From the Editor: Over the years we have reported a number of dismaying lapses in services to blind people delivered by state agencies charged with conducting rehabilitation programs in their states. For many months grumblings and even outright complaints about the agency director in Connecticut have been making their way to our attention. Finally, last year, the allegations reached such a pitch that Connecticut Governor John Rowland moved his pal, Kenneth Tripp, from his job as director of the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) to another position in state government that was less public, though it did carry a larger salary.
But in January the Connecticut Attorney General completed an exhaustive investigation into the allegations against Tripp and his friends and made a report so damning that Tripp was forced to resign altogether from state government. In late December Betty Woodward, President of the NFB of Connecticut, urged the governor to consult with consumers before making his replacement appointment to BESB, but Rowland chose to ignore the request.
He did, however, urge his new appointee, Lawrence Alibozek, to meet with consumers early and often to do what he could to reestablish confidence in BESB among members of Connecticut's blindness community. The new director specializes in improving problem situations, and to give him his due, he has been trying to establish good communications with the blindness organizations in the state. To his credit he is meeting regularly with representatives of the groups and seems to be listening to what consumers are saying. In short, things may finally be improving in Connecticut. On the other hand, they had a long way to go after the shenanigans of Kenneth Tripp and his crowd. Here is much of the Attorney General's report. We have omitted all deposition page citations and several passages devoted to malfeasance that had little to do with the director or with his insulting behavior to blind people. Here is the report:
January 24, 2000
This report by the Office of the Attorney General summarizes an intensive investigation of numerous whistle-blower complaints regarding the management of the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) by Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director.
1. Our investigation essentially found these complaints to be supported by overwhelming evidence of gross mismanagement and an environment of sexual harassment and intimidation, favoritism in hiring and promotions based on a romantic relationship, fear of retaliation, and insensitivity toward blind individuals. As part of our investigation into the allegations, employees were subpoenaed from all levels of the BESB including the Executive Director, Director of Operations, Principal Personnel Officer, Business Manager, Managers of BESB divisions, transitional managers, supervisors, rehabilitation teachers and counselors, administrative/clerical staff, and industries employees. Both current and former employees were deposed, including some blind and visually impaired employees.
Our investigation, finding merit in many of the whistleblowers' allegations, specifically concluded that Executive Director Kenneth Tripp improperly and unlawfully promoted a BESB employee, Karen Urciuoli, with whom he was having an ongoing affair, and manipulated the BESB personnel system to hire and promote Ms. Urciuoli's cousin, Susan Mannix. Mr. Tripp also created and fostered a general climate of sexual harassment and intimidation at BESB. He frequently engaged in physical touching of female employees and directed sexual comments, sexual innuendo, and profanity toward BESB staff. His ongoing affair and actions involving Ms. Urciuoli while in the office also contributed to this environment, and her rapid and unjustified promotions gravely undermined the trust of BESB employees in the integrity and fairness of the office.
Indeed this pattern of favoritism and misconduct created the impression that sexual and personal ties mattered more than ability and job performance to success and advancement at BESB. In addition to unprofessional management of BESB, our investigation found that Mr. Tripp displayed insensitivity to the blind and visually impaired citizens of Connecticut that BESB is mandated to serve. Numerous individuals testified about Mr. Tripp's rude conduct, jokes concerning the blind, and a questionable record of hiring the blind and visually impaired.
This office makes the following recommendations:
1. The Governor should consider appropriate disciplinary action against Mr. Tripp as well as Steven Shapiro, the principal personnel officer, and John Whitham, Director of Operations.
2. A thorough review of BESB's management and operations should be conducted to ensure that the agency is able to create an appropriate professional environment for its employees to enable them to properly fulfill their responsibilities to the blind and visually impaired citizens of Connecticut.
3. The Department of Administrative Services should consider appropriate personnel action with respect to Ms. Urciuoli's and Ms. Mannix's promotions.
The following allegations were made:
1. The Executive Director improperly favored for promotion another BESB employee as a result of his intimate relationship with her. The employee was promoted three times in a fifteen-month period in violation of Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations.
Discussion: Many of the complaints received in this office allege that the affair between Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director, and another BESB employee, Karen Urciuoli, in the office led to Ms. Urciuoli's rapid and unfair promotions. In depositions Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli both stated that they became romantically involved in 1998 after Ms. Urciuoli had been promoted three times by Mr. Tripp, but the evidence gathered in our investigation clearly indicates that their intimate relationship began at a much earlier date. The evidence demonstrates that Ms. Urciuoli unfairly, and in violation of state personnel policy and regulations, received promotions because of her affair with Mr. Tripp.
