A Tale in two Courant Editorials

Two editorials dated Friday, one published on Sunday and one on Monday show the different appreciation some have for money and democracy, the different level of trust some hold for private employees vs. public officials.

Sunday, the Courant provides advice to the Hartford Charter Revision Commission on their trust in public officials, saving public money, and the value of elections: What’s Good, Bad In Hartford Charter Proposals <read>

•Registrars of Voters. Making this office more professional cannot happen soon enough, although it is not clear if it can be done by charter or if a change in state law is necessary.

The city’s first problem is that it has too many registrars, due to a quirk in state law. The law says the candidates for registrar of voters who garner the highest and second-highest number of votes win the posts. But if a major-party candidate — Democrat or Republican — is not among the top two finishers, that candidate must also be named a registrar.

That happened in Hartford in 2008, when the Working Families Party candidate outpolled the Republican. So both of them and the Democrat all became registrars. Registrars make $80,000; with staff and benefits each costs the city about $200,000 a year.

Now guess what. The registrars say they don’t have enough money to run the fall election and need another $115,000.

This is why people get frustrated with government. In the computer age, towns get by with one nonpartisan registrar; Hartford certainly doesn’t need three.

One way around it might be to make the job appointive, or make it a civil service job in the town clerk’s office, perhaps with part-time registrars from the political parties. The charter commission needs to pick a solution and put it forward.

We are surprised that the Courant does not clearly understand that changing a state law mandating the number of, and election of registrars would require a change in state law. At least they are recognizing that more and more as a possibility as they continue a long string of editorials recommending reform. We are even more surprised that given the many scandals in Connecticut by elected and appointed officials that they would prefer to have elections run by a single politically appointed official. As we have said before, the better solution is to “Do for Elections what we have done for Probate”, regionalize, professionalize, economize. Others have made the case as well.

The editorial run today is about embezzlement in private agency, the Waterbury YMCA. We generally agree with this editorial, especially its final paragraphs: Boys & Girls Club Theft A New Height Of Lowness <read>

The case should stand as a warning to anyone involved with a nonprofit organization. Here, as is often the case when a theft is discovered, the culprit is a trusted longtime employee. Mr. Generali had been associated with the club for more than 30 years. Last year, Donna Gregor, the bookkeeper at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, was sent to prison for 42 months for embezzling more than $1 million from the museum over eight years, a theft that could have put one of the state’s leading cultural institutions out of business.

The lesson is, in the words of Ronald Reagan in another context, trust but verify. Most embezzlements involve a perpetrator with incentive and without conscience, plus a lack of adequate internal controls, which creates the opportunity to steal.

To avoid it, say accountants who work in this area, have at least two people watching the money in every accounting cycle.

Where we disagree with the Courant, is that we believe ballots deserve the same level of protection as money and supplies, that the need for verification applies equally to private employees, public employees, and public officials. We are not so sure of trust part of ‘trust but verify’, we would ‘verify sufficiently to deter and trust’.

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2 responses to “A Tale in two Courant Editorials”

  1. mattw

    Of course, the city could pay Registrars whatever they please — and most towns and cities do. There’s nothing in statute saying that the Registrars must be paid $80k. It is embarrassing that the city is unaware that their charter proposal is not legal.

    I think limiting the election to the top-two vote-getting Registrar candidates might be an appropriate reform.

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