Ethics Appointment Blasted
by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 11, 2012 7:39 am
Posted to: City Hall
The city hired back a former city official for a part-time parks job—while she simultaneously serves on the Board of Ethics—drawing the ire of an alderman and a union chief.
The city hired the former official, Tina Burgett, on Aug. 6 for a seasonal caretaker’s job in the parks department. Mayor John DeStefano previously appointed her to the Board of Ethics.
“It really is terrible,” Cherlyn Poindexter, president of Local 3144, the union that covers most city workers, said Monday. “I had a person laid off in the parks department who would love the opportunity to get a job for $22 an hour.”
Poindexter noted that Burgett used to run the city’s human resources department. During her tenure, the city lost a landmark case regarding the hiring of city firefighters. She had a “tumultuous tenure,” then-Register reporter Elizabeth Benton (now a mayoral spokeswoman) wrote at the time of her departure in 2008.
Poindexter also took aim at Burgett’s simultaneous placement on the ethics board. “If someone asks her for an opinion, do you think they’ll get an unbiased opinion from someone making $22 an hour from the city?” she asked.
Also Monday, Wooster Square Alderman Michael Smart questioned the “propriety” of Burgett’s hire, given city regulations regarding conflicts of interest.
City spokeswoman Benton Monday said corporation counsel is looking into the question of potential conflicts of interest.
In a letter to the mayor, Smart raised a two-fold objection. First, to appoint Burgett to the Board of Ethics after she served the administration as a department manager “raises questions,” since her position on the board requires her to be unbiased, Smart wrote.
Second, he argued, for Burgett to serve on the Board of Ethics at the same time that she is on the city’s payroll as a parks department employee is “ill-advised.”
“It may or may not directly violate the City Charter and Code of Ordinances, but it certainly raises a potential question as to whether she will be able to fairly and equitably discharge her duties on the important Board of Ethics, which is itself given the responsibility for issuing advisory opinions concerning possible conflicts of interest and unethical behavior by others associated with city government,” Smart wrote.
Smart’s letter quoted extensively from parts of the the New Haven Code of Ordinances covering conflicts of interest, including a section of the city charter that states, “No person shall receive compensation for service on more than one board or commission or for more than one position in the city government.”
The ethics board position is unpaid.
Smart concluded by asking for the mayor to look into the matter and “take appropriate action to address this serious concern which I believe compromises the integrity and effectiveness of the Board of Ethics.”
Spokeswoman Benton said she doesn’t know when corporation counsel may issue an opinion on the matter.
Paul Bass contributed reporting.
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The intelligence of hiring back an employee who didn’t stand up for rational, intelligent HR decisions that ended up costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars is not just ill-advised. It’s disrespectful of the public and frankly, just not very smart. That DeStefano would appoint the same person who was part of his inner circle, that helped execute a policy of politics over the proper adjudication of HR decisions for an ethics panel is just rotten.
I’m not going to claim to be surprised. Disappointed? Yes, but not surprised.
Our mayor is a true power-broker.
Time for him to “do something else.”
Problem is—if another becomes mayor-elect, then how can we root out all of the patronage and crony job-holders?
There is no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes.
It really is time for term limits.
And, it really is time to follow the lead of the courageous Chicago teachers.
Time to just say no.
The fact that a landmark, highly contentious Supreme Court case was not decided in Ms. Birgitta’s favor should not have any bearing on a subsequent job. Let’s not forget that the same majority in the Ricci case also decided that corporations were people and that every person in the country should be strapping on their personal assault rifle. If anything, the fact that Ms. Burgett was on the losing side in the Ricci decision shows her merit.
Now, with that noted, the question becomes whether there is an appearance of a conflict of interest in her serving on the Board of Ethics after having served in the city government and while also working for the city. This, I would say, presents an appearance of a conflict of interest, though not necessarily an actual one. When it comes to serving on an ethics board, like serving as a judge, even the appearance of bias can be enough to undermine the authority. She shold probably resign from the Board of Ethics and keep the paid job!
Brutus2011, I think term limits might well mitigate against the corruption we keep seeing, but I think the problem is far too systemic and cultural. Since corruption in Connecticut typically does not take the form of cash in envelopes passed in parking lots, people fail to see the corruption for what it really is. Also, as long as a preponderance of residents see the primary role of city government to create employment (as opposed to creating an environment conducive to creating employment), cronyism and all that is here to stay.
PH, I agree that the Supreme Court has gotten it really wrong many times. In my own life time they have sanctioned the death penalty for retarded people and minors—abhorrent. What ruling have they made obliging people to strap on an assault rifle?
I also find that the use of an exclamation point is typically an indicator of a bad argument.
Thanks for your perspective, Hhe.
I was never good at political analysis.
Brutus2011, thanks for the compliment, and of course you are welcome. Don’t sell yourself short, your analysis on things political and otherwise is amongst the very best we have on the NHI. I always look forward to reading your posts. Even when I disagree with you, rare as that is, I am thinking, “He is probably right on this.”
My burden, if you will, is that in the last few years I have gained a certain insight, and the more I learn, the less I want to know. It has taken me over a year, but I now know that judges do not make decisions on The Good or The Law, but rather what is easiest. Lawyers are far more concerned with their relationships with other lawyers than their clients. Our city overspends on school construction so our mayor can energize his base of construction workers. “Non sustainable” union contracts were all negotiated under the current administration because Mayer DeStenio wanted to be Governor DeStefino. I could go on, but this is getting too disheartening.
PH, I opine that Ricci, like many cases so difficult that they go all the way up to The Supreme Court are sticky wickets. I for one do not claim to know with any certainty which side I would take had I law degree and all of the arguments and evidence in front of me. I do believe also find it suspect that when the desired results of a test that apparently was fair and appropriately job related did not work out, that the test was rejected out of hand. I believe a better way forward would be to provide tutoring and mentoring, formally or informally, to suitable candidates. (In much the same way that as a Teacher, I advocated for not lowering standards, but providing more support so students could rise up to a standard.)
The Ricci case and any other issues that Ms. Burgett may have dealt with while the HR director are irrelevant and a sideshow. There are two real issues here:
1. Should she be serving on the Ethics Board while employed by the City, and
2. How does she get slotted into a position at more than twice the pay of other employees, did the position exist in the budget, and was there a fair and open process to fill that position.
The answer to he first question is fairly clear, city employees should not be sitting on City commissions, unless an ordinance specifically calls for it to be so.
The second question takes more research, which I hope the NHI and/or NHR will do.