Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Inspector General Investigation of ICJI's Heather Bolejack

The Daniel's administration announced today that it had placed Heather Bolejack, executive director of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI), on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the state's Inspector General David Thomas. Thomas would not comment on the nature of the investigation. Both Thomas and Bolejack were appointed by Gov. Daniels. His office says Bolejack is the first administration appointee to be placed on paid leave according to an AP report.

So what should we make of today's announcement? Let's begin with what we know. The inspector general's office was created to investigate allegations of criminal or unethical activity or inefficiency in state government. As executive director of ICJI, Bolejack oversees $60 million in federal funding. During Daniels' tenure, the focus of the agency has been to fight the scourge of methamphetamine use.

While it is unclear whether the investigation involves something of a criminal or ethical nature. WTHR-TV reports that its sources say that Bolejack's travel and expense records are under review. Roger Harvey said, "She often travels to Washington, DC, and other cities like New York to discuss federal grants and how to bring those dollars to Indiana." Also under investigation is a several hundred thousand dollar federal grant which was given to a friend of Bolejack's husband according to WTHR-TV's sources.

What should be observed is the highly unusual nature of the head of a state agency being placed on paid leave. Because a gubernatorial appointee serves at the discretion of the Governor, a resignation, voluntary or involuntary, is the typical way an administration deals with a high-level appointee suspected of wrong-doing. Paid administrative leaves are typically reserved for lower-level bureaucrats until it can be determined whether any alleged wrong-doing actually took place. Thomas told WTHR-TV he expected to have his investigation concluded within the next two weeks. So what's different about this case? Did Bolejack resist administration efforts to resign, leaving the Governor no other choice than to place her on paid administrative leave?

Another interesting aspect of this story is what was the impetus behind the investigation. It appears that Thomas' investigation may have been prompted after the Indiana Democratic Party made a public records request from the agency last month. The AP says, "The Indiana Democratic Party later said in a statement that it submitted a records request on March 17 asking the institute for Bolejack's expense reimbursement vouchers and travel and petty cash records. The party said it received a general letter acknowledging its receipt, but the agency had not produced any of the records."

Adding to the intrigue is WTHR-TV's claim that it also requested travel records of Bolejack and other top agency staffers this past week. This might suggest that the administration was trying to stay ahead of this story by publicly announcing the investigation and moving quickly to place Bolejack on administrative paid leave in anticipation of potentially embarrassing disclosures. It is worth noting that Thomas, unlike Bolejack, was not placed on paid leave while Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi investigated allegations that Thomas offered a state job to a Democratic sheriff's candidate in Clay County if he would end his campaign.

UPDATE: The Indianapolis Star reports that "Bolejack received $3,369 in reimbursements for travel expenses to regional and national conferences in Washington, Boston, Minneapolis and Hawaii, on topics such as methamphetamine and grants management, according to records from the state auditor's office." If her job required her to do a lot of travelling, that amount does not appear to be out of line. The newspaper also reports that she received a $100 reimbursement for ethics training. The Star article also indicates that agency logs show a complaint about the contract process was made back on Febrary 3, but does not say who made the complaint. This makes you wonder where the Star got this information? Neither the Democratic Party nor WTHR's public information requests had been responded to when this story broke yesterday. Is the administration playing favorites with the release of public records?


This is not the first time this agency has been investigated. In 2004, the state terminated a $565,000 advertising contract it had with WFMS radio station when it was discovered that an agency employee, Nikki Edgar, initiated the contract with WFMS after she had returned from a vacation in Cancun, Mexico with an account executive for the radio station. The agency also fired Edgar.

TDW's Jennifer Wagner, who also serves as communications director for the Indiana Democratic Party tells AI tonight that "the party received a number of anonymous tips that there are travel and petty cash issues as well as some potential working-from-home issues at CJI -- with Heather and at least one other employee." Wagner continued, "We put in the records request, and we got a general letter back in response." Wagner is quite familiar with the ICJI as she worked there under the previous Democratic administration.

With the inspector general's broad investigative powers, the administration is able to contain investigations of high-level administration appointees within the inspector general's office as opposed to an independent investigation by the Marion Co. Prosecutor's office. The prosecutor's office gets the case only if it is referred to it for prosecution by the inspector general. Let's hope that the inspector general is using his powers in this case to find the truth, not whitewash it for public consumption.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

There has been absolutely NO indication that Governor Daniels asked Heather to resign. In fact, quite the contrary is true. Could it be that the IG is new on the job and not quite sure of how to conduct the review - perhaps felt a bit intimidated and needed to clear out the offices of ICJ so they could figure out what they were doing without an audience?

Also, are you aware that ALL grants awarded by ICJ are board approved? There are board minutes so any questions about grants awarded can be answered from those minutes.

And are you aware that all travel is approved by the state travel agency?

Could it be this is much ado about nothing and ALL ABOUT POLITICS?

Advance Indiana said...

It would have been entirely inappropriate to place Bolejack on administrative leave unless there was some indication of wrong-doing at the agency. It is highly unusual to ask the agency head to go on leave while they are being investigated. If the board minutes exonerate Bolejack and others as you assert, it is surprising that those documents have not been released to the public. They are, afterall, public records.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree that it was inappropriate to put Heather on leave but my observation is that political pressure by some disgruntled dems (former CJI staff) forced the Gov's hand to turn this over to the IG with their liabelous blogging, full out attacks on the agency and requests for all the agency files...plus they were stirring the media pot...wanted to get a big negative story out there in time for the elections...!

Let's face it, the Director was vulnerable any way you look at it...not a good ole boy...newcomer onto the political scene..

Think about this...the agency head serves at the discretion of the Governor...don't you think if there was something REALLY bad there the Director would have been, at minimum, asked to resign?

As to releasing information...

The IG is reviewing...they're not going to 'release' anything until they are done. The Gov's office has to stay away to let the IG do its job so they're NOT GOING to release anything. The office has been virtually shut down..the Director can't speak (by law) to anything until the IG is done...so who do you think is going to be 'releasing' documents to the public? Are you serious???????????

If I were Heather I'd say screw it and call a press conference...this must be absolute hell.

There might be some bad apples...she's not one of them. Just wait, you'll see!

Anonymous said...

RAOFLMAO

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jennifer B LCHS '92 said...

First, let me say that it is an act of a coward to post a comment as 'anonymous' - especially one which is an inflammatory personal attack, degrading and full of out right lies.

Second, as someone who knows Heather and where she came from I am appalled that supposedly "intelligent" people are trying to use this tragic situation to further their own political agendas. This has little or nothing to do with Heather and more so to do with Republican-bashing.

I graduated from LCHS with Heather in 1992. I always admired her spirit. She was a very talented young woman. During one conversation, I remember asking her why she never joined the competitive show choir of which I was a member - she certainly was gifted enough. Her response was that our competition season over lapped the track season and running track was her ticket to college and by extension a better life. How many 16 or 17 year olds have to foresight to forgo their immediate wants for their long-term goals....she is someone to be ADMIRED not DISPURGED.

In four years of high school, during the Rodney King era in fact, I NEVER saw Heather play the “race card” that was so prevalently used in our school. It disgusts me that people would claim that her success is ONLY attributed to her skin color. We didn’t have that in common, but that didn’t change the fact that we were both driven and successful in our own right.

I send out my words of support to Heather and would wish that those who are small in mind would open their eyes and see the big picture…..

Go Bears!!!

Jennifer B
LCHS class of 1992