Herald-Leader Editorial

Beshear's odd ombudsman hire; Politico has big challenges ahead

August 15, 2013 

It is certainly possible that Tim Havrilek has the skills to do the job that he was appointed to in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

But without question Havrilek's longtime activity in Democratic Party politics in Kentucky helped him get the position as a policy adviser in the cabinet's Office of the Ombudsman.

Havrilek's job, he said, involves responding to public complaints about assistance programs, including food stamps and Medicaid.

Previously, he worked for Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Barlow in the early 1990s, ran a political blog, was a media consultant to Democratic campaigns and worked part-time for the House Democratic majority leadership office in the last two legislative sessions.

Havrilek was hired by and serves at the pleasure of Gov. Steve Beshear. The $55,000-a-year position is a non-merit job, meaning hiring doesn't involve the same kind of advertising, statement of qualifications and review that are required in the merit system hiring process.

Despite its political overtones, there are no rules or laws broken here.

The appointment, though, leaves an uneasy sense of a trust broken, or at least disregarded. The cabinet this year has enacted some drastic cuts to make up for an $86.6 million hit to its budget. They include cutting back on child care assistance subsidies for working parents and assistance to relatives who take custody of abused and neglected children.

Havrilek told reporter John Cheves that he'd gotten married last summer and his wife wanted him to get a "real job, something a little more steady."

It's wonderful the governor could help stabilize the family's finances, but that hardly seems like a better use of public funds than supporting impoverished working parents or families who take in children in crisis.

It's also cause for concern that someone with no apparent background in health-care delivery or Medicaid is coming into this job at a critical moment.

The cabinet is charged with expanding free health care to another 300,000 Kentuckians under the Affordable Care Act, and certainly the ombudsman's office has an important role in seeing the cabinet meets that challenge.

The ombudsman's office sets out the goal of being "a proactive, data-driven agency whose contributions to the cabinet will be essential to overall quality improvement."

Again, we have to wonder if the governor's office was looking for the best person to help the ombudsman and the cabinet carry out the important work of improving health care access for poor Kentuckians.

We hope our concerns prove unfounded.

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