Enough is enough. Karla L. Thomas [resume] may be protected by Civil Service rules, but she is clearly not up to the job of running the City of Buffalo’s Human Resources Department. Having skirted the rules in hiring Thomas, it is now up to Mayor Byron W. Brown to begin the process of removing her.
It’s not just that the city has paid out nearly $2 million for health insurance premiums on 152 dead employees, although that is bad enough. The real problem is that Thomas was put on notice earlier this year about mismanagement of her department. Among other things, she was specifically put on notice in January of the likelihood that health premiums were paid for some deceased workers.
[City paid $2 million to insure dead workers - Buffalo News 8/13/10]
Yet, a new audit performed by the office of City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo showed no movement on this important issue. In addition to paying for deceased workers, the audit also showed that the city made double payments for health insurance for up to 250 sanitation and water workers, resulting in an overpayment of more than half a million dollars.
Thomas’ weak defense for insuring dead people — “Dead people can’t talk. And their spouses have little or no motivation to notify us . . . ” — was quickly knocked down by SanFilippo’s chief auditor, Darryl McPherson. Not only was he able to verify information for free on the Internet, there is also something called the Social Security Death Index, a database that can be purchased and used to quickly identify deceased workers.
This isn’t the first time Thomas has responded to criticism dismissively. When auditors previously engaged her in detailed discussion about problems in her department, she complained about getting “TMI” — too much information. Thomas says the auditors mischaracterized her comment, but there’s no explaining away her lame excuse for not even trying to find out if the city was paying to insure employees who had died.
[Amid ‘TMI’ firestorm, Thomas offers a spirited defense - Buffalo News 1/13/10]
Positions like Thomas’ exist because bosses can’t do everything themselves. They need to delegate. But there need to be consequences when supervisors don’t perform, and when those consequences fail to appear, the liability creeps up the organizational chart. That’s among the reasons that this problem is now the mayor’s. Going forward, and lacking a change in department leadership, problems in the department can fairly be considered to be Brown’s fault.
For the sake of the taxpayers whose money is being wasted, Brown needs to act. Thomas, who has political connections to the mayor, may have other skills, but she is clearly not up to this job. Indeed, she got the job only after she was nominated by a search committee whose membership appears to have been rigged.
As The Buffalo News reported on Monday [Brown skirted rules in hiring of Thomas], Brown nominated Thomas after a search committee — made up of political insiders rather than ordinary citizens, as it was meant to be — recommended her for the job. It was a bad decision, one for which Buffalo voters are paying a heavy price.
The Human Resources commissioner serves a set term, meant to shield her from political pressure to hire and fire for inappropriate reasons. The only out is to make a case for removing her based on incompetence. The shoe fits. Thomas needs to take her leave so that Brown and the Common Council can find someone who knows how to run this critical city department.
taggedBehind the News | Current Affairs | Editorials