HARTFORD, CT — When you call Gov. Ned Lamont’s constituent services line you are offered the opportunity to transfer to 211, the state information line, or an email for his office. There’s no one to answer the phone and you can’t even leave a voice message to register your suggestion or complaint.
Gannon Long, a Hartford activist, said that even when the phone lines were staffed, a caller was unable to leave a message between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Long said it’s frustrating that Connecticut’s first governor with a business background in recent history is unable to figure out how to set up a voicemail system for his constituents, who may from time to time want to leave a suggestion.
The situation prompted the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, an advocacy group, to send an email to members saying it didn’t realize the phone lines for the governor’s office would not be staffed at this time and advising them to send email instead.
Long said if she wants to reach her state senator, John Fonfara, all she has to do is call his office and leave a message, which is checked by his legislative aide in the mornings.
“They must have some system in place by now,” Long said. “You shouldn’t have to work that hard to be acknowledged by your state government.”
She said the Lamont administration owes people an apology and an explanation of how they plan to handle calls in the future. Long called Lamont’s office to talk about a moratorium on rent.
Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, did not defend the administration’s actions.
He said when COVID-19 hit the state, every call to the constituent services line was about COVID-19 and it was impossible for the five or six staffers to keep up, so they began to forward those calls to 211.
He said over the past several weeks, the staffers have been returning to the office and have been catching up on a backlog of communications including a significant amount of physical mail. They have also returned hundreds of emails.
“I’m not defending it,” Reiss said.
Reiss said the office did not have the ability to transfer calls to the staffers’ homes while they were outside the building under the stay-at-home request.
“We tried to remain as accessible as possible,” Reiss said. “We probably have not been as responsive to the public as we would like under normal circumstances.”
He said they are rethinking their approach as they move forward, but they are proud of their constituent services staff and their ability to remain nimble at this time.
“We know how important it is to be accessible and responsive during this COVID crisis and beyond. We’re trying to make every effort to improve constituent services,” Reiss said.
Long pointed out that the General Assembly is not in session and the governor has all the power at the moment. She said that means the ability of the public to reach the governor is more important than in the past.