In June of last year, I was contacted by someone who works for the state government who told me a few things about Richard Baird, the man who shared office space and a phone number with Gov. Rick Snyder but, at the time, was paid off the books by the so-called NERD fund which was funded by secret financial contributors. They described a man who used subtle threats the bully state employees into cooperating and being Rick Snyder’s version of a “team player”.
Here’s what they told me:
I talked recently to a state government employee who has seen Baird in action. They have asked to remain anonymous for reasons that will become quite clear. They told me of a man whose first order of business was to make sure state employees were aware of what Governor Snyder’s definition of “team” is. Under that definition, being part of the team means that you do what you are told by the governor and his inner circle of advisers, even if it means breaking the rules.
Soon after being hired by Rick Snyder, Baird made the rounds of all of the state government departments, they told me. “Rich Baird was sent to all State of Michigan departments and offices to present at full staff meetings – mandatory attendance, of course – during the first months of the governor’s takeover. He was given two hours to speak to each staff group about ‘the importance of teamwork.’ What he really did was regale us with sugary stories of his past working relationship with Snyder – at several corporations, reporting alternately to each other, ‘convincing’ workers about the importance of teamwork.”
Baird’s “convincing” took the form of cautionary tales about those who had not toed the line in accordance with the governor’s wishes. One government employee was interviewed by a high school student at her son’s school and asked about her opinion of the governor’s education plan. It was not favorable and, after it was published, she was called in for “a chat” with the governor about the importance of teamwork. Although she kept her job, the implication was clear: do not talk negatively about the governor and his administration or your job is in jeopardy.
Another story Baird told was about a time soon after he was hired when he came to work early and had forgotten his state government ID card. A security guard refused him entrance — standard policy for the Capitol Building — and told Baird he would have to wait until someone came in who was authorized to escort him to his office. Baird asked to use the restroom and was allowed to do so with the requirement that he report back to the security area after he finished. Instead, Baird convinced a custodian cleaning the restroom to take him to his office, a clear security violation. However, Baird concluded his story by commending the custodian for her “customer service” and revealed that the security guard who had followed the security procedures was brought before the governor to be scolded despite having followed the security procedures.
“Following Baird’s ‘stories’,” they told me, “The entire staff were completely silent. Not one of us missed the threats and intimidation the he presented to us.”
This meeting was repeated throughout the many state government departments, they said. “He gave basically the same presentation to all state departments. I have heard it from colleagues and friends in quite a few of them. With different twists on the specifics of the stories to make them more threatening, and personal, of course.”
Now, facing criticism from a variety of fronts for receiving tax breaks on residences in two states, Baird has become a bully again. This time, it’s against Michigan AFL-CIO president Karla Swift and Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer.
Here’s the bullying voicemail Baird left for Karla Swift:
Baird also reached out to Sen. Whitmer but did it through an email that he asked Senate Republican Leader Randy Richardville to forward to her because, despite his government position, he apparently couldn’t find Whitmer’s quite public email address. Here are the bullying emails:
After receiving the email, Sen. Whitmer sent out this public response:
Last week, I spoke out about the latest scandal involving Governor Snyder’s right-hand-man, Rich Baird. In response, Mr. Baird has threatened to sue me, using childish, inappropriate behavior — on the taxpayer’s dime no less — in an attempt to silence me.
I don’t take kindly to threats and I don’t back down from bullies. Mr. Baird has been embroiled in scandal after scandal within the Governor’s administration, from creating the secretive “Skunkworks” plan to destroy public education, to helping the Governor’s cousin secure a larger contract with the state, to this latest issue of his own apparently improper voter registration filings and tax credits.
For Baird to now suggest that anyone, including myself, criticizing his behavior is inappropriate, let alone actionable, would be laughable if he weren’t apparently serious.
If he truly believes he shouldn’t be held accountable to the public, then he has no business working in a public office. Plain and simple. And for the Governor to continue to employ him in such a position in spite of all of that makes him culpable too.
I’ve spent 14 years in the Capitol demanding greater accountability from our Government, and you can bet I’m not going to stop now.
I look forward to robust discovery on all of these issues.
It’s worth noting that scores of people have publicly criticized Baird. However, Baird chose only to push back in this way against two of them, both women. That led to this tweet from Rep. Brandon Dillon:
— Brandon Dillon (@BrandonDillon75) September 3, 2014
Richard Baird has spent his time in Michigan government in the shadows, working behind the scenes and participating in some of the worst scandals of the Snyder administration. In addition to his involvement in the Skunkworks project to bring vouchers to Michigan public schools and helping Rick Snyder’s cousin get sweetheart deals from the state government, Baird was also responsible for bringing in Kevyn Orr as Detroit’s Emergency Manager, well ahead of the time Detroit was even found to be in a financial emergency through the process outlined by our laws. When a lawsuit was filed, the judge in the case ordered Baird to produce the names of the people he had interviewed for the job and Baird claimed that Gov. Snyder had conferred “executive privilege” on him and cited Richard Nixon. That caused this hilarious response from Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette:
“There’s not one (state) case anywhere that says the governor has an executive privilege,” the judge said.
Peter Ellsworth, a private attorney representing Baird, cited two federal cases involving executive privilege: the 1807 treason trial of Aaron Burr and former President Richard Nixon’s attempt to keep records related to Watergate scandal under wraps.
“No one in their right mind in the last few years has ever cited Richard Nixon for anything,” Collette said, later adding: “Nixon doesn’t stand for anything other than someone attempting to hide a crime.”
Richard Baird also sits on the three-person board of the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation. It’s through this foundation that donations from The Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Skillman Foundation, and others, flow to Gov. Snyder’s failed education experiment on Detroit children — the Education Achievement Authority.
So, while Richard Baird may think he’s above it all and not willing to “get down into the mud” with his detractors, the fact is that he is already in the mud up to his neck and he has his fingerprints all over the many scandals that have come out of the Snyder administration over the past several years. He may try to bully the women who call him out on his questionable behavior but, make no mistake, Karla Swift and Gretchen Whitmer are tough as nails, well-supported by their colleagues, and will not back down from doing what is right for our state, no matter how much Richard Baird attempts to intimidate them.