Christine Stuart file photo
Attorney General George Jepsen (Christine Stuart file photo)

Attorney General George Jepsen, a longtime friend and political ally of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, dealt his friend some tough love last week when he concluded that the heads of the nine independent watchdog agencies have the power to evaluate a governor-appointed administrator.

In a formal opinion released Dec. 16, Jepsen concluded that the commission “has the authority to set goals and expectations for and to evaluate periodically the executive administrator.”

But according to a Malloy spokesman the governor is not disappointed in the decision.

“It was always the governor’s intention to make sure that the watchdog agencies maintained their independence, so we are not disappointed by the attorney general’s decision in any way,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said Sunday.

The Office of Governmental Accountability was created two years ago as a way to trim costs, reduce the size of government, and improve accountability. It put together nine previously separate agencies under one roof over the objections of some of the agency executives who worried that a governor-appointed administrator would hinder their ability to do their job.

Unwilling to upset the governor, the Democrat-controlled legislature sought a compromise that allowed the agencies to maintain separate staff and propose their own budgets. Agency heads, who comprise the Government Accountability Commission, also understood the bill to have given them the ability to fire the Malloy-appointed administrator who oversees the umbrella office. However, David Guay, the former executive administrator of the Office of Governmental Accountability, disputed that point.

“Giving the GAC [Government Accountability Commission] the authority to evaluate and possibly terminate a governor’s appointee appears to be inconsistent with the appointment of other gubernatorial appointees,” Guay wrote in a Dec. 2011 report.

Jepsen clarified in his opinion that the Government Accountability Commission does have the power to terminate its governor-appointed executive director.

“The GAC has the authority to terminate the employment of the executive administrator. Surely if the legislature intended to confer the power to terminate, it must have meant to allow the GAC to set expectations to evaluate whether the executive administrator has met such expectations before exercising its termination power,” Jepsen wrote. “To conclude otherwise would create a nonsensical and unworkable obstacle to the GAC’s exercise of its termination authority, and statutes must be construed to avoid such results.”

In his opinion, Jepsen cited remarks made by Sen. Toni Harp on June 1, 2011. According to Jepsen, Harp stated during debate on the bill that the GAC has the “power to evaluate and terminate the executive administrator.”

In October, Guay stepped down from the post and was appointed to the state Contracting Board, which was created in 2007 but never before staffed. The agency is one of the nine under the Office of Governmental Accountability umbrella.

Doba said Malloy is close to naming Guay’s successor.

On Nov. 22, the Governmental Accountability Commission met to discuss a replacement. According to the draft minutes of the meeting, it forwarded the names of five individuals to Malloy for consideration.

Shelby Brown, Matthew Reed, Josephine Agnello-Veley, Christopher Forster, and Walter Murray were the five names forwarded to Malloy. The names were ranked from one through five. Brown was the commission’s first choice.

The commission was successful this year in defeating legislation that sought to further consolidate the agencies by forcing them to share legal staff. Malloy’s proposal also would have transferred fiscal, information technology, and communications staff members to the Office of Governmental Accountability’s administrative office.

The agencies under the Office of Governmental Accountability include the Office of State Ethics; the State Elections Enforcement Commission; the Freedom of Information Commission; Judicial Review Council; Judicial Selection Commission; Board of Firearms Permit Examiners; Office of the Child Advocate; Office of the Victim Advocate; and the State Contracting Standards Board.