Claim Check: Foley on “Underperforming” Schools

by Categorized: Claim Check, Education, Politics Date:

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It’s been strangely quiet in the Claim Check cubicle lately, but not because candidates and PACs have suddenly abandoned political advertising.

Instead, Connecticut candidates took a break from specific boasts or specific accusations to focus on generic vote-for-me-I’m-a-nice-guy ads that defy fact-checking. So, for example, we saw congressional candidate Mark Greenberg’s clever analogyFoley_Education about barking dogs and we know that gubernatorial longshot Joe Visconti packs heat and rides horses. But neither of those spots had measurable claims that could be addressed in this space.

But at last, a recent Tom Foley TV spot, focusing on education, makes a single checkable assertion about the performance of Connecticut schools. The claim is based on an outdated report and the issue of school performance is more complicated than can be squeezed into a short ad. But overall, Foley’s assertion is justifiable. Continue reading

Claim Check: A Foley Misstep on His Time at The Bibb Co.

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

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Readers who are keeping count will know that this is the seventh time Claim Check has considered Tom Foley’s tenure with the Bibb Co. They may also recall that we have typically deemed ads Foley_RightExperiencefrom both sides to be generally accurate, even when they lack context or rely heavily on opinion — which doesn’t lend itself to fact-checking.

Instead, what has gotten the political spinmeisters in real trouble are statements in ads that are demonstrably and unequivocally erroneous — incorrect statements that leave little or no room for interpretation or truth-shading. And that is the fate that befalls Foley in his latest ad in the tug-of-war over Bibb.

Continue reading

Claim Check: Malloy Hits – Again – at Tom Foley and the Bibb Co.

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

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Five times now, Claim Check has evaluated assertions about Tom Foley’s involvement with the Bibb Co. textile firm in Georgia. And five times now, BibbTowerwe’ve found that one side or the other didn’t get the story exactly right — though usually without veering so far from the truth as to earn an unfavorable rating.

That is the case once again, as Claim Check takes its sixth look at the Bibb, via an ad from Gov. Dannel Malloy’s campaign titled “Ghost Town.” Continue reading

Claim Check: Foley Takes Aim at Malloy on Taxes, Jobs, Economy

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Government, Politics Date:

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Whatever advantages attach to incumbency at election time, there is one obvious potential Foley_Hurtingdownside: Officeholders create an inescapable trail of policy decisions and are typically linked to the fortunes — and certainly the misfortunes — of their dominions during their terms.

All of that creates opportunities for opponents, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley is out with an aggressive new ad mining the record of incumbent Gov. Dan Malloy on key pocketbook issues: taxes, jobs and the economy. Continue reading

Claim Check: Tom Foley, Sprague and The Bibb Co.

by Categorized: Business, Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

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No matter what twists and turns the gubernatorial race takes in the next 11 weeks, one thing seems abundantly clear: Democrats will never tire of airing video of Republican Tom Foley sparring with workers at a struggling paper factory in Sprague.

With Foley’s victory in last week’s Republican primary for governor, incumbent Gov. Dan Malloy wasted no time putting out a TV ad replaying the awkward confrontation – and tying it to Foley’s past control of a defunct textile plant that featured prominently in anti-Foley ads four years ago.

It’s an irresistible play. But is it accurate? Continue reading

Away From the Coast, Foley Dominated Gubernatorial Primary

by Categorized: Data, Government, Politics Date:

Tom Foley won a broad and commanding victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor, taking a majority of votes in all but a relative handful of lower-Connecticut cities and towns.

Challenger John McKinney, who lives in Fairfield, had a strong showing in his hometown and bested Foley in 18 other municipalities as well, most of them on the water in Fairfield and New Haven counties. But Foley dominated in every other part of the state.

Below is a town-by-town map of election results as reported by Reuters. Towns shaded red indicate vote spreads favoring Foley and towns shaded blue indicate vote spreads favoring McKinney. Click on a town to see actual results. Results are not available for the two Eastern Connecticut towns in gray: Pomfret and Preston.

The Practice Book Rule That Connecticut Judges Rarely Obey

by Categorized: First Amendment, Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Media, Transparency/FOI Date:

The arrest affidavit detailing the criminal case against Southington teenager Eric Morelli, who unwittingly caused a fatal fire by tossing firecrackers at a friend’s bedroom window, was ordered sealed three different times in the last month and half, until a Superior Court judge lifted the secrecy order late last week after acknowledging there was no good reason to keep the document under wraps.

This happens too osealedfileften, despite a legal mandate that favors openness in the courts, and clear rules establishing the hurdles that must be cleared and the process that must be followed when judges take what should be the extraordinary step of shutting off public access.

