Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has backed up and apologized to the recently resigned/fired USDA Georgia Rural Development Director Shirley Sherrod.
And he’s offered her a new job, in his words “a unique opportunity” — the outlines of which have not yet been made public.
It would not be unreasonable to think that the job he has offered involves serving as a sort of USDA “Special Envoy” — bridging misunderstandings, class differences, or race differences — a sort of ombudsperson fixer — among the USDA’s constituents and within the Department.
If I was in the pickle that Vilsack was in, given that he probably still entertains visions of future political advancement, then I’d offer her some plum-sounding perch.
But note to Shirley Sherrod: KICK THE TIRES of the offer.
Call up any of the Special Envoys at the Department of State — Farah Pandith who is a star performer for Hillary Clinton as the Secretary’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities comes to mind — and ask if they have a “budget” of their own. Almost uniformly, the nearly two dozen or so special envoys with unique tasks don’t have funds to do anything with. They have jobs, and they have some staff — but they have zero funds of their own to go out and seed programs. They must beg, borrow and steal from other parts of government for their budgets.
So any time one sees “unique opportunity” as a qualifier before a government job — particularly when it is being offered to give the perpetrator of a wrong, in this case Secretary Vilsack, a way out of political hell — then demand “your own budget.”
Otherwise, the exploitation that began with Shirley Sherrod’s inappropriate firing will continue with Shirley Sherrod being hired back — all to the benefit of risk-averse and opportunistic pols.
Here is Vilsack’s statement and apology:
“Today, I reached out to Shirley Sherrod to apologize. I also told her I was sorry for the pain this caused her and her family and friends.
“I reacted too quickly. I should have taken the time to listen and learn.
“While I cannot change what happened, I can try to make something out of this difficult incident.
“As we know, Shirley has a unique and compelling story to tell. She and her family endured discrimination and overcame adversity. Fighting to advance justice and equality, she has helped farmers who were struggling to keep their land, fought for women in need of social and economic justice, and African-American men and women who faced discrimination. As USDA’s Georgia State Rural Development Director, she worked to promote economic opportunity for all people by enabling job creation and business growth. And Shirley has shown tremendous character through the events of the last few days.
“Shirley and I talked about a unique opportunity at USDA. With all that she has seen, endured and accomplished, it would be invaluable to have her experience, commitment and record of service at USDA. I hope she considers staying with the department.
“I did not handle this situation well. I will continue to review the circumstances that brought us to this day and I am committed to making sure it does not happen again.
“As part of this effort, I also want to renew my firm commitment to put behind all of us the USDA’s past record on civil rights. While we have made some progress over the last 18 months, more work is needed.”
— Steve Clemons