waterburyChristine Stuart photo
Democratic gubernatorial challenger John DeStefano criticized Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell Wednesday for her handling of the $52 million I-84 road construction debacle, which he alleges she knew about more than 6 months ago. Standing with Senate President Donald Williams at a Park and Ride lot off I-84 on the Southington-Waterbury border DeStefano asked, “Where’s the governor?” Williams said Rell ordered an independent review of the 3 1/2 mile road widening project with hundreds of defective drains a day after The Courant reported it. A Sept. 14 memo, “clearly shows state officials knew of major drainage failures back in April,” Williams said. Rell should have known, DeStefano said.

A state Department of Transportation employee was the one who spotted the problem in February 2006. The employee observed a pothole that turned into a four-by-six-foot sinkhole at the end of the Austin Road on-ramp, a memo from the DOT’s Chief Engineer of Highway Operations to the new DOT Commissioner Ralph Carpenter explains. The Sept. 14 memo begs the question about how often Rell meets with the commissioners. DeStefano said “We know her chief of staff meets with commissioners when she wants to handout invitations to a campaign fundraiser,” but does the governor, he asked. Rell’s spokesman Judd Everhart said “Governor Rell is in touch with her commissioners on a daily basis. Today, for example, she spoke with Public Health Commissioner Galvin about the Legionnaire’s cases and to Emergency Management Commissioner Thomas about another matter. There are periodic meetings of the commissioners, and the Governor presided at the last one (mid-September). If there is a scheduling conflict, her chief of staff presides.”“Restoring integrity in state government has been the hallmark of my administration,” Rell said in a press release this week. “When fraud or abuse has been discovered, we have moved promptly to address it. I am confident that this new audit will help prevent abuses from occurring in the first place.“DeStefano’s running mate Mary Glassman, said Wednesday if the governor knew about these problems, why didn’t she ask for an audit before the newspaper wrote an article.“She is the boss. It’s her job to know what’s going on,” Glassman said.Williams said Rell vetoed legislation with state contracting protections three times. “Now we see how state contractors not doing their jobs, endangers the lives of Connecticut’s citizens,” he said. Maguire Group, Inc. hired to inspect the work done by L.G. DeFelice, Inc. has since been fired by the state. It has also been fired from a state development project at United Technologies Corporation’s Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Interestingly enough DeStefano pointed out that the firm which designed this road project and remained on the job for five years contributed to Rell’s campaigns. A principal in the firm, Close, Jensen and Miller that as hired to design the road widening gave to Rell’s 2002 campaign for lieutenant governor and his wife Anita Miller, who lists her occupation as homemaker, gave $2,500 to Rell’s 2006 campaign for governor. Rell’s campaign spokesman has said in the past that these type of donations don’t violate Rell’s fundraising standards of not taking money from lobbyists or state contractors because the donations are from people who don’t sign the contract. So where does Rell stand on state contractor reform?Rell reaffirmed her position on the state contracting bill in November 2005. In a press release from Nov. 1, 2005, Rell said standards for private contractors would “hurt people in need of state services, non-profits, small businesses and minority-owned businesses.” In the press release she quoted Manish Gupta, who said “This bill is more than an annoyance, it is a serious threat to keeping spending in line jobs and protecting all of us … I hope that the Governor will veto this attempt … to usurp control of many vital state functions.” Gupta was described in the press release as a small business owner. His small business, GM2 Associates, an engineer consulting firm in Glastonbury.Over the years Gupta’s business has benefited from state contracts. From Jan. 1, 1995 to March 2006 Gupta received more than $9 million in contracts from the state. GM2 Associates was hired again this past June by the state to demolish Old Woodard Hall at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. The contract amount for that one project is over $643,000. “These are real people who could lose important services and real jobs that could be gone if these organizations and businesses are forced to shut down or sharply curtail their operations because of this deeply and fatally flawed bill,” Rell said in the press release. Who is Rell trying to protect? It doesn’t look like it’s the taxpayers, DeStefano said.