Friction develops in the Rell-Malloy transition

Tensions are showing between the administrations of Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Gov.-elect Dan Malloy over the enforcement of an executive order that will temporarily force the departure of a key commissioner and naming of a successor days before Malloy is inaugurated Jan. 5.

With Malloy having named only five agency heads as of this week, his transition team would like to keep some of Rell’s commissioners on an interim basis, including Michael Starkowski of the Department of Social Services. The agency oversees $5.6 billion, nearly one-third of the state budget.

Starkowski, who retired and began collecting a pension eight months ago, is being forced out Friday, Dec. 31 as a result of an executive order limiting retirees to two 120-day temporary appointments. The order is intended to limit “double-dipping” by collecting a pension and a salary.

The Rell administration is declining to waive the limit, even knowing that Malloy would like to retain Starkowski. Michael J. Cicchetti, the deputy budget chief, will take Starkowski’s place, giving Cicchetti a tenure of two business days as a commissioner.

“We feel we should adhere to the integrity of the existing executive order,” said Lisa Moody, Rell’s chief of staff. “It’s only four days, and two of them are a holiday or weekend. I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Starkowski is one of two commissioners who will reach the maximum 240 days allowed by the executive order before New Year’s Eve. The other is Raeanne V. Curtis, the commissioner of public works.

Moody said she informed Timothy F. Bannon, Malloy’s chief of staff and the co-chair of his transition team, days ago that Starkowski would max out under the executive order.

“There are going to be hiccups in any transition,” Bannon said. “We did not expect the resignation of the DSS commissioner to be accepted with two business days left in the term.”

Bannon said that did not see the point in temporarily changing leaders at DSS, but he said Rell was within her rights. Cicchetti will become commissioner on Saturday, Jan. 1. He will run the agency on Monday, Jan. 3 and Tuesday, Jan. 4, then step down the next day.

The Malloy team did not ask Rell to waive her executive order for two days.

“Dan Malloy has said time and again he respects that Connecticut can have only one governor at a time so, no, there was no request for a waiver,” Bannon said.

He said Malloy will reinstall Starkowsk on Jan. 5.

Moody said the Malloy transition team has not told the Rell administration how many commissioners and deputies the new governor would like to stay on an interim or longterm basis.

She has heard indirectly, however, that Lt. Gov.-elect Nancy Wyman, the co-chair of Malloy’s transition, has asked Peter O’Meara to remain as the commissioner of developmental services. He has held that post for 10 years.

Wyman said she made that request Tuesday morning.

Malloy has significant work to do in filling out his administration. His top advisers are in place: Bannon, chief of staff; Andrew McDonald, legal counsel; Roy Occhiogrosso, senior adviser for communications.

He also has announced the heads of five agencies: Policy and Management, Public Safety, Children and Families, Public Health and Administrative Services. He has said he is conducting a national search for four other departments: Transportation, Education, Environmental Protection and Starkowski’s agency, Social Services.