HARTFORD, CT — It passed during the last hour on the last night of the legislative session, but the bill that helps University of Connecticut Football Coach Randy Edsall’s son, Corey Edsall, keep his job was in the works long before that.
Randy Edsall spoke with legislative leaders from both parties in January at the Carmen Cozza all-state high school football banquet at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
Republican Senate President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Tuesday that he first learned of the Office of State Ethics decision at the annual high school football banquet.
Fasano, who played football at Yale University in the 1970s, was there to give an award.
Fasano said he met Edsall at that banquet and learned that the hypothetical situation the university posed before Edsall was hired seemed to suggest “as long as you don’t have direct supervision then you’re good.”
Then, after Edsall signed the acceptance letter and returned to Connecticut, the decision was reversed.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who is also a high school football coach, may have taken the lead on the legislation, but he wasn’t the only one convinced that the Office of State Ethics failed to interpret the law correctly when it decided in July 2017 that Corey Edsall should not be hired.
On Tuesday, in a phone interview, Fasano said he spoke about it with Aresimowicz, but he honestly lost track of the issue as the session came to a close. He recalled that Aresimowicz mentioned he drafted an amendment and found a bill to attach it to, but Fasano said he wasn’t aware it was on the last consent calendar.
“He never called me up and said he put it through,” Fasano said Tuesday. “It wasn’t at the top of the agenda.”
The bill, HB 5517, largely deals with how executive branch agencies handle data retention and access. But near its end in Section 7 it addresses the Edsall situation with the following language:
“Notwithstanding the provisions of this section or any other provision of this part, a state employee who is employed at a constituent unit of the state system of higher education and a member of the immediate family of such state employee may be employed in the same department or division of such constituent unit, provided the constituent unit has determined that procedures have been implemented to ensure that any final decisions impacting the financial interests of either such state employee, including decisions to hire, promote, increase the compensation of or renew the employment of such state employee, are made by another state employee who is not a member of the immediate family of such state employee.”
The bill passed the House on May 4 and made it through the Senate in the final hour before the session adjourned at midnight May 9.
But not many people, including the Office of State Ethics, were aware it passed and was signed into law.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, also ended up attending that high school football banquet back on January 14.
Fasano said he was leaving as Klarides was arriving and the two didn’t talk about the issue there.
Klarides, who attended the banquet to see her nephew get an award, said the idea that the legislature was going to try to pass some type of amendment to help resolve the situation was in the works for several months. She said she agrees that the Office of State Ethics made a mistake in ruling UConn couldn’t hire Edsall’s son as an assistant coach.
Before Randy Edsall signed a letter of acceptance, the University of Connecticut sought an opinion using a hypothetical situation without mentioning the Edsall’s name.
Aresimowicz said he understands that the university was trying to do what it could by reaching out to the Office of State Ethics to give them as much information as they could about the situation. He said the decision that Corey Edsall’s hiring would somehow violate state ethics laws “wasn’t right.”
He said he respects the need for safeguards for hiring, but “this just wasn’t fair.”
He said UConn did what it could to make sure Corey Edsall didn’t have to report to his father.
Also in football, it wouldn’t even make sense for Corey to report to the head coach, Aresimowicz said. He said the other safeguard is that no matter what happens if the team isn’t winning, the coaching staff will be eliminated.
“It would be foolish for us to turn away top talent like Corey Edsall,” Aresimowicz said.
The University of Connecticut through a spokeswoman said it “did not request the legislative change, but welcomes the clarification.”
Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said she was surprised to learn of the amendment. Especially since the case is currently being litigated.
Carson and her staff were outside the House chambers Monday trying to figure out where it came from even though it had already been signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The July 2017 decision by the Citizens Ethics Advisory Board concluded there’s no way to come up with a management plan to avoid Randy Edsall’s supervision of his son since Edsall would still supervise the offensive coordinator. Corey Edsall is an assistant coach who under normal circumstances would report to the offensive coordinator. There’s also no way to avoid having Edsall supervise the other assistant coaches who compete with his son for benefits.
Both Randy Edsall and the University of Connecticut filed lawsuits challenging the decision.
The next big hearing in the case will be on July 18.
Since the case is still pending in court, the Office of State Ethics and the Edsall’s have opted not to comment.
A brief filed on June 21 by Assistant Attorney General Kerry Anne Colson on behalf of the university says the legislature’s decision to amend the statute means “the legislature reiterated its approval that immediate family members at institutions of higher education are permitted to work in the same department or division.”
The brief was longer than 10 pages so the judge has agreed to throw it out.
Lawyers for the university are expected to submit a new brief by July 5.