10 courageous Democrats almost stop ethically challenged Erik Clemons from serving on State Board of Education…but small group of Republican legislators save Malloy’s nominee

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Thanks to ten courageous Democratic members of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Governor Dannel Malloy’s ethically challenged nominee for the State Board of Education, Erik Clemons, was on the verge of being rejected by the General Assembly earlier this afternoon.

It would have been a huge victory for honesty and ethics in government, as well as for those who believe in public education.

However, Governor Malloy won this stunning battle – an issue that received no media coverage except here at Wait, What? – thanks to ten Republican legislators who crossed over to vote with the majority of Democrats and in favor of Malloy’s choice to serve on the state board that sets education policy in Connecticut.

As has been repeated reported on this blog, Erik Clemons is the charter school advocate whose company is benefiting from a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded through, and monitored by, the very government entity that Malloy has appointed him to serve on.

As reported yesterday, the House vote on Erik Clemons’ and the ethical issues that should have prevented him from serving on the State Board of Education were scheduled for a vote today.  (See How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?)

When the vote was taken, ten Democratic Members of the Connecticut House of Representatives put ethics, honesty and Connecticut’s children, students, parents and public schools above Malloy’s political agenda.  The Democratic legislators voting no were;

Representative Baker

Representative Conroy

Representative Gonzalez

Representative Hampton

Representative Morin

Representative Nicastro

Representative Rose

Representative Sanchez

Representative Tarcyak

And Representative and Deputy Speaker of the House Godfrey

 

However, Malloy’s victory came thanks to the following Republicans who voted to disregard the serious ethics issues and in favor of Malloy’s nominee and their anti-public education agenda.  Republican legislators voting to put Erik Clemons on the State Board of Education were;

Representative Hoydick

Representative Kokuruda

Representative Legeyt

Representative Noujaim

Representative O’Neill

Representative Pavalock

Representative Perillo

Representative Piscopo

Representative Wood

Representative Yaccarino.

Had the Republicans stood together on this critically important issue of principle and refused to allow an individual to sit on the State Board of Education when that person and their company benefits from funding that is overseen and approved by the State Board of Education, Clemons nomination would have lost by a vote of 68 in favor of Malloy’s choice and 72 opposed.

More on this breaking story as it becomes available.

For the full vote go to:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/VOTE/h/2016HV-00014-R00HJ00027-HV.htm

 

NOTE:

Fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker and I have written extensively about Clemons’ conflict of interest and Malloy’s attempt to, once again, throw ethics aside.  Here are links to those articles:

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education.

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Last November, Governor Dannel Malloy appointed Erik Clemons of New Haven, along with two other individuals, to the State Board of Education.  See: Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education.

As interim appointees, the three immediately became voting members of the State Board of Education, although they must now be confirmed by the Connecticut General Assembly.  The legislature’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee will be holding a hearing, followed by an immediate vote, on Mr. Clemons and Malloy’s other appointees to the State Board of Education this Thursday, February 18, 2016.

When making the announcement, Governor Malloy and his press operation conveniently failed to reveal Erik Clemons’ close association with Connecticut’s charter school industry.

Clemons served on the Board of Directors’ of Achievement First Elm City Charter School until 2015.  Following his departure from Achievement First Inc., his company’s Director of Programs at CONNCAT, Genevive Walker, was appointed to serve on that same Achievement First Board.

Clemons is also a founding member and continues to serve on the Board of Directors of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened last fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education. 

Both of these privately owned, but state funded, charter schools receive their operating money through the State Board of Education and the State Board is responsible for overseeing and regulating these and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Of even greater concern, however, is that when Malloy appointed Erik Clemons to the State Board of Education, the Governor failed to report that Erik Clemons is the president of a nonprofit corporation that is collecting in excess of $500,000 in state funds as a result of a lucrative no-bid contract funded through the State Department of Education.

The incredible story dates back to May 7, 2014 when Governor Malloy’s political appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education voted to adopt a “Turnaround Plan for the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven.

The plan REQUIRED that the New Haven School System contract with Erik Clemons’ Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).  As head of ConnCAT, Clemons’ compensation package is well over one hundred thousand dollars a year.

The Turnaround Plan read;

“While Boost! Will continue to deliver community resources to students at Lincoln-Bassestt, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) shall serve as the schools’s anchor partner for afterschool programing.”

The Turnaround Plan required that the New Haven Public Schools “initiate a performance-based contract with ConnCAT by May 27, 2014.”

As a result of the State Board of Education’s action, the New Haven Board of Education approved Agreement 649-14 with Clemons’  Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) to “provide after-school programming, family and community engagement programs and school environment transformation at Lincoln-Bassett School from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.  The funds to pay for the $302,197.50 contract came from the State Department of Education’s “School Turnaround Program.”

A second contract (Agreement 478-13) between the New Haven Board of Education and ConnCAT, again using State Turnaround Program funds, authorized an additional $214,930.50 to pay for ConnCAT activities form July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

This annual contract is expected to be extended, yet again, in the summer of 2016.

In addition, using the state’s Lincoln-Bassett turnaround funds, the New Haven Board of Education also hired a New Haven architectural firm for $42,224 for “ConnCAT Project Design Services.”

Unfortunately, the only coverage of these issues has been here at Wait, What? in an article co-written with public education advocate Wendy Lecker, Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education.

With the General Assembly’s Legislative and Executive Nominations Committee about to decide whether or not to confirm Mr. Clemons to serve on the State Board of Education, one would hope that other media outlets or legislators would step up and investigate the extremely serious conflicts of interest that should be keeping Mr. Clemons from serving on Connecticut’s Board of Education.

