FSSA secretary gets green light to take new job

Indiana's human services chief can take a private-sector job helping a hospital network cope with the federal health care overhaul she opposed as a public official, the state ethics commission said Thursday.

By a 3-0 vote, the commission said the Family and Social Services Administration secretary Anne Murphy was free to take a position as Community Health Network's vice president of government relations, a job her attorney said wouldn't involve any lobbying. That means a statutory one-year waiting period won't apply.

Murphy asked the commission for a formal opinion on Oct. 4, one day before Gov. Mitch Daniels fired the head of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission over an ethics flap. She didn't say directly whether the controversy over an IURC attorney taking a job with a utility on which he had conducted hearings had any bearing on her request.

"I think everyone heard the governor's message last week that as state employees we have a responsibility to be ethical," she said in a statement after the meeting. "That's why I sought today's formal opinion from the ethics commission before accepting any job offer."

The governor's spokeswoman said Murphy had told Daniels she was looking for a job and had done the right thing by seeking the ethics commission's advice.

"She's done everything by the book," said Jane Jankowski. "She's being responsible."

Democratic House Speaker Pat Bauer said Daniels should "step in and stop this," saying the state can't afford even the appearance of impropriety in the wake of the IURC scandal. He said legislation to restructure the state ethics commission was likely during the next session.

"It just seems everything's a wink and a nod," said Bauer. "They might use legalese to try to escape the one-year waiting period, but it certainly is in the coals of the fire if not in the burning of the fire."

"One would naturally be curious as to whether this is deja vu all over with the IURC," said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who chairs the House Public Health Committee. He noted that Murphy helped craft the state's reaction to the federal health care overhaul and now could be going to a private employer with a clear interest in it.

Murphy said in official documents late last year and earlier this year that she was "gravely concerned" about aspects of the health care overhaul, including forecasts that it could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's Medicaid costs.

Murphy said Thursday that her proposed job at Indianapolis-based Community would focus on helping the not-for-profit company navigate new regulations expected as part of the health care overhaul.

"She already had expressed harsh views on federal legislation which is now the law, which causes all sorts of complications," Bauer said.

Murphy's attorney, Adam Arceneaux, said the new job wouldn't involve any lobbying. Community Health Network spokeswoman Lynda DeWidt confirmed the job offer and said it didn't involve a lobbying position, and Murphy's letter to the ethics panel said Community already has a lobbyist.

A copy of the Community offer, however, referred only to a restriction on lobbying the state executive branch.

Murphy, who has headed FSSA since January 2009, said her first contact with Community regarding a possible job came in June of this year and she had "walled myself off" from subsequent official dealings with the company, including a Medicaid appeal. Before that, she said her only direct dealings with Community at FSSA were meetings to discuss legislation, similar to meetings held with other health care providers. Arceneaux said those would not bar her from taking the hospital post under state ethics law.

Murphy said she thought the agency had made enough progress meeting various challenges — including trying to meet rising need with tighter budgets and changes in the way individuals apply for food stamps and other aid — that she felt comfortable leaving FSSA.

Brown said Murphy had been "a breath of fresh air" at FSSA.

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