Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families Joette Katz's sense of entitlement reminds us that the taste for privilege appears in unexpected places.
Thirty-two year state employee Antoinette Alphonse, who has to deal with parking issues as part of her job as human resources director, noticed a BMW Z4 convertible being stored at a state parking garage this past winter. She eventually figured out that the German sports car belongs to Katz, who makes $153,831 a year as commissioner and $120,303 a year as a retired state Supreme Court justice.
DCF and the Department of Economic and Community Development have offices at 505 Hudson St. in Hartford. Parking has become a contentious issue. Last year, DCF wanted more spaces and managed through the state bureaucracy to snag some away from DECD. Some DECD employees were assigned to spaces approximately a block away in order to accommodate DCF.
You may be thinking, "What's the big deal with parking spaces?" They bring some order in large organizations and also denote status. In Connecticut government, parking spaces are among the many subjects that are negotiated with employee unions.
When the new Department of Housing was added to the agencies at 505 Hudson St., finding spaces became trouble again. The new commissioner was supposed to be assigned a space in the parking garage.
While Alphonse was shuffling spaces, including her own, to make room for a new department, that BMW Z4 in a reserved spot was becoming a persistent aggravation. Alphonse, by her own account, often gets to the office early in the morning and leaves in the evening. The dark gray ragtop never moved from its DCF-assigned space. Each time the garage was swept on a weekend, the dust on the car would grow thicker. Alphonse could write her name in it.
As commissioner, Katz had two spaces in the garage, one for her state car and one for her private car. It struck Alphonse as unfair that Katz would store her sports car for free in the garage for the winter. She wrote a memo to people who could act. She included Katz in the list of recipients.
Alphonse's March 11 memo, she told me, evoked a reaction. Through informal channels, she was informed by a superior that there would be no response to the memo from Katz. She was also told that Katz would not be moving the sports car from its place of rest.
This is not the sort of controversy the people who head state agencies like to face. Alphonse, however, raised an important point that state government and law enforcement officials often make: the proper use of state resources. Parking spaces are assigned for the purpose of accommodating a state employee's day-to-day duties. You couldn't hold a tag sale in your space. You're not supposed to store a car there.
Let's say a state employee had an apartment that she let a married friend use to carry on an affair with a colleague. No one can claim that's a misuse of something the state owns. On the other hand, if that same employee let the paramours communicate secretly through her state email account or cellphone, that would violate the rules. State assets have specific purposes and employees are often punished when they ignore them.
Katz, who has three vehicles registered to her in her hometown of Fairfield, eventually moved her sports car from the garage and relinquished one inside space. Her spokesman said in an email last week that based upon Alphonse's complaint, "she has asked that the state car that she uses be parked outside. She regrets if she caused any other employee any inconvenience."
Katz, notorious for her prickly personality, refused to disclose how many weeks she stored her personal vehicle at the garage. She also refused to say in response to questions posed in an email why she stored it on state property, nor would she acknowledge that she was aware of the tight parking at the building.
The story does not end with Katz driving the car to Fairfield. Alphonse believes she is paying a price for her vigilance. She says her boss, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith, suggested shortly after Alphonse sent the memo that she might want to look for a new job. Smith declines to comment.