Andy Sylvan was the assistant director of the community development department of the city of Greenwood. Greenwood was an outer suburb of the capital city, and while most of its citizens were affluent, it did have a pocket of residential poverty near a riverbank across from an urban industrial complex. Sylvan was active in writing grant proposals for both federal and state funding of a redevelopment project. One of his state grant applications was successful, and the state government awarded a block grant of $3 million for renovation of the area. The renovation money would permit the community development department to purchase land and build a park near the area’s elementary school, to pave several streets, and to improve the storm drainage system. Money would also be available to bring plumbing systems in several homes up to code standards. Sylvan’s boss, Rose Almindinger, was a political appointee who was well connected to leaders of the local Republican Party.
While she had had administrative experience with a construction firm, she had never been in charge of financial affairs in any sense beyond balancing her personal checkbook. One has to seriously question if she did that very well. What she seemed not to understand was that the moneys that came from state grants were not to be mixed with her private bank accounts. Almindinger was sort of like George Washington Plunkitt1 in that she believed in honest graft, that is, when she saw her opportunity, she took it. The grant and its block structure sure looked like an opportunity. After all, just what is community development? Almindinger saw a chance to arrange bids for street construction so that her former company could win the business at a higher price than others would charge. A glaring loophole in the grant system seemed to suggest that she could award contracts without going through the city’s purchasing and bidding systems. She also found leeway to attend a conference on park development in Hawaii on the state’s dollar. A friend of hers ran a travel agency and she was more than anxious to help Rose. In fact, she told Almindinger that she could bill her for travel expenses for both her and her husband in a way that it would appear that all airline costs were for one person. The two enjoyed 7 days on Maui, all expenses paid by the city, while Mrs. Rose Almindinger made brief appearances at the 2-day conference. Almindinger also hired four political friends for temporary jobs on grant projects, paying them $40 an hour. No one managed the four, and only Almindinger received reports of their work. Their employment cost the grant $30,000 in just 2 months.
While there was evidence of some improvements being made in the grant project neighborhood, rumors of waste, fraud, and abuse started to circulate. One of Almindinger’s appointees had a penchant to be verbally abusive to certain assistants in the department office, and the assistants had contacted the city personnel director. Sylvan heard about the abuses, and he talked with the employees. That’s when he heard also about some of the financial problems in the project, and that’s when he heard about Almindinger’s trip to Hawaii with her husband. She had told Sylvan that she had to take a week of leave time to travel to North Carolina to be with her sick father.
While all of this was going on, Almindinger announced that she was going to be running for the state assembly. Her four project appointees soon were circulating petitions door to door and also around city hall gathering names so that she could be on the ballot. Sylvan sensed that there was a severe violation of the state’s Little Hatch Act in this activity. Without warning to Sylvan, one day a reporter showed up at city hall and started asking questions about the grant project. Sylvan was very careful to avoid the reporter, once barely missing him by ducking into the men’s room. He then snuck out a side door and phoned his assistant to tell him he was taking his lunch break early.
The reporter did not gather much information, but he did drop a few lines in his weekly local affairs column suggesting that the state might be looking into irregularities in grant programs at Greenwood city hall. Governor Tyler Phillipson was facing a tough reelection campaign. The Democrat was facing an even tougher fight to keep the state House of Representatives’ majority with his party. The Greenwood seat was open, but it had been held by a Democrat. The district was considered very competitive, and the Democrats had not been successful in recruiting their first choice as a candidate. Douglas Springfellow, an Iraq War veteran, had expressed interest, but at the last moment he told Phillipson that he really had to get on with life and support his family by taking a management job with the local chemical company. The Democrats then found Professor Howard Hopper, a regular activist since the Vietnam War, to carry the party banner into the race. Governor Phillipson agreed to come to Greenwood and organize a fund raiser for Hopper, but he was sure that Almindinger’s campaign would easily outspend the Democrat. When rumors of the grant problem hit the governor’s desk it was like a godsend. With his authority and the help of the state attorney general, also a Democrat, they could expose Almindinger.
He needed some proof from someone close to the scene. He had his associates snoop around Greenwood to gather information. One name they kept coming up with, a name that was on all the grant applications, was Andrew George Sylvan.
Sylvan was sitting at home watching Aaron Cooper 360 on CNN when his phone rang. The caller asked, “Hello, Andrew, how are you tonight?”
Sylvan was fearful it was a request for charity. He gave a meek, “Yeah, I’m O.K., what do you need?”
“Andrew, this is Tyler.”
“Tyler Phillipson—Governor Phillipson. Could we talk a minute?”
