TROUBLING DUST-UP BETWEEN NB HERALD AND SENATE DEMS

The New Britain Herald and the state Senate Democrats are locked in a battle over how the newspaper handled a story about the misuse of state computers and how the caucus originally handled an Freedom of Information (FOI) request from said paper.

The Herald, for more than a month, has been reporting on the use of computers at the state Capitol to post negative comments on its website about New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart which of course, is prohibited. Stewart is in a close race for re-election with state Rep. Timothy O’Brien in one of the more interesting municipal elections in the state. It was the Herald that determined it was a computer at the state Capitol from which the messages came. In the end, the offenders were disciplined.

The residual dispute is a strong objection from state Sen. Donald DeFronzo of New Britain that the Herald insinuated a Senate Dem. staffer was involved in the wrong-doing. There was never any evidence that was the case and DeFronzo claims the paper simply left the impression hanging.

For their part, the Herald claims the Senate Dems.—and other caucuses—were not quick or thorough with the paper’s Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. A quick review of the case can lead one to several conclusions: First, if the paper left an impression of wrong-doing while lacking evidence, then the response of “well, he didn’t call us back to deny it” simply doesn’t cut it. If one is trained as a journalist (as the author of The Hanging Shad is) then one’s first instinct is to defend the journalistic institution. Tough to do on this count.

Secondly, it’s troubling (and out of character) if the Senate Dems in any way played loose and fast with an FOI request. If it got to a Lisa Moody-like “No rush to give it to them” attitude then there’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Admittedly, it’s hard to make a judgment without being in the room.

Finally, if any person in the state Capitol was asked to name a state senator who is beyond reproach in action and temperament, Don DeFronzo would be among the very first named. The author of the HS was a senior staffer for the Senate Dems for five-plus years and knows Sen. DeFronzo to be among the most forthright in the sometimes less than clean world of politics. This is without making a judgment on the case at hand. But if Sen. DeFronzo is complaining (and GOP House Leader state Rep. Larry Cafero is agreeing with him), there’s probably something to the complaint.

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Evidence continues to mount that Gov. Rell is not coming clean a controversial, taxpayer-funded study that offered advice on streamlining state government and efforts to get political advice about how to handle messaging on the state budget. The Day’s Ten Mann reports this morning that UConn professor Ken Dautrich worked with graduate students to conduct two similar focus groups earlier last fall. Rell has insisted that only a single focus group was held. The two additional efforts will raise more questions for Rell. State auditors and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are already investigating.

More troubling is evidence obtained by The Day that the governor’s office didn’t “fully comply with previous requests for public records, leaving out a handful of e-mail responses from Moody to Dautrich, including a message that thanks the professor for his help in crafting Rell’s budget speech.”

Rell spokesman Rich Harris has clammed up. But Mann obtained additional documents this week from UConn that show unnamed representatives of the governor’s office were trying to strike a deal to pay Dautrich with public funds to conduct a voter poll to test Rell’s budget proposal.

According to The Day, back in January, UConn officials were debating whether university policy would require that Dautrich conduct any poll commissioned by the governor’s office through the school’s existing polling center. An e-mail shows a UConn official’s concerns about timing. “If possible, the governor’s staff would like to meet about this project tomorrow morning,” the report says. Answers should be demanded on all of this.

The full Day story is here: http://www.theday.com/article/20091022/NWS12/310229412/1018 .

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Gov. Rell deserves serious credit for moving to make sure the state has a detention facility for girls so they stay out of adult prisons and other facilities around the state. The state bond commission is expected to approve $15 million for such a facility in Bridgeport. Currently, there are 12 girls under the age of 18 at the York prison for women in Niantic. Clearly, they don’t belong there. They would be among those moved to the new facility. The state hasn’t had a facility for girls the closure of the Long Lane School in Middletown in 2003.
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Harder to figure out is where the Rell administration is on the budget deficit and what it means for the proposed drop in the state sales tax. By law, the sales tax would drop from 6% to 5.5% the first of the year as long as revenue doesn’t drop at 1% below what the legislature forcasted it to be. Earlier this week, Rell said the state was on track to see the decrease. One doesn’t have to be Alan Greenspan to figure out that is highly unlikely to happen (see the final item of Tuesday’s HS http://scullycommunications.com/a-young-upstart-and-childish-behavior-in-middletown/ ). Then yesterday, the governor had already started putting together a deficit mitigation plan, partly because sales tax revenue has in fact, dipped. Just one month removed from approving the new $37.6 million two-year spending plan, the state is already $388.5 million in the red. Yikes.