So as a public service, The Scoop would like to publicly remind the state’s judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys of their obligations under the Connecticut Practice Book when seeking to seal arrest warrants and other court documents.

Section 42-49A of the Practice Book begins: “Except as otherwise provided by law, there shall be a presumption that documents filed with the court shall be available to the public.” That presumption is echoed in the commentary of the section, which summarizes the findings of various court cases that make up the established and non-discretionary law of the state. “The public and press enjoy a right of access to attend trials in criminal cases and to access documents filed in connection with such cases,” the Practice Book notes. “This right is well settled in the common law and has been held to be implicit in the first amendment rights protecting the freedom of speech [and] of the press.”

That right, of course, is not absolute – as indicated by the phrase “Except as otherwise provided by law” – and there are various reasons why at least portions of a court document may legally be sealed, such as to protect witnesses or preserve an ongoing criminal investigation that would truly be jeopardized if certain details became publicly known.

But the Practice Book recognizes that is a momentous step and mandates that judges work to minimize the impact on the public’s right to know. As such, a sealing order can be entered “only if the judicial authority concludes that such order is necessary to preserve an interest which is determined to override the public’s interest in viewing such material. The judicial authority shall first consider reasonable alternatives to any such order and any such order shall be no broader than necessary to protect such overriding interest.”

And the Practice Book requires judges to pay more than lip service to that principle by spelling out exactly what they’re doing and why. In sealing a document, “the judicial authority shall articulate the overriding interest being protected and shall specify its findings underlying such order and the duration of such order.” In addition, “the judicial authority shall order that a transcript of its decision be included in the file or prepare a memorandum setting forth the reasons for its order.”

There are no transcripts or memoranda in Eric Morelli’s file and veteran criminal court reporters will tell you that in practice, there is little resembling the formality and gravity envisioned by the Practice Book rules.

In the Morelli case, the initial seal was requested by the prosecutor in what sometimes seems like an automatic action in higher-profile cases. Such requests are rarely rejected by judges. The last extension to the seal order was requested by Morelli’s defense attorney, who said he feared pre-trial publicity could poison a jury pool and that details in the warrant might be embarrassing to those involved.

Defense attorneys are duty-bound to promote their clients’ interests, but seasoned lawyers certainly know those are almost never valid reasons for keeping an arrest warrant secret. Nevertheless, some judges apply an inappropriately low level of scrutiny to such requests. And as in the Morelli case, they often are overturned only after intervention by a newspaper lawyer.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. So in this, the 223rd year of the Bill of Rights, I offer a modest proposal that the state’s criminal bar and judiciary give Practice Book Section 42-49A a fresh read and recommit to the transparency that has been a hallmark of a reputable judicial branch for centuries.

Veterans Charity Loses $830,000 to Theft – and Tens of Millions to Costly Fundraising

by Categorized: Law Enforcement, Non-profits Date:

My colleague Kelly Glista reports that a bookkeeper for the National Veterans Services Fund has been accused of embezzling more than $830,000 from the Darien-based nonprofit.

But that’s pennies compared to the millions the charity loses year after year in lopsided fundraising contracts.NVSFlogo

As I’ve written before, charity watchdogs consider the National Veterans Services Fund among the worst nonprofits in the nation, consistently receiving pennies on the dollar for the millions raised from patriotic Americans.

When I first wrote about the National Veterans Services Fund for a 2005 story on veterans charities, fundraising costs at the organization were eating up nearly 98 cents of every dollar raised – meaning every time a generous donor gave $500, all but $11 of that donation was spent on printing and mailing costs or pocketed by professional fundraisers. That made it the least efficient of the 286 veterans charities analyzed by the Courant.

I checked in again on the charity a year ago, after Charity Navigator, a respected rating agency, put the National Veterans Services Fund at the top of its list of “consistently low rated charities” – earning zero-star ratings for ten straight years. By then, the charity’s deal with fundraisers allowed the solicitors to keep as much as 84 cents of every dollar raised – an improvement, but still five times what the average veterans charity spends on fundraising.

Overall, from 2000 to 2012, Americans who were solicited by phone and mail donated $72 million to the National Veterans Services Fund, according to its IRS filings. But $56 million of that donated money came off the top to cover the cost of all that soliciting. Even among veterans charities that use expensive professional fundraisers, the Darien charity’s fundraising percentage is more than twice that of other nonprofits. That gap alone amounts to $30 million in donated money since 2000 that wasn’t spent on charity.

