Friday, March 10, 2006

Daniels' Reaction to Thomas Affair Disappointing

Gov. Daniels took office promising to clean up corruption in state government and to adhere to the highest of ethical standards. Now that his chief of staff and his inspector general have both been accused of selling state jobs for political favors, we would expect him to take appropriate action to show us just how serious he is about his commitment to clean and honest government. Reading what Jim Shella had to say about the Governor's reaction to these matters at this week's press briefing, there is no reason to believe he meant what he said. Shella writes:

Mitch Daniels became animated during his weekly media availability today when asked about the fading controversy involving Inspector General Dave Thomas and a reported job offer to a candidate for sheriff in Clay County. Daniels called it a "non-issue" and said Thomas is owed "more apologies." Critics, he said, should focus on "real ethical questions." As to whether Thomas should be having job discussions of any kind, Daniels said simply that Thomas is "utterly innocent."

Thomas is owed more apologies? You've got to be kidding Governor. Thomas, who is suppose to be your top ethics officer and not a patronage hack, had no business discussing state job offers with anyone. Even your own office said Thomas had no authority to discuss the job with Steve Bell.

Curiously, Bell modified his original account as first reported in the Star after he was approached by investigators from Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's office. Bell is now saying that he apparently misunderstood Thomas' discussion with him about an opening on the Parole Board as a job offer--one that would require him to drop his bid for Clay County Sheriff as a Democrat if he accepted the offer. Thomas told the Star, "I apparently heard what I wanted to hear." Both Bell and Thomas, however, acknowledge having a discussion about the open slot on the Parole Board. Thomas insists that he just told Bell to contact the Governor's office if he was interested in the position, and that he never tied the job to his campaign for sheriff.

The Star's Matt Tully adds another interesting aspect to this story. Both Bell and Thomas attend the same church in Brazil. Tully spoke to Bell shortly after Brizzi's investigators interviewed him about the alleged job offer. Tully writes, "In addition to the investigators, Bell said he received another interesting call – from Thomas’ wife, who called Bell to complain about his accusations." Hmmm. Gee, you don't think Thomas' wife may have leaned on Bell to offer Brizzi's investigators a more favorable account of his conversation with her husband do you? Did she make the phone call at her husband's request? As a former prosecutor, Thomas should know better than to do that because it might be interpreted as witness tampering.

This whole matter stinks. Thomas has zero credibility as an inspector general after this matter whether he commited a crime or not. But come to think of it, his own boss now lacks any credibility on matters of ethics in light of his stubborn refusal to see wrong-doing by either Thomas or Gonso. Don't preach to us anymore about ethics in state government Gov. Daniels. Because we know now that it really just doesn't matter.

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