    I’d love to blame this on Deval Patric, but Mitt Romney was Governor at the time.
    This problem has been building for a long time….

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