Friday, December 22, 2006

The Who is Who in Corruptikut


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Connecticut Police Officers Paying Police Informants $10,000 to kill or ruin those that make police misconduct complaints




CONNECTICUT NEWS
Rell Dismisses 7 Key Officials
Further Changes Expected To Come
December 22, 2006
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief, The Hartford Courant

In the most sweeping changes yet in her administration, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is replacing seven key commissioners as she charts a new course for the next four years.

The changes, which include the commissioners of the two most prominent social service agencies, are the most significant since Rell ousted top-level leaders from the administration of former Gov. John G. Rowland after she took office as governor in July 2004.

Now, after winning a huge re-election victory by 28 percentage points, Rell is cleaning house in a long-awaited reshuffling of her management team. Six of the seven commissioners let go on Thursday had been appointed by Rowland. More changes are coming among deputy commissioners, but those were not announced Thursday.

Since Rell had sought the resignations of about 60 top appointees soon after winning re-election, the state Capitol has been abuzz with speculation over which managers would be changed. Rell's office declined to give detailed reasons for the specific changes Thursday, other than saying that it was time for a change. No announcements were made on replacements for the ousted commissioners.

"A new term in office brings new beginnings, new ideas, and a renewed passion to serve," Rell said in a statement. "The next four years will be filled with a great many challenges. I now turn my attention to assembling a new leadership team to work with me as we meet our challenges and chart a new course."

Those being replaced include Patricia Wilson-Coker, who oversaw an annual budget of $4.6 billion and more than 2,000 employees at the Department of Social Services. Wilson-Coker ranked among the state's highest-paid commissioners at $157,880 annually - even higher than Rell's salary of $150,000.

Wilson-Coker's departure was not a surprise to the union members in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 4, who had called for her resignation in October after nearly 700 workers gave her a vote of no-confidence. Union members said the department was woefully understaffed and morale had fallen to an all-time low.

"The Connecticut Department of Social Services is in a crisis," union President Belinda May said at the time. "The people who are suffering the most are the neediest children, the elderly and disabled, and the poorest families in our state. We need a commissioner who will fight for these people, not against them."

Although Wilson-Coker ran the largest agency of the commissioners replaced Thursday, Rell also accepted the resignations of Darlene Dunbar of the long-troubled Department of Children and Families, and former University of Connecticut basketball player James Abromaitis of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Abromaitis, who was originally named by Rowland to replace Peter Ellef as DECD commissioner in 1997, had been routinely criticized by Democrats during the recent election campaign. Ellef is now serving a federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to corruption charges in the scandal that also sent Rowland to prison.

Abromaitis, who was paid nearly $140,000 a year, was grim-faced as he sat alone in the governor's office suite Monday while awaiting a meeting with Rell.

Others being replaced are Edwin Rodriguez at the Department of Consumer Protection; Jennifer Aniskovich at the Commission on Arts and Tourism; Susan Cogswell at the Department of Insurance; and William Ramirez at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Both Cogswell and Ramirez have accepted positions as deputies in their agencies. Insiders at the Capitol had frequently mentioned Wilson-Coker, Abromaitis and Aniskovich as those most likely to leave their posts.

Aniskovich had been controversial ever since being nominated by Rowland to the arts commission in December 2003 because her husband was the deputy Senate minority leader at the time of her appointment.

Cogswell was involved in several recent controversies. During the recent election, Democratic nominee John DeStefano called for firing Cogswell because of her approval of a controversial health insurance plan by Aetna. The plan included a maximum annual benefit of $1,000 for health care coverage, which DeStefano termed "fraudulent." Cogswell was also involved in controversy when she initially allowed insurance companies to demand that shoreline homeowners install storm shutters in order to get homeowner's insurance. After an outcry along the shoreline, Cogswell changed course and issued new rules for insurers that allowed alternatives to the expensive shutters.

Most recently, Ramirez's agency, the DMV, was criticized over its licensing of school bus drivers. The issue erupted after a West Hartford man died after he was struck by a school bus driven by a convicted felon.

Several of the ousted commissioners were involved in the extended scandal that began about a year ago when M. Lisa Moody, Rell's chief of staff, handed out invitations to a fundraiser for Rell on state time. Cogswell and Abromaitis were each fined $500 for giving their subordinates invitations to the Dec. 7, 2005, event at the Marco Polo restaurant in East Hartford.

Of the seven commissioners, Ramirez is the only one Rell had appointed.

Legislators, lobbyists and staff members said some high-profile Republicans have been mentioned as possible replacements, and some have already undergone background checks by the state police - normally the last step before an announcement. Among those being mentioned for possible appointments are outgoing House Republican leader Robert M. Ward and outgoing Sen. Catherine W. Cook, who ran for state comptroller in the fall with Rell's support.

Rell's new chief spokesman, Christopher Cooper, declined to confirm which Republicans might be considered for the top jobs.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said he was not surprised by Thursday's developments.

"I recommended 2½ years ago that the governor put her own stamp on her administration," Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. "I didn't have any direct problems in my dealings with [Abromaitis]. But even in the business community, I've heard many folks say change needs to come to the department." The department has been criticized for not helping businesses enough, and for failing to spur better job growth in recent years.

In a speech only last week to the Metro Hartford Alliance, Rell referred to Abromaitis several times, prompting confusion among some business executives in the audience over whether the long-running speculation about Abromaitis' imminent departure was correct.

At the Department of Children and Families, Dunbar had one of the toughest jobs in state government as her agency dealt daily with troubled children.

"We're hoping this is an opportunity for the governor to appoint somebody who will have more understanding of the front-line staff and what they've gone through in the past few years," said Sandy Dearborn, president of AFSCME Local 2663, which represents DCF workers. "We haven't been listened to very well in the past couple of years."

Contact Chris Keating at ckeating@courant.com.

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