Rell takes tougher line: It was quit or be fired for DOT chief

WINDSOR LOCKS — Gov. M. Jodi Rell gave a blunter account Thursday of Joseph Marie’s resignation, saying she gave him a choice to quit or be fired as transportation commissioner over allegations of “improper conduct” toward a DOT employee.

But Marie, who has since hired a lawyer, issued a statement through counsel contending he was not allowed to seek legal advice before signing a nondisclosure separation agreement, and that it was the Rell administration’s idea to announce he was leaving to spend more time with family.

Responding to Marie’s complaint that he was pressured to quit without details of the allegations, Rell said there was “some give and take back and forth” with her legal counsel and Marie, who now has hired a lawyer.

“And he was asked then if he would offer his letter of resignation, rather than, frankly, being fired,” Rell said. “And he offered his letter of resignation.”

Rell spoke to reporters about Marie’s departure after a ribbon cutting at a disaster-training facility at Camp Hartell in Windsor Locks.

The allegations of improper conduct became public Wednesday after Rell acknowledged them in an interview with The Mirror.

Rell said Thursday that she initiated a preliminary inquiry by her legal counsel’s office after an attorney representing an unnamed DOT employee approached her administration with the allegations.

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Gov. M. Jodi Rell talks to reporters about Joseph Marie. (Mark Pazniokas)

The governor revealed no new details on the nature of the claims against Marie, but said she believes sufficient details were given to the former commissioner and that he was treated fairly. He was not told the name of his accuser, she said.

“I asked the attorneys,” said Rell, who did not speak directly to Marie. “They did talk about what the allegations were, but no name was offered.”

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

But Marie issued a statement through his counsel, Hartford attorney Richard E. Hayber, that said he was pressured to resign and was led to believe the matter would remain private.

He was presented with a stipulated agreement to sign, and was not given an opportunity to have legal counsel review it first.

“Joe was told that document wouldn’t see the light of day,” Hayber, told the Stamford Advocate in an interview this week. the newspaper. “Joe understood and believed that private matters contained in someone’s personnel file are not disclosable … otherwise he wouldn’t have signed it.”

Hayber said that while Marie did not have legal representation at the meeting, the state was represented by Linda J. Yelmini, director of the Office of Labor Relations, and Mary Anne O’Neill, chief legal counsel to the governor’s office.

“I don’t know how many of us under that level of stress and threat would risk that consequence and not sign it,” Hayber said. “He had moments to react to a very aggressive set of options.”

After learning The Mirror planned to report allegations of “inappropriate behavior” leveled against Marie, Rell’s administration released the two-page, eight-point agreement that stipulates the former commissioner “shall be deemed to have resigned in good standing.”

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.”

Rell said Thursday that the no-criticism provision was meant to protect other state employees, not her.

The former commissioner could not be reached for comment by The Mirror, but he told The Advocate that the promise of “good standing” 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.

On Thursday, Rell defended her original characterization of Marie’s departure last week as generated by his desire to spend more time with his family and to return to the private sector. He has no job.

“That was Joe’s comment. That’s what he wanted to say,” Rell said.

But Marie contends in the statement released through counsel that the Rell administration prepared the letter of resignation, which offered the explanation he was stepping down to spend more time with family and to seek other employment, and that he hadn’t seen it or known about until he entered the meeting with Yelmini.

“My comments haven’t changed,” Rell added. “He offered his resignation. Obviously, I didn’t discuss the details because they were allegations,” she said. “You know, I don’t think you discuss things that are allegations.”

While they were only allegations, Rell still was satisfied, however, they were grounds for dismissal.

“And let’s face it, the commissioner, any commissioner, serves at the pleasure of the governor,” she said. “ And I felt after the review by my attorneys that I was not pleased with him any longer, and he offered his resignation.”

As commissioner, Marie earned $169,745 per year.