Large gift to public education should be public information

During his campaign last year, Governor Lamont declared, “Change starts now.” But his administration is turning out to be just as hostile to open government as that of his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy.

The Lamont administration has approved a contract with the State Police union that blocks public access to the personnel files of state troopers so the public can’t learn about complaints of misconduct on the job.

The governor will sign a bill just passed by the General Assembly requiring secret arrests in some domestic violence cases. This is utterly totalitarian.

And the administration’s state budget exempts from state freedom-of-information law the state agency being created to allocate the $100 million given to the state by billionaires Ray and Barbara Dalio for public education purposes. The agency’s members will be determined by state law, the gift will become public money, and its allocation to public schools will be the public’s business. So there’s no reason for the agency not to have to function like any other state agency.

Not surprisingly, the Legislature held no public hearing on exempting the new agency from FOI law. The provision creating the board was included in the state budget bill, which materialized only hours before it was voted on, precluding deliberation.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, rationalizes all this, arguing that the new agency will want to operate accountably and should be given a chance to do so before people complain about it. But Aresimowicz’s argument rejects the premise of all FOI law, since his argument could be made about all other state agencies. Of course they all should want to be accountable, but sometimes they find it inconvenient and so they conceal things anyway.

It’s not clear where the idea to exempt the new education agency came from. The Capitol press corps seems to have failed to ask. Maybe the Dalios feared that the scrutiny of the agency’s operations might expose connections they have to potential recipients of the money or might raise questions about future contributions to the agency or the family’s influence on expenditures.

Too bad, for public education is already too cowed by teacher unions and the perpetrators of political correctness. It shouldn’t be intimidated by billionaires as well.

The General Assembly should repeal this exemption in its special session ahead.


HOW ABOUT SOME AUDITING?: Connecticut’s elected officials often lament about how hard it is to economize in state government. But a report the other day in the Hartford Courant made defrauding state government seem easy.

According to the newspaper, a former social worker who worked for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for more than 20 years was sentenced to two years in prison for defrauding the department of $2.5 million by creating fake mental health clinics and fake patients. Two of her social worker colleagues have pleaded guilty in the racket and await sentencing. They were prosecuted in federal court, federal money also being involved.

The mental health department sure could use more auditing. What about the rest of state government?

State government is always trying to increase regulation of private enterprise and personal lives. More such regulation was approved in the recent session of the General Assembly. If only the Legislature put a fraction of that effort into regulating state government itself. Indeed, the Legislature seldom does any oversight at all.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.