Bridgeport waits for justice, while watchdogs shrink

The State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) is not not know for speed. As covered last week, it will rule on the rejection of petitions for a slate in Bridgeport, well after the election. If the past is any indication it will also be a long time before we hear if financial complaints against the mayor are valid. The public and the mayor deserve answers on all these issues in time to make a difference in the candidates they can vote for and to have guidance on the integrity of the candidates they are choosing among.

While the citizens of Bridgeport wait, the merged watchdog agencies must make do with smaller staffs. No word from the Governor on the reasons for the watchdog cuts, consolidations, and the message he is actually sending to the watchdogs. <read>

The administration ordered 128 layoffs earlier this summer for non-union personnel. About half of them were connected with agency consolidations approved by the legislature in June. The remainder were linked to efforts to cut costs when it appeared union concessions wouldn’t be forthcoming.

“We haven’t finalized our decision-making on these” jobs, Barnes said. “But we’ve invited each department to submit a plan” to try to reclaim those jobs it deems are most crucial.

This position already has sparked criticism from the state’s three chief watchdog agencies, which were rolled on July 1 — along with six others — into a new, unified Office of Governmental Accountability.

The heads of the Freedom of Information Commission, the Office of State Ethics and the State Elections Enforcement Commission, have said they shouldn’t have to ask the governor to restore positions in their budget. Malloy laid off three non-union watchdog jobs and to date has not allowed these agencies–now divisions within the OGA- to fill newly vacant posts.

That’s because at the height of the scandal that drove former Gov. John G. Rowland from office in 2004, state lawmakers legally insulated the freedom of information, ethics and elections enforcement agencies with a measure sparing them from any emergency cuts after the budget had been adopted, arguing this was essential to keep government open and honest.

The watchdog agencies say Malloy is violating at least the spirit, and possibly the letter of that law, by laying off their staff and using the governor’s control over state hiring rules to prevent them from using their approved budgets to fill the positions.

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