Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

0Complaint targets state rep’s PAC for inadequate disclosure

A complaint alleges that a political action committee run by a Democratic state representative failed to disclose its activity properly, including last-minute contributions to town party committees right before the 2013 municipal election.

After Donna Hemmann, a Republican member of the Wethersfield Town Council, filed the complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission in May, the PAC filed amended reports to disclose two $500 donations to the Wethersfield Democratic Town Committee made on Oct. 21 and Nov. 5, 2013.

Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, controls the Pro-Progressive Energetic Leaders PAC, also known as Pro-PEL. Morin did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Outside of the legislature, Morin works for Connecticut Employees Union Independent, one of the state employee unions and an SEIU local. His PAC draws considerable support from unions.

The Wethersfield DTC did properly report the contributions, which is how Hemmann learned about them.

Pro-PEL’s amended report also disclosed other October donations that weren’t previously reported, including $500 for the Berlin Democratic Town Committee.

Hemmann also questioned how the committee raised $3,455 at a fundraiser that cost only $25, saying the “return on investment defies credibility.”

SEEC scheduled the complaint, 2014-058, for discussion during executive session on Oct. 14.

2Soros maxes out to Connecticut Democrats while banned contractors continue to give

The Connecticut Democratic Party raised nearly $350,000 in individual contributions to its federal account last month, including thousands from state contractors.

The party reported its latest haul to the Federal Elections Commission a week ago. Although state contractors and recipients of state aid are banned from donating to candidates or political parties, they can legally give to a party’s federal account. Democrats drew attention to the practice recently by using the federal account money to support the reelection of Gov. Dannel Malloy, prompting Republicans to sue.

Donors associated with the state contractor HAKS Engineers gave another $20,000 to the Connecticut Democrats last month, bringing their total contributions since last year to $70,000.

Other notable donors include:

Update: John T. Moore, CEO of the Marwood Group, gave $10,000 to the Democratic Party’s federal account last month. His colleague at Marwood, Ted Kennedy Jr., is running for state senate in Branford. Kennedy’s Republican opponent, Bruce Wilson Jr., recently filed a complaint accusing him of using the state party to make contributions over the legal limit.

1Democratic Party uses state contractor money to support Malloy

The Connecticut Democratic Party asked federal regulators earlier this month for permission to use a stockpile of cash from state contractors to support the reelection of Gov. Dannel Malloy, but rather than wait for a response the party began mailing advertisements using the money.

Since at least 2013, the state Democratic Party has used its federal account to collect donations from state contractors who are banned from giving directly to candidates or the party’s state account. The Federal Elections Commission has not ruled on the party’s request to use the money to influence a state election.

In many states, federal rules are stricter than state rules making it unlikely parties would use federal money for state candidates. However, in Connecticut the federal rules are more permissive in the sense that they don’t prevent state contractors from making contributions.

The ban includes owners and top decision makers at companies that have state contracts or receive state aid.

The most prominent example of this conundrum was Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May, who solicited donations from his employees to support Malloy’s reelection through the federal account. At the time, it was thought the federal account could not directly help Malloy, but with the latest request to the FEC the link became clearer.

State law does allow parties to indirectly transfer federal account money to the state account by routing it through a national party committee.

The Democratic Party, through its federal account, has raised money from numerous state contractors and recipients of state aid, contributors who can’t give to the same party’s state account. The ban was put in place after Republican ex-Gov. John Rowland resigned and pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge.

A number of employees at Northeast Utilities donated a year ago after the company’s CEO sent his controversial email. Employees of DOT contractor HAKS Engineers gave the party $45,000 last year and another $10,000 this year. Some of those donations may have been solicited at an event attended by Malloy. Leaders of a joint venture selected by DOT for a $500 million project in Stamford last year gave the party nearly $100,000 in donations since the agency made its decision – and while it negotiated a final agreement.

At least two medical marijuana dispensaries gave to the Democratic Party’s federal account. The Board of Regents chairman appointed by Malloy gave the maximum gift of $10,000 right before his appointment and again this year – as did his wife. One former donor to the Republican Party cynically redirected his support to the Democratic Party’s federal account after Malloy’s election; one of his companies went on to receive $6 million in borrowed state money.

The party also raised money from affordable housing developers, First Five companies, Mystic Aquarium and other recipients of state aid.

0Brookfield Board of Education confirms termination of superintendent

The Brookfield Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to terminate Superintendent Anthony Bivona, confirming a decision the board originally made in May.

The same board that fired Bivona earlier this year sat in judgment of him during a multi-part hearing that stretched on for months.

The board fired Bivona, who led the district for seven years, after auditors discovered the district had been using a gimmick to balance its budget. Bivona’s longtime business manager, Art Colley, resigned under scrutiny earlier this year.

