During his travels around the state distributing goodies in pursuit of re-election in November, Governor Lamont might perform a valuable service by pausing for a moment here and there to examine the performance of ordinary management in state government.
Two weeks ago the big failures were in education, where a state technical school teacher who had been fired for abusing minority students was reinstated to her job with $225,000 in back pay. An arbiter ruled that since the technical school system hardly ever fires anyone, it couldn’t fire this teacher either.
Then, under pressure of a gender discrimination lawsuit, the state Board of Regents for Higher Education reinstated a community college president and paid her $775,000.
Meanwhile the parade of misconduct in the state police continued. First eight state trooper recruits were dismissed for cheating on an examination at the police academy. Then over several weeks five troopers were suspended on various charges, including theft, sexual assault, hit-and-run driving, and domestic violence.
Then Bill Cummings of Connecticut’s Hearst newspapers produced a more shocking report: that four more troopers had escaped discipline after being caught creating hundreds of fake traffic tickets to try to gain favor from their superiors — and that state police headquarters could not explain why the four were let off so easily.
According to the Connecticut Examiner’s Steve Jensen, at least the commanding officer of the state police, Col. Stavros Mellekas, issued a note of caution to his department. “These incidents do not define us,” the colonel wrote, “but we need to step up and lock down behavior.”
And then a case worker for the state Department of Children and Families was charged criminally with helping a client evade arrest for child sex trafficking.
The governor, a Democrat, had nothing to say about these incidents of misconduct. Republicans didn’t call attention to them either. After all, most of the state employees involved are members of unions whose endorsements are coveted.
But even if no one in authority is curious about these cases, they still suggest that state government is not operating well for the public and, worse, that Connecticut’s politicians are too scared to try to change that.
If competence and integrity seem hard to achieve in state government, developments last week in Bridgeport suggested that achieving competence and integrity in government in Connecticut’s cities may be impossible.
Mayor Joe Ganim, whose first administration was a criminal enterprise that sent him to prison for seven years, last week hired as the city’s senior labor relations official a former Newtown police officer who was convicted 10 years ago of embezzling $95,000 from the town’s police union while he was its treasurer. Of course in Bridgeport city government a background in embezzlement may be considered valuable experience.
And a month after agreeing to a three-year extension of his contract, Bridgeport school Superintendent Michael Testani announced that he would leave in November anyway to become superintendent in neighboring Fairfield. But since Bridgeport may be Connecticut’s leading poverty factory, it is hard to blame anyone in public education for departing for a place where most students come to school prepared to learn — or where the kids come to school at all. (Last week Hartford’s superintendent acknowledged that 44% of that city’s students are chronically absent.)
As with the recent distressing incidents in state government, last week’s developments in Bridgeport should have caught the attention of Connecticut’s political leaders but didn’t, even as it is a fair question whether, amid their worsening poverty, the cities are capable of self-government at all. Throwing lots of money at them as state government long has done may alleviate political pressures but it has not improved living conditions, especially not for the many fatherless and neglected children in the cities.
The state and federal governments have been doing the poverty thing for almost 60 years. Will another 60 years have to pass before anyone in authority in Connecticut notices that it’s not working?
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut. He can be reached at CPowell@JournalInquirer.com.