Ex-DOT chief, Rell, dodge questions on parting of ways

Former state Transportation Commissioner Joseph F. Marie and Gov. M. Jodi Rell continued to dodge key questions Thursday in separate interviews regarding Marie’s abrupt departure from his post.

Marie said in a telephone interview that he wasn’t pressured to quit. Asked if there was any conflict at DOT headquarters that may have precipitated his departure, he said no. But he refused to discuss any details of a meeting Tuesday that led to him being locked out of DOT headquarters and of his state e-mail account.

Marie also refused to say why he was called into the meeting, or why his e-mail and key card access to DOT headquarters in Newington were deactivated immediately afterward. “I can only tell you that I met with folks about my departure,” he said. The former commissioner also confirmed he has no new job at this time, though he added he is seeking work.

rell questioned about marie 7-2-10

Governor on DOT commissioner’s resignation: ‘Offered and accepted’ (Keith M. Phaneuf)

By Wednesday morning, Rell had announced that Marie had been replaced with Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Parker.

Although the governor said little more Thursday, her administration confirmed Marie – who will remain on state payroll through July 29 – would be using accumulated vacation time to cover the gap.

Rell deflected a battery of questions about Marie Thursday when she was approached by reporters following a press event to announce funding for a veterans’ memorial in Rocky Hill, offering several variations on the same response.

“Commissioner Marie offered his resignation and I accepted it,” said Rell, whose office said the commissioner was leaving to seek other employment and to spend more time with his family. “Joe had mentioned to me several months ago that he would look in the private sector in the not-too distant future and I know that’s exactly what he’s planning on doing,” she said.

Marie also said Thursday that the post he had held since April 2008 left him little time for family. “It was an all-encompassing job,” he said. “I couldn’t balance that with everything else.”

Regarding Marie being immediately locked out of the agency, Rell said “That’s normal process when anyone leaves state government.”

After that answer, though, the governor offered little more in response to a series of questions from reporters.

Was Marie surprised the meeting ended with his resignation?

“He offered his resignation and I accepted it,” she said. “There’s no surprise there.”

Were there other factors behind Marie’s departure?

“The only thing I know is that he offered his resignation and I accepted it,”

Was Marie told he’d been fired if he didn’t resign?

“He offered it and I accepted it.”

DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said later Thursday that Marie has 21 days of accrued vacation and that it would cover his compensation between June 30 and July 29. As commissioner, Marie earned $169,745 per year.

His unusual exit raised questions Wednesday as well.

Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he wants assurances Connecticut’s pursuit of federal funding for the proposed New Haven-to-Springfield rail commuter line and other key transportation initiatives won’t be hindered by the transition in leadership.

The union representing about 1,000 DOT engineers, planners and analysts questioned whether the shake-up would delay resolution of union charges that the agency is not complying with state “clean contracting” statutes.

Rell said Wednesday that “Deputy Commissioner Parker brings a wealth of experience in mass transit and commuter rail to which we are committed. I fully expect a seamless transition at DOT as we move forward with our goals.”

Parker, a Newington native, joined the DOT in 2008 after a successful tenure as senior director of transportation operations at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. A graduate of Northeastern University of Boston, Parker also worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority where he oversaw project management, safety and operations control.

Rell is not seeking re-election and her term ends in early January. Parker is expected to lead the DOT until that point, after which the next governor would appoint a commissioner.