4:48 PM EST, January 5, 2013
Revolving door" laws prevent a public official from jumping into a job offered by a state contractor which whom he's been dealing in his taxpayer-funded capacity.
Connecticut's version of the law imposes a one-year waiting period after the official quits state employment before he can take a job with a company he dealt with, or have dealings with his former state agency in a private business capacity.
But what happens if the official is laid off involuntarily from his state job, instead of quitting? Can he still violate the revolving-door law?
The answer is yes, it turns out — as shown by the case of Kermit Thompson, an architect who was laid off in August 2011 from a high-ranking management position in the state Department of Construction Services because of budget cuts.
Thompson paid a $2,000 fine in conjunction with an agreement he signed Dec. 18 to settle a complaint against him for allegedly violating a provision in the revolving-door law. The provision, as phrased by the Office of State Ethics, "prevents a former state employee from representing anyone for compensation before his former state agency within one year of departing state service."
Here's what happened:
When Thompson, of Wallingford, lost his $102,000-a-year job as director of project management for the construction services department, he started working in private practice as an architect in New Haven.
Soon afterward, his former department put out a request for proposals for renovations that included window replacements at the State Office Building on Capitol Avenue in Hartford where he had worked.
Thompson teamed up with another architectural firm to make a joint proposal to provide services as architects or owner's representatives for the project. In the bid, Thompson was listed as a proposed "project manager" and secondary "contact." The cover letter for the bid cited Thompson's "extensive knowledge" of the project.
The department's deputy commissioner, Pasquale J. "Bud" Salemi, sent a letter Nov. 23, 2011, to the state ethics office to report a "possible violation" of the revolving-door law. That sparked a year-long inquiry — an investigation by the ethics office, which led to the scheduling of a formal hearing before a judge, which finally was averted by the settlement that was signed last month, documents show.
In the settlement, Thompson admitted to violating the statute, but said it was "unintentional because [he] did not realize … that the prohibition against a former employee 'representing' another party before his former agency extended to the type of activity he engaged in." He added that he intended that "the principal party to the contract would be another person" who would "present the proposal to DCS and sit for any interviews. They didn't get the contract.
Thompson also said he believed the revolving-door law "applied only to people who, unlike him, voluntarily departed state service," according to a statement last week by the ethics office.
The settlement of the complaint grew more complicated because, as the investigation and preparations for a hearing continued into late 2012, Thompson applied for a lower-paying job at the construction services department, and was appointed. He was rehired Nov. 16 as an architect at $90,000 a year, according to the state comptroller's office.
The settlement requires him to file a statement of his financial interests with the ethics office for each of the next three years, and to immediately seek written advice from the office on matters including "any outside employment he maintains" as an architect "while he is a state employee."
"For a year after leaving public service, a state employee's name, face or voice may not be used by his or her new employer before his or her former agency," Carol Carson, executive director of the ethics office, said last week.
Thompson could not be reached for comment at work on Friday afternoon.
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at email@example.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender
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