Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mismanaging the news

For those looking for some accountability in the ongoing saga of the Easley administration’s mishandling of mental health reform, a head has indeed rolled – but it’s not one of those in charge. As this morning’s papers reported, the administration has fired Debbie Crane, a veteran spokesperson for state government agencies. (A former program director is leaving, but not right away, while new directors have been appointed. Crane is out the door and gone.)
Crane's transgression, the governor’s office said, was interfering with a plan to have former Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom talk to reporters from the News & Observer, whose six-month investigation revealed how money has been squandered, treatment botched and needy patients neglected or abused.
Gov. Easley has refused to meet with the paper's reporters – a curious reaction given that Easley handles himself pretty well with the press. If he wants his story told, he’s got to tell it better than he has so far in a press conference where questions were limited and the governor got piqued with reporters who tried to ask follow-ups. It evidently has not been a happy time for Mike Easley.
The administration believes Crane's e-mail to Hooker Odom – the spouse of former state Sen. Fountain Odom of Charlotte – saying she herself wouldn't want to talk to the N&O reporters left the governor holding the bag of blame. Or something. The governor’s office thinks Hooker Odom was all set to talk about it until Crane's e-mail suggested she think twice about it, but it’s hard for me to buy the argument that Hooker Odom decided not to talk based on what Crane advised. Hooker Odom is now head of the Milbank Memorial Fund in New York, a pretty nice foundation job.
Meanwhile, everyone in town is trying to figure out if Easley is right in saying his administration “vigorously opposed” the mental health legislation that went off the tracks. Crane said after her firing that she had talked earlier with Hooker Odom seeking documents showing vigorous opposition. “There is no evidence to show that we did,” Crane said. “I called Carmen to ask her if there are any documents and she said, ‘No, there aren’t.’ Nobody did oppose it vigorously. Now, there were four things that she was concerned with” that she lobbied legislators to change, and two were changed. But “it was not a wholesale” opposition to the bill,” Crane said.
More on this later. This story isn’t going away.

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