Editor’s note: Andrew Stein contributed to this report.
Randy Brock wants to know how much the Shumlin administration has paid to settle claims of misconduct involving state employees. The GOP candidate for governor asked for the information in a raft of public records requests on Thursday.
In a recent Burlington Free Press debate, Brock said he’d been told that the state has spent thousands settling claims alleging discrimination, wrongful discharge and sexual harassment, and that it has covered up details by insisting on confidentiality agreements.
In a statement, Brock said, “I’m calling on the governor to be fully transparent with Vermonters and disclose all of these settlements, as the law requires, right now.”
He filed identical public records requests for similar documents for five top state officials, including the treasurer, the attorney general, and the head of human resources, among others.
Shumlin administration spokeswoman Sue Allen said there had been no settlements involving the governor or his 10-member staff.
At a Barre press conference on Thursday, Gov. Shumlin reiterated that his administration hadn’t tried to hide any details or documents regarding the settlements, which he said were public documents.
He appeared to be puzzled by Brock’s interest in the issue. “I have no idea what he was getting at, what he was trying to get at. I don’t know of any cases he’s referring to.” But he said he’d comply with Brock’s request, as with any other records request, adding: “I believe in transparency in government.”
The governor redirected reporters to Department of Human Resources counsel Steve Collier or Commissioner Kate Duffy.
Duffy didn’t return requests for comment. Collier couldn’t pinpoint the number of settlements or how much they’ve cost the state. But Collier sent along details for four settlements costing over $20,000, requested earlier this summer by Paul Heintz of Seven Days.
The documents show that four state employees, from the Department of Liquor Control, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Vermont Veterans’ Home, settled with the state for a total of $190,000 in 2011. For two employees, settlement amounts could not immediately be calculated.
Collier said only a very small proportion of misconduct cases are settled for cash; he said several have been settled with disciplinary measures. He said that historically settlements have involved anywhere between hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, citing the most sizeable settlement he knew of — $150,000 with a Vermont Veterans’ Home employee in 2011.
Allegations of misconduct are legally tricky, he said, since the agency has to balance the public’s right to know and the employees’ right to privacy. He said details of investigations into misconduct allegations often remained confidential, so that whistleblowers could safely come forward.
The No. 1 factor the state takes into account before settling a claim, Collier said, is whether it can make a strong case to the Labor Board, which looks into state employee terminations.
The department would take more than the three business days specified in statute to provide documents, requesting a lawful extension to 10 days. Even then, he wasn’t sure he could provide the documents in 10 business days, because a small army of state employees would be needed to review and redact documents.
Brock’s request comes with 12 calendar days left until the Nov. 6 general election. Brock didn’t return calls for comment.