State Government

Barn Yard Odor At State Ag Dept.

The GUARDIAN has an assignment for new Idaho Controller Donna Jones:

Get busy with your oversight duties and check out SECRET BONUSES doled out at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

We have received some very serious allegations of bonuses being awarded to favored employees by former Director Pat Tagasugi.

According to our sources, the bonuses were put on “hold” until the flap over a similar event at the Department of Education cooled down. Now the new director, Cecelia Gould, has reportedly signed off on the bonuses and some disgruntled employees are eager to make it public.

One source said the bonuses involved former director Tagasugi’s “onion nematode case.” The Japanese won’t buy Idaho potatoes because of those pesky little nematodes. They sure seem to cause problems disproportionate to their size.

Our source said the bonus awards were unfair and the people who REALLY took up the slack were ignored on payday.

Other insiders tell us the order of the day now is to not send any e-mails which could haunt the agency. If the information the GUARDIAN has is true–and it appears that indeed it is–the agency has some highly questionable finance practices.

New Management is monitoring the e-mails really close these days and folks are concerned about being treated like a runaway domestic elk.

The GUARDIAN contacted the agriculture department and was referred to a “human resources” spokesman. We asked:

–if the former press officer had received a bonus
–if another former employee had been given 6 months pay after leaving
–if state money had gone to basketball shirts.
–where is the money coming from to pay for all this stuff?
–has the new director awarded bonuses?

“File a freedom of information request. We will run it past our attorney and then respond,” we we were told. Rather than give them a bunch of time to line up their ducks, we thought it would be nice to share the information and perhaps get some additional comments from others in the know.

Mainstream media will probably like to check this out in depth–they get paid to do that, we don’t.

Department of Education apparently wasn’t the only state agency to quietly slip bonuses into favored employee envelopes and play fast and loose with public funds.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I have a hard time getting worked up over rumor Dave.

    EDITOR NOTE–Don’t need to get worked up. We checked with other sources–both official and private–and they had all heard threads of the posting with the exception of the recent bonuses. Sis, these people love to use the old “file a FOI” line and then string it out for the lawyers, deny half the request etc.

    Look for documents to start surfacing on this one.

  2. Dave – your column may be fun and opinionated but it is far from being informed and factual.

    Although I admire your ability to rapidly aggregate rumors and hearsay and spin them into informed “facts”, perhaps you should be more prudent and actually check the veracity of the information being provided to you (no doubt from “nameless” sources) before you spew it out as being true.

    Allegations of wrongdoing are just that, allegations. I believe “what you see depends on where you stand.” There is most likely much more to the situations you present than you have been led to believe by your sources.

    You may be willing to turn over your personnel information to the first media person who asks but, thankfully, public employees have an expectation of privacy in these matters. The private sector would tell you to go jump in the lake, i.e., they are not required to divulge anything. The public sector is required to provide most records upon anyone’s request [its a public records request at the state level Dave; FOIA requests are made at the federal level].

    Why villify an agency and its management before you have all the facts? This must be the fun and opinionated part of your column. How twisted is that!

    Information is the result of processing, manipulating and organizing data in a way that adds to the knowledge of the person receiving it. The operative word in the preceding definition is “data”; a basic component of information which is implicitly factual.

    Your “information” certainly does not add knowledge about topics covered in the column to the person receiving it. It has, howerver, added to my knowledge of how the certain members of the media may be manipulated to do the bidding of those who are too timid to stand up and speak for themselves.

    EDITOR NOTE–You are correct about private sector data being private. Government is PUBLIC.
    Government employees indeed are often timid about speaking up–that is why we have the GUARDIAN. If officials involved in this one want to deny any of the allegations, we will give them space to do so. If basketball shirts were NOT purchased, go on record denying it. If the new director did NOT approve bonuses in her first month tell us so…her staff thinks she did.

  3. Sis:
    I agree one should not get “worked up” over rumors. But one of the main jobs of any good journalist is to check out rumors.

    Most rumors are based at least partly on fact; they then can escalate in the telling, to where, for example, one student molests two or three other students and the school covers it up grows to sound like dozens of students are molesting hundreds of others and the school administration is secretly killing those who tattle.

    The fact that the rumors may be overdone doesn’t alter the fact that something happened. It’s up to journalists to check them out and try to pin down what’s true. Then, and only then, will cops and other officials be likely to get interested.

    As for The Guardian editor: Good job once again in picking up the rumors and trying to get to the truth.

    Now, of course, the question arises: If two departments have done this type of thing, have others also done similar tricks with our money? If so, I hope employees of those departments also will be brave enough to talk. Yes, their e-mails are monitored, but only the ones from their work computers. If they’re afraid their home systems may also somehow be tapped, they can go to Kinkos or other places that make computers available to the public (sometimes for a fee; at libraries they usually are free).

    Keep swatting the underhanded officials upside the head with that two-by-four, Dave. They need it!

