It's often hard to tell from the outside whether government snafus are the result of incompetence or corruption, or some mysterious combination of the two.
So it is for the really lousy job the Department of Corrections did in filling a position at the Little Sandy Correctional Complex in West Liberty.
And that's why the Legislative Ethics Commission should overturn its 1993 ruling allowing members of the General Assembly to recommend candidates for state jobs.
The 35-page document produced by a Personnel Board hearing officer, in which he recommended overturning a questionable hire, contains a mass of contradictory information, confusing directions and decisions and political intrigue.
One thing is clear, though: House Democratic floor leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, wrote a letter to DOC commissioner LaDonna Thompson, and followed up with two telephone calls, on behalf of Charles Pennington, who was ultimately hired for the job despite the recommendations of two hiring panels in favor of another candidate.
Despite four days of hearings involving several witnesses, this tale remains murky.
However, it is clear the hiring process was flawed in many ways, including poor communication, shifting requirements and inadequately documented decisions.
What's not clear is the political factor — the involvement of a powerful legislator. Did the shifting priorities and confusing communications occur to cover up efforts to give the job to a politically favored candidate; were they simply the result of a failed process; or was something else going on?
It's hard to tell but the questions will always arise while those who have control over state budgets dabble in hiring at state agencies.
Adkins protested to reporter John Cheves that ethics opinions sanctioned his actions.
But they shouldn't.
This was a merit system job, as are most in state government. That system was instituted to remove state jobs from political considerations so that people would be hired and promoted based on qualifications and ability, rather than cronyism.
The 1993 opinion reasons that, "In recommending a person for employment, the legislator is engaged in providing information to the agency on a perspective (sic) employee rather than seeking to influence the agency to act contrary to the public interest."
That reasoning is flawed, at best. Hiring agencies have many ways to get whatever information they need to adequately vet applicants without help from members of the General Assembly.
But, more importantly, who is to determine whether an agency executive will be unduly influenced by one of these supposedly benign, information-sharing legislators?
If you anticipate defending your budget request before a panel including that legislator, isn't it possible his applicant might seem just a little bit more qualified?
And who could expect a legislator to turn a deaf ear to a constituent asking for a recommendation? There's always another election around the corner.
The only way to eliminate these questions is to get legislators out of the business of recommending candidates for merit jobs.
The Legislative Ethics Commission should do a service to legislators and taxpayers and prohibit this practice.