Cynthia Tanner could face 20 years in prison if convicted of diverting $830,000 from the charity. Meanwhile, the National Veterans Services Fund spends about that much on fundraising every 40 days. Phil Kraft, the organization’s president, treasurer and executive director, has a ready answer to concerns about the charity’s huge fundraising costs, saying those unfavorable contracts with professional fundraisers are the only way he can stay in business.

His response a year ago was nearly identical to what he told me in 2005: “A small percentage of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.”

Is Jailed CCSU Poet a Good Professor? That’s None of Your Business.

by Categorized: Education, Law Enforcement, Transparency/FOI Date:

My colleague Kathy Megan reports this morning that the Board of Regents for the Connecticut State University system will reconsider Tuesday’s decision to grant full professorship to Ravi Shankar – a promotion that occurred while Shankar was behind bars at the Hartford Correctional Center.

In seeking to distance Shankar’s legal troubles from his classroom duties, regents spokesman Michael Kozlowski said he has heard that Shankar, the school’s poet in residence, “has tremendous student ratings, they like him very much, and that his academic record, at least as far as I know, is quite good.”

We’ll have to take his word for it.

As I’ve noted before, there is a strange lack of transparency surrounding the assessment of public university professors in Connecticut, with all records of their performance and evaluation off limits to the taxpayers who employ them. But that cloak confidentialstampof secrecy is yet more stark for faculty employed by the State University System, where the entire contents of personnel files are closed to any outside scrutiny.

Those aren’t my words; that’s the actual language of the faculty union contract, which was given the force of law years ago by the legislature. “The entire contents of personnel files,” the contract reads, “shall be considered private and may not be opened to any outside scrutiny except when ordered by a court of law.”

Those personnel files contain a faculty member’s application for employment, payroll records, disciplinary actions, job-related correspondence with university administrators and “all other relevant personnel actions.”

That unmatched secrecy would typically run afoul of the state’s Freedom of Information laws, which recognize that public accountability is part of the deal when the public pays your salary. But under Connecticut law, when the legislature approves a collective-bargaining agreement, the provisions of the contract supersede any conflicting state law.

So in 1997, the union asked for wholesale secrecy, negotiators for the state agreed, and legislators let it become law.

“One the biggest potential threats to public accountability is a state law (Gen. Statutes section 5-278) that is being used to allow public employee contracts ratified by the legislature to trump FOI statutes when it comes to releasing information in employee personnel files,” the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information wrote in their Agenda for Open Government last year. “The executive branch should refuse to negotiate, and the legislature should refuse to accept, such back-door assaults on accountability in the state’s union contracts.”

The current state-university contract expires next year and negotiations will begin anew. We’ll see if there are voices in state government willing to stand up for transparency. In the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not Professor Ravi Shankar’s academic record is in fact “quite good.”

Connecticut, Love It or Leave It? Actually, Neither.

by Categorized: Data Date:

There isn’t a house in Connecticut more than about an hour’s drive from a neighboring state. But in a recent Gallup poll, nearly half of us said we pine for those borders, saying we’d pack up the U-Haul and put Connecticut in the rear-view mirror, if only we could.

Connecticut was second only to Illinois in the percentage of state residents who answered “yes” to the question: “Regardless of whether you will move, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move to another state?” Fifty percent of Illinois residents wanted to run for the border, one percentage point higher than Connecticut.movingbox

But while statistically either you or the person next to you right now doesn’t want to be here, the percentage of us actually planning to disconnect the cable and wrap up the dishes is far lower, with 16 percent reporting they were “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat” likely to move in the next year. That was only slightly higher than the national average of 14 percent.

But don’t believe those figures either. Census data show that Americans don’t abandon their states in numbers anywhere near those levels. The most recent Census stats show that an estimated 2.3 percent of U.S. residents lived in a different state a year ago – and Connecticut’s numbers were at that very same percentage.

So the Gallup poll and the Census figures suggest that we grouse more than our fellow Americans, but don’t actually follow through on our disdain for the state.

Joining Connecticut in the Hate-My-State Club were Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Louisiana. In each of those states, at least 40 percent of residents said they would like to swap out their license plates.

The happiest campers: Those in Montana, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, New Hampshire, Texas, Colorado and Minnesota – where no more than a quarter of residents wish they were someplace else. Nationally, one in three survey respondents said they would move if they could.

Among those who long to get out of Connecticut, one in five cited work or business issues as the main reason – although that figure was still lower than in many other states. Cost of living, on the other hand, was cited far more often by Connecticut residents than those living elsewhere.

The map below shows the Gallup poll figures for each state. Residents of bluer states were the happiest staying put; states that hue orange were populated with those most eager to leave. Click on the map to find the numbers for each state. A data caveat: Gallup says the figures have a margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points.