Letters

Mark Jurkowitz did a fine job telling a rather complex story in “Gale force” (Spring 2003). However, I am compelled to add clarity to three points: 1) the Cape Cod Times‘ ability to separate news and opinion, 2) our motivation for opposing the Cape Wind proposal, and 3) why we voiced our opposition early in the process.

Jurkowitz offers a fair amount of commentary on whether or not the Cape Cod Times successfully separates daily news coverage from editorial opinion on the Cape Wind offshore wind farm proposal. Based on quotes in the story, I am pleased to read that people believe opinion has not influenced news coverage. A key reason for this is that separation between news and opinion is greater than was characterized by Jurkowitz. The Times‘ editorial voice is a product of the editorial board, which consists of the editor, managing editor, editorial page editor, assistant editorial page editor, and publisher. Jurkowitz correctly asserts that editor Cliff Schechtman sits on the board and that the editorial page editor reports to him, but neglects to point out that the publisher guides the newspaper’s editorial position, as is the case with all newspapers I am aware of, particularly when it comes to controversial issues or when board opinion is divided.

Jurkowitz questioned the Times‘ motivation for its opposition and characterized it as purely aesthetic. Aesthetics are an important consideration, but our position is based on a multitude of factors. After an initial meeting with Cape Wind, it became clear that the project’s benefit of generating less than 1 percent of the power needed for the New England power grid was not an equitable trade-off for industrializing Nantucket Sound. This project is not the solution to global warming and will not reduce foreign oil consumption. (We must look to the transportation industry to significantly impact these foes, but that is another story.) Industrializing Nantucket Sound without producing significant benefits is a dubious proposition. These failings, compounded by the absence of adequate siting regulations for offshore wind generation and using public land for private enrichment, are reason enough for staunch opposition.

We chose to oppose the Cape Wind project early on because the cost/benefit equation was unfavorable from the start. Besides, had we waited until all studies were complete, permitting could have followed shortly afterwards, leaving insufficient time for debate.

In a nutshell, Cape Cod, the islands, and surrounding waters are jewels of the Northeast, and the local daily newspaper must vigilantly protect them. Readers can expect “another in a series of occasional editorials on offshore wind farms” soon.

Peter Meyer
President and publisher
Cape Cod Times
Hyannis

Settling accounts with Preston on human service providers

The Spring edition of CommonWealth reported the remarks made by Ronald Preston, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, at the Commonwealth Forum “Innovation and Economy: The Role of the Nonprofit Sector in Tight Fiscal Times.” I find that they reflect curious views about the nonprofit human service sector that provides the majority of services to one out of six Massachusetts citizens needing an “essential” service.

Preston suggested that nonprofit human service providers, contracted by his secretariat to deliver services to the state’s most vulnerable citizens, believe that they are on a “mission from God.” Providers grimace when we hear the expression “you are doing God’s work” from state budget managers, for we know that it is a precursor to another fiscal affront to the clients, the staff, and our organizations, which are responsible for delivering quality care. Providers interpret that expression as the state’s way to “soften the blow” of budget cuts that force clients, staff members, and providers to “do more with less.”

Nonprofit managers take their work exceedingly seriously. They are responsible for protecting vulnerable and fragile human beings–those who are homeless, individuals with physical or mental disabilities, children at risk of abuse or neglect, people with a major illness, and people in need of protection from battering or hunger. That does not give these managers any deistic delusions about what it takes to meet that challenge. It is vital to their mission and to the provision of quality services to operate as businesses.

This leads directly to my next point. Preston went on to say that nonprofit providers “don’t keep their books very well…and need to start getting responsible in terms of business.” I would counter that the state system for purchasing human services uses its monopoly powers to make it very difficult for providers to operate like businesses.

Providers are audited annually by independent certified public accountants under strict government auditing standards to meet all Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. In addition, providers are subject to an extensive and expensive restatement of their audits that, quite honestly, gives the state more business information than it can possibly process. In fact, these nonprofits are required to provide a level of detail that far exceeds the requirements for the for-profit sector. If the information we send were used, it would be manifest in a fair price for services. But the state has virtually destroyed the pricing mechanism that would allow for fair and adequate rates in the contract negotiation process. Furthermore, the state reserves the right to alter contracts unilaterally if it wishes to add expenses to any contract. Both state practices, I would conclude, are extremely un-businesslike and work to the detriment of the good work providers are attempting to perform. The secretary should confer with the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants’ nonprofit division to help correct his misperceptions.

I cannot overlook one more fact that illustrates the operational efficiency of our sector. By the latest calculation of the state’s Executive Office for Administration and Finance, human service providers conduct their business using less than eight cents of every dollar on administrative overhead. This is a remarkable achievement and demonstrates the excellent managerial skills and responsible accounting processes.

Reducing complex issues to glib remarks creates stereotypes and unfortunate prejudices. This only serves to diminish the good work that can be done by virtue of the generosity of the taxpayers of Massachusetts. We would be pleased to work with the secretary and anyone in this administration to provide credible information on our nonprofit business as we seek to provide the best services to the people in the Commonwealth.

Michael D. Weekes
President
Massachusetts Council of
Human Service Providers
Boston