March 10, 2008
By Ken Krayeske • 10:05 PM EST
The state of the city of Hartford is wonderful, just peachy, so long as you don't ask Mayor Eddie Perez or any of his department heads about the ongoing grand jury investigation into potential corruption in the Mayor's office.
Perez delivered a typically wooden state of the city address Monday night at City Hall to a standing room only crowd. His words touched on common themes - education, homeownership, job growth - and predictably ignored the elephant in the room.
The fact that dozens of city employees have been called to testify in front of a grand jury in New Britain about potential wrongdoing by the Mayor's office is not something the Mayor or his department heads like Corporation Counsel John Rose, Jr., Finance Department leader Tom Morrison or DPW chief Clarence Corbin will talk too much about.
"They are doing their job and I am doing mine," the Mayor said after his speech, in reference to the grand jury.
The Mayor didn't know exactly how many people had been called before the grand jury, nor would he estimate how many man hours had been lost to testifying.
Sarah Barr, the mayor's press aide, said the mayor was doing his job.
"He is a 24/7 mayor," Barr said.
The investigation is not affecting the city, Mayor Perez said. Just ask the businessmen, the school teachers, the shopkeepers, he said.
"We are moving in the right direction," Mayor Perez said. And he abruptly turned away.
Rose and Morrison approached the discussions about the state of the grand jury investigation similarly.
The biggest drain on his office's resources, he said, was not the investigation, but the Freedom of Information Act requests from the press.
"I don't think I want to continue this conversation," Rose said after being asked how the spectre of the investigation affects his office. "You're wasting my time," he said.
Morrison had no comment. "I'm not talking to you," he said.
At least Corbin from the Department of Public Works was a bit more forthcoming. He has not testified, but he said that he believed that at least one member of his staff, Alex Marcellino, has testified.
"I'm not sure I feel comfortable in continuing this conversation," Corbin said.
He downplayed the impact the investigation has had on his department. Corbin has only been head of DPW for a year. He was a city engineer several years ago before moving to New Britain to take the lead role at DPW there.
"The impact is that we just cooperate with the investigation," Corbin said. "That is all we can do. No one has spoken to me about how the morale of the staff has been impacted."
Corbin didn't anticipate that any more members of his staff would be called to testify.
Councilmen Ken Kennedy, who was called before the grand jury, said he was not bothered by his subpeona. But he acknowledged that some city employees who lacked his legal background might be somewhat scared by the process.
"I would expect it would be intimidating to some people," Kennedy said. "Some people might not be comfortable with testifying if they know the law has been skirted."
He said he could also understand why some of the Mayor's department heads would be refrain from comment, namely, tha they have to report to the Mayor.
The grand jury investigation is not upsetting the day-to-day duties of the people running the city, according to Councilman Pedro Segarra.
"I think it might affect the morale of constituents," Segarra said, adding that the biggest side effect is probably the perception of the city to suburbanites.
Nor is the lost time of city workers who testify worth accounting for, Segarra said.
"Any time the investigation needs, even if it takes thousands of hours, it is important to comply with the process," Segarra said.
The investigation is seemingly of limited topics, Segarra said.
"From what I understand it is a narrow scope, dealing with the Mayor's home and people politically connected to him. So it's not overwhelming."
And the city goes on under the Mayor's direction.
"The mayor is in control of the city," Segarra said.