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education

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Ethics for public officials?  Not so much.

One of Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent appointees to the Connecticut State Board of Education is not only a representative of the charter school industry but his company is collecting a multi-million dollar contract that is funded and managed by the State Department of Education and the very board he has been appointed to.

Although this article was first published at Wait, What? on December 23, 2015, the Malloy administration has refused to comment.

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education

A News Update from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker

While Connecticut’s public schools continue to suffer from inadequate state funding and Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration strive to undermine, dismiss and destroy the CCJEF school funding lawsuit that would finally ensure that Connecticut meets its State Constitutional obligation to provide all students with a quality education, Malloy’s corporate education reform initiative has fueled an unprecedented growth of charter schools in Connecticut.  The Charter School Industry now collects in excess of $100 million a year from Connecticut taxpayers.

Privately owned and operated, but funded with taxpayer dollars, Connecticut’s Charter Schools have consistently failed to educate their fair share of students that require special education services and English Language Learners who aren’t fluent in the English Language.

Achievement First, Inc., the large charter school chain with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, earned national notoriety when news broke about the shocking number of kindergarten and first graders suspended at their schools.  The charter school company’s failure to provide special education students with appropriate services has generated investigations in both Connecticut and New York.

The truth is that while the Connecticut State Board of Education is legally obligated to regulate charter schools, they have had a very shoddy track record when it comes to fulfilling those duties.

After taking office, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (a co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.) and the Governor’s political appointees to the State Board handed approximately $50 million to charter school operator Michael Sharpe and his Jumoke/FUSE’s charter school chain without bothering to uncover that fact that “Dr.” Sharpe didn’t actually have the advanced academic degree he claimed or that he had spent time in federal prison for embezzlement of public funds.

The State Board of Education even bestowed upon “Mr.” Sharpe control of Hartford’s Milner school which, under their not-so-watchful eyes, he ran into the ground.

In addition to “overlooking” state requirements that charters serve a requisite number or special education and English Language Learners, and that charters are not supposed to be over-concentrated in a limited number of municipalities, the State Board has rubber-stamped charter renewals, even when they fail to meet the standards set forth in their charter authorization.

The State Board of Education has done such an abysmal job overseeing charters that the legislature was forced to pass a law tightening charter oversight rules last session and added a layer of legislative oversight to the Department of Education’s charter authorization process.

But SURPRISE – thanks to Governor Dannel Malloy’s recent action, Achievement First, Inc. and Connecticut’s Charter School owners, operators and advocates are celebrating the fact that one of their own has quietly been appointed to Connecticut’s State Board of Education, the very state entity that remains responsible for overseeing and regulating charter schools.

Although the potential conflict of interest is obvious, this isn’t the first time Governor Malloy has used his appointing authority to put a charter school person on the State Board of Education.

His last such appointee, Andrea Comer, the COO of the Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain, resigned from the State Board of Education and her job as the FBI and state investigators closed in on allegations of wrongdoing by “Jumoke/FUSE’s CEO, “Dr.” Sharpe.

This time the appointment of a charter school insider to the State Board of Education occurred when Malloy appointed three new members to Connecticut’s State Board of Education last month.

While the legislature will eventually have an opportunity to vote on the nominations, as interim appointees, the individuals have already taken their seats on the Board and will serve until confirmed or rejected by the General Assembly.

Media coverage of the appointments was minimal and limited to what was contained in the press release that was issued by Malloy’s Office in November.  Gov. Malloy Appoints Three to Serve on the State Board of Education began,

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he is appointing Erik Clemons of New Haven, William Davenport of Litchfield, and Malia Sieve of Norwich to serve as members on the Connecticut State Board of Education.

“We are making significant progress as we raise the bar like never before.  Connecticut’s State Board of Education plays a critical role in ensuring that our students receive a world class education that prepares them for careers in the 21st century,” Governor Malloy said.  “Erik, Bill, and Malia are the right candidates for these roles, and I look forward to having them contribute their experiences and expertise as members of the board.  We are going to continue moving our schools forward.”

The Press Release added;

Clemons is the founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), a nonprofit career training institution that aims to prepare youth and adults for educational and career advancement through after-school arts and job training programming.

But there is much more to the story;

Knowing that Malloy and his administration have the propensity to duck the truth, it will not be surprising to many people that Malloy failed to inform the media, the public or the legislature that the State Board of Education’s newest member, Erik Clemons, has an extensive and long-standing relationship with the charter school industry and is the President and CEO of a company that directly benefits from a large state contract that is funded through the State Department of Education.

  • Erik Clemons served as a member of Achievement First Inc.’s Elm City Charter School Board of Directors from 2013-2015.
  • Erik Clemons is also a founding member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School, a charter school that opened earlier this fall after receiving approval from the State Board of Education.
  • Erik Clemons is the President of a non-profit corporation that received a lucrative contract last year that is paid with taxpayer funds through the State Department of Education.

Malloy’s new appointees to the State Board of Education replace out-going members who resigned or didn’t seek re-appointment, including former State Board of Education member Andrea Comer.

As noted, Comer, the former Chief Operating Officer of the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE charter school chain,t quit both her job and her position on the State Board of Education when the charter school company became the target of the investigation into financial wrongdoing. When Malloy appointed Comer, Wendy Lecker and I raised alarms about the potential conflict of interest that comes with having a charter school executive on the state committee that regulates that charter school industry.  (See Pelto and Lecker’s March 15, 2013 commentary piece, Malloy nominates charter school corporate officer to Connecticut State Board of Education.)

