Nondisclosure agreements may be a common arrangement in the private sector. The boss wants somebody to go away, for whatever reason, and that somebody accepts a tidy package in return for never speaking, ill or otherwise, about the boss, the company and the circumstances of the departure.
Such deals emit a bit of an odor, but not enough to inspire public disgust. But when public agencies start to, in essence, purchase the silence of departed employees, the practice begins to take on the qualities of the Gowanus Canal in mid-August: Murky and stinky.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that at least 19 former employees of the state’s Power Authority signed nondisclosure agreements in order to remain eligible for severance packages or lump-sum payouts. According to The Times, the Power Authority has been including nondisclosure agreements in severance packages for at least a decade. Who’s paying for these packages? Taxpayers. Some of these settlements were as high as $286,000 in public money.
While the agreements have been in place for some time, they have become even more insidious in recent years. It seems a number of Power Authority employees quit after running afoul of the Power Authority’s inspector general, Daniel Wiese, who served in that position from 2003 until last month. Before moving to the Power Authority, Mr. Wiese was a colonel in the State Police, and he continued to advise the police while serving with the Authority.
The State Police, of course, have captured the attention of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo because of accusations that troopers actively participated in political shenanigans in recent years. Mr. Wiese, described in The Times as a “close friend and ally” of former Governors George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer, has denied that he and the State Police have done anything improper.
Former employees at the Power Authority, however, charge that Mr. Wiese used heavy-handed tactics against them after they clashed with him. The wife of a former employee, for example, said that in an effort to get rid of her husband, Mr. Wiese opened an investigation of his conduct and sent a State Police car to their home when he called in sick.
So it would seem Mr. Cuomo will continue to be a busy man this summer. The case against the Power Authority is disturbing, and only adds to the impression that Albany in recent years has become a political snake pit.
Nondisclosure agreements have no place in the public sector. They reek of dollar-enforced coverups—why, for example, was the Power Authority so intent on silencing its former employees? Mr. Cuomo’s investigation ought to consider not only the charges of political hanky-panky in state agencies, but also the very existence of nondisclosure agreements in public agencies like the Power Authority and one of Mr. Cuomo’s favorite targets, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Mr. Cuomo has yet another opportunity to prove that he may be the man after all to clean up Albany.