State officials are clashing over whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is “hands off” regarding the higher education system.
The dust-up began after it was revealed that Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, had asked Lewis Robinson to step down as chairman of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Malloy has the authority to appoint the chairman of the board, but he no longer has the authority to choose the president of the system. The president oversees the four-campus Connecticut State University system and the state’s community colleges.
“First of all, we’re very hands-off on this,” Ojakian told Capitol Watch in an interview. “This is the appointment of the governor. We were the ones who introduced legislation in the last session that made the appointment of the president of the system an appointment of the board. We did not select the new president of the system. We made no recommendation to anyone on the board about who to select.”
But House Republican leader Larry Cafero said the characterization is wrong.
“To make the statement that we’re totally hands off, when your chief of staff just asked the chairman to resign, is false,” Cafero told Capitol Watch. “It’s not true. It’s inaccurate. It’s only because of Mark Ojakian that this man resigned.”
Malloy had been heavily involved in choosing Robert Kennedy, the former president of the system who resigned after controversies about pay raises and spending nearly nine weeks at his home in Minnesota under his interpretation of a professional development provision in his contract.
Cafero said he was surprised upon hearing that the office was hands off.
“That’s obviously not true,” he said. “They picked the president. They negotiated the contract that allowed the president to take nine weeks off. I don’t buy this hands off. The governor has had his hands on. The governor wants very tight control as to what comes out of that office from a press standpoint.”
One of Malloy’s former press aides, Colleen Flanagan Johnson, left the governor’s office and worked for the Board of Regents for less than two years. When she left recently for a job in the private sector in Avon, she was replaced by Juliet Manalan, another of the governor’s press aides.
But Ojakian said the governor’s office never stepped in to ensure that the press aides were hired.
“We have never, ever influenced any hiring at the board,” Ojakian said.
Sen. Toni Boucher, the ranking Senate Republican on the higher education committee, was surprised to hear that Malloy’s office had been pushing for the change in the presidency. Boucher said that she had the idea even before the legislative session started. The measure was eventually approved and signed into law.