At the time, both the Hartford Courant and Stamford Advocate followed up with editorials.  In an editorial entitled, Conflict on state school board, the Stamford Advocate wrote;

Andrea Comer is a successful executive in the state charter school business. She has worked for the charter management company Achievement First, and in October was appointed chief operating officer of Family Urban Schools of Excellence, a management/expansion company created by Hartford’s Jumoke Academy charter school.

And she is poised to add another title to her substantial resume: member of the state Board of Education.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has appointed Comer to the board — raising eyebrows and questions about a conflict of interest. The board has direct oversight of the charter school industry, decides whether to reauthorize charters and votes on funding and the creation of new charter schools.

As former state legislator Jonathan Pelto and Hearst Connecticut Newspapers columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a blog post regarding Comer’s appointment: “The conflict is obvious!”

Yet the state Ethics Commission somehow sees it another way. It ruled that Comer’s professional position would not pose a conflict on the state school board. Apparently, the position of COO does not rank high enough for a conflict to exist.

Comer as recently as last month lobbied the General Assembly for greater charter school funding. To put her on a body that helps determine that funding, well, as Pelto and Lecker said:

[…]

Now it is up to the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to stand up and be counted on this vital issue.  As a corporate officer in a charter school company, Comer has a significant and clear conflict of interest. Legislature has a duty to reject her appointment to the State Board of Education.

Although one would have hoped that Governor Malloy had learned his lesson about keeping the charter school industry off the board that regulates them, Malloy failed to heed those warnings.

The Facts speak for themselves;

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons connection with Achievement First, Inc.

As the minutes of the November 25, 2013 meeting of the Achievement First, Elm City College Preparatory Charter School Board of Directors note;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Board of Elm City College Preparatory elects Mr. Erik Clemons to an initial term as a Class II Director expiring on 6/30/2014, eligible for reelection for a subsequent 3-year term.

Carolyn Greenspan moved to elect Erik Clemons to the Board, and Laura Saverin seconded. The Board voted unanimously to approve Erik Clemons as a Director.

According to Achievement First records, it appears Erik Clemons remained on the Achievement First Elm City Directors until the charter school’s meeting on 1/21/15 meeting.

Malloy failed to reveal Erik Clemons is a founding board member of the Elm City Montessori Charter School.

From the New Haven Independent, State OKs “Pioneering” Local Charter

The approval came Monday at a meeting of the state Board of Education in the Legislative Office Building. The board unanimously approved a proposal to create a new pre-K to 8 charter school called the Elm City Montessori School, starting with 51 New Haven kids ages 3 to 5 in the fall of 2014 (Later changed to fall 2015).

[…]

The state will kick in an extra $3,000 per pupil, as well as an undetermined amount of start-up money, in return for extra scrutiny: The school’s existence will depend on the state renewing its charter every five years.

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who sits on the state school board, said state law has allowed for “local charters” in prior years, but no proposals ever got off the ground. The state’s education reform law of 2012 revised the “local charter” distinction to require staffing flexibility and to add the $3,000-per-pupil incentive, he said. Pryor commended the New Haven group for an “outstanding application.”

“We are very pleased to see the pioneering effort that you have organized taking shape,” said Pryor, a former New Haven alderman and founding member of New Haven’s Amistad Academy charter school.

[…]

The new investment in charters comes under a new education commissioner, Pryor, with a record of charter support: In 1999 he helped found Amistad Academy, which later grew into the state’s largest charter network…

And while Malloy noted that Erik Clemons is founding CEO and President of Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, Inc. (ConnCAT), the Governor failed to explain that the company has a major contract funded through the Department of Education.

From the New Haven Register;

Lincoln-Bassett was added this year to the state Commissioner’s Network for underperforming schools, joining the city’s High School in the Community and Wilbur Cross High School. The network seeks to significantly improve struggling schools through collaboration between local stakeholders and the state Department of Education.

[…]

The school received $1.4 million in operating and capital improvement grants and secured partnership with ConnCAT to facilitate the before- and after-school programs.

“It was really important that Mayor Toni Harp, and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries were aligned on this idea that families and children can rise through the advent of provided services,” said ConnCAT CEO Erik Clemons.

Finally, Malloy failed to mention that Erik Clemons is affiliated with Billionaire Steven Mandell’s Zoom Foundation, the organization that played a key, behind-the-scenes role in persuading the Malloy administration to illegally take over the Bridgeport Public School System.

Mandell is not only a major Malloy campaign donor, but is a leading financial funder of the charter school industry. Mandell’s pro-“education reform” activities include paying for an education “policy staff” person housed in Malloy’s Hartford Office and another one who was stationed in former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport Office.  (See Wait, What?   NEWS FLASH: Hedge fund founder buys leadership ‘pipeline’ in Malloy’s office2/3/14)

In Erik Clemons case, we learn from the Zoom Foundation – The ZOOM Foundation’s new Prize for Parent Organizing supports nonprofit organizations inspired by the potential of parent power to contribute to the achievement of educational equity in Connecticut.  The Program Selection Committee for The ZOOM Foundation’s Prize for Parent Organizing includes:

Erik Clemons: Erik is CEO and President of ConnCAT, an organization he established in New Haven in 2011. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, ConnCAT, is a post-secondary career training hub committed to connecting a world-class facility and resources to local need. Currently ConnCAT provides market-relevant job training and placement services to under and unemployed adults and multimedia arts education to 6 under-achieving youth from low-income families…

Also on the Zoom Foundation’s Program Selection Committee…

None other than Andrea Comer;

Andrea Comer is Executive Director of The Connecticut Business & Industry Association’s Education Foundation. In this role, Andrea stewards the efforts of CBIA’s nonprofit affiliate, which is responsible for promoting the development of Connecticut’s workforce through education and training, particularly as it relates to the manufacturing and energy sectors.

