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John Baer: Eli & the SWAT team

I THINK Tom Corbett's most newsworthy Cabinet member - that would be Health Secretary Eli Avila - might be on to something.

I THINK Tom Corbett's most

newsworthy Cabinet member - that would be Health Secretary Eli Avila - might be on to something.

Perhaps you saw the Inquirer story about Avila ordering nine blue SWAT team-type jackets for himself and senior staff with DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH on the front and back, and - for himself - a badge with SECRETARY OF HEALTH curled around the state seal.

(And by "state seal" I don't mean a clapping, beach ball-balancing seal; I mean the official commonwealth seal: sailing ship, plow, three sheaves of wheat.)

Anyway, Avila must be expecting some bad health-related things, since the excuse for ordering the jackets is to better respond to "emergencies."

I, of course, immediately became concerned and went to the department's website to see what emergencies the department deals with:

"Department of Health Confirms Rabid Kitten Found in Williamsport."

I am not making this up. That's the most recent news release, dated June 29.

The kitten was black and orange and found abandoned.

You can almost hear the klaxon sound amid shouts of "Don your jackets, men!"

And lest you think this is a one-time CATastrophe (sorry), the department found another rabid cat, a black and white one, in Lawrence County, back in May.

But, hey, maybe our state officials' authority could use a little sprucing up.

(The Inky says Corbett's office nixed Avila's badge, which makes me kinda sad. He obviously really wanted it. Paid for it himself. YOU paid for the jackets: $553.82)

I mean, IF Avila had been wearing his jacket and carrying his badge when he had a run-in with a Harrisburg restaurateur earlier this year over the quality of an egg sandwich, maybe he wouldn't have stormed out saying, "Do you know who I am? I'm the secretary of health!"

The jacket and badge would have shown he's a VIP, not some schlub expected to eat allegedly inferior eggs.

And maybe Avila wouldn't have called down health inspectors on the place - Roxy's Cafe across from the Capitol - to avenge the alleged culinary crime.

(Roxy's, by the way, is a great little place, and inspectors found no violations.)

Same goes for the flap over an operating bloodmobile partially parked in Avila's spot outside the state Health and Welfare Building in May; an Avila aide, according to a complaint obtained by the Inky, "was rather unpleasant" in getting the bloodmobile to move. Guess they didn't know who he is, either.

Maybe some lights, insignia and sirens on the secretary's vehicle could help avoid such inconveniences in the future.

Come to think of it, we have lots of state officials for whom a more aggressive presence might be in order.

Take the attorney general

and auditor general. They're

GENERALS. Shouldn't they have outward signs of office? A uniform? Military caps, maybe with a star for each year served?

There's also an inspector

general. A twofer! Both an inspector AND a general. Surely worth a jacket showing general's stars and maybe a magnifying glass.

And, finally, there's the lieutenant governor. He's a lieutenant! Bars, epaulets, something.

I'll bet Avila has other ideas to make public servants more easily recognizable to the public. Sadly, a request for a chat was declined. But maybe the less visibility this guy gets, the better the health of the Corbett administration.

Avila's highly credentialed: Ivy League doc, lawyer, master's degree in public health, Fellow of the American College of Legal Medicine. And that's impressive.

It's just too bad highly credentialed doesn't always translate into courtesy or common sense.

Send email to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/JohnBaer. Read Baer's blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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