The slow start has prompted other questions about the program, including whether Latham meets the state's own guidelines for chaplains working in other settings, such as hospitals and prisons.After reading King's story, I had to agree with the comments of Andy Downs. "Some may begin to question whether his job is to recruit chaplains or to help make inroads into the African-American community," said Andy Downs, director of a nonpartisan political research center based at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. I'm frankly surprised the words ghost employment didn't appear in King's story. I don't see how Latham could possibly be putting in a 40-hour week at FSSA and continue to serve as a full-time minister and head of the Fort Wayne NAACP. The fact that he doesn't even hold the educational requirements for working as a chaplain only heightens skepticism about his true role.
Then there's his salary: He's the highest-paid state chaplain and has an assistant at the same time he holds two other jobs. Latham has a full-time ministry in Fort Wayne and is the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in his home city.
Latham, who was an active supporter of Mitch Daniels during Daniels' successful 2004 campaign for governor, said he had to start from scratch in his state job because there was no chaplaincy program geared toward state employees.
In addition, he said, much of his time has been spent helping FSSA's Division of Aging ask churches to launch day-care programs for the elderly.
Finally, there has been some resistance from clergy who are skeptical of a government that asks for their help but won't let them proselytize.
"I feel like there's been great progress with all the other things that we had to deal with to get the chaplain program off to a good start," Latham said.
Latham operated with little public notice until last month, when a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis challenging his position.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sued, saying a chaplain for government employees violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
A Baptist minister who preached his first sermon at 17, Latham graduated from high school unable to read, eventually getting help from tutors in his church. He never attended college or seminary and has no chaplaincy or counseling training.
That kind of resume would disqualify Latham from being considered for the chaplain's job in one of the state's five psychiatric hospitals or in Indiana's prisons,
which require a bachelor's degree and a master's of divinity.
The average salary for other state chaplains is about $32,000. Latham was hired at FSSA for $60,000, given an assistant who makes $37,500 a year, issued a state car and allowed to work from Fort Wayne, where he is pastor of Renaissance Baptist
Latham said that in some weeks, he has devoted up to 60 hours to his state job, delegating the duties of running his 200-member church to his pastoral assistants.
He said he has focused his initial work in Northern Indiana, making the drive to Indianapolis once or twice a week. He has ventured to Southern Indiana only twice since being hired. FSSA has offices in all 92 Indiana counties.
State government employs more than 40 chaplains, who work mostly at hospitals and state prisons. Some have called Latham's hiring "bizarre."
"He's overpaid and underqualified," said the Rev. Earl W. Hoppert, who recently retired from FSSA after 28 years as a chaplain and chaplain educator. "I don't know how he got that job."
FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob said questions about Latham's credentials are legitimate, but he said Latham was hired largely because of his real-world experience.
His time as a law enforcement chaplain in Allen County has given him a solid understanding of working with government employees, Roob said. He also likes that Latham has worked with "disadvantaged communities."
One of FSSA's main roles is determining which Hoosiers qualify for welfare benefits.
"His experience was such that it made up for a lack of degree," Roob said.
I got a chuckle out of Roob's comment denying politics was involved in Latham's hiring. King writes, "Roob also insists there was nothing political about the appointment." "He was vice chairman of the Indiana Republican Party in 2004 and heavily involved in the Daniels campaign, but Roob said he was unaware that Latham had played any role in Daniels' election." "I ran into a lot of people over the course of the campaign," he said, "and -- no offense to Pastor Latham -- our paths never crossed." The sad part is that Roob wouldn't remember Latham if he had met him a dozen times. The aloof Roob was renowned for turning off Daniels volunteers during the 2004 campaign. Come to think of it, he was renowned for turning off supporters of former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith as well, particularly during his unsuccessful gubernatorial race against Frank O'Bannon. How this guy ever managed to get a job working for Daniels after pissing on so many people during that campaign is a mystery to many Indiana Republicans.
Regardless of whether Latham is a ghost employee, which is a crime under Indiana law by the way, it's hard to argue that his job is not a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. As Downs points out, Daniels "campaigned on greater government efficiency." "At some point in time, you have to wonder if that was a program that was worth keeping," Downs said. "That is not to say that there is anything nefarious going on here. It is just that some programs don't work that well."