Prompted by major controversy regarding the Board of Regents for higher education, the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a bipartisan bill that would require the board president to be appointed by the board – reducing the role of the governor.
The bill was related directly to the case of Robert Kennedy, the high-profile president who left the board after a series of controversies about salaries and perks that made front-page headlines. Kennedy was Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s handpicked choice for the presidency, and Malloy introduced him at the announcement in 2011 as the interim president at a salary of $340,000 per year, plus a $25,000 performance-based bonus. That contract represented a jump in pay for Kennedy, who had been earning about $220,000 per year as president of the University of Maine.
“Bob is the right person to help … lead us in a new direction,” Malloy said on August 22, 2011. “His personality, his work ethic, his experience in leading other institutions will enable him to lead this new system successfully.”
The bill to reduce Malloy’s role was approved by 129 to 14 with nine Republicans and five Democrats against it.
House Republican leader Larry Cafero said it is wrong “to take nine weeks’ off and go fishing” and for a high-salaried employee to submit bills for reimbursement for “80-cent tolls and gourmet coffee.”
“That is the epitome of why people dislike the governmental process,” Cafero said on the House floor.
“It is a great first step” but “leaves questions unanswered,” said Cafero, who voted in favor of the measure along with House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey and other top leaders.
Rep. Whit Betts voted against the bill, saying, ”We don’t want to have a repeat embarrassment of what went on before.”
Rep. Juan Candelaria, a New Haven Democrat, joined with nine Republicans in opposing the bill. The veteran, independent Democrats who voted against the measure included Rep. Mary Fritz of Wallingford, Rep. Steven Mikutel of Griswold, Rep. Buddy Altobello of Meriden, and Rep. Terry Backer of Stratford.
“None of us in this room would like to revisit the kind of issues’’ regarding Kennedy and “his unilateral approval of salaries’’ of employees and “his so-called sabattical clause,’’ Cafero said.
“It is the most galling and glaring of errors” in the Kennedy situation, he said.
Cafero questioned how the process would work if Malloy vetoes the bill that was outlined by Rep. Roberta Willis, a longtime Litchfield County Democrat who has clashed with the Malloy administration over higher education issues.