Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dennis Oxley Jr. Finds A Job

COLUMN NOTES: I previously wrote about ex-politician Dennis Oxley when he tried to avoid arrest by claiming legislative immunity. You can read that column here.

HARBESON: Columnist flummoxed by Oxley’s hiring

In some ways, I can understand why Indiana’s Branchville Correctional Facility decided to hire Dennis Oxley, Jr. as a program director. A major part of the job will be helping inmates learn how to behave once released and as an ex-state legislator, he certainly has a lot of experience telling other people how they should live their lives. The problem is that Oxley hasn’t exactly been a shining example of good behavior lately.

If you recall, this longtime politician had his share of legal troubles last year. He was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and later, during a separate incident, he tried to avoid arrest in Indianapolis by claiming immunity because he was a legislator. There was a problem though; he wasn’t a legislator at the time. He lied, hoping to get special treatment.

So I’m having trouble understanding why state government officials think he deserves the job of preparing inmates to return to society. Maybe everyone involved thought it was the best job option since his previous work experience includes years in the government school system and the schools probably couldn’t hire someone with his history.

I also understand that someone with his record might better relate to the prisoners than someone who hasn’t lied in the hope of gaining special favors. But if a troubled past is considered a plus and if our prison system is even mildly effective, then there must be an ex-inmate out there who has turned his life around and serve as a better model. But maybe the government can’t hire someone with a prison record?

If not, then that might help explain why they chose Oxley, but it doesn’t explain how they avoided a hiring freeze. I thought a hiring freeze meant the government actually froze hiring, but I didn’t know about the State Strategic Hiring Committee, which has the power to melt the freeze and hire people anyway.

I have no idea how much extra heat blows when it involves the hiring of an ex-legislator but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an extra surge button for politicians who need jobs.

I had already begun to shiver at the questionable ethics involved in this situation, but after I went to Branchville’s Web site and saw Oxley’s father’s name on the prison’s Citizen Advisory Committee, I just froze in astonishment.

This situation drips with special favors and special treatment, and what’s really sad is that there were a lot of people inside government who just went along with this and did not speak up. How can anyone respect a system that works like this?

Certainly, I sympathize with anyone who seems to be battling drug abuse and maybe Oxley is on a better path now, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers should ever have to put this guy back on the payroll.

Was there no one who could see how this might look to average Indiana residents who do their best to live decent lives? Could no one predict how this might make the disadvantaged and unconnected feel? What should people think who get up every day and work hard to support their families when they see the government siphoning their earnings to pay this man’s $52,000 salary?

I can’t speak for others, but if I had a choice, I would never help pay this man’s salary. There are way too many decent people in the world I’d rather voluntarily associate and trade with; people who quietly live their lives as they see fit, who do no harm to others, and who do not even think of using government to gain special treatment.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson gets heated when questionable government action leaves her feeling cold. Let’s hope she never finds a surge button.

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