Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Say What?

By Walter E. Bader.

“Newspaper editorial pages are entitled to their own opinions—but not to their own facts. That seems to be a distinction that The Washington Post has a hard time making these days.” Such was the observation of Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting nearly four years ago.

Certainly, nothing has changed at the Post.

On behalf of the Post’s bosses, an anonymous opinion writer, has both fabricated a false premise and used an out-of-context statement that I made during one of several conversations with Post reporters, including one lasting 39 minutes, as an excuse to once again attack and attempt to demonize Montgomery County, Maryland employees.

In an opinion published on Sunday, March 14 (“Please, don’t make us cheat!”), the Post made false and typically puerile accusations about county employees. This time the target was honest, hardworking, dedicated police officers who don’t need to be defended against spurious attacks by a gang of closed-minded and obsessed media thugs down in Washington, DC.

Post bosses have minimized the county’s mismanagement of the tuition assistance programs, but singled out for “special mention: the reaction of the police union to the inspector general’s report” on tuition assistance.

Say what?

Did the Post really say: “reaction . . . to the inspector general’s report?”

The inspector general’s report on tuition assistance was released on Monday, March 8. (See Report on Md. police tuition aid cites poor oversight, abuse, W. Post, Tuesday, March 9, 2010.) The alleged “reaction” over which the Post feigns outrage was taken from of an article written after a series of conversations I had with Post reporters. Each of those conversations occurred days before release of the inspector general’s report, specifically on March 3, 4 and 6. Importantly, I did not see (or know the contents of) any inspector general’s report until days after it was made public on March 8.

The Post made it up. There was no “reaction” “to the inspector general’s report.” It simply didn’t happen!

How ethical is that editorial?


The Post knew, and even partially reported, that there are at least four education and training programs in Montgomery County. These programs are: (1) Employee Tuition Assistance Program for Police [“Police-ETAP”], (2) ETAP, (3) Job Improvement Tuition Assistance Program [“JITAP”], and (4) Police Training Funds. Only Police-ETAP and Police Training Funds are available to police officers under terms of our collective bargaining agreement.

JITAP was offered but rejected by the FOP in 1989 – 21 years ago – and is specifically excluded from our contract. Police Training Funds are administered by the police department while JITAP and two ETAP programs are administered by the Office of Human Resources.

Last Fall, FOP Lodge 35 became aware of certain allegations and took two significant actions. (1) On October 2, 2009, we filed a grievance setting forth in unusual detail the 40 year history of the Police Employee Assistance Tuition Program and demanded that the county “simply ‘review for compliance with established [contract] guidelines’ all applications for tuition assistance”. (2) On September 10, we met with then-County Attorney Leon Rodriguez and informed him that we had just recently become aware of mismanagement of funds and that money was spent by the Office of Human Resources in clear violation of our collective bargaining agreement. We offered cooperation with any investigation and were told that we would be contacted by an outside investigator retained by the county. (At the time, Mr. Rodriguez was counsel to both the county government and the inspector general.)

Amazingly, to date, we have not been contacted by either an investigator or the inspector general.

Referring to the County’s administration of the Montgomery County Police-ETAP and management’s approval of applications for training that did not qualify under that program, I commented to a Post reporter: “You're management. You're in charge. Don't approve it," This statement was not in reaction to any report. Rather, it was made in the context that training courses identified by management as “JITAP” were approved for payment by county management even though the JITAP program is not part of the police tuition program and management knew, or should have known, that.

My statement also was made with knowledge that certain religious courses had been approved by OHR management in violation of its own 1985 written determination.

These comments are consistent with what I told the Examiner as reported on December 13, 2009 where I “faulted county administrators for not enforcing existing rules, and said new rules aren't needed…. ‘The management side is broken, there's nothing broken with our contract.’"

The Office of Human Resources was delegated responsibility for administering tuition assistance benefits and had a fiduciary duty to review applications and either approve or disapprove them under terms of the various collective bargaining agreements. A tuition assistance application is a request, not a guarantee. Each application must be reviewed for compliance with the applicable program. There is no dispute that management received training requests from police officers, classified them as JITAP, but approved them anyway.

In speaking with the Post reporter, I stated more than once that I was commenting on the police tuition assistance program and training funding in general, but not the funding of training involving discounted guns since that matter was the subject of a civil suit filed by the county.

Early on March 7, I e-mailed to the same Post reporter a chart showing the FOP’s analysis that during slightly more than three fiscal years, a whopping $742,000 out of a little more than $1 million was spent on ineligible JITAP training. I also e-mailed to the same reporter a copy of the October 2, 2009 grievance.

As I told the reporter on March 6, we have recently learned that police management may have been supporting the use of tuition funds (under JITAP) as a substitute for police department training funds. Officers have merely relied upon management’s representations and actions.

Clearly, the police tuition system was so poorly administered that the scope expanded far beyond the parameters allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. Employees were led to believe that the program was more comprehensive than intended and, consequently, made application in good faith fully expecting that management would make the proper determination as to eligibility.

There was nothing “crooked” in any of this. It was classic mismanagement. Indeed, many, if not most, of the training programs classified as JITAP would have been totally appropriate for police department training funds. There can be no dispute that weapons and tactical skills and other job training are critical to officers’ ability to protect the community. (We need more, not less, training and education opportunities and it is management’s responsibility to provide timely and adequate funding.)

Post bosses didn’t do their due diligence either. Without regard for the facts, they claim that I “couldn’t find anyone to blame but management.” Based upon the facts available, I do fault management for not properly administering the benefit, for violating the contract, and for changing forms and procedures that improperly opened JITAP to police officers – and led officers to believe that the benefit had been expanded. I have concerns that management promoted JITAP as a substitute for department training funds which would have required supervisory endorsement.

Further, without benefit of either facts or context – or in blatantly disregard of both – Post bosses proclaim to speak for me by saying that “in [my] view, of course police officers will be crooked if given the opportunity!” Not only is the Post flat out wrong about police officers, they are not in a position to speak for me. It seems that the Post and its opinion writer are so fact deficient, self-absorbed and venomous that they are incapable of reason.

For Post bosses to assume that my opinion about the county’s mismanagement of a tuition benefit constitutes a “worldview” is just dumb.

The Post bosses’ allegation that the FOP itself had insisted on OHR tuition assistance approval without going through supervisors is flat out false and contrary to what OHR has said in the past. It doesn’t take an extra layer of bureaucracy to determine if a course is offered at a college or university. The Police-ETAP is the oldest tuition program in the county and historically has not required supervisory approval. However, nothing in our contract prevented OHR management from consulting with police management about any training or application.

The current approval process was promulgated by management, not the FOP, and merely subsumed into our first contract back in 1983. Remember, it was not ETAP that was at the center of the mismanagement, it was JITAP. JITAP does require supervisory review. The county’s OHR categorized most of the questioned training as JITAP. OHR simply should not have approved JITAP for any bargaining unit police officers and instead referred them to the department training fund.

Facts get in the way of every good story – except at the Washington Post.

Walter E. Bader is the Executive Director of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35.