Top lawmakers hold off on nonprofit education panel votes
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Four top Connecticut lawmakers appointed to a board overseeing a nonprofit dedicated to improving public schools are waiting to sign off on any agreements or resolutions until they are allowed to discuss them fully.
The interim board, headed by Barbara Dalio, whose husband founded the world's largest hedge fund and is a key player in the new public-private partnership with the state, had asked members to approve a series of actions needed to begin the board's work by "unanimous written consent" — that is, without a discussion.
Representatives of the two Democrats and two Republicans confirmed Thursday the legislative leaders are holding off on signing any resolutions, including the election of officers, approval of an initial budget and a written commitment to transparency.
"The items I have been asked to consent to represent significant actions which will have consequences and implications for the citizens of Connecticut," House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, wrote to the Partnership for Connecticut's interim board, informing them she would not be casting a vote. "It is my duty as a state representative and board member to do my due diligence before consenting to these items."
The Dalios' foundation is donating $100 million to the initiative, an amount being matched by the state and other private donors, to help improve Connecticut schools.
The nonprofit Partnership for Connecticut has drawn some criticism because it was granted an exemption from public information laws. The state attorney general recently determined, however, that documents held by the member lawmakers are not exempt, putting the legislators in a complicated situation.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven, voiced concern in his own letter to the interim board about voting on "significant operations, policies and budgets without any discussion or meetings."
He noted how the documents sent to the legislators and obtained by The Associated Press include creating an executive committee, appointing members and giving the group "significant powers" without discussion. A review of the documents indicates three of the four candidates for top officers on the board of directors, including the chair, are appointees made by Dalio Philanthropies. The candidate for board secretary is a board member appointment made by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont. There are 13 board members in total.
Fasano raised additional concerns about how members were being asked to approve an initial operating budget through December, including an assumed salary of $247,500 for a yet-to-be-hired president and CEO, without any discussion.
"I am also concerned that money already appears to have been spent," said Fasano, noting that a recruiting firm has already drafted a job description and a website is up and running.
In an email sent to his legislative colleagues, Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, of Berlin, on Thursday suggested the four lawmakers meet with a top adviser to Dalio Philanthropies and discuss the package of documents as soon as possible so they can get the program up and running.
A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney said the New Haven Democrat accepted Aresimowicz's invitation to meet before signing any agreements, proposals or resolutions presented to the new board.
Dalio Philanthropies said it supported the idea of the speaker's meeting with his fellow legislative leaders, noting it's "very important for the students of Connecticut that we work together to advance this initiative."
Barbara Dalio, who leads her foundation's public education efforts, has said being exempt from public disclosure rules would allow the board to have sensitive conversations and members would be "more free to be open about disagreeing, coming to consensus."
She recently told the AP she understood people's concerns about a possible lack of transparency but insisted the partnership and its activities will be made available to the public. She noted the board was bipartisan.
Among the various documents the board members were asked to approve is a "transparency commitment." The commitment calls for the board's meetings, committees and working sessions to be conducted in closed session but notes the partnership will "communicate openly to the public about decisions that have been made and the logic behind them."
Some lawmakers and open government advocates have raised concerns about exempting the partnership from the state's Freedom of Information Act.