In a fast turnaround that happened only hours after a meeting with two of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s top aides, president Robert Kennedy is rescinding about $300,000 in raises in the state’s higher education system.
The controversy erupted when it was disclosed that former state Sen. Michael P. Meotti received a pay increase of about $49,000 per year. The raise actually occurred in June, but few in state government or the general public knew about it.
Meotti had been earning more than $183,000 annually, but the pay increase in June pushed him above $230,000 per year. The governor – who oversees an annual budget of more than $20 billion – earns $150,000 per year. The state attorney general – who oversees about 200 lawyers – earns $110,000 per year.
Malloy had proposed and created the Board of Regents for higher education, and the new system was approved by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. Malloy personally recruited Kennedy, calling him out of the blue to talk about the new job and leaving his cell phone number with Kennedy’s secretary.
Two of his top aides voiced Malloy’s displeasure over the raises directly Wednesday to Meotti and Kennedy, the former University of Maine president who was appointed by Malloy as interim president and nominated as permanent president. Meotti, the former interim president, now reports to Kennedy. Kennedy had been expecting to retire, but he took the $340,000-per-year job and came to Connecticut to work with Malloy.
Malloy had highly praised Kennedy in August 2011 when he appointed him interim president of the system – before the full board voted.
“Bob is the right person to help lead us in this new direction,” Malloy said at the time. “As someone with classroom and administrative experience at a number of institutions of higher education, I know that he understands that our resources need to be focused on the students who attend these schools and the preparation they need for the global economy in which they will compete. Bob turned the University of Maine into a job engine and managed that institution with an entrepreneur’s eye for operating savings through first-in-the-nation energy initiatives and other measures. His personality, his work ethic and his experience leading other institutions will enable him to lead this new system successfully, and I look forward to working with him and his team on this new endeavor.”
Former Malloy press aide Colleen Flanagan Johnson, a 30-year-old Democrat who now serves as chief spokesman for the board of regents and chief of staff, had her salary raised from $130,000 per year to $150,000 per year.
Republican State Sen. Andrew Roraback got into a verbal tussle on Tuesday with Malloy’s senior adviser, Democrat Roy Occhiogrosso, before the raises were rescinded.
“What planet does this governor live on when his administration sees fit to allow a $50,000 raise?” Roraback asked reporters outside the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. “It would be hard to imagine that the governor’s office wasn’t privy to what they had in mind, but you’ll find that out.”
Occhiogrosso responded that the governor’s office was not involved in the raises because the Board of Regents for Higher Education is independent. The board was proposed by Malloy and approved by the Democratic-c0ntrolled legislature.
“I guess he doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘independent,’ ” Occhiogrosso said. “Tell him to look it up in the dictionary.’’