When a board member of the state\’s regional garbage agency refused to resign, it set off a series of e-mails that provide a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes strategy and scrambling among state officials and legislators to find a way to fill the seat.
The situation arose in June 2011 when the member refused to resign, and the e-mail trail involves Senate Republican leader John McKinney, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, former House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter, and former assistant U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, who now works as the deputy to Attorney General George Jepsen.
The players include North Stonington first selectman Nicholas Mullane, a Republican, and Barkhamsted first selectman Donald S. Stein, who is now the CRRA chairman.
In an email regarding the controversy in June 2011, CRRA president Thomas D. Kirk wrote to Ritter and five others that “As you know, we have an impasse with the Nick Mullane – Don Stein situation. Nick does not want to resign as it would reflect badly on him, and Sen. McKinney wants to avoid the further dissemination of the embarrassment of his staff mistake to ‘resign’ Nick off the board. My idea is this. Sen. Williams has an empty director slot for a business and finance expert. I propose that if McKinney and Williams are on decent enough terms, Sen. Williams be asked to appoint Stein to the empty seat, Nick stays, and everyone is happy. Williams has been sitting on this opening for nearly a year, so I doubt he has anyone in mind. Stein is a Democrat.\’\’
McKinney told Capitol Watch on Friday that he was surprised because he never saw the email, never spoke to Kirk about it, and did not recall talking to Williams on the issue. Williams, too, never recalled talking to McKinney about the board appointments and never appointed Stein.
When the smoke cleared, Mullane resigned and McKinney appointed Stein.
The e-mails were disclosed publicly as part of efforts by Hartford political strategist Matthew J. Hennessy, who has filed a civil lawsuit against CRRA after failing to win a three-year consulting contract that was worth more than $250,000. Hennessy, represented by the law firm of Murtha Cullina, charges in the lawsuit that Ritter has been lobbying illegally by talking to various state officials on multiple matters. Ritter has repeatedly maintained that he has not lobbied for CRRA. CRRA has paid Brown Rudnick $2.83 million over the past six years.
Regarding Mullane, McKinney said that he believed that Mullane intended to step down from the board – when that was not the case.
\”I appointed him, and by all accounts he was doing an excellent job,\’\’ McKinney said. \”My memory was that Nick had said that North Stonington was going to end their CRRA contract, and he appreciated serving on the CRRA board. I thought that meant he could no longer serve on the board if North Stonington was no longer a CRRA town. … I guess there was a miscommunication between Nick and myself and my staff. I called Nick, and we talked about it. I took the blame for the miscommunication.\’\’
CRRA has been involved in various controversies in the past. In September 2005, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she was \”aghast\’\’ at the high salaries paid at the state\’s quasi-publics, where Kirk was the highest paid at CRRA. He was earning $270,000 per year in 2008 – a sharp jump from the $175,000 he was paid not long after he was hired in December 2002.
Kirk now clearly relies on Ritter for advice, as shown by an email on June 20, 2011 that was copied to Ritter.
“Please check with Tom to determine how we should pursue my idea to ask Don Williams to use his empty seat for Don Stein,’’ Kirk wrote. “Do we contact Williams first? Do we contact McKinney? I am unsure how to proceed, and Tom [Ritter] is likely the best to provide some advice.’’
As part of the efforts, the emails show that CRRA was trying \”to get a helpful AG opinion\’\’ from Jepsen\’s office regarding the board controversy.
\”I agree it can be an issue we ignore as it is not \’our problem\’ except that Don Stein is calling me asking when the next meeting is,\’\’ Kirk wrote on June 9, 2011. … Also, do we really want to seat someone and count on their vote if ultimately the board\’s decision can be nullified due to an adverse ruling on the director\’s eligibility at a later date? … Whatever we decide, it is better to have the AG offer an opinion or go to the legislative counsel\’s office. We should get that process started, whichever we decide, ASAP.\’\’
Ritter reported back to Kirk, CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnenmacher, and others that he was working on the issue.
\”Nora Dannehy called me this morning,\’\’ Ritter wrote on June 13, 2011 at 9:49 a.m. \”While they don\’t offer legal opinions to quasi-state agencies, I explained that this was more of a review of a legislative action. She wants to be helpful and will get back to me shortly after she does a bit more review. Tom\’\’