Christine Stuart photo

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Wednesday that Department of Transportation Commissioner Ralph Carpenter will be retiring after nearly 30 years of state service to take a job at Aetna. She said in no way does his departure have anything to do with the changes the department has been asked to make as a result of contracting scandals.

“We’re sorry to see him go,” Rell said at a press conference Wednesday. She said, “This in no way reflects on the department” and the changes its in the process of making. Rell created a DOT reform commission to reorganize the beleaguered agency.

The DOT has been at the center of a number of contracting scandals, including one involving a three-mile stretch of I-84 in Waterbury where storm drains were improperly installed and the state got stuck having to fire the first contractor and pay a second contractor millions of dollars to repair the work.

“I’m not frustrated at the individuals,” Rell said. “I’m frustrated with the slow process of change.”

She said the red tape and bureaucratic nightmares often get in the way of making change, however, it creates an opportunity for a new person to come in and move forward with those changes. Rell said she would be launching a national search for a new DOT commissioner.

In a press release Wednesday, Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who voted against Carpenter’s appointment in March 2007 said, “I’m surprised that he’s leaving and I’ve enjoyed working with him over the past several months. During his time at DOT, I’ve found him to be a true solution seeker who has worked very hard to try to turn around a ship that doesn’t turn around easily.”

Carpenter, a former veteran state trooper, was appointed to Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner in 2005. He spent about two years there before Rell appointed him to be Department of Transportation Commissioner.

Duff and eight of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, voted against Carpenter’s appointment in March 2007 to express their frustration with the DOT and Rell’s appointment strategy.

Before the vote, senators expressed concern over how the DOT handled issues regarding the Q-Bridge in New Haven, drainage work along a stretch of Interstate 84, the lack of adequate parking at some train stations, truck weigh stations, incomplete work on the Merritt Parkway, the slow pace of renovations to some Virginia rail cars, and a reluctance to release certain bid documents. 

Senator Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said in a March 2007 press release, that while Mr. Carpenter has an “exceptional” record as a state police officer, his résumé is not strong on transportation experience. Meyer also noted that Carpenter’s move from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to the DOT is simply another in a series of “musical chairs” appointments by the governor.

“The practice has been one of ‘musical chairs’ – moving commissioners from one department to another in lieu of a national search. If ever there was a time for a national search, this is it,” Meyer said.

“There is a culture there that is crippling the state,” Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said in the same press release. “That culture has to change, and unless we as a body send a message that we demand it, it won’t happen.”