Today I raised questions about a Malloy administration proposal that consolidates nine state watchdog agencies under one umbrella.
The bill, debated in the Senate today for over six hours, consolidates the Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Commission, Judicial Review Council, Judicial Selection Commission, Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, Office of the Child Advocate, Office of the Victim Advocate, and the State Contracting Standards Board.
This proposal undermines the watchdogs' independence.
The independence of these watchdog agencies has worked well for many years. Politics does not come into play in the operation of the agencies. Their decisions are independent ones. This bill violates that independence and it will call into question whether the watchdogs' decisions are based on politics or not. These watchdog agencies have restored the public's confidence and faith in government.
Taxpayers should be confident in these agencies. Once in a while, you get a bad apple politician who breaks the public trust. These agencies - because they are separate and independent from politics - restore that trust. This is about the integrity of what we do in government. The bill represents a good attempt to make government more efficient, but I have concluded that the big three watchdog agencies - Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Commission - must be separate.
The current firewall between the agencies would also be torn down by Governor Malloy’s proposal. The potential conflict of legal matters could find one state watchdog agency suing the other. I'm concerned that the legal staffs of these agencies, for instance, should not be sharing legal responsibilities across agency boundaries. I don't think those firewalls were considered in the crafting of this bill.
I also have grave concerns over how confidentiality would be protected under the new agency consolidations.
There are many unanswered questions. For example, how will conflicts between these agencies be resolved? What are the rules? Who is in charge? Who will we be sure that hearings are fair? The bottom line is this: there are certain parts of state government which need crystal clear definitions - Ethics, Elections and Freedom of Information must remain beyond reproach. This law would take us in the wrong direction.