  4. I know it feels good to scoop the daily and business review but sometimes it should wait to write a complete and factual article. This is the second time this week you have published and then researched. Your Feb.3 article on Boise lobbyist showed a lack of completeness. It was Feb. 6 when you published a complete post on the lobbyist. This article looks to be going the same way.

    By the way it was the “pale cyst nematode” that the Japanese don’t like on their. The nematode that affects the onions are different. And I know Tagasugi had a conflict of interest when handling the missapplication of Carbofuran.

    EDITOR NOTE– Clancy, on the lobbyist stories one begot the other. We were following the CCDC issue and didn’t even know we had lobbyists and wondered who directed them. We subsequently found out and shared.

    You are also correct that we don’t know all the facts about the Ag Dept. bonuses…we expect it will come out.

    As to nematodes, we admit to a lack of knowledge, but they ARE small.

    Finally, you bring up a conflict of interest with Tagasugi. We don’t know anything about that one!

  5. Boy, am I glad the fourth estate (the press’s explicit capacity of advocacy and in its implicit ability to frame political issues) is balanced by judicial jurisprudence.

    In a court of law, all citizens of the United States are afforded the assumption of being innocent until proven guilty. Your accusations assume guilt and place the burden of proving innocence on those who are accused.

    What great position to be in, Dave; casting aspersions and then sitting back and watching as state employees (paid by your tax dollars) scramble to respond to public record requests when their time should be spent on the tasks they have been hired to perform.

    You’re right, government is PUBLIC and, as such, most governmental employees recognize the need for transparency and accountability in transacting the public’s business. There are those who just don’t get it but, all governmental employees should not be painted with your same broad brush.

    What you and others don’t seem to acknowledge is the fact that government employees do not come from another planet. “They” are your spouses, relatives, friends, and neighbors. “They” have the same frustrations and concerns as you.

    I appreciate that you have offered to give officials space to deny accusations. Your actions, however, have already “poisoned the well” and perpetuated the perception that governmental officials are “underhanded” as exemplified by Gordon’s comments.

    Good journalism should be informative and balanced, i.e., both sides of an issue should be fully investigated and documented before a story is released. Bad journalism is slanted, inciteful, and just plain lazy.

    Get out there and do your homework, Dave! Don’t abdicate your investigative responsibilities to others, especially those in state government who are desperately trying to do more and more with less and less every year!

    EDITOR NOTE–Joe, I fully appreciate state employees and in sympathy of them offer up this forum. They–not I–are disgruntled. Management would certainly not offer them a voice to the public. We are not a court and we are not a newspaper. This is a blog and we deny access only when it is outrageous, profane, or obviously without foundation.

  6. Gee Guardian, you can’t catch a break on this one. Bring it up and you’re rumor mongering. Don’t bring it up and you are asleep at the switch. Based on what I have read between the lines, seems like you are in possession of some pretty significant paperwork. In the past, I have found your info doesn’t get on the blog without some well researched information.

    This is starting to sound like what agency ISN”T involved in some type of shenagigans with our money?

  7. Gordon, I lean towards Joe on this one. Spreading unfounded rumor has the potential for great harm. Its not just that the post is based on unidentified people with an ax to grind but also that I don’t understand the relevance and connection to the nematode case, the bonuses or speculation about emails.

    This is why I’m not too “worked up” over the hint of possible wrongdoing. And I confess that I disagree with the premise that providing bonuses to certain public employees is a misuse of tax money.

    Dave I certainly value the job you do as watchdog but I think you do yourself a disservice and undermine your credibility and value when you fail to connect the dots or accumulate enough dots to connect to make a picture. I very much appreciate that you are filling a role that investigative journalists previously filled before they became leashed and muzzled and that you overturn rocks others have left lying.

    But here you merely prompt that same compromised media to make the case and in so doing you’re giving the department the same heads up a FOIA request would do.

    On the positive side I note you scooped the daily on the City hiring lobbyists. I hope you get some bragging rights on this one too but from what I see so far the Department has a million ways to spin this and I’m not sure I see enough juice to interest a young and hungry reporter or the person holding her leash.

  8. Being a long time employee of the state, I know of the official announced bonuses yearly but never who they go to. I just know that I am not one of the favored in one of the agencies not mentioned so far in this article. I am not PC enough.

    I know there are unannounced bonuses every year or 6 months at my agency because I hear people asking each other what they received. Again, I am not one of the favored. I was happy to get the yearly COLA until that got eliminated a few years ago.

    The agency I work at is one of the most financially conservative in the state so I imagine those agencies with fewer people are more financially liberal. I don’t know why some of the agencies are called agencies with so few people working there.

    Use it or lose it. I hear this phrase every month. That is why I am for zero based budgeting but we will never get that from politicians or heads of state agencies or the upper management of state agencies (who are all politicians in disguise).

    Imagine having to justify yourself ahead of time!

    I think all the state agencies are guilty. Some just more than others. You are just ahead of the information. Looking at the 3 people in adjacent cubicles, one of them could die and they would not be replaced. If someone could look at how many unfilled full time employee positions are empty in the state, the state could probably get by without 25% of their employees which would save us taxpayers a lot of money each year.

