A measure buried deep in a last-minute, 326-page bill at the state Capitol would exempt the UConn police force from state hiring rules, allowing the university to create its own job classifications that could lead to more pay for officers.
The change was not proposed and did not receive a public hearing during the session that ends at midnight Wednesday, though it has come up in the past, most recently in 2013.
UConn police officers would still be in the union that represents protective services officers. But under the change, UConn, which has an authorized force of 76 sworn officers, would “establish classifications” for the police force jobs at all of the university’s campuses, including the health center in Farmington.
UConn Police Chief Barbara O’Connor has pushed for the change, saying it would add flexibility and speed by giving her the ability to hire from a list that is tailor made, rather than the longer list of approved applicants compiled by the state Department of Administrative Services. She told CTMirror last year it would let her department “control the…process.”
O’Connor declined to comment on the pending bill through UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz late Wednesday, but Reitz said that on the state’s list of applicants, “there may be people whose original intent was not a campus police position. It just helps you kind of narrow it.”
It also could lead to abuses of the sort that the Department of Administrative Services is designed to avert. And if it’s enacted, it shouldn’t happen as a last-minute slip-in in a midnight bill in the waning minutes of the legislative session, buried amid dozens of unrelated measures, unknown to most lawmakers who had to vote on it.
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee, just found out the measure was in place Tuesday — and tried to stop it. He said the carve-out could lead to lower standards and other problems and that some unions had concerns about it. Sneaking it into law, he said, “is not fair, it’s not right.”
UConn came under criticism in 2011 after my colleague Jon Lender revealed that then-UConn Police Chief Robert Hurd made $256,000 a year — far more than most of his counterparts in similar jobs around the country — and Maj. Robert Blicher made $202,000 a year. Both retired that year, in their mid-50s.
O’Connor was hired in 2011 at a salary of $164,000 and now makes $172,935.
The measure is designed to not allow UConn the leeway to pay higher wages to its police force, said Ben Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief. That may be true under his tight controls, but a reading of the language appears to show some wiggle room, and some, including Dargan, believe UConn could pay its officers more than state troopers earn under the measure, by changing their job descriptions.
Broadly, the change is part of a trend under which UConn and other state agencies carve out their own rules for hiring, construction and other activities.
“We’ve made a lot of carve-outs for UConn,” said state Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold. “How many projects ended up being not done competently?”
He named a few, in construction. And when it comes to removing significant groups of unionized state employees from the classified services, an open debate — unlike what’s happening at the state Capitol — seems the better way to run the show.