Governor Phil Bredesen is right to put a stop to the practice of destroying notes from harassment investigations involving state employees, and to look more closely at the issue of whether withheld records from past cases should be made public. Of course they should. Although in some circumstances a harassment victim's identity might reasonably be redacted, there is no reason to keep this seamier side of the public's business hidden from the public.
But aspects of Brad Schrade's latest story
on this in Sunday's Tennessean
show Bredesen in a more clueless light on the issue of differences in handling harassment allegations against top officials vs. everyone else. Here's an excerpt:
Bredesen...said cases involving political appointees lack documentation because such positions do not have the protections of civil-service jobs and not as much paperwork is needed....In an interview Friday, Bredesen said the shredding in both cases involving top officials was a mistake. [Mack] Cooper and [Quenton] White were executive service employees who served at the will of the governor and were not protected by state civil service laws as are lower-ranking employees. It is this distinction, Bredesen said, that causes the different ways cases were handled.
"I really do believe the difference is not the involvement of the governor's office but the difference between civil service and executive service," Bredesen said. "If there's a dismissal involved or a reprimand or a demotion or something like that, there may be litigation or arguments under the civil service law. Where executive service employees are involved, they are hired and fired at-will so the need for the documentation is not there."
Although there may be particular documentation needs to comply with civil service rules and procedures, it is a preposterous leap of logic to infer, as the governor does, that misconduct allegations against executive-level ("at-will") employees need no documentation. Bredesen is saying, in effect, that executive-level employees deserve a chance to whitewash their employment records of harassment allegations and move on to other jobs without the taint of past accusations, but lower-level workers do not. He is saying that victims of harassment by lower-level officials can expect the existence of a documented record of fact-finding, should they later pursue outside legal action, but victims of harassment by executive-level officials should have no such expectations.
The governor's overall agenda on this issue seems basically honorable -- a desire to repair how the state handles harassment allegations with an eye toward balancing the needs of victims with the public's right to know. But he serves this agenda poorly with the misguided notion that high-level officials by virtue of their at-will employment status should escape the scrutiny and documentation of harassment allegations that all other state workers in a similar situation can expect to encounter.