The audit found that $1.3 million in school district bills had been pushed into the subsequent fiscal year. The town approved a supplemental appropriation of more than $1.1 million to bring the school district’s budget back into balance.

Bivona claimed throughout the hearing process he didn’t know what Colley was doing. The board’s attorney claimed Bivona should have known and the board agreed with his conclusion. Bivona’s attorney argued political pressure led to the firing making it arbitrary and illegal.

0MDC liens property owned by Mayor Segarra’s husband for unpaid water bills

The Metropolitan District Commission has placed a lien for more than $2,000 in unpaid water bills on condos owned by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s husband, Charlie Ortiz.

Ortiz owns a number of properties in the city, including five of the units at 57 John St. where the MDC placed the $2,418 lien.

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not respond to requests for comment.

According to an attorney for the MDC, the lien is on all six units but each unit owes one-sixth the amount. The MDC will release the liens on each unit if its owner pays a proportionate share of the unpaid fees, plus a $26 release fee.

Rising MDC bills has become an issue for some South End residents, says Hyacinth Yennie, chairwoman of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group.

Yennie said MDC bills have gone up, in some cases more than double, and they “are going out in a threatening way.”

She said one woman with a $900 bill told the MDC she couldn’t pay it all at once. “She was told, ‘No, you better send it all.’”

Carmen Duhaney, a South End resident, said her MDC bill went up from $210 per quarter to more than $400 per quarter. “It’s not affordable,” she said.

“Customer service was very nasty to her,” Yennie said. “They’re like pitbulls.”

Yennie said it’s also important to have oversight of the MDC. “There is no accountability when it comes to spending our money,” she said, explaining voters approved an $800 million MDC project in 2012. “We knew we were going to have to pay, but we didn’t know at what cost.”

“The plan is to have a meeting with the mayor,” Yennie said. “He’s so into this stupid stadium, I’m not sure I can get a word in.”

1Out-of-state developer, donor gets another $1.3 million; total support $43 million

A Norwalk affordable-housing project received another $1.3 million in state support, bringing total government support to more than $43 million for a project with an out-of-state developer.

Boston-based Trinity Financial is leading the $110 million Washington Village redevelopment.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of the company, gave $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account since 2013. State law would prohibit Lee, as a beneficiary of state funding, from making donations to candidates for state office or to the state party’s account to benefit those candidates. However, recipients of state funding and state contractors can give to the same party’s federal account.

The latest batch of funding is $1.3 million for brownfield remediation. Previously, the project received:

  • $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which hopes to convert affordable housing into mixed-income housing.
  • $9.8 million from the state Department of Housing, passing through federal money intended for the Superstorm Sandy recovery.
  • $1.89 million as a low-income housing tax credit.

In November 2013, the party received thousands in donations from others with affordable-housing business, also through its federal account.

4Teachers’ union official with state appointment describes herself online as a proud “union thug”

AFT Union Thug highlightA Connecticut teachers’ union official who holds an appointed position in state government calls herself a “union thug and proud of it” on her Twitter page.

Jean Morningstar is second vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut. Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed her to serve on the State Contracting Standards Board last year.

A recent tweet included a picture of Morningstar posing with Malloy.

After a fight over education reform including proposed changes to teacher tenure, Malloy and AFT have grown close again.

Malloy and AFT national President Randi Weingarten are expected Friday to tour schools together in Meriden and New Haven.

Last month, Malloy appointed Erin Benham, one of 22 AFT Connecticut vice presidents, to the State Board of Education.

In 2012, Malloy appointed Sharon Palmer, then president of AFT Connecticut, to serve as labor commissioner.

0Audit: Bridgeport Housing Authority rents too affordable, undercharged tenants millions since 2004

Federal auditors found the Bridgeport Housing Authority improperly set rental rates for more than 150 tenants, causing the authority to forego millions in revenue that it could have reinvested in its properties.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General, following up on a previous report that faulted the authority for offering employees “Cadillac” health insurance, said the authority, also known as Park City Communities, has not updated its flat rent since 2004.

Since the cost of housing has risen since 2004, the authority should have updated its flat rents, according to the report released last month.

Auditors said they couldn’t precisely estimate how much revenue the authority lost, but said it was at least “millions.”

In the most recent year, the authority missed out on about $600,000 because it undercharged 161 tenants an average of $300 per month.

According to the audit, new staff at the authority are implementing its recommendations, including updated flat rents.

The report also raised two issues related to unreported conflicts of interest.

Authority officials failed to disclose an apparent conflict of interest when they contracted with a director’s family member to perform work for the authority’s federal programs. After discussing the issue, the executive director took corrective action and terminated the contract.

