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OP-ED | OMG! The OGA Was Such a Horrible Idea

by | Apr 3, 2015 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Campaign Finance, Child Welfare, Ethics, FOIA, Opinion, Transparency

Screenshot courtesy of CT-N

When Gov. Dan Malloy and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly decided in 2011 to consolidate several agencies, including three of the largest autonomous watchdog units, and essentially put them under his control, he was met with cries of well-earned protest from open-government advocates.

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“Don’t you worry your pretty little heads,” the Malloy administration countered. “We’re just trying to save money. We won’t interfere with or disrupt the operations of those precious agencies.”

Lo and behold, it looks like the new director of the Office of Government Accountability (OGA) has interfered in just the way the office’s critics had feared.

Shelby J. Brown was appointed executive administrator of the OGA after the disastrous tenure of her predecessor, David Guay, who seemed to think he wasn’t “accountable” to the very people who were charged with evaluating him.

The 2011 move by Malloy put the erstwhile independent offices of elections enforcement, ethics, and freedom of information under the supervision of a Malloy appointee. Officials from all three agencies protested the consolidation, warning it could create conflicts and weaken the agencies’ authority. For example, what if any one of those agencies was investigating or considering sanctions against Malloy administration officials or even the governor himself?

Last month, through the Courant’s Jon Lender, we learned that Brown ordered a seizure of a computer in the elections enforcement agency — something officials in that office called a “major security breach.” Sound like an overreaction? Not really.

The state Elections Enforcement Commission was investigating whether the state Democratic Party illegally used state contractor contributions to fund Malloy’s 2014 re-election effort.

Brown left no doubt about whom she reports to. After seeking to strengthen her authority last week before the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, she flatly told the Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas, “Quite frankly, I work for the governor. That’s who appointed me.” But she felt emboldened to seize a computer belonging to an agency that was investigating the governor’s re-election campaign?

When broad powers are conferred upon individuals, they’re tempted to become arrogant — and on that score, Brown did not disappoint.

Confronted by officials from the agencies, Brown was untroubled by the possibility that the seized computer might have contained information about an investigation into the doings of her boss. Indeed, her petulance and insouciance were breathtaking.

“Certainly, you can connect all kinds of dots in the universe,” Brown said. “There are lots of ways to do that, right? You can connect the fact there was a full moon last night to what I had for breakfast. You know what I mean?”

No, I don’t know what you mean. It’s an absurd comparison — one that is shocking in its effrontery and lack of regard for the canons of ethics by which most of us judge public officials.

And there is the broader issue of having a governor who thinks it’s appropriate to have the authority to appoint an official whose office might investigate the executive branch — to say nothing of the kind of jerry-built hierarchy bestowed on the OGA at its inception.

The governor has the authority to hire an OGA executive administrator but the newly created Government Accountability Commission has the authority to fire the administrator. This created problems when Guay, the first administrator, refused to submit to an evaluation by the commission on the grounds that he reports to Malloy.

When Guay finally left, one of the criticisms in the commission’s evaluation was that Guay was lacking in regular communication with the various offices of the OGA. And the same charge was leveled last week at Brown. Both Colleen Murphy, who heads the Freedom of Information Commission, and Carol Carson, the executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said they were blindsided, as Brown provided no warning to them of her testimony last week. Notice a pattern here?

Administration officials said Brown’s job was supposed to save money by consolidating “back-office” support for the three agencies and providing human resources services. The budget for the new office is $8.6 million, or about 80 percent of what it was when the three agencies were truly independent.

I’m all for saving money by streamlining government. But this is one of those cases where less is more. Just think of the ways in which weakened or compromised watchdog agencies can actually cost us money. Go ahead. It doesn’t take much of an imagination.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(10) Archived Comments

posted by: Commissioner | April 3, 2015  9:12am

This is only going to get worse….

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | April 3, 2015  12:48pm

it wasn’t a bad idea, but the Executive directors needed to be eliminated.  needs to be one or the other.


posted by: Noteworthy | April 3, 2015  1:05pm

Shelby Brown should just be fired. Her attitude alone is one of entitlement and arrogance - two traits God knows we don’t need.

posted by: Janster57 | April 3, 2015  5:04pm

The only difference between this term and last is that his arrogance has turned to outright contempt. You expected something different?

posted by: NoNonsense | April 3, 2015  5:44pm

You’re right, Mr. Cowgill. A truly horrible idea. And the savings, if any, miniscule.

posted by: Diogenese | April 3, 2015  8:13pm

I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here…

posted by: SocialButterfly | April 5, 2015  10:47am

Th bottom line is that a fiscally incompetent
Gov. Malloy is costing us money to (in his eyes) SAVE US MONEY. What else is new?  It never gets better with Dannel in charge, aided by his Democratic legislative minions. The people in Connecticut have to learn to vote as their votes have led us to fiscal disaster.

posted by: SocialButterfly | April 5, 2015  6:03pm

@Commissioner: You are completely correct
as Malloy has some three and one-half years left to completely wipe-out any hope of any fiscal recovery in Connecticut. He is surrounded by a hapless Democratic controlled General Assembly to insure our insolvency.













democratic legislative

posted by: SocialButterfly | April 6, 2015  2:25pm

Gov. Dannel Malloy has been a bad gambler with OUR MONEY, aided and abetted by his controlled Democratic General Assembly. Unfortunately,the losing Malloy bets are just beginning as he has over three and one-half years to
go “in which he is calling the bets.”

posted by: Harris | April 9, 2015  7:09am

Do your homework and stop copying other news articles. The computer was not seized. A State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) employee put in a request to the Office of the Executive Administrator for 3 computers to be imaged because the employees had left State service. State Elections Enforcement employees didn’t have time to get it done so they requested the aid of OEA. There is a paper trail. Maybe this reporter can ask for a copy of the request through FOI. The computer not returned had illegally obtained movies from an illegal website downloaded using a computer burner. Who downloaded the illegal movies on State time (illegal) is now being investigated. Could it have been a SEEC employee? Why were the 3 computers sitting unprotected in an unlocked office for 3 months after the employees left State service? Maybe the executive director of FOIC can ask for that information. And maybe the executive director of The State Ethics Commission can ask the executive director of SEEC why he was not aware of the illegal acts of his employees and what measures he is going to enact to be certain this doesn’t happen again. Oversight was lacking at SEEC and with the lazy reporters not doing their homework

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