By Scott Tibbs, September 24, 2013
Last Friday's Herald-Times carried a frustrating reminder of the way the "good ole boy network" still works in local government. Tim Carpenter, a maintenance supervisor Greene County government, was fired from his job and replaced with a Republican after he had supported a Democrat in the 2012 election.
The smoking gun is an email commissioner Ed Michael sent to commissioner Nathan Abrams on February 11:
The email refers to Chuck Crouch, a Republican who applied for Carpenter’s job but who in the end was not hired.
"I do like Chuck and would like to see him with a job but I'm afraid in the long run we'll wish we had left well enough alone," Michael wrote. "On the other hand, if we don't we'll take heat from the party as well as from Chuck. I'm not particularly a fan of Tim's but I do hate to replace someone who is doing a decent job because of politics."
Carpenter was fired in May, but reinstated because of an Open Door Law violation. He was fired a second time at the county commissioners' public meeting in June.
This is shameful and despicable, and represents a need for serious reform at the state level. First, termination of merit employees for political reasons should be illegal. As long as the political views of an employee of local government does not interfere with his ability to do his job, his employment should not be terminated.
There are practical, legal and philosophical reasons for this.
On the practical side, it is a disservice to the taxpayers to lose qualified employees for reasons of partisan politics. Even if the terminated employee is replaced by someone who is qualified, the taxpayers lose the institutional knowledge and experience of the terminated employee. When the new employee is not qualified (as is often the case) government's ability to serve the taxpayers diminishes. Depending on the office, this can be harmful in a number of ways. Partisan terminations also lower the morale of government employees and increase their anxiety, reducing productivity.
On the philosophical and legal side, it is simply wrong for government to discriminate in this manner. The First Amendment makes it very clear that government may not punish political speech, and blatantly political terminations of merit employees are both illegal and a violation of basic American values. Government clearly has less rights than the private sector in this regard, especially in an at-will state like Indiana.
Even so, this nonsense continues all across Indiana and it is time for it to stop. The Indiana legislature should move to make this kind of employment discrimination illegal, complete with financial penalties for local government when they are caught doing this (perhaps a reduction in the property tax levy or a reduction in grants from state government) and mandatory restitution for wrongfully terminated employees.
Let's also be clear that while this was done by Republicans in Greene County, Democrats are not innocent either. Both political parties are guilty of wrongful termination of local government employees for political reasons, and both Republicans and Democrats have done this for years. That said, I hope the Republican Commissioners in Greene County are all fired from their jobs by the voters in the next election, whether in the general or primary election.