[…]

A former member of the Hartford and State Boards of Education, Andrea has spent the past two decades working to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities. Prior to joining CBIA, Andrea served as Chief Development Officer for an education management organization, where she oversaw communications, strategic planning and development.  (Apparently the Zoom Foundation couldn’t even bring themselves to reveal that the “education management organization” they highlight is the disgraced Jumoke/FUSE organization.

The bottom line is that when Dannel Malloy had the opportunity to set a proper course for the State Board of Education, one in which conflicts of interest were not allowed, he instead chose Erik Clemmons.

And so as Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

 

Will City of Hartford take a stand on Bronins’ ethics problem?

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The Wait, What? post on Saturday, October 31, 2015 was entitled – Stadium Developers give big to Luke Bronin – Sarah Bronin responsible for approving big changes that Stadium Developers want.

In recent weeks Hartford mayoral candidate Luke Bronin has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the developers of the Dunkin Donut Baseball Stadium despite that fact that Luke Bronin’s wife, Sara Bronin, is the chairperson of the Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission and the developers are seeking approval to make major changes to the scope of the Stadium and DONO project.

With a Special Meeting of the Hartford Planning and Zoning Commissioner scheduled for Wednesday, November 4, 2015 -the day after Election Day – to approve the changes the developer is seeking, the immediate question is whether City Officials will act on the Bronin’s conflict of interest and remove Sara Bronin from her position as Chair of the Hartford PZC?

The following is the repost of the Wait, What? article on the Bronins’ and the Stadium.

Stadium Developers give big to Luke Bronin – Sarah Bronin responsible for approving big changes that Stadium Developers want

The City of Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at 260 Constitution Plaza, Plaza Level Conference Room, Hartford, CT 06103 at 6:00 p.m. on the developers plan to modify the DoNo Hartford Development Project.

Sara Bronin, wife of Harford mayoral candidate Luke Bronin, is the Chair of the Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission.

The contact between the City of Hartford and the developers of the Dunkin Donut Baseball Stadium and the entire DONO Downtown North Development Project required that construction on Phase II (Parcel E), which includes the desperately needed north-end grocery store, was to begin no later than November 1, 2015.

However, the developers failed to fulfill that responsibility and now want permission from the City of Hartford to delay and modify the construction plan related to Phase II (Parcel E).

The conflict of interest that Sara (and Luke) Bronin face is obvious.

As reported in a Wait, What? post on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 entitled, Bronin reports another $174,000 collected with seven days to go until Election Day, the Greenwich native who moved to Hartford and now wants to be Hartford’s next mayor revealed in his latest campaign finance report that he had raised another $11,750 from the developers of Hartford’s new Dunkin Donuts Yard Goats Baseball Stadium and the DONO Project.

The latest bundle of stadium money comes in addition to the thousands of dollars Bronin had already collected from those whose who are directly benefiting financially from the stadium contract.  (See: And now Luke Bronin is collecting big bucks from developers of the Hartford Dunkin’ Donuts Stadium)

Having sharply criticized the stadium project earlier in the campaign, Bronin waited until after the reporting deadline for the September 16, 2015 Democratic primary to start collecting a large amount of campaign money from the contractors hired to build the DONO project including the new baseball stadium.

In recent weeks, Luke Bronin has raised tens of thousands of dollars from a number of the DONO contractors including Centerplan Development, Centerplan Construction Company, JCJ Architecture, Freeman Companies, BETA, McDowell Jewett and Greenskies Renewable Energy.

Four of the leading companies involved in the DONO Development Project are owned by lead developer Bob Landino who is a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives.  The developers are represented before the City of Hartford by the law firm that is led by Tom Ritter, the former Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

While Luke Bronin’s flip-flop on the stadium issues is newsworthy on its own, the immediate and more incredible news development may very well be that the developers of the Hartford Stadium donated to Luke Bronin at the exact same time that the stadium developers are seeking to modify the project after having failed to break ground, as required, on Phase II of the DONO project.

With no construction taking place on the grocery store, housing and other elements of Phase II (Parcel E), Luke Bronin’s wife will be convening a Special Meeting of the Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday – the day after Election Day – to approve changes that release the Stadium Developers from their commitment to begin Phase II and to make significant changes to the scope of Phase II.

While the developers have sought to trivialize their change in plans, their failure to follow through on their commitments concerning Phase II has a profound impact on the project and the credibility of those behind the entire Hartford Downtown North Development scheme.

The Hartford Courant reported on importance of Phase II this past summer in an article entitled, Developers To Break Ground On Downtown North Grocery Store In October,

City officials and developers of the Downtown North project, which includes retail, housing and a baseball stadium, said Wednesday that they will break ground on a parcel that includes a grocery store by late October.

Yves-Georges A. Joseph II, vice president of development for Centerplan, said the developers don’t yet have a supermarket operator on board, but they are in conversations with operators.

Joseph, who attended a forum on the Downtown North project Wednesday at the city’s public library, said the deadline to begin construction is Nov. 1.

The area, known as Parcel E, is the first phase of housing and retail in the project. The parcel, which would include 328 apartments, a grocery store, a fitness center, other shops and parking, would be located across Main Street from a 9,000-capacity minor league baseball stadium.

Joseph said Wednesday that if developers don’t reach a deal with a supermarket operator, “we as an organization will own or operate a supermarket.”

