In a signal of bad-old-boy opacity, Governor-Elect Kristi Noem yesterday named railroad exec and longtime South Dakota Republican Party establishment figure Herb Jones to be her chief of staff.
As director of state and local government affairs for Canadian Pacific Railroad, Jones was called to address concerns in Milwaukee that arose in 2015 from the increasing number of oil tankers CP was running through Wisconsin from the Bakken oil fields. In April of that year, he assured city councilors that “It simply would not serve our purposes in this day and age to behave in a unsafe way. It is in our interest to be safe.” But when a downtown Milwaukee rail bridge was found to be rusting through, Jones made specious arguments for keeping CP’s bridge inspection documents secret:
“What is the reluctance for the CP and other railroads for wanting those inspection reports to be made more public?” [council president Michael] Murphy said.
“These are technical reports written by engineering professionals. They aren’t written as public documents any more than I would say if your doctor conducts a physical he’s putting together a report for those purposes, not for public consumption,” Herb Jones with Canadian Pacific said [Brad Hicks, “Railroad Secrets: FRA Implores Transparency from Canadian Pacific on Bridge, But Is That Happening?” Fox 6 TV Milwauakee, 2015.10.29].
Alderman Nik Kovac literally laughed at that corporate hogwash:
“I think that was quite an answer. The reason medical records are kept private is not because we’re worried the public doesn’t have a medical degree. It’s because of the privacy of the patient. Saying the public may not understand what an engineer wrote — of course the public may not understand what an engineer wrote — but that’s not a reason to not let the public read the document. It’s not even close to a reason. Some members of the public are engineers and they are smart enough to figure this out. I was just floored by that answer,” Alderman Nik Kovac said [Hicks, 2015.10.29].
CP eventually provided its inspection reports in a closed meeting with the city engineer’s office, but CP’s rusty bridge and Jones’s wobbly non-responses prompted Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin to put stronger rail safety and transparency rules in the transportation bill that President Barack Obama signed in December 2015. However, a year later, railroad companies were still keeping safety info secret and expecting us to trust them.
We’ll see how much if at all Jones adjusts his preference for patronizing secrecy to transparency and public service now that he’s back on the public payroll.