Retired FOI czar ready to lead unified watchdog group for free

The leader of Connecticut’s right-to-know agency for three decades, who called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to merge nine watchdog groups “a disaster” when it was proposed, is one of five finalists to head the unified Office of Governmental Accountability.

Mitchell W. Pearlman, who retired in 2005 after 30 years with the Freedom of Information Commission and 28 years as its executive director and general counsel, also pledged to forgo a salary if given the job. He now collects an annual pension of $68,500 and the approved annual pay range for the job he is seeking runs from $95,463 to $145,684.

Pearlman was among three candidates interviewed Friday by the division heads within the new Office of Governmental Accountability. Two more interviews are scheduled for Monday. The panel must recommend at least three finalists by the end of business Monday to Malloy, but can submit more. The governor must appoint a director from that pool of candidates.

According to panel’s personnel search committee report, the group is looking primarily from within Connecticut government for a new director to oversee business and administrative functions.

In May, Pearlman said Malloy’s plan to merge the FOIC with eight other watchdog panels would be “a disaster” for the state’s right-to-know program. That merger would threaten the independence the agency needs to evaluate right-to-know compliance among all of state and municipal government in Connecticut, he argued.

Friday he said he is applying to run the new merged entity only because he wants to mitigate any damage the merger could do to the respective missions of the watchdog agencies. “I really don’t want the job,” he said.

“I feel very strongly about the independence of the watchdog and advocacy agencies,” Pearlman added, describing his role as one who would be “mediate disagreements. I don’t think I’m the boss.” That job, he said, belongs to the nine division heads.

Besides the FOIC, the new Office of Governmental Accountability also includes: the Office of State Ethics, the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Office of the Victim Advocate, the Office of the Child Advocate, the Judicial Selection Commission, the Judicial Review Council, the State Contracting Standards Board and the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners.

State budget legislation reserves each individual division’s control over “budgetary issues and concerning the employment of necessary staff to carry out the statutory duties.” But the merger requires the nine divisions to share personnel, payroll, affirmative action and administration and business functions.

Pearlman said one of his concerns is that integrating computer networks could make confidential data vulnerable.

Though legislature and Malloy “overdid it” with the merger, the former FOI chief said he believes some cost-saving efficiencies can be found. “Efficiency is in there. It’s in the mix. But it’s not first,” he said.

One efficiency, he said, would be doing without a salary. “I don’t think this organization needs a double-dipper,” said Pearlman, who would continue to collect a state pension.

Also interviewed Friday were Gloria Davis Delancy of Bloomfield, chief fiscal and administrative officer at the FOIC since 1998, and Michael J. Purcaro of Ellington, chief administrative officer for the state Department of Public Health since 2009.

Davis-Delancy, who also served for 10 years before that as an associate budget analyst with the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, said one of her goals would be to keep the governor’s budget office “out of your kitchen,” arguing the administration is exercising considerable control over watchdog agency finances. “I don’t like it.”

The head of one watchdog agency questioned earlier this month whether that fiscal autonomy already had been compromised.

Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics within the new Office of Government Accountability, objected to Malloy’s naming of an acting executive director of the new OGA to help determine how a $1.61 million budget cut will be apportioned among OGA’s nine divisions.

The merger statute only allows the governor to appoint an acting director “If the Governmental Accountability Commission has not submitted such list to the governor on or before August 1, 2011.”

Administration officials insisted Malloy didn’t intend to exceed his authority on June 30 when he appointed Karen Buffkin, OPM undersecretary for legal affairs, to serve as acting executive director. Buffkin was named only to help coordinate how the spending cut would be apportioned among the nine divisions.

“I know that this is a difficult change for a lot of people,” Purcaro said during his interview Friday, adding the merger nonetheless is the law and that it would be his role as director to ensure all divisions cooperate to meet budgetary deadlines and cost-cutting benchmarks. “Collaborating is key in what we’re doing here.”

Purcaro also held several other posts at DPH between 1999 and 2009 including communications manager, chief contracting and grants officer and director of  a disaster training center.

Other candidates selected for interviews to be held Monday are:

  • David L. Guay of South Windsor, executive director of the state Board of Accountancy since 1989.
  • Nancy L. Hadley of Bridgeport, who served as Department of Motor Vehicles Commission from 1993 to 1995 and as deputy commissioner of Transportation from 1991 to 1993 under then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.  Hadley has worked as a real estate development consultant for the last 11 years. From 2004 to 2009 she also worked for the city of Bridgeport, first as director of the Office of Planning and Development and later as senior project manager for the city housing authority.