    Post your snail mail address and I bet a lot of us state employees will mail you stuff that will curl your hair!

    EDITOR NOTE–very little hair left to curl, but send your cards and letters to:

    Dave Frazier
    P.O. Box 5242
    Boise, Id 83705

  9. I too am not in favor of bonuses in state pay but the Legislature seems to like them, telling agencies they could use any surplus personnel money in this way.

    From what I can understand of the legislative action on state payroll last session, I don’t think anyone acted illegally but it sure does seem unwise.

    Back in the 1970s the state was phasing into zero base budeting but within a decade the whole process seemed to have been abandoned and forgotten. Never learned what happened.

  10. If the legislature refuses to inject the budget with enough base money to pay employees closer to market, I can see why they like bonuses. Bonuses are made with one time money and don’t impact the base moving forward.

    The only people who don’t like them, are those who don’t get them, normally. A performance bonus is hardly that if it goes to everyone the same. They are supposed to be based on performance, and if the game is “please the teach”, then you can call it PC or brown-nosing, or whatever but the fact is, the director will have final say in who gets them. They will reward the performance they wish to have repeated by the recipient and others.

    I know without solid performance standards bonuses and “merit” increases, for that matter, can be misused. It still may be better than the old tenure system where you get pay for breathing and those who perform poorly get the same reward as everyone else.

  11. Folks, go take a look at the Change in Employee Compensation recommendations on the State web site. State worker pay continues to lag an average of 15%-plus behind the pay of similar jobs in the private sector.

    You may remember Ann Heilman’s (former Administrator of the Division of Human Resources under Kempthorne’s administration) well researched and reasoned recommendations last year regarding a plan to bring state workers to parity with their private counterparts over the next five years or so.

    Although accurate and warranted, DHR’s recommendations were not well received by her boss or the legislature. Not sure where Ann is currently . . .

    You may also want to take some time to investigate what is happening with the Division of Human Resources, the Division of Financial Management, and the Department of Administration under the current Administration. I’m all for efficiency, transparency, and streamling of government but, these actions appear to be obfuscating the process instead.

    The legislature is loathe to approve adequate increases in state employee pay on an annual basis. As I said before, state workers do not come from another planet; they have the same expenses as everyone else. Unfortunately, by law, any increases in employee compensation are appropriated with the caveat they are to be allocated based on merit. As a result, many state employees who are meeting their performance expectations may actually see a decrease in their buying power because they do not receive either a cost of living adjustment or the full CEC increase.

    Merit-based pay may sound good in theory but, it doesn’t work so well in practice. Performance evaluations are very subjective and performance critera for the same function vary widely between supervisors and organizational units. The bottom line is the process is not objective or fair and a number of deserving individuals don’t get the full benefit of the additional funds recieved by state agencies.

    Over the course of a fiscal year agencies accrue salary savings from vacant positions. These funds may be converted into one-time bonuses for deserving individuals or they may be used to increase pay on a permanent basis. Given the status of state employee compensation and prospects for the future, agencies must use all the tools they have at their disposal to retain their employees before they jump ship.

    Unlike the bonuses from the Department of Education, for those agencies that are not headed by constitutionally-elected leaders, the process of requesting a bonus for a deserving employee is rigorous.

    A final thought, a comparison of the percent increase in the state’s population and the percent increase in the number of state employees providing services to this ever increasing constituency should be considered in this dialog as well. An increasing demand for government services has not been addressed by a correlative increase in staff to provide those services. With low pay and perpetuation of the lazy public employee stereotype, the beneficaries of public services (the citizens of the state) will ultimately “get what they pay for”.

    As the baby-boomers retire and the state continues to experience increased difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees the level of service is most assuredly going to deteriorate unless there are some major paradigm shifts.

    Again, I encourage folks to do their homework so they may express an informed opinion.

  12. Real simple solution Joe. If the public sector lags behind the private sector, just go to work for the private sector. By the way, merit pay increases seem to work pretty well over on the private side.

    If we are supposed to stand idly by while the state employee requirements are balloned up in order to have “bonus” monies, well, that ain’t gonna happen. As someone gets deeper into this mess, it really starts to stink! Is there any wonder that the citizens don’t trust the public sector as far as they could throw them? This whole thing sounds fairly well broken and needs attention now.

  13. Joe talks out of both sides of his mouth. He defends the process then complains about it. He tells you, you’re a bad boy for printing rumors, then after it is proven, tells us a boring soap box story that every one has already heard before.

    It bounces away from the addressed problem. 32 secret bonuses with a huge one to an exiting favored employee is the subject. Since it’s no secret that people are upset there; it’s a problem whether the bonuses are justified or not.

    Cyclops is right, “If you don’t like it, nobody is forcing you to stay there. Actually from your posts, I would say you would not be one I would trust anyway. Defend, stab, defend, stab….If it doesn’t meet your agenda, change the agenda till it does. You have your opinion but so do we.

Get the Guardian by email

Enter your email address: