Bad news has been piling up quickly in state government this month. Among the examples:
A department head at the University of Connecticut at Storrs resigned after getting caught approving more than $100,000 in travel expenses and paid time off for his administrative assistant so she could travel with him internationally in the name of attending conferences but actually for sightseeing and companionship. The department head was already earning more than $320,000 annually and during the last two years received another $125,000 in compensation for “research.” Simultaneously UConn President Susan Herbst blamed a reduction in its state appropriation for the university’s modest decline in a national ranking of colleges.
State Attorney General George Jepsen announced that he is suing 13 current or former state employees for defrauding state government’s employee prescription drug plan of $11 million through a kickback scheme with a pharmaceutical company in Florida.
A toy chicken hanging from a noose was found in the office of a black employee of the state Department of Developmental Services in Torrington. Dozens of the department’s employees long have been complaining about racial discrimination in the department.
And the state Education Department announced the dismal results of the latest round of standardized tests of students in Grades 3 through 8 in the public schools. The results showed that there has been no closing of the “achievement gap” in the performance of minority and impoverished students in the last four years, during which state government has spent tens of millions of dollars in the name of closing the gap.
So what did Governor Malloy do about these things? Nothing. Instead this week he flew off to San Francisco to attend a conference on climate change, as if there aren’t plenty of people already attending to that issue. But who is attending to state government’s lack of management? Nobody until, maybe, the next governor takes office and changes Connecticut’s political climate.
A JOKE ON BOTH PARTIES
Ned Lamont, the Democratic candidate for governor, told a joke the other day in the course of making proposals to improve the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Customer service at department offices, Lamont said, has been so bad that people might enter as Democrats and exit as Republicans.
Catchy as the joke was, it wasn’t really fair, for clunky as the department remains in some respects, it has improved gradually in recent years, if not enough. More of its functions have been enabled on the internet, and department employees now strive to route people to the right windows as soon as they enter the office so they don’t waste time in the wrong lines.
Besides, for the 16 years prior to the current Democratic administration, Lamont’s joke could have been told with the parties reversed. Govs. John G. Rowland and Jodi Rell, both Republicans, showed less interest in the Motor Vehicles Department than Governor Malloy has shown. Indeed, the most notable frustration with the department in recent years resulted from an upgrading of its computer system that should have been implemented long before Malloy took office.
The Republican candidate for governor, Bob Stefanowski, proposes privatizing more of the department’s operations. Anything that reduces state government’s direct employment may save money, but improving service is something else. That may require some investment, which will be hard to find in state government for a long time.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.