Well, so much for the Carcieri administration’s assurances that the governor’s latest round of musical chairs would not bring with it an increase in staff positions and/or salary costs.
Former talk-show host Steve Kass takes his $126,000 salary as the governor’s communications director to what the administration calls a temporary assignment at the state Emergency Management Agency. EMA spokesperson Brittan Bates, who earns about $47,000, will stay on the job, and EMA’s new executive director will earn about $50,000 less than Kass, doing wonders, no doubt, for EMA morale.
Meanwhile, John Robitaille, CEO of Perspective Communications in Portsmouth, replaces Kass in Carcieri’s office, at a salary whose cost has not yet been identified by the administration.
Even the governor’s supporters have had a tough time defending these moves, which represent political gold for the opposition.
As Bill Lynch, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, stated in a news release on Tuesday, “Here are the facts: The governor had a communications director, his name was Steve Kass, and his $126-thousand salary was paid for out of the governor’s personnel budget. Then the governor dumped Kass on RIEMA and brought in John Robitaille to replace him. Assuming that Robitaille is also being paid out of that same executive personnel budget, then Carcieri has ignored the state’s fiscal crisis and defiantly created a new position in state government.” Says Lynch, “Moving Steve Kass to RIEMA and giving him a new job title doesn’t change the fact that his salary is still being paid by the governor’s office.”
In a statement, Carcieri spokeswoman Barbara Trainor says, “This temporary assignment [for Kass] will in no way affect the governor’s plan to reduce his staff by the end of Fiscal Year 2008.”
Yet the administration’s recycling of the same advisors smacks of rigidity, cronyism, and even timidity. More pointedly, an inability to think outside the box exacerbates the state’s massive fiscal, economic, and social problems, which beg for innovative solutions.
In other recently announced moves, Jerome Williams, formerly director of the state Department of Transportation, is the incoming director of the Department of Administration. Beverly Najarian, bumped by Williams, becomes Carcieri’s deputy chief of staff. The governor says that Najarian “has saved millions of dollars for Rhode Island taxpayers” but the Senate Government Oversight Committee, in a report on the use of private staffing firms during her watch, says it “cannot make a determination as to whether the incompetence was due to ignorance, or arrogant and willful violation of the law.”
The flexible Adelita Orefice will head Health and Human Services (a new $119,000 position created for her), following stints in the state departments of Elderly Affairs, Labor and Training, and Elementary and Secondary Education.
A rare newcomer will run the DOT. Massachusetts’ engineer Michael P. Lewis, an alumnus of the controversial, budget-busting Big Dig, comes to the Ocean State with its already-busted budget. Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal says Lewis came recommended by the feds.
Asked why none of the jobs recently filled through this reshuffling were posted, so that someone else new — maybe even a qualified Rhode Islander — might come forward, Neal pointed out, accurately, that it is never the case, with governors past or present. The supposition is that this should make us feel better.
: This Just In
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