The Hartford Courant’s June 2015 story ended with,

Panelists at Wednesday’s forum, sponsored by Hartford 2000, expressed skepticism about the developer’s ability to bring in a supermarket.

Denise Best, a North End activist, said many promises have been made and broken by city leadership.

So now October has come and gone and there is no sign of any construction related to the grocery store, or the associated housing, fitness center, shops and parking.

What has occurred over the last few weeks is that the developers have become a major source of campaign donations for Luke Bronin’s campaign for Mayor and, the day after Election Day, Bronin’s wife will be chairing the Commission that is supposed to hold the developers accountable for their failure to produce as promised.

Corporate Education Reform Industry – Just too important to follow the ethics laws

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Watch the bouncing ball… as the Corporate Education Reform Industry, Families for Excellent Schools, the Coalition for Every Child, Governor Malloy’s former press secretary Andrew Doba, Achievement First Inc. and the other charter school lobby groups try to divert even more public funds away from Connecticut’s public schools and into the coffers of charter school companies…

This weekend’s CTNewsJunkie features an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism written by fellow public education advocate Sarah Darer Littman.

Entitled, Are Charter Advocacy Groups Skirting CT Ethics Laws?, Littman provides readers with a detailed look at some of the recent lobbying activities of the corporate funded charter school advocacy group known as Families for Excellence Schools.

Her article comes on the heels of the Wait, What? blog post entitled, Buying Public Policy in CT – Corporate Education Reform Industry spends $6.8+ million and counting which described the unprecedented lobbying effort behind Governor Malloy’s anti-public education, anti-teacher, pro-privatization “education reform” agenda.

While the Wait, What? article focuses on the outlandish amount of corporate money that has been spent to corrupt Connecticut’s public education policies, Sarah Darer Littman’s piece is a shocking reminder that the nearly $7 million that has been spent in support of Malloy’s policies are merely the tip of the iceberg because some of the key players and organizations that make up the corporate education reform industry simply refuse to follow Connecticut law when it comes to disclosure of their lobbying expenses.

To fully appreciate what is happening here in Connecticut the first step is to review a Crain’s New York Business article that was published one year ago.  The New York articles explains,

“In early March, charter school supporters held a huge rally at the state Capitol featuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and hundreds of students it had bused to Albany for the protest. But the nonprofit that organized the charter rally is declining to disclose any of its spending on the event, maintaining none of it was actually lobbying.

The undisclosed spending is one omission from a lobbying disclosure by Families For Excellent Schools that sheds little light into the group’s millions of dollars in recent outlays.

[…]

The rally came after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio nixed plans to co-locate three charter schools with traditional public schools, and more broadly, amid plans to charge rent to some charters occupying city school buildings. The rally, which dwarfed a long-planned de Blasio event to push for his prekindergarten plan, helped swing momentum to the charter supporters.”

And why didn’t Families for Excellent Schools report the fact that they were spending millions of dollars to push their pro-charter schools agenda?

Because their Spokesperson, Stu Loeser, simply claimed that their activities weren’t lobbying.

But according to Billy Easton, the executive director of the pro-public education Alliance for Quality Education, the charter group’s spending was exactly the type of expenditure that needed to be reported.

Easton told the newspaper, “It’s outrageous and unacceptable that these charter lobbyists refuse to disclose all the money they have spent on a lobbying campaign in the past month.”

After repeatedly ducking New York’s ethics laws, Loeser and his Families For Excellent Schools eventually reported that they also spent more than $4 million on a television advertising campaign to promote their pro-charter school agenda in New York.

And surprise – Families For Excellent Schools and Stu Loeser have now arrived in Connecticut.

One of the initial actions was to hire Governor Malloy’s out-going press secretary, Andrew Doba, to be their Connecticut point person.

Families for Excellent Schools also put up the money to pay for a multi-million dollar pro-charter school television advertising campaign here in Connecticut.

The only problem…Families For Excellent Schools failed to report their expenditure.

Enter Sarah Darer Littman who writes,

Earlier this week, a pro charter school organization called Coalition for Every Child sent a letter to Connecticut legislators complaining that the $20 million increase in funding for charter schools over the next two years in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget isn’t enough and that charter students are being treated like “second class citizens.”

Meanwhile, the Educational Cost Sharing Grant for public school districts is flat funded, which means that in real terms public school funding is being cut.

When I clicked on the link on the Coalition for Every Child website to read the letter, I was curious that its url started with www.familiesforexcellentschools.org. Curiosity led to further research.

If you haven’t heard of Coalition for Every Child, that’s because it appeared out of nowhere last December for a pro-charter rally on New Haven Green and then immediately announced a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign to highlight “an education inequality crisis barring 40,000 Connecticut children from good schools.”

According to the press release for the ad campaign, “The ads, which come on the heels of a major rally in New Haven last Wednesday with 6,000 people calling for ‘excellent schools for every child,’ urge viewers to ‘take a stand for Connecticut kids’ by joining the push to fix the crisis.”

That sounds like lobbying, doesn’t it? Yet the Coalition for Every Child isn’t registered with the Connecticut Office of State Ethics.

And the story only gets better…

To truly understand the magnitude of the corporate education reform Industry’s attack on public education in Connecticut go read Sarah Darer Littman’s MUST READ piece.

You can find it at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_are_charter_advocacy_groups_skirting_ct_ethics_laws/

Sarah Darer Littman’s piece will undoubtedly lead to ethics complaints being filed against these corporate education reform advocacy groups and those, in turn, should lead to fines being levied against the groups by Connecticut’s Office of State Ethics.

