Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Case Of Ghost Employment?

The Star's Robert King takes a look at the state chaplain FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob hired to work for his agency at a pay of $60,000 a year to set up a network of volunteer clergy to counsel agency employees. According to King's story, the Rev. Michael Latham isn't qualified to be a chaplain, has failed to set up the network he was hired to establish and continues to maintain his full-time job as a minister in Fort Wayne and another job as head of the Fort Wayne NAACP. King writes:

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.

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
Church.

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.
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.

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."

12 comments:

Neillos said...

I recall reading that Thomas Jefferson didn't think that army chaplains should be paid from taxpayer funds, to keep religion separate from gvt. He lost out on that extreme position, but have we come so far that the state can hire a chaplain to minister to its employees?

Wilson46201 said...

The issue of the Presidency of the Fort Wayne NAACP is a red herring in terms of employment. It's merely an elected position of a membership organization -- if he were a hired "executive director" or had some such title entitling him to compensation for time worked, then his multiple employments could be questioned.

What I find interesting in this story is the role of Jackie Cissell...

Neillos said...

I see from the Freedom From Religion Foundation's web site that the job description includes:
- "ministering and counseling FSSA employees, contractors, etc."
- developing workshops to "train and educate FSSA staff on encouraging a faithful environment in the workplace"
Perhaps FSSA employees would be more effective in their jobs if they could better relate to religious folks. But this guy is paid to minister to the employees, not just help employees relate to their faithful clients.
In addition to $60K for a political appointee who apparently hasn't done the job, we taxpayers will bear the cost of defending against an unnecessary and obviously valid lawsuit.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout Monroe Gray's ghost employment with IFD. Community Liason Chief??? Give me a break, more like detailed to the CCC.

Wilson46201 said...

Monroe Gray??? By raising that issue, it looks like the shamefully-anonymous GOP defender is using its standard defense of "Us Republicans are only just as bad as we say you Democrats are!" Mighty feeble gruel...

ifdfirefighter said...

Not picking any sides politically,but Monroe Gray is an issue Wilson, to both myself as a member of IFD and to the commenter you attack. His blatant thumbing in the face to those of us on the department who actually show up to work is not right. And the city admin turns the other cheek to both Gray and Vernon Brown.

Wilson46201 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wilson46201 said...

Notice how the statewide issue of shamelessly political employment by their Sainted Man Mitch gets deflected into a discussion of two popularly elected local officials instead? Let's discuss your Preacher Man Lapham and how he's collecting your tax dollars into his church collection plate!

skeptic said...

Hasn't Roob been, allegedly, a major propoenent of "performance measures" or accountability in goverment? How exactly would this "program" measure up under performance measures or standard applied? It's laughable. What are the objective criteria, etc? This guy gets a bunch of volunteers together for a meeting then no one hears from him again? I'd like to see the color coded bar graphs or the powerpoint on this one....

Johnny said...

anon 10:34-

The IndyU crowd loved to scream "ghost employment" anytime Gray's name came up until one of their own, Garyj (pleasehelpindy.blogspot.com), actually checked into it. Garyj actually took action where so many others puff hot air. He requested time and attendance records, vacation schedules and basically did everything that an enterprising reporter would have done a quarter century ago. Gray came up clean.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Johnny, reality check on the Gray timesheets:

He didn't come "clean." He came up, in small part, "AWOL." Or, in college terms, "incomplete." Kinda like his Conflict of Interest statement, which he had to amend. Twice.

And stop already with the "popularly elected." More like "right place at the right time." They don't need you to defend them, and frankly, it's getting a little old.

More compelling is the argument that Gray, while on the job, sat outside a peashake in a city car with the Center constable. And feigned igorance about the peashake's existence. Yeah, riiiiight. He knew nothing about it, until the mayor pulled the plug on the "blind eye" thing and the peashakes needed defending, then Monroe and Glenn and their friends ran to the defense of these parlours.

Yeah, Wilson, that's fair game. Either Gray's stupid, or thinks we are, or fills out some of his timesheets inproperly. Was he waiting on a fire to erupt at that peashake, as he sat in his city car outside?

And forget this Ft. Wayne pastor. What a goof.

And, FYI, in some NAACP chapters, the president is the functional CEO, and is paid a stipend. I am not sure of that's the case with Latham.

But the Daniels administration is so hell-bent on getting black faces on their stage, that they turn to Cissell and her ilk for verification.

Strike two.

Why is Latham still on the payroll?
The lawsuit will be successful--this use of state funds is blatantly improper, and now the Daniels administration has wasted its faith-based credibility on a man who apparently loves the car and paycheck and executive assistant, but not the work.

Which invites another question: Does his laziness, and lack of performance, negate the need for a lawsuit? It looks like intent is all we have to go on here...the Daniels' administration's intent to instill faith-based activites via state funds. If the clown didn't do anything, maybe there's no harm, no foul...

Just sayin'.

GaryJ said...

sorry 1034am. I personally looked into Grays so called ghost employment and found nothing. His time sheets are in better order than mine are. Only difference is that I don't work for the government.
If gray is a ghost employee, he is very good at hiding it!

Same thing with Vernon Brown 1130.. found nothing. I found more discrepancies with Issac randolphs than the other 2. Lance Langsford was on military leave for 1/2 the time, so his would have been useless to me.

831.. "incomplete"? I had al but 6 weeks. out of 3 years. About the same missing for Brown and randolph. All different times and not all together.
Possibly an oversight on the city atty. part of the person gathering the infofor him.
Everything looked to be in order, and Vernon even took time to explain his questionable entries.

Was it all true, i don't know, but the dates and times matched what I was told and was able to find out before the questions were asked.
An IFD firefighter helped me with this before I even approached Brown and said everything looked fine to him. He wanted to find something because he wants them out, it just wasn't there!