Secrecy of investigation into state welfare officials raises even more flags
It’s hard to imagine that any state government job could be much tougher and more thankless than those inside the welfare division.
Equipped with neither the staffing nor the budget to do the job, workers endeavor to help some of the neediest people in society.
Part of the population swears you’re not doing enough to assist poor families. The rest wants your department eliminated because it coddles the great unwashed and enables them to avoid pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
Depending on one’s political perspective, the duty is either essential to maintaining a compassionate society, or the nanny state’s most expensive binky.
That’s why it’s essential to maintain a professional system of management and prevent theft whenever possible. And that’s what makes current allegations being leveled by state employees against Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services Administrator Nancy Ford and Deputy Administrator Gary Stagliano so disturbing.
Disturbing, but difficult to investigate because any attempt to verify the allegations through official channels elicits claims that this is a confidential “personnel matter.” Calls to the attorney general’s office, Department of Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden, Ford and Stagliano all resulted in a variation on “no comment.”
That’s too bad. The allegations, which first surfaced in a February letter to Gov. Jim Gibbons, make Ford look at best ineffectual and Stagliano nothing short of menacing.
A spokesperson for Gov. Gibbons confirmed the February letter had been received and forwarded to the Department of Health and Human Services. A second anonymous letter was received Thursday.
Letters also were sent to at least 15 members of the state Senate and Assembly.
The complaints center largely on Stagliano’s management style and allegations that under his supervision 94 new computers turned up missing and more than $20,000 in bus tokens was stolen from Southern Nevada offices without the thefts being reported or action being taken. Questions also have been raised about whether state funds set aside for travel use were diverted to help pay for a favored employee’s retirement party.
The letter blasts Stagliano for his “personal agendas.”
It states, “These agendas include: manipulating programs, setting up personnel to fail, breaking rules, covering up thefts and other improper governmental actions. Many hard-working and ethical people that have questioned his motives and behavior have been destroyed personally and professionally by him.”
Several current and former employees are mentioned by name in an April 16 letter as victims of Stagliano’s abuse. The letter also accuses Ford and Willden of doing nothing even after being informed of the problems. Neither Ford nor Willden were in the office Friday.
Of the missing computers, the insiders write, “As the result of not having proper security and internal controls nobody can account for this missing property. The computers should have immediately been distributed to the office that had been waiting for them instead of sitting for an indefinite amount of time in a warehouse so they could be stolen. Now we can’t get replacement computers through our insurance because the deductible is $200,000 and the equipment purchase price was a little less than that. There is no budget for additional computers.”
An attempt to determine whether the computers have yet been replaced was unsuccessful.
Confidential personnel matters are one thing. The disappearance of approximately $200,000 of public property is another. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for someone, somewhere in state government to clear their throats and provide the public an answer.
Their specificity and detail appear to add credible weight to the letters. They also suggest potential regulatory and criminal violations.
“We want to be able to come to work every morning knowing that we are not going to be humiliated or set up, or retaliated against for asking questions,” one letter states. “We want operational equipment, trained and ethical supervisors and a support system so that we can do our jobs efficiently and meet the needs of the customers that rely on us.”
Stagliano declined to comment Friday but made the point that “just because someone writes something doesn’t mean it’s true.”
That’s right. But now that the allegations have surfaced, they deserve thorough examination not only for the department’s sake, but also for the sake of those being criticized.
An investigation might make a difficult, thankless job a little easier.
• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (702) 383-0295.