And last but not least, guess who is one of the corporations funding Families for Excellent Schools?

None other than Achievement First Inc, the charter school chain co-founded by Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor…

The very same Achievement First Inc. that is presently lobbying to get more Connecticut taxpayer funds for their charter schools, while using the funds that they have to help an charter school front group that won’t even follow Connecticut’s ethics laws.

Important Wait, What? weekend stories you might have missed

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Define fiscal irresponsibility….

While most Connecticut residents feel a growing unease about the Malloy administration’s irresponsible and underhanded approach to state budgeting, I’m often asked to give specific examples of how Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has handled the Connecticut budget during his term in office.

Long-time readers may remember this one, but here is a prime example for readers who are newer to Wait, What?

In January 2010 there was a tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a young Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools.

As politicians are wont to do, state legislators kicked into action, and on May 1, 2010 the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 10-83.  The new law created a special protected trust account called the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to administer a program to use the funds to help Connecticut school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175 and directed that $50 of each license restoration payment be deposited into the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt Account.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Now fast forward two and a half years…

Governor Malloy had been in office for two years and none of the $4.7 million collected for school seat belts had been spent.

And then, rather than using the money for its intended purpose…

We witnessed the following;

As part of the December 2012 “deficit mitigation bill” Governor Malloy and the legislature included language that overrode the existing law and quietly transferred $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt Account into the General Fund to help eliminate the projected FY 2013 $415 million deficit.

Gone was the money for school seat belts.

For more go to:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/05/31/define-fiscal-irresponsibility/

 

Does it really only cost $30,000 to get Governor Malloy to veto a good bill?

Over the past few months Governor Malloy and his political operatives have raised more than $30,000 from major insurance companies and their corporate executives.  The funds were deposited into the special Democratic State Central Committee account that will be used to augment the $6.2 million that Malloy will be getting from the State’s public financing system.

Then late last week Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy stunned healthcare advocates when he vetoed an important bill that would have required insurance companies to provide data about how much substance abuse coverage and related mental health care they were actually providing Connecticut residents.

The legislation was a product of a major study conducted the Connecticut General Assembly’s bi-partisan Program Review and Investigation Committee, a committee I chaired in 1993 during the last year I served in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

The Program Review and Investigation is the only committee charged with fully investigating major public policy issues and developing comprehensive solutions.

In this case, the committee produced a comprehensive report entitled, “Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately and Publicly Insured Youth.”  Phase I of the report, and its corresponding legislative initiatives, was adopted on December 18, 2012.  Phase II of the report was adopted on June 7, 2013.

This past legislative session, one of the legislative proposals arising out of the report, was introduced in the form of House Bill 5373, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Certain Data by Managed Care Organizations and Health Insurance Companies to the Insurance Department.

The bill was a common sense, first step toward ensuring insurance companies actually pay the bills they are supposed to be paying.

More at:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2014/06/01/really-cost-30000-get-governor-malloy-veto-good-bill/

 

And then this one…Will the Working Families Party stand up for working families in this year’s election

The sickness that has crept into Connecticut politics and government

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As measured by the number of college graduates Connecticut is among the most educated states in the nation.  As measured by per capital income Connecticut is wealthiest state in country, and if we were our own country we’d be one of the wealthiest and best educated countries in the world.

And yet there is a sickness that is increasingly evident in Connecticut politics.  It takes the form of elected and appointed officials who display a level of arrogance, greed, entitlement, and what appears to be an growing level of outright corruption…in both political parties.

In Sarah Darer Littman’s latest MUST READ column entitled “The Environmental Racism of Bridgeport’s Carnival of Corruptionin this weekend’s CT Newsjunkie, Sarah Darer Littman shines the bright light of truth on a complex deal in which Bridgeport ’s political and corporate leaders are conspiring to move Bridgeport’s Harding High School on to a severely polluted superfund site in order to make room for Bridgeport Hospital’s expansion plans.

The political wheeling and dealing stretches from Bridgeport to Hartford and back again.

By the time their effort is over, the cost to Connecticut taxpayers will exceed $100 million or more, and that doesn’t even begin to count the cost to Bridgeport’s public school students, teachers and parents who are but pawns in the deceit that has become the hallmark of Connecticut’s political environment.

Sarah Darer Littman introduces her piece with the following,

If the window of government transparency in Connecticut has become foggy lately, in Bridgeport it’s turned into a funhouse mirror.

The latest to come from Mayor Bill Finch’s Carnival of Corruption was a vote Thursday evening to proceed with phase one of a deal to build a new Harding High School on 17.2 acres of a 78-acre brownfield site on Boston Avenue, currently owned by General Electric. This would enable Finch and his allies to sell the current Harding High site to Bridgeport Hospital.

According to federal law, a brownfield site refers to “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

The aforementioned brownfield site is, according to a piece in the CT Post, “contaminated with lead, arsenic, petroleum hydrocarbons and volatile compounds.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers helpful information about School Siting Guidelines, and why they are so important:

“Children, particularly younger children, are uniquely at risk from environmental hazards. They eat, drink and breathe more in proportion to their body size than adults. In addition, environmental contaminants may affect children disproportionately because their immune, respiratory and other systems are not fully developed, and their growing organs are more easily harmed. This means they are more at risk for exposure to harmful chemicals found outside where they play and in the environment where they spend most of their time — school and home.”

