FRIDAY UPDATE: Mike Fayette story hits Drudge, NYT

Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy of Adirondack Daily Enterprise

UPDATE 2: The New York Times has tackled the Mike Fayette story, and Drudge has linked to the story with a headline that reads “Cuomo Machine Goes After State Worker For Talking.”

UPDATE:  One of Andrew Cuomo’s top aides today attacked Mike Fayette during an interview on Albany radio station News Talk 1300.

To be clear:  The Cuomo administration explicitly fired Mike Fayette because he spoke with reporter Chris Knight.

The other personnel issues, which Cuomo aide Howard Glaser airs during the interview, was cited as “past disciplinary history”.

One other point:  Glaser in his interview suggests that reporters didn’t give the full story.

But in our coverage, and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise’s reporting, Fayette’s disciplinary record were detailed as necessary context.

ORIGINAL POST:

This morning on NCPR’s airwaves, Chris Knight told the story of Mike Fayette, a state Transportation worker who was forced out his job over an interview that he gave following tropical storm Irene.  Go listen to the piece.  It’s devastating.

Fayette was a 30-year veteran. And it’s clear that despite an enormous about of public service, he didn’t have an unblemished record.

But in this case, he gave factual, accurate information to the media, including this news organization, following a storm that left the public demanding more and better lines of communication.

By most accounts, Fayette’s ouster was legal.

Men and women like him work for the state of New York and Governor Andrew Cuomo has significant authority to muzzle public employees.

But legal or not, this is bad public policy and — what’s more compelling — it’s ethically wrong.

Bad public policy because it prevents the public from learning swiftly and at first hand from public workers about the issues facing communities.

In Fayette’s case, the DOT public affairs office had failed to respond to a request for information for nearly a week.  Fayette, meanwhile, had the information.  No one has questioned his accuracy or the appropriateness of his actual statements.

I grapple with this regularly in my work with state officials.  The people who know, who have the deepest knowledge and field experience, are muzzled, or kept on a tight leash.

Which brings us to the issue of ethical wrongness.  Silence and secrecy in a government bureaucracy is never a healthy thing.

Public information officers within state government should be working to facilitate the spread of information, making workers and experts paid for with tax dollars more accessible and not less accessible.  But all too often, that’s not how it’s working.

Make no mistake.  Fayette’s dismissal will send new fear through the ranks of state workers and other public employees.  Even fewer will feel safe speaking up about important matters that the public needs to know about.

I understand why Andrew Cuomo would want a tight rein on the message coming from Albany.  He’s trying to steer a very big and awkward ship of state in the direction he wants it to go.

And he is also clearly at least keeping his options open for a run for the White House.

But those political priorities, in this case, aren’t in line with the crucial civic values of transparency, an informed public, and reasonable access for the press.

I want to be specific:  Andrew Cuomo owes Mike Fayette his job back, and he owes him an apology.  And this is something that the press should pursue vigorously with the governor in interviews and press events until Cuomo addresses it directly.

33 Comments on “FRIDAY UPDATE: Mike Fayette story hits Drudge, NYT”

  1. Jeff says:

    I can understand the tension given the previous issue he was involved in however this kind of effort prevents people from thinking for themselves and clouds decision making. His effort was complimentary. Stuff won’t get gone because of the perverse control by the Governor when people are afraid to make decisions in a timely manner. Cuomo is perhaps seeking to be the next Robert Moses before seeking the presidency. Odd, he can’t seem to understand buying a hunting license.

  2. Emperor Andrew is so much of a control freak that you can’t even praise his regime without permission of his minions. Wow.

  3. dbw says:

    I agree this guy needs to be reinstated. This stuff may be part of a larger pattern to cut staff and reduce pension costs. We recently heard that a state counselor lost her job for not reporting certain things. The person who trained the counselor says she did her duties and has done nothing wrong. This individual has 23 years of service and will see their retirement greatly reduced. Anyone else have other examples?

  4. The Original Larry says:

    “Silence and secrecy in a government bureaucracy is never a healthy thing.”

    It wasn’t healthy when the gun-control law was rammed through the Legislature without debate or deliberation and it isn’t healthy in Mr. Fayette’s case. That’s the trouble with dictators: every success they have emboldens them for further excesses. Many weren’t troubled by the recent infringement of 2nd Amendment rights; how are they feeling now that 1st Amendment rights are being trampled?

