Category Archives: Politics

Secret Severance Deal For Public Officials? Not In My State.

by Categorized: Government, Politics, Transparency/FOI Date:

Elected officials in Newington were so eager to be rid of former Town Manager John Salomone that they offered him tens of thousands of dollars of other people’s money to get him to leave.

But they also didn’t want everyone in town to know the details of the whole messy affair, so they did JohnSalomonewhat politicians too often do: They added a confidentiality clause to the severance deal, and then said they were barred from releasing a copy of the signed agreement.

There are two things wrong with this approach. One, it’s generally bad public policy to keep people in the dark when you’re spending their money. And two, in Connecticut anyway, it’s illegal.

Or more particularly: Politicians in Connecticut can draft confidentiality clauses all they want; they just can’t keep them confidential.

That’s been the law of the land here for nearly a decade, but it’s a statute public officials sometimes have trouble remembering. So as a public service, The Scoop offers the following refresher: Connecticut General Statutes 1-214a – appropriately titled “Disclosure of public agency termination, suspension or separation agreement containing confidentiality provision” – specifically mandates just that: the disclosure of public employee separation agreements, notwithstanding a confidentiality clause. Under the law, any termination agreement between a public agency and and an employee “that contains a confidentiality provision that prohibits or restricts such public agency from disclosing the existence of the agreement or the cause or causes for such termination … shall be subject to public disclosure.”

So when the Courant’s Christopher Hoffman asked for a copy of the severance agreement earlier this month after the Newington Town Council approved it 8-0, he should have promptly received a copy. Instead, according to Hoffman’s story, Mayor Roy Zartarian “said that the town had negotiated a severance package with Salomone but declined to reveal its contents, saying both parties had agreed to keep it confidential.”

That’s not what the statutes allow. And to Zartarian’s partial credit, when advised of his obligations under the law, he did ultimately provide a copy of the agreement, while continuing – as he is at least legally entitled to do – to refuse to talk about the town’s actions.

So town residents are still partly in the dark about why their public servants doled out tens of thousands of dollars to the outgoing Town Manager, but at least they now know that’s where their money went. And through Hoffman’s diligence, they now know the extraordinary effort all parties took to assure that the whole messy affair would stay as much in the shadows as possible.

The signed deal, for example, assures that Salomone won’t share any thoughts he might have about whether the public is being ill-served by the town. The agreement bars Salomone from disparaging or criticizing the town and specifically prohibits him from saying anything to the press about his departure “other that what is agreed to by the town.”

Likewise, town officials agreed not to speak openly and honestly with anyone about their opinion of Salomone’s professional abilities or personality, and further barred every Newington town employee from saying anything negative or critical to a potential future employer of Salomone’s. That means, presumably, that no one had anything bad to say about Salomone to representatives of the city of Norwich, which just hired Salomone as their new city manager.

Under the separation deal, Newington officials agreed to give Salomone seven months’ pay while he isn’t working for the town. That’s a month longer than he’s entitled to under a provision in his contract that gives him six month’s salary if the town votes to terminate him. City officials won’t say why they gave him the extra month’s pay – about $12,000 of taxpayer’s money.

“This is a personnel matter and as such, I can make no statement on the issue,” Zartarian told the Courant. In fact, there is nothing in Connecticut law that bars public officials from making statements on personnel matters, and the only thing forcing Zartarian to keep mum is the agreement he chose to sign.

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Bronin-Segarra Vote Shows City Divide

by Categorized: Data, Politics, Race/Ethnicity Date:

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra often insisted that race was not an issue in his unsuccessful battle with Luke Bronin for the Democratic mayoral nod. But balloting in Wednesday’s primary election suggests otherwise,with voting patterns highlighting the city’s division along racial and ethnic lines.

As the election map below illustrates, Bronin, represented by the green shading, Broninwas strong in precincts in the northern half of the city, while Segarra, represented by orange, did well in the south. The maps farther below, drawn from Census data, show that the city has a similar division racially and ethnically, with most black residents concentrated in the North End, and most Latinos in the South. (Click shaded areas in the election map for vote information and the Census maps for demographic details.)

While the final vote spread was 55 to 45 percent, voting in individual precincts was far more lopsided. Where the candidates won, they won big. Out of 24 precincts in the city, Bronin won seven with more than 70 percent of the vote. Segarra topped 60 percent in five precincts.

So  Bronin captured the nomination by winning  – and winning decisively – in predominantly black precincts, overcoming Segarra’s generally strong support in precincts with large numbers of Hispanics. Bronin also did well in the West End districts that are home to large concentrations of white residents.

On the campaign trail, Bronin frequently promised an administration that would work “for all of Hartford’s residents.” Wednesday’s vote could be an indication of how difficult it may be to unify all of the city’s constituencies.


Population concentrations in Hartford for Hispanics (above left), blacks (above right), and whites (below).

A Transparency Advocate’s Legislative Wish List

by Categorized: Education, First Amendment, Government, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI Date:

I recently obtained an internal email in which a lawyer for a public agency laid out the agency’s strategy for responding to a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Step One was identifying the records the agency was willing to release.

Step Two was identifying the records the agency had no intention of releasing.

