For those of you from out of state, the scandal that erupted related to a scientist at the state's crime laboratory, who had falsified evidentiary reports for many years. This has likely led to overly harsh judgments and criminal sentencing for a number of alleged criminals. The state will now have to go through thousands of case records and work with prosecutors and defense counselors to sort out the mess.
In today's political world, there seems to be a need to assign blame when something like this happens. Whether it might just have been a rogue scientist, or whether there may have been inadequate procedures in the laboratory, or both, is something worthy of review and correction, of course. But the idea that the Commissioner, sitting astride a huge organization of departments and divisions, should be held accountable for this is ridiculous.
Here's the current organization chart for the state DPH. Good luck even finding the division in which this scientist used to work.
John, being the ultimate gentleman and stand-up guy, issued this statement:
It is with deep regret and with a sense of responsibility to uphold the high ideals Governor Patrick demands that I announce today my resignation as Commissioner of the Department of Public Health.
It is clear that there was insufficient quality monitoring, reporting and investigating on the part of supervisors and managers surrounding the former Department of Public Health drug lab in Jamaica Plain -- and ultimately, as Commissioner, the buck stops with me.
But the "high ideals" he cites of the Governor apparently do not include the concept that this could have happened in any administration (and indeed apparently started well before John's tenure). Those ideals apparently do not include the concept that someone who has been an exemplary public servant deserves a chance (if he wanted) to try to remedy the underlying problem of the agency. Those ideals apparently do not include any self-blame for the people still higher in the administration, who filed the extremely tight budgets for this agency for several years that may also have contributed to an inability to conduct proper oversight.
No, we seem need to find someone to punish . . . and quickly, to get through the news cycle and put this story behind the administration. The Governor said:
Today, I accepted Commissioner John Auerbach’s resignation. The failures at the Department of Public Health drug lab are serious and the actions and inactions of lab management compounded the problem. The Commissioner recognizes that, as the head of DPH, he shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said, “For all the wonderful things he did over the years, his career should not be blemished by this one incident.”
Let's be clear, Mr. Mayor. This is not a blemish on John's career, and to call it so misconstrues the nature of what has happened here. They needed a fall guy, and he was gracious enough to accept the role without complaint. We citizens owe him a debt of gratitude for years of dedicated public service. Knowing John, I am sure that he will continue to make contributions to the public good wherever he goes and whatever he does.
Meanwhile, though, the Massachusetts political system goes on and eats its young.