Monday, December 20, 2004

The Aftermath of Connecticut’s Corrupt Former Governor Scandal


The Remaining Network of Corruption:

Legacy Of Pals On The Payroll Many Rowland Appointees Remain

December 20, 2004 By JON LENDER, Courant Staff Writer

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's first public spat with a legislative leader erupted last week over an unexpected issue: Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. complained that Rell had not sufficiently purged her administration of the taint of John G. Rowland, and he urged her to demand resignations from all of her predecessor's commissioners.

But the relative handful of commissioners that Williams was concerned about - perhaps 40 of the state's 45,000 employees - represents only a fraction of the former governor's patronage legacy. Below that level are at least 100 other political appointees in jobs ranging from administrative assistant to deputy commissioner.

These are jobs that typically pay $50,000 to $100,000.

They are unavailable to average citizens who did not help Rowland and Rell, his three-time running mate, win election in 1994, 1998 and 2002.

And many of these jobs are about to become even more expensive for taxpayers: In January, Rowland's earliest appointees will begin reaching their 10th anniversaries, a milestone that entitles them to retiree health benefits for themselves and their spouses. The lifetime perk is worth $12,000 a year - and even more for those who retire at the minimum age of 55.

After taking office when Rowland resigned amid scandal last summer, Rell removed a few of her predecessor's commissioners and prominent loyalists in what was touted as a "housecleaning" that earned her widespread praise and helped burnish her image as a reformer.

But public records abound with examples in which Rell has allowed Rowland's friends and supporters to remain on the state payroll. Some were removed from the governor's suite, but were tucked away outside the public spotlight in other state posts. Others simply stayed in place.

For example:Kathleen Mengacci, Rowland's longtime friend and confidential secretary, was removed from the governor's office last July by Rell, but was given a safe haven in the little noticed Office of Workforce Competitiveness inside the state labor department. She makes $85,000 as assistant to the office's director, Mary Ann Hanley, and will mark 10 years on the state payroll Jan. 5.

Regina Gianni, a Rowland activist from the former governor's hometown of Waterbury who answered phones in his Capitol office, is now working in the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Her new, $52,195-a-year job - which also involves answering phones - is based at the agency's Waterbury headquarters, eliminating her daily commute to Hartford. Sources say Gianni once was cautioned for aggressively defending Rowland when answering phone calls to his office, although she denied that Friday. She marks her 10-year employment anniversary Jan. 23.

State comptroller's records indicate that Gianni has moved from political appointee to become a part of the state's classified civil service roster, although she disputed that, too.

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

"I'm just very grateful to be here."

Michael Doyle, who managed the governor's Eastern Connecticut satellite office in Norwich, has been replaced by Catherine Marx, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the state Senate in the November election. But Doyle, a longtime Rowland ally, did not lose his chance at reaching his upcoming 10-year state employment anniversary Feb. 22. He is now an executive assistant in the Department of Correction, a new post paying $60,632.

Martin Zito, a longtime Rowland loyalist, retains his $104,478 post as chief of staff in the state Department of Mental Retardation. Zito began state employment in 1995 as one of many Rowland supporters hired as controversial "durational project managers" - an under-the-radar job category that Rowland used in an effort to hide political hires at a time when he told the public he was breaking with traditional patronage practices. Durational positions do not require standard civil-service tests. A politically connected individual can be moved from a durational position to a regular state job within three years. Zito's 10th anniversary on the state payroll is April 14.

Rell's press secretary, Dennis Schain, insists that her handling of Rowland's political appointees has been appropriate."Gov. Rell has already made a number of changes in the policies and people within state government and will likely make more in the coming weeks and months," Schain said.

"It's not fair to broadly paint any group of employees as good or bad, simply because they started their service while a particular governor, commissioner or legislator was in office at the time."

But the patronage game can be perilous. Rowland's credibility suffered in the late 1990s when it was disclosed that he was using the durational positions to hire his political friends while claiming to be cutting back on patronage. Ultimately, it was the breakdown of Rowland's credibility with the public - which reached its nadir after his lies about gifts and favors he accepted from state contractors and subordinates - that led to his July 1 resignation.

From the start, Rell has been careful to distance herself from that legacy. She proclaimed government ethics as her top priority and has made several public gestures to solidify her reformer image. These include appointing the state's first-ever ethics counsel in the governor's office; making several high-level personnel changes and putting out the word that she will not meet personally with any of the lobbyists who represent corporations and other organizations at the Capitol.

But last week's blast from Williams suggests that Democrats may be planning to make credibility an issue for Rell as well. In anticipation of next month's 2005 legislative session, he called on Rell to "conduct a true housecleaning" and request the resignation of all Rowland-appointed commissioners.

"Those whom the governor then wishes to reappoint would then have to go through the legislative confirmation process ... where all questions about their past performance in the Rowland administration would be asked and answered for the public's benefit," said Williams, a Democrat from Brooklyn.

That, he said, would "remove the stain of the Rowland administration."

Republican legislators denounced Williams' statement as partisan politics tailored for a slow news day, and other Democratic legislators have been slow to take up his cause. But Democratic State Chairman George Jepson last week raised another issue: He accused Rell of publicly spurning lobbyists while privately participating in the time-honored game of squeezing them for political contributions.

Despite Rell's declaration that she will not deal personally with lobbyists, she is scheduled to be the featured guest on the state Senate Republican Caucus' invitation to their major fund-raiser Jan. 3, two days before the start of the 2005 legislative session. Such receptions are traditional by both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, because state law prohibits solicitation of political contributions from lobbyists while the General Assembly is in session.

In anticipation of that long fund-raising drought from January to June, legislators hold major pre-session events to extract money from a variety of people, but most pointedly lobbyists. The suggested donation for the event, at Carbone's Ristorante on Franklin Avenue, is $250.

Schain, Rell's spokesman, acknowledged that "the governor has lent her name to the Jan. 3 party, but let's be clear about this: The funds are not for her. She will not be having conversations about issues at what is essentially a social event and there will be many, many types of people there - not just lobbyists."

Schain said that Democrats and Republicans both hold such pre-session fund-raisers "and for years, governors from both sides of the aisle have attended."

However, Jepsen said that Rell now has made it an issue because "she's creating a new standard" by refusing to meet with lobbyists in her role as governor.

"Her refusal to meet with lobbyists is classic form over substance. ... She won't meet with lobbyists ... but they are building fund-raising events around her, where lobbyists are the principal attendees. That borders on the hypocritical."

The above came from the Hartford Courant website.

Fair use of copyrighted material

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