And then Step Three, almost as an afterthought, was determining whether there was actually an exception under the Freedom of Information Act that would provide a legal basis for keeping the withheld documents secret from the public.

“As we discussed we can always withhold a document even if there is no exception,” the lawyer wrote, with the understanding that the agency might have to concoct a justification for the illegal act if the requester was savvy enough to pursue an appeal to the Freedom of Information Commission.

It wasn’t the first such email I had been made privy to, and it reminded me of the need for vigilance in Freedom of Information matters and the importance of constantly reminding the public servants who work for us that they do, in fact, work for us. They’re paid by us, they’re sworn to serve us. And with rare exceptions, all of the paperwork and data they produce and collect while on our payroll belongs to us, and should be provided to us without a fight.

So as the Legislature gets down to business this week, here’s one transparency advocate’s wish list, for any lawmakers willing to champion the not-so-radical concept that the people’s business really is the people’s business. Continue reading

How We Knew Tom Foley Was in Trouble on Election Night

by Categorized: Data, Politics Date:

For hours after the polls closed Tuesday night, as vote tallies cropped up from town to town, Tom Foley enjoyed a steady if tantalizingly thin HC 10 MALLOY ELECTIONmargin in his quest to unseat Gov. Dan Malloy.

But here at The Scoop, we could tell early on that Foley was in serious trouble, even as he seemed to be thousands of votes ahead.

Our early warning came from a simple system that not only compiled the local results as they were announced, but also analyzed how each candidate was faring compared to their initial match four years ago. That deeper look at the numbers showed that almost from the beginning, there was evidence Foley was facing an uphill battle to avoid a replay of his 2010 defeat.

Connecticut elections typically display a sharp divide between the most-populous cities, which vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and smaller suburban and rural towns, many of which lean moderately or heavily Republican. But it’s those smaller towns, many with a single voting precinct, that report early, giving Republican candidates a phantom edge that can be wiped out when the totals come in from the cities.

In the newsroom, we could see that while Foley once again did well in traditionally Republican towns, he was losing ground in many of those communities compared to four years ago. Later, it was evident that he had failed to substantially chip away at Malloy’s huge margins of victory in the large cities. For more details on how Malloy’s victory came together, see my colleague Dan Haar’s excellent analysis.

Tuesday’s vote offered a fresh reminder of the dangers of reading too much into early returns. So on election nights to come, it’s worth remembering that even with hyper-competitive news coverage of a hyper-competitive political process, patience is still a virtue.

The map below shows how Malloy and Foley fared Tuesday, compared to their vote spreads in 2010. Towns shaded blue are those in which Malloy performed better than four years ago, either by extending his margin of victory or shrinking Foley’s. Similarly, red-shaded towns are those in which Foley either won by more votes or lost by fewer. Deeper colors indicate are more dramatic improvement over 2010. Click on a town for details.

Town-by-Town Vote Margins for Connecticut Governor

by Categorized: Data, Politics Date:

As town results trickle in from local registrars tonight, we’ll begin to have a sense of how Tom Foley and Dan Malloy are faring in the battle for the governor’s office. But since different towns complete their counts in different time frames – and particularly because larger cities tend to lag significantly behind small, one-precinct towns – early figures may give a lopsided view of how the race is really going.

With this campaign a rematch of 2010, a better measure might be to compare each candidate’s town-by-town margin of victory against his margin four years ago. That’s what this chart accomplishes. As each town reports vote totals for Foley and Malloy, the chart will show which candidate saw gains compared to 2010, either by extending his lead or narrowing his opponent’s lead.

So if suburban towns report early in the evening and indicate, as expected, a preference for Foley, this chart will show not merely that Foley is doing well in the suburbs, but whether he’s doing better or worse than he did four years ago. Likewise, while Malloy is expected to win big margins in the cities, this chart will show whether he has lost or gained ground compared to 2010.

Note that the chart will have no data for the 2014 race until the first towns report, sometime after 8 p.m. Note also that refreshing the page will load the latest data.

Claim Check: Greenberg Ad Muddies Esty’s Stand on Social Security

by Categorized: Claim Check, Politics Date:

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Where’d the puppies go?

Weeks after airing what might be the feel-good ad of the 2014 campaign season, featuring hordes of tail-wagging dogs, Mark Greenberg has returned to the aGreenberg_Esty_SocialSecurityirwaves with a considerably harsher message aimed at 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty.

In “Disturbing Patterns,” Greenberg, the Republican challenger, draws historical parallels to portray Esty as a politician who supports higher taxes and lobs false attack ads. In firing that salvo, Greenberg stays mostly — but not entirely — within bounds.

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Claim Check: Elizabeth Esty Misleads on Social Security

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

claimcheckThese days, video cameras follow candidates everywhere, from intimate meet-and-greets to massive pEsty_SocialSecurity_Greenbergolitical rallies, and when rivals dig into that footage, they face a choice. They can look for some unflattering off-the-cuff gaffe to embarrass their opponent, or they can cherry-pick and string together piecemeal quotes to make their challenger appear to be saying something he or she is not.

Elizabeth Esty’s campaign went with the latter option in a new ad taking aim at Fifth-District Congressional challenger Mark Greenberg’s stance on Social Security. Continue reading

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.

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

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

claimcheck

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