D. Anwar Al-Ghani was one of six people who unanimously picked a Kansas company in 2001 to oversee Hartford's massive school construction project.
Just over three years later, Al-Ghani's firm was consulting for that company, Diggs Construction - at one point making $15,000 a month working as a liaison between Diggs and its minority contractors. Documents provided by Diggs show that Al-Ghani could make a total of more than $680,000 by the time his contract expires in April.
James Willingham, head of the Urban League of Greater Hartford, said he did consulting work for Diggs that paid him a total of roughly $15,000 beginning in 2006.
That same year, former school building committee Chairman Louis Watkins got an initial one-year, $3,000-a-month contract with Diggs to work as a liaison with the Hartford community.Watkins' work led to a city ethics investigation. The city and Watkins eventually signed an agreement saying he had briefly and unintentionally violated the city's ethics codes. Watkins still works for Diggs.
Because Al-Ghani and Willingham were state appointees to the school building committee, they appear to be bound by state - not city - ethics codes. The state Office of Ethics had no record of investigations into Al-Ghani and Willingham.
Al-Ghani, though, was familiar with state ethics procedures and had sought advice from the state ethics office previously. In 2001, Al-Ghani asked ethics officials in a letter, "how long ... do I need to wait before I can legally seek business from the Hartford school system?"
State ethics regulations include a one-year revolving-door prohibition in such situations.
All three hirings concern at least one city councilman.
"It raises serious questions," said Councilman Kenneth Kennedy. "It just raises the appearance of impropriety, even if one doesn't exist. That's the question it raises. And we always have to make sure that everything's on the up and up."
Dale Diggs, the company's president, said there is nothing improper about the relationships, and Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he doesn't know of a conflict in the work Al-Ghani and Willingham did for the company.
"If somebody has been in public life and they end up working for somebody five or six years later, it's tough to try to search for a conflict of interest over that period," Perez said. "I assume they knew what the state ethics code was and I assume they didn't see any violation of it."
"This was three or four years later," said Willingham, who was the school building committee's vice chairman. "I had no ties to the company; I didn't know [Diggs] before he came to town; and I saw it as an opportunity to make a couple dollars in a bad economy. I didn't see it as a conflict."
Al-Ghani - a Republican who is a city representative on the Metropolitan District Commission - declined to comment through his attorney, Bart Halloran.
The reconstruction of Hartford schools has caught the attention of a state grand jury investigating allegations of corruption at city hall, though the scope of the interest remains unclear.
Dale Diggs said he hasn't been before the grand jury and hasn't spoken to investigators. His attorney says she has been assured he is not a target of the investigation.
But investigators have asked the city for records of payments to Diggs Construction and to one of its construction managers, according to records obtained from the city treasurer's office by The Courant. Diggs has declined to release documents to The Courant that the firm turned over to the state's investigators, because, the company said, they were the subject of the grand jury's investigation.
At least two people familiar with the investigation said the grand jury has asked questions about who has been hired to work on the schools project and why.