Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Monday, January 03, 2005

State Employee Paid for Nothing - More Trouble for Pataki?

posted by Jazz at 1/03/2005 08:25:00 AM

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This one is a bit more nebulous than the previous story about George Pataki's efforts to keep secret certain documents pertaining to the sweetheart deal given to an upstate land developer, but it certainly is interesting. The headline to this sounds like something that you would read in one of those "offbeat news" entries, since the lead tells us, "State Worker Gets $82,789 For No Work." On the surface it certainly sounds amusing, and deals with a (former) supervisor at the New York State Liquor Authority's Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control named Patricia Freund.
ALBANY -- To some people, Patricia Freund's job might sound perfect. But she doesn't think so. Monday through Friday, she arrives at her spartan office at the State Liquor Authority at 8 a.m., and, for her entire 7-hour shift, does no work. She spends the morning reading one of the novels she brings from her Argyle home -- until lunch-time, when she steps from the back office she shares with no one and that her boss never visits. After the break, she returns to her desk and opens "A Distant Mirror," about the calamitous 14th century, because she has just finished "Bury Me Standing," a story about the journey of gypsies. Besides an occasional daydream, the novels help her pass the hours until quitting time at 4 p.m. Then she quietly slips out the back door, having done nothing productive for the $82,789 she is paid annually. With benefits, her job costs taxpayers more than $100,000 a year.
Digging a bit deeper, however, we find out how this woman came to be in such a "low stress" position. Every year, Governor Pataki holds a very high profile "prayer breakfast" which is a fundraiser and "see and be seen" event for the government luminaries in Albany. It's an expensive affair, with $30 seats for the unwashed masses and VIP tables commanding up to $1,500 per chair. This year's bash featured First Lady Laura Bush as a speaker and was sold out.

In 2000, Ms. Freund's supervisor purchased a table full of seats for people in her department, encouraging them all to go. At the breakfast, attendees were all given modern English bibles, with certain helpful passages highlighted in them, such as "We are made acceptable to God the minute we believe in Jesus" and "Confidence in Jesus stands above all other creeds." The only problem with this, of course, is that Ms. Freund is a devout Jew.

Patricia began asking some uncomfortable questions of her employers about the pressure to attend such a clearly religious event, and whether or not the State employees were being paid to attend on company time.

Freund said she was stripped of her duties as director of wholesale services for the State Liquor Authority in March 2002 after she began making official inquiries about state workers attending Pataki's annual, nondenominational prayer breakfast. Freund, who is Jewish, said she went to the breakfast in 2000 at the urging of her boss and later complained to co-workers about the event.

Freund said it was more than a year later when she began asking questions officially about SLA employees' attendance at the breakfast - such as whether they went on state time.

Her situation was a tricky one for her employers. In New York's swollen bureaucracy it is nearly impossible to remove anyone from a state job unless you have video footage of them shooting other employees. (And even then they would probably stand a better than 50% chance of going to court and getting their positions back after being released from jail.) Firing her for anything related to religious matters would be completely impossible. So, they did the next best thing. They "promoted" her to be the special assistant to her boss, stuck her in an isolated office, and gave her nothing to do for years.

Patricia is only one of several employees who have raised questions about pressure in the Pataki administration to "go with the flow" for faith based activities. Her case is the most high profile one, though, as she has now filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state, asking that her duties be restored. She is also seeking more than $250,000 in damages.