The House approved Susan Hamilton, Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s nominee to head the Department of Children and Families, by a 94 to 30 vote Thursday afternoon.

After a public hearing on Hamilton’s nomination Thursday morning it became clear the approval would not come from the Senate. The nomination of a DCF Commissioner, the state’s second-largest agency, only has to be passed by one chamber of the General Assembly.

Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said he was disturbed by the lack of knowledge Hamilton had about “some of the most controversial issues and scandals that occurred at DCF during the Rowland administration, despite the fact she served as the director of the Legal Division of the agency at the time.” (Read his entire statement here).

Williams is referring to the $58 million no-bid contract to build the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, otherwise, known as the no-bid contract that landed former Gov. John G. Rowland in jail.

Some members of the House who voted against Hamilton’s nomination were also concerned with the lack of managerial skills she admitted to having.

Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Gales Ferry, said the largest number of people Hamilton managed was 35. He said Hamilton is a “smart, dedicated public servant, however, this appointment is not in the best interest of this agency.”

But it wasn’t only her lack of managerial experience that resulted in 30 votes against her nomination.

Rep. Andrew Fleischman, D-West Hartford, said it was her “lack of vision.” He said she had no opinion on what to do with the training school or the federal court order DCF’s under to improve its programs. “Where she’s going to take the agency?” he asked.

Even Rep. Gail Hamm, D-East Hampton, who voted in favor of Hamilton’s nomination, said “She is not a change agent.” She said “the problem at the end of the day is I don’t think it’s her fault she finds herself in this position.” She said the Rell administration was looking for a “stay-the-course kinda candidate” and that’s what they got. 

In response to the vote in the House Rell’s office sent out this email: “Commissioner Hamilton is intelligent, talented, and deeply committed to the mission of the Department of Children and Families, and I am pleased the legislature has approved her nomination,” Rell said.“Commissioner Hamilton and her new leadership team are determined to make real differences in the lives they touch. We are all looking forward to continued progress at this agency, which is one of the most important and challenging in state government.” 

What Happened to the Former DCF Commissioner?

Rich Harris, Rell’s spokesman, said “Prior to the start of her new term as Governor that began in January, the Governor wanted to bring new ideas and new leadership to her executive team and she accepted the resignation of several commissioners, including Darlene Dunbar’s.”

Dunbar, succeeded former DCF Commissioner Kristine Ragaglia, who was brought down in the Rowland administration scandal.

Jean Fiorito, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents Inc., said in her Spring 2007 newsletter: “Darlene was truly a champion of foster, adoptive and relative caregivers having grown up between living with her mother and her aunt. Darlene understood from an extremely personal level about what it was like to be in care with someone other than your own parents and thrived because of it. She maintained those values throughout her 24 year career with DCF and in all of the positions in which she worked. Darlene was unique in her approaches to the many facets of DCF. We will miss her and wish her well in all of her new endeavors.”