Fiasco

 

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"This is all much ado about nothing," says New Haven attorney Ray Garcia, who represents DeFelice Inc., Stephen Hallberg and other defendants in the state's lawsuit.  "There have been far greater defaults in the state involving far greater sums of money and far more screwed-up work that has been resolved with a lot less fanfare."

Yet one cannot escape the fact that the project has been a disaster from start to finish, and that the approvals, and responsibility, passed through many hands and under many approving eyes along the way.

"When testifying before committees or speaking to the press or anybody, I rarely use the word 'blame,'" Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert Genuario told legislators. "I'm going to make an exception. There's plenty of blame to go around here."

After the fiasco of I-84 became public, and after the retirement of Commissioner Ralph Carpenter, Gov. Rell hired Joseph Marie, the former director of the Phoenix, Ariz., public transportation system, to head ConnDOT. He is now the fifth commissioner of the agency in less than two years.

Rell also established a task force to investigate ConnDOT and suggest reforms. Their report includes recommendations of ways to make the agency "more accountable for achieving measurable results . . . more communicative, less insular, more responsive, and more open and transparent in all processes."

So far, lawmakers have not voted to approve the recommended major reforms. They have, however, enacted a number of the governor's executive orders, such as "Verification of Documentation" by which contractors will now need to prove that construction of something, such as a storm drain, not only took place but that it actually works. In addition, the falsification of documents or credentials will now carry criminal charges.

At the same time, Rell does not believe ConnDOT's recent history of outsourcing so many state projects has created a special set of problems as personnel, or their family members, shift between the public and private sectors. "The problems with the I-84 project were the result of several factors, one of which was the failure of some individuals to do their jobs," says a statement released by Rell's office. "There is no evidence that the fact that they worked for a contractor rather than the state contributed to that failure."

Not every official agrees with this conclusion.  "A number of large construction companies doing business with the state have hired former ConnDOT officials," says state Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-New Britain), chairman of the Transportation Committee. "It does raise legitimate questions about relationships that exist between a state employee today overseeing or selecting a contractor and what the future might hold for that individual."

Related to that, he says, is a lack of ConnDOT staffing. While the legislature has authorized 180 new positions within the agency, private firms and the generally larger salaries they offer have made filling these jobs with qualified personnel difficult. "Still, we are more likely to see a recurrence of an I-84 type of problem if we don't staff up the agency and begin to reclaim some of the work that's been contracted out in recent years," says DeFronzo.

Meanwhile, the state's civil suit against L.G. DeFelice, the Maguire Group and individuals from both companies is pending on the Hartford Superior Court's complex litigation docket.

"I believe strongly that we will ultimately recover the money and financial damage that we've suffered as a result of I-84," Attorney General Blumenthal told legislators. "But the damage to the state in some ways is irreparable in terms of its impact on our integrity, credibility, and the trust of taxpayers. . . . We are doing business in the name of the people of the state of Connecticut and we should be preventing these fiascos."

Fiasco

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