  5. The Original Larry says:

    Cuomo will never be President and will probably not even gain the Democrat nomination. His act might get by in certain parts of NY but it will never play on the national stage.

  6. Jim Bullard says:

    This is not new or unique to Andrew Cuomo. When I worked for NYS DOL and supervised operations in St. Lawrence county the rule was that if the press came to me for information on a local DOL matter I had to refer them to our public information office in Albany. 99% of the time the PI office knew nothing about the situation so they would tell the press “we”ll get back to you”, then they’d call me to find out what the situation was. I’d tell them, they’d run it by the politicos and call the press back with their “spun” version.

    At least half the time they didn’t get the basic info right (ever play the parlor game called ‘Rumors’?) and then they would mess it up further with their spin. It didn’t matter which party was in office. They both play that game. I personally disliked the Republicans more because of their penchant for patronage over merit in hiring but that’s another line of complaint.

  7. wj says:

    Larry.

    Come. On.

    Cuomo’s not a dictator. He was elected by a majority of voters and operates in accordance with the law.

    Yes, what he did in this case is unethical. But writing that an elected official is a dictator is also unethical.

    And stupid. Let’s not forget stupid.

  8. The Original Larry says:

    If you think being duly elected and operating within the “law” disqualifies one from being a dictator, I suggest you study up on history. Also, I was speaking about how dictators operate. It’s not unethical to call someone out for dictatorial conduct. The guy is dangerous.

  9. newt says:

    Hugo Chavez, Mohammad Morsi, and Vladimir Putin, to name a few,were democratically elected. I’m sure Gov. Cuomo envies their strong, decisive actions on matters relating to public policy and information.

  10. wj says:

    Larry-

    Admirable dancing around the fringe of Godwin’s Law. But, to be clear:

    Yes. I think being duly elected and operating within [U.S. and New York State laws] disqualifies one from being a dictator.

    *

    newt-

    Shame on you. Seriously.
    You’re *sure* Gov. Cuomo envies Chavez, Morsi and Putin?
    Please provide the reams of proof you must have to make such an extraordinary (and noxious) claim.

    *

    For anybody who likes to think rationally and reasonably, here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster.com:

    DICTATOR

    1
    a : a person granted absolute emergency power; especially : one appointed by the senate of ancient Rome
    b : one holding complete autocratic control
    c : one ruling absolutely and often oppressively

    2
    : one that dictates

  11. newt says:

    wj:

    Without doing a lot of research, I’ve gotten impression that Cuomo is a control freak who, whenever possible, shuts down any and all attempts to challenge his power. Alan Chartok, in his weekly columns in the P-R has often given examples of this, among other things I’ve seen Cuomo does this within a democracy, so his full dictatorial inclinations are kept in check, but examples like this one certainly supports it. No leaning on an employee for such petty reasons does not make him a dictator, just a jerk who would sure like to be one.
    FWIW, I have the same opinion of Barrack Obama for his prosecution and imprisonment of at least one CIA torture-policy whistle blower. Obama was still better than the alternative, not sure about Cuomo. i will probably be sitting out the next Gubernatorial election, since the Republicans love Cuomo even more than the Dem anti-progressive loyalists do.

  12. The Original Larry says:

    Who are you? Cuomo’s campaign manager? That guy has no problem running roughshod over people’s constitutional rights and that certainly qualifies him for criticism, call it whatever you will. I’ll continue to make the dictator analogy when I think he deserves it.

  13. newt says:

    Just noticed your definition #2 :
    “one that dictates”
    Yup.

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Hey, I told you Howie Hawkins was running for governor, but did anyone listen?

  15. Dave says:

    No need for tin foil hats or to twist, contort, cheapen or re-define the word ‘dictator’

    Vote him out of office in the next election if you don’t like the way he governs.

  16. Knuckle: In some ways, Cuomo is like far too many ordinary Democrat voters. He wants to be seen as being on the right side of “liberal” issues but doesn’t want to actually try to do anything about them. That’s why the AFL-CIO endorsed Cuomo even though he quite openly vowed to ‘wage war’ (his words) on unions despite the fact that an actual union member (Hawkins) was on the ballot.