Andy was rather shocked. He had met the governor only once before and that was in a reception line at a capital chapter meeting of the American Society of Public Administration. He was sure the governor would not remember that.
But sure enough, the governor said, “Andrew, we met at, let me think, it was the meeting of that public administration group down at Celentinos on Chicago Street. When was that, oh, must have been 7 or 8 months ago.”
“Boy, the governor’s staff really does its homework well,” thought Sylvan, but he said, “Well go ahead, what you need?”
The governor told Sylvan that the state was dedicated to the highest standards of ethical behavior by all its public employees at all levels, and the state was very desirous that taxpayer money always be spent in the most efficient manner. If the money on grant programs was spent efficiently, more grant money would be available for worthwhile projects. Soon he had Sylan talking, and soon the words flowed out of Sylvan’s mouth. Sylvan had been in the municipal bureaucracy for over 20 years, and he, too, was dedicated, and right’s right, and wrong’s nowhere as far as he was concerned. He revealed what he knew, and in fact, he knew a lot. He also gave names and places and indicated where what he said could be verified. He simply spilled his guts.
Governor Phillipson offered his warmest appreciation for his help, and he told Sylvan to be sure to stop by when he got to the capitol the next time. Sylvan was also told that if he ever needed help on anything not to hesitate to call the governor’s office. The governor called him a brave and treasured government employee. “We need more like you,” the governor said.
The next week the city manager, Fred Gardner, send a short note to the staff of the department of community development. It simply said that Rose Almindinger had resigned to work full-time on her state legislative campaign, and that the assistant city manager, Franklin Millard, was going to be acting as the director of the department for the near future, until a replacement could be made. Also all professional staff of the department was being given a 1-week leave of absence without pay, during which time the state attorney general’s staff would be conducting an audit of department expenses. Other staff were directed not to speak to anyone about the affairs of the department—especially the press.
Andrew Sylvan immediately made an appointment with the city manager. When he talked to him the next day, he found the manager to be quite distant to him, although he had been on friendly terms with Gardner for 3 years. He asked about the vacancy at the top of his department, indicating that he had been with the department for over 10 years and he had his M.P.A. degree. He suggested that he was quite familiar with the work and all the people in the department. Gardner simply told him that at this time it would not be wise for him to consider applying for the opening. He added that under the circumstances they would probably be going outside for a new director. Sylvan left the office quite unsettled. A few days later he saw Gardner at a popular restaurant in Greenwood and he approached him ready to shake his hand and say hello. The manager clearly saw him and turned away from him in an awkward manner as he approached. It was a very obvious rebuff. Sylvan, whose wife was with him, was hurt.
Three weeks later, the city manager publicly announced that an audit had found some normal accounting mistakes in the books of the community development department, but that the attorney general’s report revealed no wrongdoing on the part of city staff.
Not only was Sylvan out of the loop for a promotion, but at the end of the year he received only a satisfactory evaluation. Every year before—for 20 years with the city—he had received either commendable or excellent ratings. He was also notified that he would not receive any merit pay, although over half of the staff did receive merit pay. Over the ensuing months since his discussion with the governor, Sylvan noticed that other employees around his department and at city hall seemed to avoid him. Even good friends would just say, “Hello” in passing. As the new year started, he decided he should look for a position in another department. He saw a lateral opening in public works, and he submitted a full application. Not only did he not get an interview, but his application did not even gain an acknowledgement.
Sylvan talked to a good friend at the community college, and he was given an opportunity to teach a class during the summer term. That went so well that he applied for and received a regular teaching appointment the following year. He had to take a substantial cut in pay, but his colleagues spoke to him, and his students especially liked his real life stories about how bureaucracy really worked.
Governor Phillipson was reelected to a second term, and afterwards accepted an appointment as a federal district judge. Rose Almindinger found that her campaign for the legislature was stymied as major funding sources she had counted upon dried up, and the press came out strongly in favor of Hopper, the winning candidate. Almindinger went back to work as a glorified administrative assistant with the state contractor’s association.
· 1. Why did the governor allow Sylvan to be punished after he helped the governor “get the goods” on Almindinger?
· 2. Should Sylvan have remained quiet when he was called by the governor?
· 3. Should Sylvan have spoken to the city manager as soon as irregularities were obvious in the neighborhood grant program?
· 4. Would the city manager’s response have been the same if Sylvan had taken the problems to him?
· 5. Were the governor and attorney general really concerned about wrongdoing in the community development department, or was the governor only seeking political advantages in his inquiries?
· 6. Should Sylvan have taken his situation to the local press? What would they have done with his story?
· 7. How do you suppose Judge Phillipson would rule if a whistle-blower case was brought to his bench?
1See Riordan, William. Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
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