As might be expected, parents and those representing the community have concerns — especially since most of the process for this deal (like so much of what goes on in Bridgeport) has taken place behind closed doors. Indeed, in the minutes from the Bridgeport School Building Committee meeting on January 3, 2013, Finch Deputy Chief of Staff Ruben Felipe reports that GE asked the administration to keep their conversations confidential. Thus both the sunlight and the community were kept out. Helping to keep things under wraps was the fact that the School Building Committee failed to file their statutory notices with the town clerk’s office until February 2014, evidenced by this email from Frances Ortiz, assistant City Clerk.

There’s been some gob smacking chicanery involved, because, let’s face it, this wouldn’t be Bridgeport if there weren’t.

A petition to the City of Bridgeport Planning and Zoning Commission was filed in the name of the City of Bridgeport Board of Education (File 13-74). It was signed on Dec. 3, 2013, by John Eberle of Stantec Consulting Services and on Dec. 18, 2013, by Marian Whiteman, executive counsel for Transactions & Brownfields at General Electric.

On Jan. 13, 2014, Sauda Baraka, chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education (in whose name the Planning Petition was apparently being made) wrote to Melville T. Riley, Jr, the acting chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, asking that the item not go forward with a public hearing for the application because the education board hadn’t voted to approve a site plan nor a special permit concerning that property. In what is a reflection of the incredibly sad state of affairs in Mayor Bill Finch’s Bridgeport, she was forced to ask the Planning Commission for copies of any application filed on the behalf of the Board of Education. How ridiculous is it that an elected Board of Education should have to ask another city body for copies of planning applications being filed in its name?

Probably as a result of Baraka’s letter, the planning application was withdrawn from the Jan. 13 meeting.

But by Jan. 16, the Finch administration was able to work magic with fairy dust — or White Out — and Lo! The exact same application with the exact same signatures (on the original you can see the correction fluid) and now guess what? It reads “City of Bridgeport School Building Committee”!  Suggested new campaign slogan for Bill Finch: “If you can’t beat ‘em, erase them!”

And Sarah Darer Littman’s column goes on from there with some of the most disturbing elements of the story yet to come.

You can read her whole column at via the following link,

http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/the_environmental_racism_of_bridgeports_carnival_of_corruption/?utm_source=CTNewsJunkie.com&utm_campaign=a3172ccfcf-FNF_302_Feb_21_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a493d2308d-a3172ccfcf-92882173

As you read the piece ask yourself, is this Connecticut our citizens deserve?

When illegally clear cutting state forest always carry your “get out of jail free” card…

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… Or, at the very least, make sure you have really, really good political connections.

Zachary Janowski, the investigative journalist for the Raising Hale Website, has authored another “must read” article.  This one entitled “Environmental group sues state for going easy on wind-power company that cut down trees in state forest.”

According to Janowski;

“A conservation group is suing the state to force it to throw out a settlement between state officials and a wind-power company that clear-cut 2.5 acres of state forest.

The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council is suing the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and officials within that agency for settling out of court with the offender.

According to BLEC’s complaint, the 111 largest trees that were cut down are worth more than $1.1 million.

BLEC claims DEEP should have referred the issue to Attorney General George Jepsen instead of settling the matter. Since the case wasn’t handled in open court, BLEC claims, the consent decree is “null and void.”

BLEC asks the court to invalidate the agreement between DEEP and BNE and replace it with one that requires the company to restore the state forest to its “natural state.”

Jepsen, whose office is defending DEEP in court, said the agency “has broad statutory authority to resolve disputes about environmental matters through the use of consent decrees, as it did in this case.”

‘I will, therefore, vigorously defend the lawsuit which is without merit,’ Jepsen said”

The lawsuit is without merit?

Attorney General Jepsen can disagree with the suit, but to call it without merit is a bit much!

Why not just say that BNE is so well politically connected that state officials have made the practical decision to turn the other check and let BNE off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

Long time Wait, What? readers may vaguely remember a post about BNE and their political connections.

BNE Energy, Wind Farms, Occhiogrosso: A lesson on how modern government really works was a post that revealed that BNE Energy is incorporated in Delaware but owned by two Connecticut residents – Greg Zupkus, who serves as President and CEO and Paul Corey, who serves as BNE’s Chairman of the Board.

BNE has been trying to develop commercial wind projects in Prospect and Colebrook Connecticut.

The company has also received at least a half a million dollars in taxpayer-funded corporate welfare grants from the Malloy administration.

Paul J. Corey is well-known in Connecticut politics and government.  During the Rowland years Corey served as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control, the entity that oversees the development of energy policy in Connecticut.  Corey also served as the Chairman of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s Board of Directors from January 2000 to December 2004.

Corey’s wife, Christine, was a high-ranking personal assistant to former Governor John Rowland.  Together they gave Rowland the famous hot-tub that helped lead to the impeachment hearings and Rowland’s subsequent resignation and trip to federal prison.

After leaving public service Corey joined the law firm of Brown, Rudnick to work in their Public Utility Practice Group.  Brown Rudnick, LLP presently does the lobbying and permitting work for BNE.  The lead individual from Brown, Rudnick is Thomas Ritter, the former speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

BNE Energy has also retained the services of the law firm of Pullman & Comley, the law firm where former State Senator Andrew McDonald worked before becoming Malloy’s Chief Counsel.  McDonald now serves as a Justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Since Malloy has become governor, Pullman & Comley has received hundreds of millions of dollars in state business and was retained by BNE to help the company get its wind projects approved by the Connecticut Siting Council.

And finally, BNE’s public relations and grassroots lobbying is conducted by none-other-than Roy Occhiogrosso and the Global Strategy Group.  Occhiogrosso having previously served as Governor Malloy’s chief advisor.

