File photo of Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Friday the departure of his budget director, Melissa McCaw, an apparent casualty of an expanding scandal involving state construction contracts and a federal investigation into a former deputy secretary in her office. 

McCaw, the first Black woman to serve as secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, has not been implicated in the steady drip of news that has centered on her former deputy, Kosta Diamantis, who was fired in October as the FBI began investigating his management of state contracts, including those related to school projects.

The governor appeared without McCaw at a state Capitol press conference to announce the news. He praised her work on the state budget and said that she has accepted a position as finance director for the city of East Hartford. Lamont said McCaw informed him of her decision to leave the administration when he met with her at the governor’s residence Thursday. 

“I wasn’t shocked,” Lamont said. “There’s a lot of back and forth going on right now. It’s distracting. She wants to get through OPM, get through this budget cycle, probably figured a fresh start over at East Hartford made sense for her, made sense for OPM right now.” 

Jeff Beckham, undersecretary of legislative affairs, will serve as the interim head of the budget office until a permanent replacement can be appointed, Lamont said.

McCaw’s exit was not unexpected. News reports have described tensions between McCaw and other members of the Lamont administration. According to the CT Mirror, Diamantis has alleged that members of the administration, including Paul Mounds and Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief of staff and former chief operating officer, have disrespected McCaw during her tenure.

McCaw has not denied the claim and seemed to confirm tensions earlier this month when she began a press briefing on the state budget by reading reporters a cryptic statement.

“I want to say that as Black woman and the first woman of color to hold the position of OPM secretary, it is not easy to work professionally at this high a level in a field that has been dominated by white males. And while I cannot say the same for everyone in this administration, I want you to know that Governor Lamont and I have always had a strong, close working relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect,” McCaw said. 

Lamont shrugged off a question Friday on whether McCaw had informed him of difficulties with his other advisors. 

“It’s a lot of pushing and shoving. It’s a tough job,” he said. “You’ve got legislators, you’ve got commissioners, everybody wants a piece. It was not an easy three years and she got the job done.”

McCaw was one of Lamont’s first appointments after he was elected in 2018 and has worked as a budget official both in and out of the government sector, including posts at the University of Hartford and the city of Hartford. 

Traditionally considered one of the most influential posts in state government, Lamont siphoned some responsibility away from the OPM secretary when he created the state chief operating officer position. 

That post was first held by Mounds, and later by Geballe, who was also the commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. Mounds eventually took on the chief of staff role. Geballe, meanwhile, is also leaving state service to take a job at Yale, and while Lamont has appointed a successor to lead the Administrative Services Department, the future of the chief operating officer position was uncertain earlier this month. 

The Lamont administration also oversaw the school construction program’s shift from the Department of Administrative Services, where it had historically been located, to OPM. Members of the legislature objected to the change and the administration moved the program back to DAS after Diamantis’ departure.

However, the governor was asked during the press conference to explain the initial reasoning for the move. He said the program came along with Diamantis. 

“[McCaw] needed a deputy. She asked for Kosta to come over. Kosta had been doing the school construction so I guess mid-construction, they figured it was better to transition that over,” Lamont said.

McCaw is not the first official whose proximity to Diamantis has attended an early exit from state government. Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo Jr. announced his retirement earlier this month as the Criminal Justice Commission considered removing him for his decision to hire Diamantis’ daughter while pressing OPM for raises for himself and other state’s attorneys.

Republicans responded to Friday’s news of McCaw’s departure by calling for more accountability from the governor. The minority leaders of both chambers of the legislature issued statements renewing their calls for legislative hearings on the school construction program. Bob Stefanowski, Lamont’s likely opponent in this year’s race for governor, agreed.

“Setting a culture of accountability and holding your appointees responsible for their actions is critical to good governance,” Stefanowski said.