  17. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Can I ask why Larry referring to St Andrew as a dictator has peoples panties in a knot, but Brian (not NCPR)s labeling of St Andrew as an “Emperor” gets complete pass? I don’t see a nickles worth of difference except that emperors are often born into their position……..oh, wait. I guess maybe “Emperor Cuomo the 2nd” might actually be MORE accurate than “dictator”!

    As far as this guys issue goes, I have to wonder which political party, if any, he belongs to? It may have bearing on things, or not. Just curious.

  18. Richard says:

    The “don’t talk to the press” rule is very very clear in all state agencies. It’s simple. It’s clear. So are the rules that you don’t use state phones, computers, and paid work time to carry on a romantic relationship. Fayette admits he broke these rules. Many state workers perform their duties for decades without doing these things. Fayette acts like doing these things is no big deal. Even after being disciplined he still doesn’t seem to understand he is the one at fault. Why should you and I allow our tax dollars pay for an employee who has no clue what it means to be a good employee? Thousands of ethical state employees deserve our support, Mr. Fayette does not.

  19. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Richard, as a former state employee I’m aware of all the things state employees aren’t supposed to do. I’m also aware 95% of the rules are broken on so regular a basis as to be entirely commonplace. State workers are no different than any other Joe or Jane. This particular case smells more and more to me like something political was in the background.

  20. mervel says:

    NYS state government is large, arbitrary and mean. You cannot win against them in general in particular individuals. This may shed some light on how things work and I applaud you for running the story.

  21. mervel says:

    This is certainly a whistle blower situation and the extreme reaction from State Government would indicate that he is on to something or there is an element of great fear about what he was talking about. Hopefully he will look into protections for whistle blowers provided by law if he has not already done so.

  22. newt says:

    I heard from a usually reliable source that one printed article she read says, or suggests, that, Fayette made the (positive) comments in advance of a higher-ranking official who was about to provide similar information. If this is so, Fayette was wrong because 1. he usurped a more authoritative source who was in a position to provide more complete, accurate, and fully-authorized information and 2. he usurped a higher ranking official’s opportunity to look good on camera and in the press (I’m not trying to be ironic here, this is a perk of those with higher rank and responsibility).

    For this, an employee with 30 years good service might deserve a written reprimand, or similar consequence, not dismissal.

  23. Andrew Cuomo is not a dictator but he does show some disturbing tendencies. Ramming through the gun legislation in the middle of the night because he was afraid that people might speak to their legislators is just one. And this is an almost universally held view, even from people who supported the content of the gun law (61% support the law but only 8% approve of the way it was passed).

    Waging war an ordinary bureaucrat, whose “crime” was PRAISING his department, to the point of his minion going on a radio rant, is a pretty vivid illustration of his controlling, bullying ways.

  24. Let’s be clear… even if this guy did violate some policy, it was deserving of no more than a slap on the wrist. And even if this guy is enough of a repeat violator to merit termination, this should be handled internally. When such things happen, the standard reaction from spokesmen is “this is an internal disciplinary matter. We can’t discuss it publicly.” That spokes-minion going on the radio and launching a tirade against the punished is so far beyond the pale… that’s exactly why it’s made news.

  25. dave says:

    It is really time to put to bed this idea that there was some devious, ramming down our throats of this gun legislation.

    A bill was proposed, by a fairly elected governor, it was voted on by all of our fairly elected representatives, it passed with overwhelming support.

    This is how our government works.

  26. Normally, the state constitution requires bills sit for three days before being voted on. This is to allow *gasp* the sort of public feedback that is vital to a healthy democracy. The only exception is supposed to be for emergencies. But NYS has long been anything but a healthy democracy. The “message of necessity” rushed things, despite the absence of any true necessity, so as to circumvent any public feedback until after the fact. This is the way sleazy government “works.” This is why even though a comfortable majority of NYSers support the content of the bill, the crushing majority (over 90%) oppose the underhanded way in which it was rammed through. This sort of secretive process may be the way NYS government works but it’s not the way good government works. Even the highly (and to some extent intentionally) dysfunctional Congress holds hearings on bills of importance.

  27. Even yesterday, Cuomo admitted that he’d entertain tweaks to the bill when pointed out to him that it contained numerous problems due to the carelessly rushed way in which the bill was rammed through without feedback or hearings or even giving legislators (gasp) the time to actually read it.

