On March 30, we considered the subject of “Who’s On Welfare and What’s On Second?” In search of information, I had called—well, I called a whole lot of people in county government and kept getting passed around. Finally somebody in the County Executive’s Office referred me to George Dooher in the Dept. of Social Services. He invited me to send him my questions, saying that if he didn’t have the information then he could appropriately refer me. So about ten days ago I sent him this:
I would like figures both for people on Medicaid, and people on “Welfare,” i.e., Temporary Assistance (Family Assistance, Safety Net Assistance, Emergency Temporary Assistance). It would be helpful if the data could be provided both as raw numbers and percentages.
1. Demographics of people receiving Medicaid/Welfare: Sex, race, age, marital status, geographical area, level of education.
2. How much is in the Onondaga County budget for direct Medicaid and Welfare payments? How much is paid by the state or federal government? What is the average monthly payment to a person on Welfare?
3. On average, how long does a recipient receive Welfare?
4. Are Welfare/Medicaid payments made to (a) healthy single men; (b) non-citizens; (c) drug addicts; (d) people with criminal records (felony or misdemeanor)?
5. How have the figures changed over the past five years?
At the bottom of the email I wrote “Please confirm receipt.” Well, I didn’t get confirmation, which made me wonder if he’d even read the email, but I sat quietly and waited for ten days, then I set out to follow up with Mr. Dooher. Unfortunately, while I waited I’d lost his telephone number so I went back to the County Executive’s Office, which had directed me to him in the first place.
I called them again, was given George Dooher’s phone number, and told that he is an intake worker in the Dept. of Social Services. That’s odd, I thought; isn’t he an executive? So I called the number and got a guy who didn’t sound like the guy I’d talked to before. After a minute the guy kind of chuckles and says, “Oh, you want my dad.”
It turns out that George the Elder worked in the comptroller’s office around 1972. Around 1975, when I started to work in the comptroller’s office (i.e., Department of Audit and Control), George was gone but his wife Adrienne worked there. Now George the Elder is the Assistant Commissioner of the Dept. of Social Services, his son is an intake worker there, and I don’t know if his now-ex-wife is still in the Comptroller’s Department. Onondaga County government: the game the whole family can play. There is not a doubt in my mind that somewhere in history the Doohers all took and passed appropriate Civil Service tests, however, what I also know are some of the ways to get around the Civil Service certified lists. I know this because one day Comptroller David Elleman cheerfully he told me about it.
Elleman pointed to one of the women working in his department and said, “See her? She’s a great worker but a terrible test taker so what we do [“we” being Elleman and Ned Gusty, the Commissioner of the Personnel Department] is create a series of temporary positions for her.” The worker would go into a temporary job title but continue to do the same work. After a year or so, the state would get around to scheduling the Civil Service test for that job title; she’d take the test, score poorly, and be “unreachable on the list,” so good ol’ boys Dave and Ned would create a new temporary position for her. Every couple years they’d move her into a new job title.
You look at this in one way and say, oh, wow, isn’t that nice? She’s just a poor test taker and they’re helping her out. Onondaga County government is very big on “helping out” its own people. There’s only one problem with this: the county comptroller is the only one who says she’s a good worker. And his department was part of a county-wide conspiracy to raise money for the Republican Party by coercing employees into buying tickets for party events. In other words, there was a correlation between keeping your job and giving money to the Republican Party. And Comptroller David Elleman was an elected official.
So what we know is that the employee gave contributions to the Republican Party (I was there; she did), her boss was an elected Republican official, she never passed a Civil Service test, and she always had a county job. Nice work if you can get it and you can get it . . .
Another trick Elleman told me about was the “negative interview.” The state creates and scores the Civil Service tests, then sends a list to the county. The list is ranked according to how well the test taker did, and there may be two hundred names on the list. Regulations require department heads to fill jobs with certified workers within a specific time. Let’s say you’re the department head and you want to hire your next-door neighbor’s son; his dad knows how the system works and can be counted on for heavy donations to the Party. The problem is that the kid is not too bright and placed low on the list. You are required to hire one of the top three people who want the job, therefore he is not “reachable” on the list.
But we were supposed to be talking about Welfare, weren’t we? Maybe we still are. If you make regular contributions to the Republican Party then maybe you can get a job with the county. In Onondaga County, this is “government welfare.” (To be continued)