The co-chairmen of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee called Friday afternoon for the state’s elections watchdog panel to reconsider its plans to name former Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano as its new executive director.
Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, told the State Elections Enforcement Commission by letter that Giuliano does not meet the basic qualification required of commissioners: that he be at least three years removed from partisan politics.
Giuliano, a Republican, served three terms as Middletown’s mayor through 2011. He lost his bid for a fourth term last November, defeated by Democrat Dan Drew. The commission announced Thursday that it planned to name Giuliano to the executive director’s post at a meeting Wednesday.
“I strongly believe the SEEC must first and foremost be an independent watchdog of Connecticut’s elections policies, procedures and processes, without even a hint of partisanship, and a chief elected official, of any party and any municipality, who served in office and ran for re-election as recently as this nominee, compromises that desire for irrefutable nonpartisanship,” Slossberg said.
“Individual SEEC commissioners must be removed from partisan politics for three full years before they are eligible to serve; I think the same standard should be applied to the agency’s staff positions as well,” she said.
“There is no place for partisan politics at Elections Enforcement,” Morin said. “In essence, the commissioners are naming an executive director whose feet are still tired from walking the campaign trail. This is a job that rises above party politics — even the slightest hint of partisanship would contaminate Election Enforcement’s ability to carry out its mission.”
Giuliano was one of two former mayors in the pool of four finalists. He faced competition from a Democrat, who is more than three years removed from elective office, who was backed by a top official of Common Cause, the advocacy group often seen as an ally of the commission at the state Capitol.
The Democrat confirmed he was a finalist, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his current job. One other finalist was the chief operating officer of a municipality. The fourth had no government experience.
Stephen F. Cashman, the chairman of the commission, said he would review the letter, but the call for being clear of partisan politics for three years is not required of the director.
“All I can indicate is that requirement was neither in the job description, which was posted by DAS, nor is it part of the statute associated with the appointment of the executive director,” Cashman said. “It seems they are asking us to impose a condition that has not heretofore existed.”
DAS is the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees hiring.
Giuliano could not be reached.
In addition to saying that Giluliano too recently was an active partisan, Slossberg and Morin also drew a parallel between Giuliano’s situation and state ethics standards.
The legislators noted that ethics rules guard against more than just outright conflicts of interest, but also caution against the appearance of a conflict. The executive director of an agency that oversees and enforces fair elections, including Connecticut’s public campaign financing program, should appear to be far removed from any office that has a stake in these services.
Both legislative leaders added that their objections are not personal.
“I’m not attacking the former mayor,” Morin said. “I respect what he did” in municipal service.
“We need an independent watchdog agency that doesn’t have the appearance of even a smattering of partisanship,” Slossberg said.