Martha Manuel formerly headed up the Governor’s Office on Elderly Affairs, until today when she was canned as a result of casting doubt on the utility of a switch of her office overseeing program deliveries through Councils on Aging. The Jindal Administration wishes to have the Department of Health and Hospitals take over that role, which makes some sense as there is an ongoing consolidation of programs to serve the elderly with those of the disabled, which DHH oversees. It also says more federal funding would be available by this reorganization.
But announcement of the move, as part of the budgetary process, set off consternation among the various COAs. And then Manual sprung the surprise when, in front of the House Appropriations Committee, which meets prior to the session to start work on the budget, she opined negatively about the shift.
That this happened presents a rarely-viewed vignette into the operations of executive branch politics. If she had doubts about the plan, which she has known of for at least a couple of weeks, she should have made inquiries with Jindal or at least with her boss two levels up, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater. If afterwards she felt he could not support the plan, then the honorable thing to do would have been to resign before hearings began. In fact, Rainwater had been present at the hearings but left before her testimony, so she certainly did not lack opportunity to do the honorable thing.
Yet, curiously, she spoke of repeated attempts to contact her Monday night – hours before the hearing – by the Governor’s Office, which she ignored. Did they suspect something was going to happen? Why wasn’t she pulled aside Tuesday and removed from the lineup if that were the case?
However, the most curious aspect of the incident was her refusal to resign and then going against her employer, knowing full well what the consequences would be. She must know she’ll never get a political job in a Republican administration, or perhaps for any Republican officeholder in any capacity, because she demonstrated unprofessionalism in her job designed to obstruct her employer’s agenda. Admittedly, that may occur regularly among many classified, merit employees in bureaucracy, but always surreptitiously, never admitted, and comforted by merit protections from being fired – not by an at-will employee in an open, brazen fashion. Yes, she probably could figure she would be out of a job anyway in a few months with the transfer, but why sabotage your reputation in this fashion?
So the question remains, why would such unprofessional behavior occur with its high attendant costs? Was it that she decided she could get some other kind of reward by making this highly unusual scene? Had she gotten into contact with Jindal opponents such as state Rep. James Armes, a frequent Jindal critic, who teed up the question to her during the meeting? Perhaps we’ll have those answers if, in short order, we discover some person or organization usually opposed to Jindal, or, more generally, to Republicans and/or conservatism, hires her for something.
One final question deserves a hearing as well: about the only opposition concerning the change is from the interest embedded in the current arrangement, the COAs. AARP, for example, issued a letter completely supporting the switch. Why are they so exercised over what appears to be a routine bookkeeping maneuver? Is there something really behind the scenes, that it would be in the public’s interest in knowing, that makes the present relationship so sacrosanct to the COAs that they would go to the wall to preserve it? And, if so, is that something that serves a public interest, or a special interest the beneficiaries of which feel they must hide?
by Jeffrey Sadow, Ph.D. Read his daily blog at Between the Lines