WCAX just ran a story saying that they have learned that Vermont' Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin will appoint Neale Lunderville to head up Vermont's recovery from Irene. Neale previously served as both Transportation Secretary and Administration Secretary under Republican Governor Jim Douglas and headed up Douglas' first gubernatorial campaign. Assuming the WCAX story is correct (and they sound very confident of their sources), this is great news for Vermont. I know Neale well from when I served as Stimulus Czar and State Chief Technology Officer, both of which positions reported to him. There is nobody, absolutely nobody, better to do this job.
Neale will help assure that rebuilt Vermont is better than what we had before Irene; he'll think of long term consequences while dealing with the dreadful urgency of lives and institutions which need to be put back together quickly. He'll stay calm while working nearly around the clock (getting a few hours sleep on an office floor or couch rather than wasting time driving home is nothing new for Neale). Neale has excellent judgment and leadership skills. It's obvious from this appointment that he's respected by leaders of both political parties even though he was the Douglas Administration point in many tussles with the Legislature.
Obviously having been both Transportation Secretary and Administration Secretary is perfect experience. Much, but not all, of our rebuilding from Irene has to do with transportation infrastructure; another large segment has to do with getting state government itself back in business after the devastation of offices and computing equipment in the Waterbury flooding – the Agency of Administration is responsible for the functioning of state government and for some (unfortunately not all) of the state's information technology; Human Services has, at least until now, maintained its own computing capability and computers.
Legislators from both parties respect and trust Neale. He deserves much of the credit for the relatively smooth passage of Governor Douglas' last budget and many of the positive ways which the state dealt with declining revenues. Neale already has a good working relationship with many Shumlin administration leaders including now Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding (State Treasurer during the Douglas years), Special Assistant Susan Bartlett (formerly Chair of Senate Appropriations), Commissioner of Buildings and General Services Michael Obuchowski (formerly a very influential leader in the Vermont House), and Secretary of Human Services Doug Racine (formerly Chair of Senate Health and Welfare). Neale and Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon were a very effective team during the Douglas years and they'll have a chance to work together again.
Sadly, some of the first comments I've heard on the appointment story have been negative for partisan reasons. "Shumlin should never have appointed someone who'll probably run for Governor someday as a Republican." "Neale shouldn't help Shumlin look good." Fortunately both Shumlin and Lunderville are doing what's best for the state and leaving partisanship aside for another day. We all have a stake in Vermont's success – doesn't matter who gets the credit for it.
A question I’ve heard is “why do we need another bureaucrat to coordinate all the other bureaucrats?” From my stimulus experience, I know that we do. State and Federal Government both operate in silos of (un)responsibility. In a crisis those silo walls need to be broken down, rules need to be changed fast, turf-fighting eliminated, cooperation made mandatory. In the short term, according to my wife Mary who’s representing the Red Cross in the State Emergency Operations Center, needed coordination, cooperation, and imagination is happening. But, when people go back to their day jobs, the tendency will be to step back into the comfortable silos. I’m sure part of Neale’s new job will be taming both federal and state organizations to assure that we do the right thing regardless of whose toes get stepped on or the way we’ve always done things before. There will be opportunities to rebuild transportation, communication, energy, and housing infrastructure in synergistic ways so that the new whole is better than the old parts. It takes a czar with the confidence of the Governor and the Legislature and State workers to make that coordination happen.
I sure hope the WCAX story is right. It's very good news for Vermont; couldn't come at a better time.