The resignation of a high-ranking $118,000-a-year official from a state government post isn’t something you normally celebrate. But the reaction last week to the departure of a member of the Malloy administration made some officials so happy they could barely contain their glee.
Typically, when watchdogs are chased out of town, it’s the crooked government officials who are gleeful. This time, however, it’s the good guys breathing a sigh of relief. And for good reason — the reign of David L. Guay as executive administrator of the Office of Government Accountability has been something of a disaster.
To be fair to Guay, he was walking into a dreadful situation fraught with the possibility of bruised feelings and turf battles. Ostensibly in an effort to save money and streamline government, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly decided in 2011 to consolidate several agencies, including three of the largest autonomous watchdog units: The Freedom of Information and Elections Enforcement commissions and the Office of State Ethics. Over Republican objections, a new super-agency was born. The Office of Government Accountability had a lofty sounding name but there was only one catch — its chief reported to the governor himself.
Predictably, the infighting began almost immediately. To get around the obvious conflict of an OGA head who serves at the governor’s pleasure, Democratic lawmakers created a plan even more knuckleheaded than the creation of the OGA itself. A new Government Accountability Commission would contain a representative from each of the eight sub-agencies that had been absorbed into OGA.
The legislature also gave the commission the authority to fire Guay, the OGA executive administrator, lest he be tempted to thwart investigations concerning his boss, the governor. If the commission had the authority to fire Guay, then its members properly reasoned that they should commence an evaluation of his performance. But there was only one problem with that. Guay refused to cooperate. From his perch as an executive, Guay told the commissioners that he reported to the governor and would not submit to a review conducted by those who were lower on the food chain than he was.
But the commission proceeded with Guay’s evaluation anyway. While they did have some nice things to say about him, the commissioners found Guay to be lacking in regular communication with the various offices of the OGA. And, of course, he would not meet with the commission to discuss his evaluation either. As James H. Smith, president of the nonprofit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, wrote in CTNewsJunkie, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
When Guay finally decided to leave his post last week, the relief was palpable among those whom he had defied.
“It’s definitely an opportunity to start anew,” FOI Director Colleen Murphy told the CT Mirror. “I think with the right person we’ll be in better shape.”
“I’m just looking forward to a new beginning and a new executive administrator who will work with the watchdogs to strengthen our mission and work with us moving forward,” added Michael Brandi, executive director of the Elections Enforcement Commission.
Both Brandi and Murphy are dedicated government watchdogs who deserve better than to have their power to police the state government eclipsed by a political appointee of the governor’s office.
Ironically, Guay is leaving OGA to become the first executive director of the Contracting Standards Board, one of the nine units within the OGA. What I would give to be a fly on the wall at the next meeting of the Government Accountability Commission when the subject of evaluating the new OGA director comes up. Will Guay insist the OGA doesn’t have the authority to do so, as he did when he was on the other side of the fence?
The best course of action would be to restore the autonomy of the weakened watchdog agencies and abolish the OGA. It’s unlikely Malloy will do that. As the folly of Guay’s evaluation process so vividly illustrates, Malloy would have to admit he erred in creating the OGA in the first place. So let’s hope the governor picks as a successor to Guay someone who respects the vital role and independence of the agencies who hold Malloy and the rest of state and local governments accountable.
Is that too much to ask for?