Board of Regents President Robert Kennedy apologized to the governor and lawmakers Wednesday afternoon at a hastily called press conference for approving more than $262,000 in raises for 22 members of his staff without seeking board approval.
“There was no intent to deceive or mislead, but it’s clear that I could have and should have handled this differently and in the future I will,” Kennedy said.
The raises under the year old legislation needed the approval of the 15 member Board of Regents, which now oversees the state’s four regional colleges, 12 community colleges, and the Charter Oak State College.
Kennedy announced Wednesday that he was suspending all the raises and before the media even asked added that Regents Executive Vice President Michael Meotti will repay part of the $47,820 raise he already received. Meotti was not in attendance at the press conference.
“When you make a mistake you have to own up to it and put the proper procedures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Lewis Robinson, chairman of the Board of Regents, said.
To that end Robinson will form a committee to review the salary adjustments that were mistakenly handed out by Kennedy, who was in Minnesota at the time they were approved.
Most state employees haven’t seen a bump in pay over the past two years and with unemployment topping 9 percent in the state, the decision to hand out up to $48,000 to an individual turns a tin ear to the state of Connecticut‘s economy.
Kennedy readily admitted that the “political sensitivity wasn’t there” when he made the decision to compensate his 22 employees as they took on more responsibilities.
“Quite clearly it should have been handled differently,” Kennedy said. “We’re all aware and part of our mission is to help the state in terms of its economic recovery and being sensitive to the needs of the state and what’s going on with the people—and we didn’t do that.”
He said he felt the raises were “reasonable, but the manner in which they were carried out obviously was not and all of them will be reexamined.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but Kennedy said none of his senior staff members questioned the raises or thought about how it would look to the public or other state employees.
Kennedy said he calculated the raises by looking at salaries of individuals in similar positions at other public universities.
The decision to hold a press conference to announce the suspension of the raises may have come out of conversations with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s staff who has been in touch with Kennedy.
Kennedy said he’s had several conversations with Malloy’s Senior Communications Adviser Roy Occhiogrosso and Chief Legal Counsel Andrew McDonald over the past few days.
Having already admitted it was a mistake, Kennedy said they encouraged us to clarify what was happening.
Malloy expressed his anger earlier in the day Wednesday at an unrelated event.
Lawmakers are continuing to gather facts behind the raises.
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, said the response she received seeking justification for the raises was lacking.
“I’m also shocked at Dr. Kennedy’s compensation package,” Bye said. “It is disturbing to me that the Board of Regents’ central office seems to be operating on a completely different basis than most other state agencies, in terms of salary and benefits.”
Kennedy himself has a very impressive contract with the state which includes a base salary of $340,000 a year. That’s in addition to a state vehicle and an opportunity earn $25,000 for accomplishing certain performance goals and objectives, $20,000 for each full year of service, and an annual unvouchered $25,000 expense account. The contract also gives him six weeks of professional development, but Kennedy said that mostly involved “working remotely“ from his family‘s second home in Brainerd, Minnesota. There were no conferences, no lectures, and no books written during that six week period. He also receives two weeks of vacation.
“Professional development” is the way it’s worded in his contract, Kennedy said, but “working remotely” may be a more apt description.
As he was hearing Kennedy describe his contract which was negotiated with Malloy, Robinson said he was thinking he wished he had a contract like that.
Asked if he would consider redefining what sounds more like a vacation than “professional development” Robinson told reporters that it would be “appropriate for us to consider something should be done about that.”