Thursday, January 15, 2015

Porky Throws A Quill: The Battle Of The Acronyms

“I am a porcupine”– Governor Dannel Malloy

The administrators of the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), which was folded into a new concoction formed by Governor Dannel “The Porcupine” Malloy, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), ostensibly to save money, should not have been surprised to receive a rump full of quills.

A conflict of interest/freedom of information dispute arose between Mr. Malloy and the commissioners of PURA a few days ago. In a memo to the governor, the commissioners pointed to possible conflicts of interests among the combined agencies. PURA requires some of the commissioners to regulate matters directly affecting the interests of other commissioners. The new entity cut the staff of the old Department of Public Utilities Control from 150 to 60 and, wittingly or not, slapped an administrative gag on PURA.

Under the old dispensation, there were five commissioners, and the rules permitted two commissioners, not a quorum, to discuss among themselves certain complex legal matters without calling a public hearing. Under PURA, the number of commissioners was reduced to three, which means that an assembly of two commissioners now represents a quorum, thus necessitating a public hearing.

"The inability of commissioners to deliberate current business is impractical and wrong in theory," the complainants wrote the governor.  "The Authority decides complex legal, economic and technical matters that impact every household in the state," said the commissioners. They also said that while “a policy unit with energy and environmental scope was a positive step," the combination, given the overlapping responsibilities of the two agencies, created unnecessary conflicts of interests.

The memo caused Mr. Malloy to explode in what can only be called a hissy fit. Emitting quills, the porcupine told reporters that as Mayor of Stamford he had resisted agency “empire building.” He would neither remove the commissioners from DEEP, add staff, nor change the statutory authority of the agency. And if the commissioners disagreed with him, they were free to resign. Mark Ojakian, the governor’s Chief of Staff, closed the door on any further discussion: “As far as we’re concerned, this issue is resolved. I think the governor made his position clear. If people want to continue to go in that direction, I think his offer still stands.”

The commissioners – among them Arthur House, a quiet, plodding, patriotic citizen who has during a long and distinguished career in politics seen quite a few governors washed over the dam -- politely declined to commit hari-kiri.

This is an administration that does not seem to be overly concerned with conflicts of interests, provided Mr. Malloy or one of his trusted factotums directs the conflict to a predetermined end that casts glory upon Mr. Malloy. Means have never meant more than a hill of beans to ambitious progressives; it’s the end that matters in the end, isn’t it?

Perhaps the most glaring conflict of interest in state government lies coiled in the heart of the Attorney General’s office. Attorney General George Jepsen is required by statute to defend state agencies in all matters involving litigation and hearings. At the same time, state statutes “protect” whistle blowers from retribution. A whistle blower, as the honorable title suggests, is more often than not a low level state employee who, perceiving some inequity, blows the whistle on the very administrative personnel in state government whom the Attorney General’s office is required by statute to defend in every and all hearings before other state agencies and courts. To put it sharply, the Attorney General’s office is assigned to represent both the defendant and the plaintiff at any legal action; both the whistle blower and the person or agency blown upon are represented by the same council, a clear violation of every rule of law devised by the mind of man, including latent rights in the Magna Carta, the US Constitution and the “Model Rules of Professional Conduct” of the American Bar Association. Yet there it lays, this coiled conflict of interest, shaking its rattles against anyone who would presume to furnish information that might lead to agency reform.

Reform in Connecticut is little more than a battle cry raised during campaigns by challengers of the status quo. The election having been won by the challenger, the winner then inaugurates his own programs, and these, however destructive of the public interest, must in turn be defended to the last drop of blood by the victors. The permanent government -- those who remain in power after all the battles have concluded: the administrative apparat, agency spokespersons, lobbyists, legal leeches, union stewards for life, legislators in gerrymandered districts, journalists who genuflect at the throne -- are immune to significant change and genuine reform.

Political corruption and destructive conflicts of interests both can be effectively confronted by reinstituting Connecticut’s Inspector General Office. A truly independent IG armed with subpoena powers, elected to office as are other members of the state’s underticket and removable by impeachment only, or an expansion of the office of state auditors armed with subpoena powers and charged with the mission of rooting out political corruption, might easily introduce genuine reform into Connecticut’s sclerotic, morally deracinated engine of self-protection, self-perpetuation and self-glorification. The only real obstacle to much needed governmental reform is a progressive cabal intent on reforming everything but government; i.e. everything but itself.

These enemies of the public interest should be treated with contempt and blasted to smithereens by what Mark Twain thought was the most effective engine of destruction in modern times – withering, acidic and unrelenting critical laughter. Twain disguised as Satan in the Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” Not even porcupines.

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