Rell makes U-turn, says she pushed out DOT boss

Gov. M. Jodi Rell reversed herself and acknowledged Wednesday that she sought Joseph Marie’s abrupt resignation as state transportation commissioner after an allegation of “inappropriate behavior.”

After admitting in an interview with The Mirror that Marie left under pressure, her administration released a document saying that Marie’s record would show he resigned in “good standing,” unless he criticized the governor or her administration.

By nightfall, the former commissioner had done both. He told The Advocate of Stamford he had resigned believing it would protect his privacy. He said the administration pressured him to quit without specifying the allegations against him.

“This much I do know,” he said. “I have always conducted myself in a very honorable and ethical way.”

UPDATE: Rell responds today, saying she had cause to fire Marie.

Marie resigned June 29 rather than answer questions about an allegation that Marie had acted improperly toward an employee, Rell said. She declined to characterize the behavior, but another source said the employee was a woman who felt harassed.

“I think the facts were on the table, and this was a question that had arisen,” Rell said.

Joseph Marie

Joseph Marie

Rell made her remarks in the afternoon after being told that The Mirror was about to report that Marie resigned under pressure after the Rell administration had asked several women if Marie had ever behaved inappropriately around them.

“We had asked questions of individuals,” Rell said. “No one filed an official complaint.”

In the interview, she denied seeking Marie’s resignation, but her story changed hours later with the release of this statement: “I moved expeditiously in seeking this resignation.”

She said Marie was the subject of a complaint.

“My office was contacted by a person representing a DOT employee who had alleged inappropriate behavior by the Commissioner. Legal counsel for the Governor’s Office conducted a preliminary inquiry into the allegation,” she said in her statement.

♦ Text of Rell’s statement ♦

The governor said there was no formal finding of wrongdoing by Marie. She declined to discuss any specifics about the allegation against the commissioner, saying that he was presented with information about a claim against him.

She said he was told, “And if you want to talk about it, we can. Otherwise –“

Rell did not finish the sentence.

He declined to defend himself and tendered his resignation, she said.

After the interview, her administration released a two-page stipulated agreement signed by Marie and the administration’s top employee-relations officer on June 29.

The eight-point agreement, signed by Marie and by Linda J. Yelmini, director of the Office of Labor Relations, stipulates Marie “shall be deemed to have resigned in good standing.”

It also required him to immediately forfeit all state identification, access and credit cards, and to agree not to retrieve his personal belongings from DOT headquarters in Newington until July 2, when he could be accompanied by a state police trooper.

Technically, Marie remains on the state payroll through July 29. DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said last week that Marie had accrued 21 days of vacation and that it would cover his compensation between June 30 and July 29. As commissioner, Marie earned $169,745 per year.

In the agreement, Marie said that he was not intimidated into leaving and that he was not subject to discrimination in any way. He also waived his right to pursue legal action against the state and agreed to contact no state employees without the authorization of the governor’s legal counsel.

Except for being recognized as having resigned in good standing, no other benefit is specified for the former commissioner. “The above consideration is all that Mr. Marie will receive for all potential claims and causes of action,” the agreement states. “No promise has been made to Mr. Marie by anyone for any further relief.”

But according to the document, Marie’s standing could be jeopardized if he criticizes, verbally or in writing, either Rell, any member of the administration, or any other state employee.

In that event, “such resignation in good standing shall be changed to a dismissal indicating that the services of Mr. Marie no longer pleased the governor due to inappropriate behavior by Mr. Marie.”

The former commissioner could not be reached for comment by The Mirror, but he told The Advocate that provision was used to pressure him into quickly resigning. “I am absolutely certain if there is any behavior issues that were ever presented against me I would prevail. I’m absolutely certain of that,” he said.

In a telephone interview on July 1, he denied there was any conflict at DOT headquarters that precipitated his departure. But he refused to discuss any details of the June 29 meeting with Yelmini that led to the agreement being signed.

“I can only tell you that I met with folks about my departure,” he said then. The former commissioner also confirmed he had no new job at that time, though he added he was seeking work.

Rell and her administration tried to portray Marie’s departure as routine when news first broke on June 30.

The governor’s press office issued a press statement announcing Marie had submitted his letter of resignation “in order to pursue long-term employment opportunities and spend more time with his family.”

One of the governor’s press aides contacted The Mirror after it had begun investigating Marie’s departure and volunteered that it is not unusual for commissioners to resign in the final months of an outgoing administration, even after it was learned that Marie was denied access to his email and office after resigning.

Rell is not seeking re-election and her term ends in early January.

When pressed further about Marie’s departure after an unrelated media event in Rocky Hill on July 1, Rell said she was unaware of any other factors behind Marie’s exit.

“The only thing I know is that he offered his resignation, and I accepted it,” she said, calling his immediate lockout from the DOT “normal process when anyone leaves state government.”

The governor even suggested Marie’s leaving hadn’t come as a surprise. “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.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rell answered questions about Marie after an unrelated event in Chesire. She said she did not seek Marie’s resignation, nor did she talk to him about his departure. But at least the first part of that assertion was contradicted hours later in her formal statement.

“I moved expeditiously in seeking this resignation – first and foremost, to end any alleged inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, and also to resolve the situation in a way that was respectful to the employee involved and all of the people affected, including innocent family members,” she said.

Rell had hailed Marie’s hiring in April 2008, touting his more than 22 years of transit industry experience in both the public and private sectors. Marie was director of operations and maintenance for a regional public transit system in Phoenix, Ariz., immediately before coming to Connecticut.