Please allow me to take a moment to begin this column with a few words of appreciation for sharp-eyed readers who add to my knowledge of a subject after I've written a column about it. Thank you also for helping to shine a light on some of the murkier corners of the people's business. Lately, I've seen an uptick in public-spirited readers who share a common dismay and nose for detecting the haughty sense of entitlement that infects some public officials. You are doing important work in your own way.
Last month, I wrote about Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz storing her deluxe German sports car in a crowded state office building garage. Katz made the story worse a few days later in an interview with The Courant's Jon Lender by taking a swing at the state employee who first raised the parking issue with her superiors.
Some readers suggested that it didn't stop with the car. Katz now and then brings her large dog (presumably the boxer Harry, last registered in 2010, according to Fairfield town records) to the state office building on Hudson Street in Hartford. State law enforcement officers at various departments may handle canines as part of their duties. I don't think, however, there's a job description in a state labor contract that includes attending to the needs of the commissioner's dog among a state employee's duties, though it's not Katz who's been spotted walking the dog when he needs to go out.
The haughty Katz makes her own rules. Worse, she appears to impose them on others, mostly through the oldest of weapons, fear. Katz refused through last week to answer a simple inquiry on who attends to the dog's needs when Katz is unable to. Raised eyebrows accompanied by quiet muttering is the most anyone who works under Katz's reign will risk.
The tone that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy set by raising taxes on working people to fund corporate welfare made this sort of abuse of office inevitable. The administration's instinctive resort to threats of vengeance to anyone who challenges it has caused intimidation to spread.
Other stories about the abuse of influence in government require vigilance and revisits: the long saga of House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk; his colleague at the Hartford office of the Brown Rudnick law firm, lobbyist and Democratic former Speaker of the House Thomas Ritter; and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.
CRRA paid nearly $3 million in fees to Brown Rudnick from 2007 through 2012. Cafero appoints two members of the CRRA board. In addition to providing legal services to CRRA, Brown Rudnick enjoyed an unusual "municipal liaison" contract with the trash-to-energy quasi-public agency. Ritter was the lead on that loose arrangement that provided $7,000 a month for unaccounted work.
Members of the CRRA board have cast votes on contracts with Brown Rudnick at various times during Cafero's tenure as Republican leader. Cafero gave a selective history of his appointees on the CRRA and their votes for the lucrative Brown Rudnick contracts. In 2011, Cafero appointees voted to advance, renew, extend or increase the money paid to Brown Rudnick on several occasions, minutes of meetings confirm.
Most CRRA stories, and there have been plenty of them over the years, are pervaded by a feeling that there's probably more to whatever we know. CRRA has succeeded in attaching a particularly bad look to the Cafero-Ritter-CRRA axis. The agency resisted routine requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The lawyer for Matthew Hennessy, who is challenging the municipal liaison deal, was required to take his request to a hearing before the Freedom of Information Commission in order to prod CRRA to obey the law.
The testimony of Laurie Hunt, CRRA's director of legal services and formerly related to Ritter by marriage, revealed a leisurely notion of what's a reasonable time to review and produce records — a view that did not comport with the law. Still, a year and a half after records were first requested, CRRA is in a dispute over documents with Hennessy. The agency continues to refuse to produce emails between Ritter and the beleaguered agency. This story will continue to draw attention to itself.