Recent prison, HHS reports could taint governor’s legacy
By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican
When I look back on the 10-year tenure of Dave Heineman as Nebraska’s governor, I feel that he helped move Nebraska forward in many ways.
Just recently, Nebraska has been recognized as one of the country’s best managed states and Gov. Heineman gets a great deal of credit for that. In the midst of nationwide unemployment, Nebraska had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Over his tenure, Heineman was forced to make some tough decisions to keep Nebraska’s budget balanced. He was all about cutting government spending, and getting money back to taxpayers or keeping it in the taxpayers hands in the first place—almost to a fault.
Under his administration, the Health and Human Services Department completely overhauled the method in which it delivered services to those in need.
The department reduced staffing at social service offices around the state, opting instead for a central call center to deal with clients.
This move was intended to save money and improve the delivery of services. Social services employees who were reassigned, laid off or quit accurately predicted the new system was doomed to fail.
Social services clients were expected to work with call center employees and use their computer to get the needed services. Ironically, many of these clients probably didn’t even own a computer.
This week, a legislative committee released a report on the abysmal performance of the call centers, known as ACCESSNebraska.
Instead of improving delivery of services and saving the state money, the system did exactly the opposite. The report says the new system has been underfunded from the start and “is largely a failure.”
This report comes on the heels of another legislative study on the state’s prison system. Constant overcrowding conditions in Nebraska’s prisons led to a somewhat clandestine effort to release prisoners early to make room for new ones.
Among those released was Nikko Jenkins, who went on a killing spree in Omaha not long after his release. It was an investigation by the Omaha World-Herald that uncovered the early release program.
I believe Heineman has been a good governor of our state and as a whole, we are better off 10 years down the road. Unfortunately, the release of these reports tends to overshadow the accomplishments he made during his tenure as governor.
Despite Heineman’s response that the prison report was more about scoring political points than finding solutions, these events still occurred under his watch.
With these reports being released so close to the end of his tenure, regardless if it was political move, it’s a lot easier for people to remember these things versus what he’s been able to accomplish as governor and could well taint his legacy.