In a blow to the administration, Governor Dannel Malloy's trusted chief of staff, his deputy chief, and communications director are all leaving.

Timothy F. Bannon, a workhorse who has held numerous positions in state government and the private sector, will be leaving by year's end. Colleen Flanagan, a well-known spokeswoman for Malloy and previously for U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd and the Democratic Party, will be taking a new job with the state's higher education system in the coming weeks.

A third key employee, Alvin Wilson, who was the operations director and essentially Bannon's deputy chief of staff, will be leaving along with his boss.

Malloy said that all three were personal decisions by the employees, but some insiders at the Capitol questioned how three important officials could leave at a time when much of the state is still in crisis from widespread power outages that stretched across the state and forced many freezing residents into temporary shelters. The announcement caught many by surprise and was made Tuesday after Malloy had been speaking to reporters on another topic outside his state Capitol office.

"There's no change in strategy at play here at all,'' Malloy said. "My private discussions with Tim have always been that this would be a durational assignment. ... No, I don't think you should read anything into that. I would call Tim a year assignment.''

Known for his long hours and few vacation days, Malloy added, "I do have a reputation of working people pretty hard, and I can tell you that I've enjoyed working as hard as I have with these three individuals. Beyond that, these are just personal. These things happen.''

At the very moment that Malloy said he worked people hard, Bannon - standing out of the view of the cameras - broke into a wide smile at Malloy's words.

Out of his many jobs over the past 40 years, Bannon said he "probably'' had not worked more hours in any job he ever had.

But he disputed that the hours had been the reason, and then he joked about it.

"He didn't wear me out,'' Bannon said of Malloy. "I don't know where this reputation of hard work came from. We never worked more than seven days a week, and on no one of those days have I ever worked more than 24 hours.''

"I haven't made any plans yet,'' Bannon told reporters after Malloy's announcement outside his Capitol office.

Bannon, who was earning $150,000 per year under Malloy and six figures in his previous state position, added that he would be looking for a job in the private sector.

"Once you've got the commitment, you don't count the hours. This has been a job where I never have counted the hours,'' Bannon said. "Sometimes I have felt the weight of the hours passing, but I've never counted the hours. It's exciting. It's important. I work with really smart people. ... It's just been a very, very exciting time.''

Way back before Thanksgiving last year, when he was working on the transition for the incoming administration, Bannon said he was working "seven full days'' in getting the preparations ready.

Former state Rep. Jon Pelto, a longtime Democratic political operative who has tangled with the Malloy administration, said Tuesday's announcement was bizarre because the timing makes no sense. More than 800,000 Connecticut customers lost their power during a freak pre-Halloween storm over the weekend - and the actual number of people affected was even higher because a family of four in a house would count as only one customer.

"For your chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and communications director to leave in the middle of a state crisis has to leave people scratching their head and wondering what the story is,'' Pelto told Capitol Watch. "Why not wait a week to 10 days? ... Why do it now when people are agitated about CL&P? You would want to do it when no one would notice. This doesn't make sense. There's got to be some other explanation. I just don't know what it is.''

As a longtime observer of the chief of staff position, Pelto said there would never have been any chance that prominent, hard-working chiefs of staff like Chad McCollam under Gov. Ella Grasso and M. Lisa Moody under Gov. M. Jodi Rell would leave suddenly.

"It's a very strange development,'' Pelto said. "As an observer of the governor's office since Ella Grasso was there, I've seen them all come and go. Both the timing in the short-term and the long-term is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen.''

Pelto also wasn't buying the explanation of long work hours, considering that Bannon has worked high-powered jobs as the speechwriter for O'Neill and state tax commissioner, among others.

"Working 24 -7 for a year doesn't sound like a reasonable answer,'' Pelto said. "I don't know what the backstory is.''

Before hearing Pelto's comments, Malloy adviser Roy Occhiogrosso said that the decisions were purely personal.