Share this article

print logo

Head of agency for disabled avoids issue of muzzling whistle-blower

The head of the state agency that cares for developmentally disabled people Monday declined to say who in government sought to block a whistle-blower's appearance before a State Senate oversight committee examining abuses at her agency.

After brief remarks at the committee meeting, Courtney Burke, commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, took a few questions from reporters.

"I think it was just a simple misunderstanding," Burke said when asked about a report in the New York Times on Monday that the Cuomo administration sought to have Jeffrey Monsour, a state worker with her agency, not testify at the committee meeting.

Burke only stayed for opening remarks of the afternoon panel meeting headed by State Sen. Roy McDonald, an Albany-area Republican. Afterward with reporters, Burke punted on specifics, and she and an aide stuck to a tight script.

Did she or anyone in her office or the Governor's Office suggest that Monsour, an employee with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, not testify?

"Like I said, there was a breakdown in communications. I don't know exactly what the correspondence was," she said.

Asked again, she repeated herself, then added before walking away, "I think we're going to get going."

Did Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ask that he not testify?

"I don't know who," she said.

If it wasn't Burke, then it must have been the governor?

"I don't believe so," she said.

Noting that she was not denying the effort to quash the appearance of a whistle-blower, she said, "I think it was a simple misunderstanding."

When she was asked what the understanding should have been, Travis Proulx, her spokesman, stepped in: "Guys, she's answered this question."

Proulx was quoted in the Times dismissing the Senate hearing as a "public relations effort to feed sensationalized press coverage of this issue."

The Times, in a more than yearlong investigation, found widespread abuse of developmentally disabled individuals in the sprawling state system. Last week, it was announced the series had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Asked if the coverage has been sensationalized, Burke said: "I think it's a very serious issue, and it's one that I think is important."

Asked again, she said: "Sensationalized? I don't think that anyone in that [Senate committee] room has done that. I don't mean to be critical of the press, but sometimes when things are in the press, they consider it to be sensationalized."