I want to write about John Auerbach, Massachusetts' Commissioner of Public Health who announced his resignation this week in response to the scandal over evidence contamination as the State Crime Lab.
John has been a friend and a colleague of mine since the late 1980s. When I was in the Massachusetts Legislature, I worked with him when he ran the AIDS Bureau in the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH), during his tenure as the first executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, and as DPH Commissioner since 2007.
The Crime Lab scandal, precipitated by an employee who allegedly distorted evidence that resulted in false convictions, is a serious and terrible tragedy, one that appears to have caused harm and injustice to innocent persons -- no one knows how many at this point. Gov. Deval Patrick is right to insist that someone has to claim responsibility for this, and John is the logical person, rather than any of his subordinates.
There is no need to worry about John and his future. He will lead a fine Urban Public Health Program at Northeastern University that will be the big winner from this tragic series of events. John will do just great. He has many years of important contributions to make.
Of the many, many public officials I have know and worked with over three decades, John is easily among the top five in integrity, honesty, skill, effectiveness, and determination. Many government jobs are tough, and the public health commissioner's job is especially so.
Also, DPH has been among the hardest hit agencies in the state by budget cuts over the past five years -- from $626 million in fiscal year 2007 to $523 million in FY 2013. Most of the cuts involve programs and offices far removed from any public notice or spotlight, until something happens. Yes, John Auerbach has responsibility for the dysfunction as the State Lab -- and so do the men and women who have responsibility for the funding of essential state services.
I hope state government officials don't assume the problem is taken care of with John Auerbach's departure. It's not.
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