Talk to the press if you work for the state and you could get fired.
Protest your poor treatment, and the Cuomo administration will ransack your files for any black marks and try to wreck your life.
That is what happened to Mike Fayette, a Transportation Department engineer for Essex County, who made the mistake last summer of praising to a reporter the department’s response to Hurricane Irene.
The problem, according to a “notice of discipline” letter Fayette received, was the department’s commissioner, Joan McDonald, had wanted to do the interview herself.
Fayette explained he talked to the press because reporters had been trying for days to get comments from McDonald or other Transportation Department officials, with no luck. Fayette didn’t want the department to look bad, so when a reporter called with questions, he answered them.
It is right for public employees, paid by our tax dollars, to provide information to the public by answering questions from reporters. State employees can be held accountable and state operations opened to public scrutiny through the medium of the press.
Abuses flourish in a secretive environment, but that is unfortunately what the Cuomo administration is creating in Albany.
The state has long made it a practice to hire overpaid, uninformed public information officers to stand between state employees and the press. These mouthpieces are merely messengers; they do not know anything themselves. So reporters must engage in a game of telephone in their dealings with the state, asking questions of an information officer, then waiting for a return call while the information officer asks someone who knows.
Past administrations have left some flexibility in the system — places where trickles of truth could leak out. But the Cuomo administration is working to keep the public as ignorant about state operations as its own information officers are.
After Mr. Fayette talked to the press, he was told he was being demoted and would have to relocate to Albany. He retired instead.
Then, he committed the sin of talking to the press again, explaining to reporters why he was disciplined. In response, Cuomo consigliere Howard Glaser dug up an old disciplinary matter from Fayette’s file and set about destroying his reputation.
Mr. Fayette was disciplined previously for having an affair with a subordinate and using work email and telephones to communicate with her. That case was over, he was punished for it, and it had no connection to the discipline he received for talking to the press.
The details of Mr. Fayette’s earlier disciplinary case are the sort of private personnel information state officials would be unlikely to reveal, even if asked.
In this case, Mr. Glaser was not asked. He volunteered the information to besmirch and punish Mr. Fayette.
The paranoid persecution of Mr. Fayette, with the childish insistence by the commissioner she should have been the one who got to talk to the press, would be amusing if it weren’t so destructive. But this case demonstrates a penchant for secrecy and willingness to abuse power that has become a pattern with the Cuomo administration.
One manifestation of this pattern has been the governor’s reliance on messages of necessity to rush bills through the Legislature without giving political representatives or the public time to consider them.
One of those bills, NY Safe Act, included a provision that limits access to public records, in this case, handgun registrations.
Similarly, a recent court ruling limited public access to teachers’ pension records, which have for years been available on websites, such as Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY.
That court ruling grew out of an earlier, equally misguided one denying access to the names of New York City Police Pension Fund recipients. The public has an unequivocal right to know who is receiving public money, and how much they are getting. The Cuomo administration should be acting to reverse the effect of these court rulings, but unfortunately, the governor has instead been turning away from the traditions of open government.
The way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him, preferably with a crowd of allies behind you. We need to stand beside Mike Fayette now, before the bullying from the governor goes any further, and demand he get his job back, and an apology from Andrew Cuomo to go with it.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Robert Sledd.