The State, on the other hand, is not held accountable for its mistakes or misjudgments. Here are just two examples:
- A businessman attempted to expand his retail business. Before he could build, he had to wait for an inspection by the state archaeologist. The inspector delayed the inspection for months—until after construction season was over: the businessman lost a selling season, and potential employees are not hired.
- A businessman sought to erect a warehouse on his business property, which is in the flood plain. He spent thousands of dollars on engineering to comply with the permit requirements, and, despite numerous phone calls and email messages, the bureaucrat dealing with permitting in flood plains never got back to him.
I plan to hold government accountable, and here is how we will do it:
We will set up a Citizens/Small Business Protection Unit within the Public Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office. The mission of this unit will be to act as an ombudsman and watchdog for Vermonters who are not getting the service they deserve from Vermont government. Ombudsman programs are widespread through-out state and federal governments and in 120 countries around the world. In fact, the federal office of Attorney General has an ombudsman program which deals with complaints of violations of civil rights in the Justice Department.
Our protection unit will follow the four principles of the United States Ombudsman Association’s Government Ombudsman Standards: Independence, Impartiality,
Confidentiality and Credible Review Process.
The unit use the following guidelines of the USOA in determining whether to follow up on a complained of administrative act:
(1) Contrary to law or regulation
(2) Based on mistaken facts or irrelevant considerations
(3) Unsupported by an adequate statement of reasons
(4) Performed in an inefficient manner
(5) Unreasonable, arbitrary, unfair, or objectionable, even though in accordance with law; or
(6) Otherwise erroneous, including confusing or contradictory regulations, and selective prosecution of violators.
Our program will work as follows:
We will have a toll free number, an address for mail in complaints, and an interactive page on the Attorney General’s website for Vermonters to contact our office. We will have the unit staffed sufficiently so that people receive a substantive response within two business days. We will then work with the agency in question to try to resolve the problem. That will include informally contacting the agency involved and checking on their version of the issue, and the status of the case. If appropriate and if the parties agree, facilitate mediation to solve the problem.
This unit will field complaints about every sector of state government, including the following:
- Permitting issues with various environmental agencies.
- Issues with Department of Labor regulations on independent contractors, unemployment, and workers compensation
- Issues with Department of Children and Families concerning CHINS cases
- Tax regulations and enforcement
- Public records requests
If the problem cannot be solved because the agency is resistant to solving the problem, we will, with the complainant’s written permission, and if appropriate, publicize the issue.
We are also going to work on structural changes in Vermont State government to make it more accountable and transparent.
- We will propose and work to enact an independent Ombudsman program following the USOA guidelines.
- We will propose and work to enact a comprehensive ethics reform, including an independent ethics commission.
- We will work with agencies to help them simplify and clarify their regulations and make them more accessible to the public.