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September 27, 2016

Last Friday Boston Herald reporters Joe Battenfeld, Matt Stout and Chris Villani published Charlie Baker delayed action on revenge plot probe.  The headline was a bit misleading in that it appears that Baker himself was not dragging his feet, but that staffers in his administration had ignored complaints for months. Governor Baker has a staff problem – not just of the low-level enforcer wannabes who started this mess, but all the way into the executive suite.

The background goes like this. Cynthia Lewis, who works for the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, complained that Baker staffers had threatened her in an effort to get her to use her influence with her fiancé, J.D. Parker-O’Grady, to drop his Democratic Party election challenge to Republican Senator Don Humason. The EEA officials threatened to transfer her to Fall River unless she helped dissuade her sweetheart from his political aspirations. EEA staffer Jared Valanzola allegedly told Lewis her career “would be over.” Jared Valanzola’s cousin Michael Valanzola is the agency’s chief operating officer and he supposedly asked Lewis if she was a registered Republican when he interviewed her. Jared Valanzola also allegedly told Ms. Lewis that she should break off her engagement with her Democratic fiancé.

Two lessons. First, never entrust power to people who have learned about government from reading Howie Carr columns. Second, if Jared Valanazola should lose his job over this, he should not seek a position as a couple’s counselor. He’s no Dear Abby.

The bigger problem for Baker though is in the executive suite. The Herald reported that on June 7 Lewis’s attorney wrote to Baker’s legal counsel complaining of verbal and physical harassment and warned the administration to preserve all records in the case. Not until late August did the administration respond to Lewis’s attorney, after receiving more detail about the identities of the offending staffers. On September 15 an internal investigation began and interviews of staffers commenced. The Herald reported that “There was a gap because Baker wasn’t aware of ‘this information because it was being handled at the staff level.’” On September 22 Baker said he had learned of the allegations 10 days before, though the next day his staff said he had misspoken about the ten days but he had not been aware of the specifics until recently.

Why wasn’t Governor Baker informed right away? The initial letter from Lewis’s attorney was sent to the governor’s  legal counsel on June 7 and Baker was kept in the dark for two months.

Governor Baker and his staff would profit from reading Richard Neustadt’s classic work Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan, which offers valuable lessons for state chief executives as well. The governor’s staff must help him see his personal power stakes in the choices he makes.  “A (governor) is helped by what he gets into his mind. His first essential need is information. No doubt he needs the data that advisers can provide. He also needs the little things they fail to mention. . . .  [H]e must assume that much of what he needs will not be volunteered by his official advisers.” That is what appears to have happened here. The news from EEA is not a policy scandal but a political one that implicates the governor’s personal power prospects. He needed to know about it in time to act to protect his power more adroitly. “Information in his mind and rightly understood alerts him to his personal stakes when choices come before him.”

But here a matter that affects Governor Baker’s personal stakes was withheld: “this information was being handled at the staff level.” Unacceptable. Governor Baker has to insist on full information, and his staff must provide it. Information has to reach the governor in time for him personally to assess it and decide what to do.

Baker, Charlie

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