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Eagle editorial: State agencies run into the ground

  • Published Wednesday, June 12, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, used to be well-run and respected. But as a recent audit found, that’s no longer the case.

Bad and abusive management has driven off good employees and undermined the morale of those remaining.

It’s not the only commission or state agency that has been run into the ground since Sam Brownback became governor.

An outside audit initiated by the KCC and obtained by the Topeka Capital-Journal reported widespread complaints by staff about the management practices and behavior of executive director Patti Petersen-Klein. Staff also blamed KCC Chairman Mark Sievers for failing to address the problems. Sievers, who was appointed by Brownback, hired Petersen-Klein.

Employees described the atmosphere inside the KCC as “hostile,” “unhealthy,” “combative,” “confusing,” “closed” and “unproductive,” the Capital-Journal reported. Some staff members also claimed that Petersen-Klein wanted them to spy on other employees and to alter documents to present her in a more favorable light. Others described Petersen-Klein as verbally abusive.

The audit concluded that employee morale was so low it was doubtful that Petersen-Klein could “regain the trust and confidence required to be an effective leader in her current role.”

Petersen-Klein is not talking to the media about the audit. But she told the auditors that she was hired as part of the “reform government movement” and to recast an “inefficient and overstaffed” KCC.

“No black eye for the governor was my mandate,” she said.

Tom Wright, one of three KCC commissioners, asked last week for a review of the commission by an independent consultant. But Sievers wasn’t at the meeting, and the third commissioner, Brownback appointee Shari Feist Albrecht, declined to support the review.

The KCC’s downfall is similar to what happened at the Office of the Kansas Securities Commissioner. Brownback appointee Aaron Jack, a former state legislator from Andover, forced out nearly three-fourths of the office’s staff, replacing many of them with GOP operatives.

“One of the best securities agencies in the country has been wiped out,” a former securities examiner told the Capital-Journal.

Some other agencies that have been harmed by bad management include the Juvenile Justice Authority and the former Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Brownback eventually pushed out Jack and the heads of JJA and SRS, but not before they did damage. Petersen-Klein should be the next to go.

A question that all this raises is whether Brownback has a tendency to appoint incompetent people or whether, as Petersen-Klein seemed to indicate, the agency heads are doing his will. Are these bad managers or good soldiers? Is the goal to “reform government” or to cripple regulatory agencies?

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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