Wednesday and Thursday were days of turmoil for the hard working men and women employed by New Hampshire Employment Security. Their workday included learning of public allegations that their most senior management, Commissioner Tara Reardon and Deputy Commissioner Darrell Gates had not only breached the State’s nepotism policies, but also committed fraud against the very system they oversee. These allegations have resulted in Commissioner Reardon stepping down from her position and Deputy Commissioner Gates is under paid suspension. We know the shocking effect this has on the workforce.
The allegations involve nepotism and the daughters of Reardon and Gates serving as summer interns at NHES; special treatment; extended internships, some over two years; receiving unemployment benefits; and abuse of power to benefit their children.
Like scandals of the past, the allegations are under investigation and judgement will be deferred until the appropriate process is completed. Regardless, we acknowledge the difficulty NHES SEA members must be having in their workplace at this time. We commend the rank and file for their ability to continue to serve the citizens of this state well by helping those who are in need of the support of their department. Further we recognize this is not the first time in recent years that Senior Management of the Department has left under investigation. Reardon replaced Richard Brothers, who was not reappointed by Governor Lynch, after Brothers allegedly filed fraudulent travel vouchers.
Last summer, during the time the girls were interning, dozens of NHES employees were laid off due to a drop in unemployment claims. The young interns were moved to units that were not affected by this. At the time, Diana Lacey, SEA President, flanked by NHES members and SEA staff in a consult with Reardon, Gates, Riccio and two other NHES senior management staff addressed the nepotism issue. Lacey said “This is bad for the workforce. It’s demoralizing when you’re laying off people with dozens or decades of years of service and you’re moving summer interns around to prevent them from layoff.” At the time, Lacey and NHES members present knew only of Gates’ daughter. Reardon never revealed her daughter was one of those interns.
We are outraged by Commissioner Reardon’s statement following yesterday’s breaking news – she blamed disgruntled employees. Reardon said these employees “waged a continuous effort to create divisions within the department and undermine my leadership. They have distorted the truth and fabricated a story to cover their own failure to do their jobs in a professional and competent manner. Although the list of their disciplinary and performance issues is lengthy, confidentiality of personnel matters prevents me from publicly addressing them.” All too often executives attempt to place blame on those who have integrity enough to alert authorities to the questionable goings on within the workplace. More shocking, though, is her continued failure to recognize the negative consequences nepotism has on the workforce, which is the only thing that we know is true. NHES SEA members have complained about it for years.
We are also disappointed in the comments made by the Executive Council and Governor Lynch. Councilor Sununu and St. Hilaire both spoke of their hope that the state could find a replacement as hardworking as Reardon. Councilor Burton said Reardon had been “very responsive.” We assert it is the rank and file employees who deserve the most credit for getting NHES through the storm, then and now.
“When you are dealing with this type of situation – nepotism, a violation of policy – and perhaps worse and they’re saying, ‘but you did a great job.’ What does that tell the workforce?” Lacey said. “We suspend people without pay immediately for the slightest infraction, and yet we’re going to put agency heads on paid administrative leave for six weeks and commend them for a great job when they violate a very important ethical practice in the state.”
We stand ready to support those committed employees who care enough about the people they serve to place themselves in the hot seat – at risk of public insults like Reardon just made – when they know something is not right. This is yet another example of the solid character, professionalism and integrity of public service employees