Over the past two years alone, Ritter and the Occhogrosso’s Global Strategy Group have received over $200,000 in fees from BNE.

But the pièce de résistance is what happened to BNE after they illegally clear-cut down the two and half acres of pristine forest in one of Connecticut’s state parks.

And for that you need to read Zach Janowski’s piece, “Environmental group sues state for going easy on wind-power company that cut down trees in state forest.

The Janowski article link can be found here: http://www.raisinghale.com/2013/11/07/environmental-group-sues-state-easy-on-wind/ and the previous Wait, What? post on BNE energy is here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/08/bne-energy-wind-farms-occhiogrosso-a-lesson-on-how-modern-government-really-works/

Controversial Bridgeport billboard donated to Mayor Finch

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Raising Hale is a media project of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.

Although Wait, What? and Raising Hale are miles apart on some philosophical issues, Raising Hale’s dedication to “uncovering government waste, fraud, and abuse in Connecticut” is impressive.

Fellow investigative journalist and blogger, Zachary Janowski, is doing an amazing job shinning the light of truth into some of the dark spaces of Connecticut’s government and political environment.

In a recent post, Janowski wrote about the billboard that the Webster Bank Arena donated to Mayor Bill Finch so that he could build his twitter following.

It is a particularly revealing issue considering the controversy that surrounded the approval process for the billboard only a year ago.

In November 2012, the Connecticut Post wrote;

The Bridgeport Planning and Zoning Commission gave the go-ahead for the city and Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment LLC to seek a special permit to build the V-shaped billboard that would be visible to traffic on Interstate 95. The changes, which apply only to the arena area, would increase the height of the proposed sign to “no greater than 60 feet above I-95,” and allow a total of 8,500 square feet of signage on the arena, the baseball stadium and the adjacent parking garage.

[…]

Nevertheless, the public hearing portion of the meeting became somewhat raucous, pitting opponents who accused Mayor Bill Finch of exerting control over the commission against businesspeople and arena representatives who claimed the changes would lure people and money to Bridgeport.

[…]

Paul Timpanelli, who heads the Greater Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said the changes allowing an electronic two-sided billboard would enhance the city’s image and attract people to “come to the city, spend time here and invest here.”

But Carmen Lopez, a retired Superior Court judge, accused Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment of attempting to buy the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval, noting that the organization was among several business that donated thousands of dollars to a PAC supporting the mayor’s efforts to change the city charter.

The charter proposal, which was defeated on Election Day, would have allowed Bridgeport’s mayor, rather than voters, to select Board of Education members.

“This change in site regulation and the site plan to follow do not pass the all-important smell test,” Lopez said of the billboard permit. “The people voted no to mayoral control of the Board of Education on Election Day. Tonight you can say no to mayoral control of zoning.”

[…]

John Kennelly, a lawyer representing Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which has its own electronic billboards near the arena’s proposed billboard, also opposed the word changes because he said it represented “spot zoning” and the proposed electronic billboard was never put out to bid.

Now a year later, Raising Hale’s Janowski’s reports,

“Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch is looking for followers on Twitter and he is using billboard space donated to the city to recruit them.

The billboard, visible from I-95, promotes Finch’s account, @MayorBillFinch.

‘The billboard space is provided to the city as free advertising space by Webster Bank Arena,’ said Elaine Ficarra, spokeswoman for Finch.

‘The Twitter followers would remain property of the City’ after Finch leaves office, she said.”

You can read the CT Post story at: http://www.ctpost.com/default/article/Way-paved-for-Webster-Bank-Arena-s-I-95-sign-4051796.php

And the Raising Hale story at:  http://www.raisinghale.com/2013/10/29/donated-billboard-bridgeport-mayor-twitter

Bridgeport (and Connecticut) has a right to expect better

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An editorial in today’s Connecticut Post reminds readers that “Bridgeport residents — and the city’s reputation — are taking it on the chin these days through the inexplicably cavalier behavior of officials they elected to represent them.”

The sad fact that is that it is not only Bridgeport residents who being forced to watch the “inexplicably cavalier behavior of officials they elected to represent them.”

The State of Connecticut and other communities around the state are seeing more than their share of elected and appointed officials who are putting themselves before the people they are supposed to be serving.

The infamous Kenneth Moales Jr. was one of two to make the Connecticut Post’s editorial.

The editorial highlights the “brief interlude by the chairman of the city’s school board as a person wanted by the state police.”

Adding;

“Yes, it was for speeding, traffic violations, and who among us has not been cited for one transgression or another while behind the wheel. But that the Rev. Kenneth Moales would miss a court appearance, whether through forgetfulness or indifference, and become the target of an arrest warrant is, shall we say, nontraditional behavior for the person chosen to lead the city’s troubled school system.

[…]

He was found earlier this year to have been operating his East End cathedral without a certificate of occupancy for four years. After it was made public, the city awarded him a temporary one.

Then there was the time he told a fellow school board member she would “regret” having made a motion to censure him for his behavior at board meetings. He later apologized.

Most famously was the time he said a different board member was acting like “you’re on Ritalin or you’re special ed,” offensive in its own right and unforgiveable for someone tasked with leading the school system. There hasn’t been a public apology for that one.

His brush with fugitive status is yet another troubling, distracting misstep in a city that has a long row to hoe in improving its school system — and its reputation in the outside world.

City residents deserve better, and it’s not much to ask.”

And the same is true when it comes to the other politicians and officials that are being paid for with public funds but failing to fulfill their public duties.

You can read the complete CT Post editorial here: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/City-has-a-right-to-expect-better-4923281.php

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