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Friday, June 23, 2017

Walters: Donovan Sought Outside Review of AG’s Office

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 6:06 PM

click to enlarge T.J. Donovan - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • T.J. Donovan
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan has requested, and received, a “management review” of his office’s operations. The review was conducted by the National Association of Attorneys General, which offers the reviews as a free service. No taxpayer dollars were spent.

Donovan’s predecessor Bill Sorrell had served nearly two decades as attorney general; Donovan said it made sense to get an outside perspective.

“I figured after close to 20 years, we’d want to kick the tires, look under the hood, see what’s working, what’s not working, what needs to be tuned up, what doesn’t,” he said, calling it “a very useful process.”

Donovan agreed to an interview Thursday after Seven Days learned of the review and approached him with questions about it. As far as the review’s outcome is concerned, it’s unclear how much we will ever learn. A written report would be discoverable under public records law — but no such report has been produced. And Donovan gets uncharacteristically tongue-tied when asked about the review’s findings.

“Umm, I mean, I would say kind of structure is, is, umm, and internal, and internal communications are [clears throat] some issues that, ahh, we need to look at,” he said. “And um, you know, some other issues that, um, you know, are public discourse and it was very helpful to me.”

Glad we cleared that up.

A team of five volunteers led by NAAG chief of staff Al Lama conducted the review. Findings were reported to Donovan in a meeting earlier this month, although there is also a continuing aspect to the process.

“We work with an organization initially and provide follow-up, management training, strategic planning, HR development, performance evaluation,” Lama explained. “We don’t have a hard and fast rule.”

Lama said that participating AG’s can ask for a written report if they wish. “Sometimes there’s no report if that’s requested,” he said.

So, did Donovan specifically request no written reports?

“I don’t know. I’d have to get back to you,” Donovan replied.

If that doesn’t raise questions in your mind, the AG then added this:

“I do know we were concerned about the public records aspect of something that could arguably be focused on certain personnel or certain divisions,” he said. “You understand those concerns.”

I do. There can be legitimate concerns about disclosing issues about specific individuals. But there’s also this, from Lama:

“We can look at everything about organizational structure, staffing — but not personnel.”

Which would seem to greatly diminish, if not entirely dispel, Donovan’s fears about disclosing personnel issues. And his answer appears to indicate that public records disclosure was definitely on his mind when he requested that no written report be produced.

That is, if he did so request. Which is the process, according to Lama: The reviews are tailored, and the results delivered, in whatever way the client wants.

Donovan promised to get back to me on Monday with more information. In the meantime, let’s leave with one more inarticulate paragraph from an at-times uncomfortable interview.

“Let me, let me, let me, let me confirm what we’re gonna get and when we’re gonna get it. Um, let me ask what the practice has been. I will tell you, as you can probably tell, I am concerned about doing, saying anything that, umm, will reflect on any person or department, um, or division, so I want to be careful in my remarks.”

It would seem so.

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About The Author

John Walters

John Walters

John Walters is the political columnist for Seven Days. He is a longtime journalist and spent many years as a news anchor and host for public radio stations in Michigan and New Hampshire. He’s the author of Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives, published by Plaidswede Press.

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