Cafero willing to back Asian panel staffing if personnel questions get answered

The House of Representatives’ top Republican said Wednesday’s he’s willing to drop his opposition to filling two posts in the fledgling advocacy agency for Connecticut’s growing Asian community — if he can get answers to questions that have been brewing for 12 months.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk said he still doesn’t understand why the Asian Pacific American Commission hired a legislative analyst as its first staffer in June 2010 before it had an executive director.

But the chairman of the legislative commission said his group has been plagued by insufficient funding since it first was created in 2008, adding that members would be happy to answer all of the minority leader’s questions.

Cafero said Wednesday that he still cannot get clear answers about who supervised this analyst, who approved time cards and handled reviews. Further complicating matters, the Norwalk lawmaker added, it appears the commission granted a leave of absence — something that it cannot do without approval from legislative leadership.

“This shouldn’t have been a problem but the way it’s being handled makes it a problem,” Cafero added. “If this is the way we are going to run government, we have a problem.”

Much of the commission’s problems stem from a lack of funding.

In the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, the legislature and then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell limited appropriations for the panel to $25,000 and $28,000, respectively — symbolic figures that were insufficient to hire professional staff and meant more as a fiscal placeholder.

The commission received a $52,310 budget last fiscal year — enough for one hire, though not an executive director. Rather than wait another year for enough funding to hire a director, the group decided to secure a fiscal foothold and put a professional face on their organization by hiring a legislative analyst.

That post went to Nakul Havnurkar of Berlin, a former elections researcher for the secretary of the state’s office, whom commission members praised for working long hours to track legislative issues of concern and provide the Asian community with a voice before lawmakers.

“Nakul made it a point to be there whenever hearings or meetings were going on on any issues of concern were being discussed,” commission chairman Jack Hasegawa of Woodbridge said Wednesday.

While Havnurkar left this past summer to accept a nine-month fellowship with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies in Washington, D.C.

Things turned financially for the commission this fiscal year, though, as the legislature and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tripled their budget, approving $158,172 — enough both to fill the legislative analyst position and hire an executive director.

The Office of Legislative Management, the legislature’s chief administrative arm, notified the legislative commission by email over last weekend that its request to fill two positions had been denied.

Agencies within the Legislative Branch must submit requests to fill vacancies with the Committee on Legislative Management, and particularly to its Personnel Policy Subcommittee, which is comprised of the top six legislative leaders including: the majority and minority leaders from both the House and Senate, as well as the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem.

Democrats, who control both chambers, hold four of the six seats on the subcommittee and did not oppose the hirings. But all requests to hire must have support from at least lawmaker from each party, allowing either side to block any hire if their are unified in their opposition.

Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, blocked the hirings after Cafero raised his concerns.

Hasegawa said the commission wanted Havnurkar to be designated as being on a leave of absence — and his post filled only with a temporary replacement — because it plans to bring him back after the fellowship ends.

Hasegawa added that Havnurkar took direction daily from the commissioners themselves, and that the panel’s main problem has been a lack of funding to carry out the mission given it by the legislature.

“I would certainly be glad to talk with Representative Cafero,” Hasegawa said. “It’s not a mystery. There wasn’t enough money to hire and executive director.”