Independence Day—Not

By Anne C. Woodlen

I am a fourteenth generation American. My people are not Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers—and we did not send our husbands and sons off to die for what this government has become. Every year for hundreds of years, we have celebrated our family reunion by gathering on the farm on the Sunday before the Fourth of July. Family and Country were one. We gathered again this year—for family, not country.

I needed to file a complaint against the Onondaga County Dept. of Social Services for incompetence and corruption in the provision of Medicaid transportation. It was a long, hard journey to find any government office that would provide over site for a county government gone awry, but I finally succeeded. I usually do.

The relevant agency turned out to be the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG), however, the Inspector General’s Office doesn’t take complaints from citizens. When the state was pushing to get legislation passed to create the Office of the Inspector General, the only way they could get the support of the county District Attorney’s Offices was on the guaranteed that citizens couldn’t go around the D.A.’s and get to the state.

The deal that was struck was that the Inspector General (IG) could only inspect based on an agency complaint, e.g., the IG can inspect if a school district calls to say they think the accountant is cooking the books. I went to a state senator’s office and discovered that apparently a senator is as good as an agency: he got my complaint lodged in OMIG.

In February 2007, OMIG started to investigate my complaint. In November, they finished investigating. It is now July 2008, and OMIG has not taken any action that has rectified the substandard Medicaid transportation in Onondaga County.

Not only has there been no action outcome, but also OMIG will not reply to any queries. They told the senator’s office that they would reply to me, the citizen-complainant, by June 10. They didn’t do it. Neither the Inspector General nor the First Deputy nor even the secretary will return my calls—and they won’t return calls to the senator’s office, either. The senator’s chief of staff has made multiple calls to OMIG, and he gets no reply. The executive branch is unresponsive to the legislative branch.

So if the government isn’t working, where do you turn? You turn to the free press. It is, after all, our guarantee of freedom of the press that protects all our other guarantees, isn’t it? The Syracuse Post-Standard has also tried to get information from the Office of the Inspector General. What they have gotten is nothing. OMIG refuses to talk to the people about the people’s business.

OMIG was created late in Governor Pataki’s administration, and it was placed in the NYS Dept. of Health. About a year ago, it was taken out of the DOH and redirected: OMIG now reports directly to the Office of the Governor.

Under Gov. Pataki, the Governor’s Office took phone calls directly from citizens. The call-takers did little more than frustrate the caller, but still—there was hope. You might actually get connected with someone who would do something about your problem.

Now, the Governor’s Office no longer takes calls. The phone is answered by a taped message that says you must put it in writing, then land-mail, fax or email your message. I have written to the Governor’s Office twice. There has been no reply.

The Office of the Medicaid Inspector General has awesome powers to invade the privacy of citizens. I sat in my bed in East Syracuse and listened on the phone to an investigator in Albany tell me, “You went to Dr. Smith on Wednesday morning, and then you saw your therapist on Thursday—no, Friday afternoon.” Be afraid, America; be very afraid.

The people who are employed in government service no longer see themselves as The People; they have become The Government, and they are no longer accountable to anybody for anything.

This morning I called the senator’s office and learned that he and his chief of staff are both on vacation this week—they are celebrating Independence Day. I am now waiting for a return phone call from the New York State, Dept. of State, Commission on Open Government, assistant director.

Seventy thousand citizens in Onondaga County are at risk from substandard Medicaid transportation and no government agency will do anything about it.

In the 1770’s, my great . . . grandmother stood on the farm porch with her youngest children gathered around her as she watched her husband and two teenage sons walk down the lane toward the Revolutionary War. Her sons came home; her husband didn’t.

We did not die for this government to be created. The government we died for does not exist.

Back to the MarkBlum Report

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