The authority also had a longstanding contract with an individual who later became an elected official and thus had a HUD-defined conflict of interest. However, officials did not inform HUD or obtain the required approval. After discussing the issue, authority officials agreed to request the waiver, and HUD officials indicated that they were inclined to approve a waiver for this individual to run an after-school program.

0Malloy hosted 200 last year for St. Patrick’s Day bash

A peek inside the Governor’s Residence shows how Dannel Malloy has dealt with the joys and sorrows of being Connecticut’s chief executive.

Some parties were catered, others canceled.

On the joyous side, Malloy hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for 200 people in 2013, according to documents obtained from the state agency that manages the Governor’s Residence.

After the Newtown school shootings Malloy canceled five holiday receptions.

Among the canceled events was a Dec. 20, 2012, press reception for 100 expected to cost $3,450, according to the documents from the Department of Administrative Services, emails spanning December 2012 to April 2013.

The administration rescheduled some of the canceled events for early 2013, but the documents don’t provide a clear picture of how the rescheduled events match up with the canceled ones.

According to the documents, taxpayers paid for six catered events totaling about $15,000 at the residence during the five-month period with most of that going toward the $6,900 St. Patrick’s Day party.

The March 16 St. Patrick’s Day party cost $30 per person, plus a 15 percent service charge.

On Jan. 10, 2013, Malloy had a “formal sit-down dinner” for eight catered by Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine. The menu included a romaine, fennel and blood orange salad with pomegranate vinaigrette; braised beef short ribs with green peppercorn demi-glace; and warm apple crisp. The dinner, including four extra orders of short ribs, cost $654.47.

Malloy hosted local elected officials for a breakfast on Feb. 6. Mary’s Catering charged $265.50 for 25 people. Another event for local officials on Feb. 26, also handled by Mary’s Catering, cost $1,239 for 75 people.

A Feb. 7 luncheon for commissioners catered by Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine cost $3,584.72.

Culinary Accents catered a cocktail party for “inner-city clergy” on Feb. 15 for $2,625.

Two outgoing members of Malloy’s staff, Roy Occhiogrosso and Andrew McDonald, paid for catered events at the residence. Occhiogrosso, who left the Governor’s Office at the end of 2012 to return to the communications firm Global Strategy Group, paid for a Jan. 11 event at the residence. McDondald, Malloy’s general counsel until he became a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court in January 2013, paid for an event on Feb. 20.

Did Occhiogrosso and McDonald pay for their own farewell parties? The Governor’s Office declined to provide any context about the events, but it appears they may have.

The residence also frequently hosts charitable events. At one April event, according to the emails, a catering worker helped himself to some of Malloy’s personal ice cream and wine.

0McKinney’s law licensed suspended for past decade, owes client security fund more than $1,300

Sen. John McKinney, the Republican minority leader from Fairfield and a candidate for governor, owes $1,330 to the mandatory fund lawyers pay into to protect clients and his license has been under suspension since 2003.

“I have not engaged in the practice of law nor held myself out to be a practicing attorney since I left the private practice of law at Cummings & Lockwood over ten years ago,” McKinney said in a statement. “This is consistent with my annual ethics statements filed since that time. As such, this issue is moot. I am currently in the process of formally submitting retirement papers with the Statewide Grievance Committee to clear this administrative error.”

McKinney faces former Ambassador Tom Foley in the Aug. 12 Republican primary for a chance to take on Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy in November.

Active lawyers in Connecticut are required to pay an annual fee to the client security fund, currently $75. The fund reimburses clients for losses caused by a dishonest attorney.

To avoid paying the fee while not practicing, an attorney can file paperwork to retire, effectively putting one’s license on hold. If a retired attorney wants to begin practicing again, the retirement is revocable.

If a lawyer fails to pay the fee, the Statewide Grievance Committee administratively suspends his or her license. Although it is illegal to practice law with a suspended license, the SGC will reinstate licenses when it receives all overdue fees. The SGC also handles complaints against attorneys.

Malloy, also an attorney, has no record of discipline or suspensions, according to the SGC website.

The SGC first suspended McKinney in July 2003. The SGC also suspended McKinney in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and, last month, 2014. Starting with fees for 2006, the SGC started automatically suspending attorneys for each fee missed. Suspensions are made for missing the prior year’s fee, so the 2014 suspension is for missing payment of the 2013 fee.

Attorneys paying overdue fees must pay a reinstatement fee of $75. Including the restatement fee, McKinney owes $1,330. He didn’t pay $75 in 2002, 2003 or 2004. Between 2005 and 2012, he didn’t pay $110 eight times. He owed $75 for 2013 and another $75 for 2014, although he has not been suspended yet for missing that payment, according to a clerk for the client security fund.