To help keep backroom hiring deals from larding the state payroll with nepotism hires, newly-hired state employees must publicly declare if they have any immediate relatives working for the state, and if so, who.
So after a FOX Undercover investigation found that hiring is often a family affair at the Mass. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, we asked for the forms that new employees must fill out -- so-called sunshine forms that are supposed to shine the disinfecting light of transparency on the public hiring process by disclosing who their relatives are on the payroll.
The state agreed to provide them -- once FOX Undercover paid $69,930.90.
To justify the bill, the state said it would have to look through 30,024 files even though there are only 21,035 employees in the agency, and not all of them were hired after the sunshine policy started in 2003.
"That's outrageous," said Pam Wilmot, executive director of the good government group Common Cause Massachusetts. "These are public disclosures and they need to be made public. Obviously it's going to cost something considering the volume of requests that you're asking for, but that's just way out of line. And it should not be allowed."
"Is this a way the state can keep that information secret?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked her.
"Absolutely," Wilmot replied. "They're charging you that kind of money to try and keep this information secret, and that's unacceptable."
FOX Undercover sought the information after showing this past May that numerous new hires were related to Health and Human Services higher-ups. Donna Shetler, for example, was a human resources manager whose two sons had state jobs in the department for which she provided HR services. One son has since left his job.
"How did both your sons get hired?" Beaudet asked her in May.
"I got nothing to say," she replied.
"I'm just wondering, did you get your job because of your mom," Beaudet asked one of her sons.
"No, I got my job because I interviewed for it," he said.
The Shetlers were just one of the families that caught our attention. Susan Fratus was hired as a social worker at the Department of Transitional Assistance , for example, even though she had no college degree and her most recent job was working 10 years as a store manager at Cardsmart.
The questionable hires also caught the attention of a state human resources insider, who agreed to talk to us if we hid his identity.
"Basically you'll never see more relatives of people on the payroll than (in) state government in Massachusetts," he said.
After the original story aired, we asked John Polanowicz, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, whether he was concerned about allegations of nepotism.
"I'm not," he said.
Polanowicz insists only qualified people are hired, but he admits his agency does not keep track of the total number of employees with relatives on the state payroll even though the sunshine disclosures have been recording that information since 2003.
"How do you know it's not an issue if you don't even know the total number of employees who have relatives on the payroll?" Beaudet asked him.
"I think what I'm saying is that the process that we have in place in terms of hiring, of requiring disclosure, of ensuring that people meet the requirements for the jobs, and that we don't have reporting requirements set up where those individuals are in any way reporting up to a relative, I think tells me that we have the process in place to ensure that we don't have any untoward issues," he replied.
But given what we heard from the HR insider, we wanted copies of all sunshine disclosures filled out since the policy went into effect. The state's nearly $70,000 bill followed.
FOX Undercover is still trying to negotiate with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services about the bill, but so far the state says the only way they'll lower the bill is if we don't request all the disclosures.
The big bill comes as the attorney general refers the findings of our investigation to the state Ethics Commission to conduct its own investigation.
"The attorney general has referred this matter to the state Ethics Commission," Beaudet told Polanowicz. "It seems like she's taking it seriously. Why aren't you?"
"I am taking it seriously," Polanowicz replied.
"You're not investigating it. You said case closed," Beaudet said.
"Actually I didn't say case closed, Mike. What I said is, we've investigated every one of the tips, every one of the cases that was put forward to us and identified that they had a sunshine requirement, sunshine disclosure in place, they had met the requirements for the job and that there was no reporting relationships," he said.
"But you don't know how many other people have relatives on the payroll and if there was funny business there. Do you?" Beaudet asked.
"I don't," Polanowicz replied.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.
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