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.
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.