Officials' Children Get Plum Summer Jobs At State Agency

Rosemary Bove, the $101,000-a-year state official who manages Connecticut's five "Welcome Centers" on interstate highways, didn't have to look very far for at least a couple of the young people who were hired in May to work in 13 highly-coveted summer jobs.

One of them is Bove's 23-year-old daughter — who's been paid $12 an hour since being hired May 17 in a job eligible to last through Nov. 2. She makes $960 every two weeks.

Another is the son of Rhonda Olisky, a $74,800-a-year official in the same state agency as Bove: the Department of Economic and Community Development. Jon Olisky-Veneziano, 20, is making $14 an hour, as a returning summer worker, and makes $1,120 every two weeks; the state paid him $12,376 last year, comptroller's records show.

Rosemary Bove and the department's human resources director interviewed the candidates, including Bove's daughter, Natasha Bove, the department says. The jobs were not advertised – although the department did set up a booth at three college job fairs to recruit a number of those hired.

Meanwhile, a 22-year-old nephew of DECD Deputy Commissioner Ronald Angelo was hired May 20 as one of four summer workers at the department's central office at 505 Hudson St. in Hartford, the agency confirmed. The nephew, Tyler Naumann, makes $14 an hour, or $1,120 every two weeks, records show.

That's three relatives that The Courant was able to confirm out of 17 summer hires at the department. DECD officials say there's nothing wrong it.

"There is no language in [the State Personnel Act] that prohibits an agency hiring an employee family member," said DECD Human Resources Director Antoinette Alphonse. She said that no family member can supervise another family member or influence his or her evaluations or promotions. "These hirings were proper!!!" Alphonse said in an emailed response to Courant questions. "These employees are not supervised by a relative.''

The employment of a few relatives for seasonal jobs is not unique to DECD, Connecticut and the innumerable towns whose recreation departments hire lifeguards in the summer.

Still, the summer hirings of DECD officials' relatives serve as a reminder that people still care about fairness even in matters of government that involve such relatively small amounts of taxpayer money. The hirings have prompted discussion among state workers that found its way to The Courant.

Part of the discussion is that some of these jobs could have been filled by young people from Hartford; at least seven of the jobs are in the DECD's city offices. None of the 17 summer workers has a Hartford address, according to documents released Friday by the DECD in response to a week-old Freedom of Information Act request from The Courant.

DECD spokesman Jim Watson said candidates were recruited at three college job fairs earlier this year — at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Fairfield University, and Connecticut College in New London. "We were very pro-active" about those efforts, which involved setting up a booth and, at times, returning to a campus subsequently, Watson said. He did not know how many of those hired were recruited at those job fairs, as opposed to finding out about the jobs some other way.

One reason the duration of the summer jobs is so long — May to November — is that the Welcome Centers need to be staffed with people to advise tourists seven days a week through the fall foliage season, Watson said. A number of the summer workers will need to return to their studies at summer's end, but they can still get hours on weekends, Watson said.

The 13 Welcome Center jobs fall under the DECD's Office of Tourism, which is located in a separate office at One Constitution Plaza in Hartford. Most of them are spread among the five centers, which are in: Danbury on I-84 eastbound; Darien on I-95 southbound; North Stonington on I-95 southbound; Westbrook on I-95 northbound; and West Willington on I-84 westbound. The Greenwich Welcome Center is temporarily closed.

A few of the 13, including Natasha Bove, are assigned to work at the Office of Tourism at One Constitution Plaza. Her mother, whose title is community development specialist, works in the same office but another employee there supervises her, Watson said. Natasha Bove works on special projects, including "marketing and tourism website projects," Watson said, adding that she also serves as a "backup worker" at all the Welcome Centers, as needed.

Olisky-Veneziano is supervised by Rosemary Bove and works as a courier among the Welcome Centers, delivering promotional materials. He also serves as a backup worker at any of the Welcome Centers when needed, Watson said. Prior to coming to Connecticut to work in 2012, Olisky-Veneziano had been living in Florida with his father; now he lives in Berlin with his mother, his resume says. His mother is a program associate for DECD's Office of the Arts, which also is located at One Constitution Plaza.

Olisky and Rosemary Bove declined comment. Natasha Bove, Naumann and Olisky-Veneziano could not be reached for comment.

DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, whose signature was on each of the 17 letters appointing the candidates to their summer jobs, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Although Alphonse cited the State Personnel Act in saying all of the hirings were proper, there are other laws that apply to such situations — including the statutes known as the Code of Ethics for Public Officials. The code prohibits a state official from using his or her office to benefit a family member financially.

The director of the Office of State Ethics, Carol Carson, declined comment Thursday when asked if a public official interviewing his or her child, who then is hired, amounts to benefiting a family member financially.

But her agency routinely investigates such allegations, and weeks ago announced that a state Department of Transportation employee was fined $2,500 for failing to disclose his son's employment by a consultant on a highway project that he was overseeing, in violation of the nepotism provisions in the Code of Ethics.

In addition to the three relatives of DECD officials who were hired, at least one other candidate — apparently not a relative — was referred by a top department official for a job, was offered a position, but then turned it down because it did not fit in with his schedule, records show. It was unclear Friday whether any of the others hired were sons or daughters of DECD employees' friends.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter at @jonlender.

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