A high-ranking state Insurance Department official, who once served as the acting commissioner of the agency, has been paid not to show up at work since Aug. 10 — at the rate of $2,300 a week — during an investigation of alleged "harassment, bullying, and intimidation" by her.
Beyond those general terms – contained in a letter obtained by The Courant — no explanation has been given for the continuing paid leave imposed on Barbara Spear, director of consumer services and business regulations in the key department that oversees one of the state's signature industries.
"Pursuant to state regulations, effective immediately, you are placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigating into allegations of harassment, bullying, and intimidation," a department human resources specialist wrote Aug. 10 to Spear, 57, of Simsbury.
"You will receive full pay and benefits during this … leave," the letter said." However, Spear also was ordered "not to report for duty or be on State property, and you are not allowed to make contact with any agency staff member, unless instructed to do so."
The letter was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request after The Courant received reports of internal trouble at the high-profile agency. The department refused to release additional documents, which could indicate who at the department has made allegations against Spear, what the specific claims are, and whether they are justified.
Spear responded to a call from The Courant Friday with an email saying: "I decided to enter public service after a 28 year career in corporate America. I am proud of the contributions that I have made to the Department so far and I believe that most of my team would agree that we have made great progress over the last 4+ years.
"I am saddened by the allegations against me and look forward to clearing my name and continuing my work at the Department."
A registered Republican, the $120,000-a-year official joined the department in 2008 during the administration of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, after Spear had been working most recently at The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. Rell named her as acting commissioner of the department in November 2010. Spear served five months in that role, until newly elected Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed Thomas Leonardi as head of the agency.
Spear then returned to her previous capacity, with regulatory responsibilities for areas including consumer affairs and fraud.
Insurance Department spokeswoman Debra Korta said Friday that the agency would not discuss the substance of the case because it is a pending personnel matter.
The Aug. 10 letter to Spear said that the leave would "continue for up to fifteen (15) days, but may be extended if deemed necessary." Korta said it had been extended, and was still in effect as of Friday. She said she did not know how long it would last.
It was unclear why the paid leave has lasted as long as it has. State personnel regulations say: "An appointing authority may place an employee on leave of absence with pay for up to fifteen (15) days to permit investigation of alleged serious misconduct which could constitute just cause for dismissal …. Such leave shall only be utilized if the employee's presence at work could be harmful to the public, the welfare, health or safety of patients, inmates or state employees or state property.
"Following a decision to place the employee on such leave, the appointing authority shall provide written notice to the employee stating the reasons for the leave, the effective date of the leave and the duration of the leave which shall not exceed fifteen (15) days."
A $100,000 Plum
And here, as a bonus, is an unrelated item worth noting:
Proving again that there is often a place on the public payroll for a partisan operative who needs a job after a failed political campaign, Gabe Rosenberg, who was the press spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Christopher Donovan's unsuccessful congressional committee, started work Friday at the state Capitol. He's the new press aide on the staff of Democratic House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey of Hamden.
Rosenberg said Sharkey, who has gathered sufficient support among House Democrats to become speaker in January, had hired him at a $100,000-a-year salary.
Rosenberg likely will have some fence-mending to do with some Connecticut Capitol reporters, with whom he had harsh or contentious exchanges during Donovan's crash-and-burn campaign for the Aug. 14 Democratic primary for the 5th District congressional nomination. Donovan's defeat came after 2½ months of damaging publicity about a federal investigation into his campaign financing — a probe that has yielded arrests but has not implicated Donovan.
Rosenberg arrives on the state payroll at a moment when Donovan's top press aide on the speaker's staff at the Capitol for the past four years, Doug Whiting, has left the state and begun work as vice president for communications at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island.
One thing about Whiting: He was generally liked by political reporters for reasons including the fact that he did not argue with them about whether their inquiries were valid or question the newsworthiness of their stories. The only significant mention of Whiting in this column was to say that he was making an awful lot of money from the taxpayers — $165,000 a year — as Donovan's press guy. Whiting accepted the fact that it was a valid story, never said boo about it, and continued to fulfill requests for information.
Rosenberg was all smiles Friday, in contrast to some of his recent campaign demeanor, as he reintroduced himself around the Capitol press room in his new role. He said he did not know if, come January, he would be the new Doug Whiting for Sharkey — that is, the chief of the House Democrats' stable of press aides.
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.