CIO axed when Mass. cuts ... press secretaries

CIO axed when Mass. cuts ... press secretaries

When is a CIO not a CIO?

Apparently when people in Massachusetts state government think a CIO handles press inquiries.

Maybe it was the word Information in the Chief Information Officer title that confused them.

Here's the story: Two years ago, Mitt Romney, Massachusetts' new governor, announced that he was laying off half the approximately 60 press secretaries in the executive branch. The move, according to Romney's communication director, Eric Fehrnstrom, was to balance the state's budget, which was bleeding red ink.

Included in the list of press secretaries the previous administration had submitted to Romney was the name of Joseph VanDeventer, CIO of the State Racing Commission.

But VanDeventer didn't deal with the press. His job, according to a statement on the Racing Commission's Web site, was to "handle the mechanization of racing commission operations." The CIO also served as the commission's MIS director and personnel administrator.

So, while it's true VanDeventer wore several hats, not one of them was a fedora with a "press" identification card sticking out of the hat band.

VanDeventer could not be reached for comment this week. But according to a story in The Boston Globe on Tuesday, Racing Commission Director Joseph Berto sent a letter to Romney in 2003 explaining that VanDeventer's position had been incorrectly classified. His job was managing computer operations, not managing the media. In fact, the commission didn't even have a press person.

"The State Racing Commission did not have a designated press secretary," said Chris Goetcheus, press secretary for the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and several other agencies -- including the State Racing Commission. "Sometimes the chairman would speak to the press and sometimes the chairman would give that authority to other staff members to speak to the press. And sometimes it would be the Office of Consumer Affairs speaking on behalf of the State Racing Commission."

When asked about the mix-up, Fehrnstrom said: "Our goal was to reduce the workforce, and members of the governor's senior staff as well as members of the cabinet were asked to participate in reducing workforce costs, and that's what we did. If [VanDeventer] had other duties than dealing with the press I can appreciate that -- I have other duties than just dealing with the press, too."

He added that the Racing Commission is dealing just fine with its IT needs without VanDeventer, who is still seeking his job back. "They have not suffered any slowdown or deficiencies in that area," Fehrnstrom said.

Goetcheus said the job duties of the Racing Commission's CIO are now being handled by the CIO of the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations. He "has stepped in where needed and relies heavily on the help of the IT staffer on the commission," Goetcheus said.

VanDeventer and a handful of others who said they were not press secretaries and were therefore unjustly fired have filed grievances against the Romney administration. Talks are in the works between the union representing the former employees to settle those grievances.

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