Op-Ed

Scott administration favors acts of revenge over reform

TNS

One of my favorite sayings comes from Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In other words, it’s not enough to refrain from participating in the wrongdoing.

If you know it’s going on, you should stop it. If you find out it happened, you should expose it.

When we learn of questionable acts, tragedies or criminal activity that occur in government, we shake our heads in disgust and wonder how it could happen.

Didn’t anyone notice? Why didn’t they say something or do anything about it?

Instinctively we know that people are afraid to come forward for fear of losing their jobs, being demoted, ostracized or targeted for retaliation.

Many government employees abide by the doctrine of going along to get along. Even those fired or “retired” usually choose to remain mum — perhaps hoping for a good reference.

Those who do speak up are vilified or dismissed as disgruntled employees. Could it be that the reason they are disgruntled is because they are disgusted at the abuse of power they have witnessed?

Transparency in government operations has been replaced by obfuscation, making it difficult for the news media to expose transgressions and corruption without knowledgeable sources.

In theory, state employees who report wrongdoing are supposed to be granted protections for blowing the whistle on bad acts.

We should encourage and reward those who step up to do the right thing.

Last year, story after story of suspicious deaths in our state prisons came to light.

It’s hard to understand how the abuse of inmates could be kept secret despite the presence of cameras and the likelihood of witnesses.

We also learned contraband — drugs, cigarettes and cell phones — was rampant inside the prison walls.

Gov. Rick Scott, in his fifth year in office, had already been through three secretaries of the Department of Corrections.

Julie Jones would become his fourth.

Scott’s first DOC secretary, Ed Buss, was a known reformer who could have cleaned up the prisons. Buss was forced out — probably because he wasn’t supportive of Scott’s plan to privatize prisons.

Scott’s third secretary, Mike Crews, was the scapegoat for the prison inmate death scandal despite his pleas for more resources to deal with chronic understaffing, low morale and high turnover.

Soon after his forced departure, Crews admitted he was told to take a bullet for the governor, who cared more about the PR than fixing the problems at DOC.

His reward? He was out of a job and tainted.

DOC employees quickly learn that keeping their mouth shut is the way to keep their job and get promoted.

There is little upside to exposing corruption and violence.

Some didn’t get or ignored that memo.

Four inspectors in the Inspector General’s Office blew the whistle on some within the Department of Corrections.

Aubrey Land, David Clark, John Ulm and Doug Glisson did their jobs and spoke up even when they felt pressure not to do so. They deserve our respect, appreciation and support.

Unlike many others, they did not turn a blind eye to what was occurring.

Their good deeds did not go unpunished. Not only were they threatened and subjected to a hostile work environment but they also found themselves targets of internal investigations.

These four men refused to be cowed.

They testified — under oath — at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing on prison reform. They told of inmate abuse, medical neglect and organized crime within the prison walls.

They criticized the Inspector General’s Office for suppressing criminal charges and interfering with investigations of high-ranking prison officials.

Committee Chairman Greg Evers strongly suggested that no retribution against Land, Clark, Ulm and Glisson should result from their testimony.

Newly appointed DOC Secretary Jones assured him there wouldn’t be.

Since that February hearing, three of the whistleblowers have been relocated.

All four of them have been under administrative investigation or have had inactive investigations reactivated.

Six administrative investigations have been initiated on Glisson.

Ulm found out — after the fact — that an investigation led to a sustained charge of “failure to report’’ against him. He was never interviewed and has not seen any paperwork on the investigation.

Land was investigated for sharing the medical information of a deceased inmate with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — which was investigating the inmate’s death at DOC’s request.

The message is clear:

The good old boys’ club is still alive and well at DOC.

If this isn’t retribution, it’s a hell of a coincidence.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.

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