The government is supposed to do only what cannot be done by the people individually, e.g., fight foreign wars, maintain the Thruway, and support a nursing home for the indigent. Otherwise, the government is supposed to leave the people alone. It is not supposed to inspect our activities simply because it can—but that is exactly what is happening in Onondaga County.
The Medicaid Fraud Unit does what its boss, Chief Welfare Attorney Zachary Karmen, tells it to do. Karmen works for DSS Commissioner David Sutkowy, who lets him run rampant over the citizen’s constitutional rights. Sutkowy’s superior is Administrator for Human Services Ann Rooney, who laughed when Sutkowy and Karmen were charged with retaliation and retribution. Rooney works for County Executive Joanne Mahoney, who follows two Republican county executives who reigned unchallenged for fifty years.
I was in court the day County Executive John Mulroy was sentenced for conspiring to shakedown Civil Service employees for contributions to the Republican Party. He slouched, shifting from one foot to the other, and failing to look directly at the court. His body language screamed belligerence and disrespect. Supreme Court Justice Lyman Smith told him to cut it out or he’d put Mulroy in jail for contempt. If ever there was a contemptuous display, it was the day the county executive faced justice in the name of the People of New York State.
I see the same behavior in the actions of the executives who run today’s county government. They hold the people in contempt.
In January 2011, I heard that Zachary Karmen had retired. My first reaction was, “Why would a middle-aged man who is paying tuition for his child at a private college retire?” Maybe his daughter graduated. Maybe he has a dread disease that will soon be fatal. Maybe the county offered Karmen a golden retirement package. I don’t know. I do know that the 70,000 people in Onondaga County who have to do business with the Dept. of Social Services are better off without him. He has been a malicious presence in our lives.
Zachary Karmen is replaced as chief Welfare attorney by Paula Engel: “Ms. Engel has been a licensed New York attorney for 17 years, with 11 years’ experience as a paralegal assistant in the metro-NYC area before that. She is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP). Ms. Engel is experienced in Medicaid and public benefits administration and recoveries, personal injury, white collar crime prosecution, as well as personal injury, insurance defense, supplemental needs trusts and foreclosure litigation.”
Ms Engel was an assistant district attorney; manager of Jeff Brown’s campaign for the Senate; studied at Syracuse University’s School of Management and was a marketing representative for IBM. In other words, she is a prosecutor, politician and businesswoman. What would I like to see in a chief Welfare attorney? A lawyer with a work history in human services. How about ‘Ms Engel has been an attorney with the Human Rights Commission, worked as a manager for the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), and has a degree in sociology?’ That’s a biography I could respect.
It appears that what we are getting is more of what we’ve had: focus on the money, prosecute everybody you can, and work with the established political system. What’s wrong with the established political system? It was established on the backs of Civil Service employees who had to pay the Republican Party for their jobs. And what do you think the Republican Party did with all that money? I think they used it to pay for campaigns. Democrats and Republicans did not start equally to fund their campaigns: the Republicans used county employees as their funding source. Wow—what a base!
Ah, but that was a long time ago, wasn’t it? It may be a long time in years, but how long does it take to change a culture? Onondaga County had a culture of kickbacks. The special prosecutor’s investigation may have gotten the Div. of Purchasing to stop writing letters to contractors telling them how much they owed the Republican Party for the privilege of getting a county contract—well, they may have stopped writing letters, but do you think they stopped expecting contractors to pay? Do you think that any money went to the Republican Party when Zach Karmen negotiated the Medicaid dispatch contract with a couple local ambulance drivers who had no experience?
What we have is a county government that is historically corrupt. John Mulroy and Nick Pirro gave contracts to whomever they wanted, and due process be damned. And they got away with it because The Syracuse Newspapers, published by Stephen Rogers’ father and son, let them. The policy of giving county government a free pass continues, even though the Herald American, Herald Journal and Post-Standard have now been reduced to a single newspaper. Newspaper people will argue that they are bordering on bankruptcy because of competition from the Internet, the high cost of newsprint, and the benefits paid to staff.
I think the Post-Standard is on the verge of going out of business because they don’t report the news. I think that if they started reporting the truth about county government then their sales would triple. I know that when I write about corruption in county government, the number of hits on my blog triples. The people want to know.