  28. Rancid Crabtree says:

    No Dave, that’s not how our gov’t works. That’s how things are done when law makers don’t want to be bothered with pesky details like the Bill of Rights, public sentiment, hearing from interested parties, doing some research to ensure they’ve thought things out. You really think this was thought out and properly vetted when it makes it illegal for police officers to possess the magazines for the pistols they are issued by the State?

  29. Seriously? says:

    Mr. Fayette broke the rules in talking with the press in his eloquent and flattering interview about the response by the Governor, DOT, and his own staff. He is obviously a take charge kind of guy, a treasure for most organizations but not for an excessively controlling and political one. We as citizens should all fear the control of information this administration allows out.

    Mr. Cuomo’s administration also acted against other DOT staff on Long Island. A freak snow storm two weeks ago flash froze the road and dumped 5 inches per hour of snow, which resulted in cars getting stuck and later abandoned on the Long Island Expressway. All abandonments occurred on uphill sections in heavy rush hour traffic when snow plows are least effective. Cuomo should have ordered a “State of Emergency” like the governors of CT, RI, and MA did and get people home early – but he didn’t. So his administration needs to punish the innocent to preserve his image. FEAR this man!
    http://m.nypost.com/p/news/local/li_boot_in_storm_bungle_kEZQvX5DzEtgFvdkGiN4wI

    As for Mr. Fayette giving an interview that the DOT Commissioner wanted to give, couldn’t the press officer just had responded to the Enterprise that the Commissioner is preparing to give an interview and I will get back to you with dates soon? They had a week! Even after the fact, couldn’t the Commissioner have found a paper with more statewide reach for this -statewide storm – such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. How can an interview in a local newspaper upstage these global giants and papers of record? Does this administration think we are all stupid?

    I wonder what the outcome of Mr. Fayette’s “hearing” would have been if it was before a jury of his peers.

  30. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Richard, employees anywhere are not supposed to run errands, make personal phone calls, check Facebook or surf non work-related websites at work. I have also not met anybody, ever, even good employees, who don’t occasionally do these things. Furthermore, the disciplinary charges you refer to, which Glaser read on the radio and tried to misrepresent as the reason Fayette was fired, were SETTLED in 2011. I think they docked him 10 days of pay or something (would have to go back and read the story), and that was that. Have you seen the letter he got from the DOT on his disciplinary hearing? It was because he talked to the Enterprise for that story. That petty stuff from before had nothing to do it, Glaser’s just using it to throw dirt on Fayette and hoping enough people will believe it that they won’t see what actually happened and how this administration acts.

    To make it even more ridiculous, the DOT said they couldn’t discuss what happened because it was a personnel matter, the governor’s office never called the Enterprise back — and then Glaser talks about Fayette’s fairly petty disciplinary history on the radio and tries to make it look like the paper erred by not getting the whole story? Seems disingenuous.

  31. mervel says:

    Something else is going on I think is the concern. I mean an hourly road worker for the DOT; and you have a high level staffer for the governor of the third largest state in the Union going to the press talking about this poor sap’s affair and past supposedly private discipline matters?

  32. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Right! Something else IS going on here. What party does this guy belong to? Is he active politically at all? What else is going on in the background?

    Work place relationships are not cause for dismissal.

  33. Jill says:

    another victim here of NYS government corruption…after 29+ years of dedicated NYS service I was retaliated against for reporting severe security breaches in my Agency to the NYS Civil Service Suggestion Committee in September 2007…I faced 3 years of “torture”/coercion/intimidation until I reached age 55 & retired on Disability Retirement…my union ..the CSEA… violated my contract right to “due process”…my pay was held back for a total of 6 months in 2010 causing me severe physical…emotional & financial distress which continues to affect me to this day…this practice of “office -bullying” runs rampant in certain NYS agencies with some of the “victims” taking their own lives…I went thru all the proper channels & chains of command including Andrew Cuomo as NYSAG & Governor…I also filed a pro se /indigent lawsuit and was DENIED free legal advice by the Judge on 3 separate occasions saying that I was doing OK on my own..there is a definite pattern of abuse that has existed within NYS government for far too long..our esteemed Governor is in charge of the Public Integrity Bureau..now called the Joint Commission on Public Integrity…different name/same BS….we need help here in NY asap..I’m hoping that all states don’t treat their employees this way ..I’m willing to speak with anyone interested I knowing more

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