A review of BESB's personnel history indicates that prior to Mr. Tripp's appointment to the position of Executive Director Ms. Urciuoli had been promoted three times in ten years as a BESB employee. After Mr. Tripp's appointment Ms. Urciuoli was promoted three times in fifteen months. Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from a secretary I to a secretary II, and a secretary II to an administrative assistant, and from an administrative assistant to an office supervisor between February, 1997, and May, 1998. Personnel records reviewed and officials deposed make clear that Ms. Urciuoli did not meet the minimum qualifications for the last two promotions because she lacked the required experience and training.
2. The Executive Director hired Ms. Urciuoli's cousin as a clerk typist and within six months promoted her to Executive Secretary.
Discussion: Allegations have also been made regarding favoritism in hiring Susan Mannix, Ms. Urciuoli's cousin. Ms. Mannix testified that in early 1998 Ms. Urciuoli told her of clerical openings at BESB and sent her a job application. Ms. Mannix further testified that she applied for the job and was hired in May, 1998, to work as clerk typist in Mr. Tripp's office. Ms. Mannix worked as a clerk typist for six months until November 20, 1998, when she was reclassified and promoted to a secretary I. Two weeks later on December 4, 1998, Ms. Mannix was promoted to executive secretary for Mr. Tripp.
Even crediting the account given by Ms. Urciuoli and Mr. Tripp, their intimate relationship had begun by the time Ms. Mannix was hired. Ms. Mannix testified that three months after she was hired in May, 1998, Mr. Tripp approached her and told her that he was going to promote her to become his executive secretary. Mr. Tripp also manipulated the personnel system in order to appoint and promote Ms. Mannix. Specifically, Mr. Tripp reclassified a secretary I position to the lower position of clerk typist in the spring of 1998, shortly before Ms. Mannix applied for the position in May, 1998, making that position available for her. There also were other irregularities with Ms. Mannix's hiring in regard to BESB's affirmative actions goals.
3. The Executive Director engaged in unwelcome and offensive touching of women and sexually offensive statements.
Discussion: Our investigation found a pattern of inappropriate physical touching of women employees by Mr. Tripp. One BESB female employee testified that Mr. Tripp grabbed her buttocks with both hands during a volleyball game at a BESB agency picnic. In another incident a former BESB employee testified that Mr. Tripp touched her buttocks during a work conference. Both of these incidents were corroborated by witnesses. In addition, at least four female employees have indicated that Mr. Tripp massaged their necks and shoulders without their permission. Another employee testified that she observed Mr. Tripp, in his office, massaging the neck of a female BESB employee. She testified that he jokingly said to her, "I can get in trouble for sexual harassment about this [massaging necks] because of the way I touch people and I have to be careful who I do this to."
When these women were asked why they did not tell Mr. Tripp that they were uncomfortable about this conduct, they all indicated that they were afraid that their jobs would be made unnecessarily difficult because of disfavor and retaliation from management and specifically from Mr. Tripp, "their boss," the Executive Director. These employees were also reluctant to tell Mr. Tripp of their concerns because of intimidation and possible retribution.
In addition to the physical contact, many female BESB employees testified that Mr. Tripp made sexual and offensive statements to them or in their presence. One female employee testified that Mr. Tripp stated to her, while she was standing at her desk, in the presence of other employees, that she needed to wear "panties" to a BESB event that was held in the evening. Mr. Tripp's remark was heard and corroborated, in sworn testimony, by another employee, who said she was outraged that a manager would make such an offensive remark. One of the employees testified that she feared retaliation if she confronted Mr. Tripp about his comment.
Female employees alleged that Mr. Tripp has made numerous incredibly sexually offensive remarks, such as, "She's so hot, she will make you come in your pants"; "I wonder what it would be like to do her?"; comments about reading Braille with his tongue and indicating that the women must love him; "I can say nice tie, but not nice thigh"; and describing a female employee as a "fat ass."
4. The Executive Director's use of loud, profane, and abusive language, coupled with inappropriate behavior by some of his managers and Ms. Urciuoli, intimidated employees and created a hostile work environment.
Discussion: Many of the female employees and some male employees testified that Mr. Tripp spoke in loud, profane, abrasive, and abusive tones, thereby creating an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation. In individual depositions a large number of the employees collectively indicated that there is a pervasive pattern and environment of unprofessionalism, which was the accepted modus operandi of, not only Mr. Tripp, but also some of his managers. This unprofessionalism was marked by unwelcome touching by Mr. Tripp, sexual jokes, offensive remarks, harassing, and intimidating behavior. The collective testimony of employees that the managers were present when many of the statements were made indicates that some of the managers accepted this behavior. The managers collectively were not seen as buffers between Mr. Tripp's unprofessional behavior and the employees, but as facilitators of Mr. Tripp's offensive management practices.
5. The Executive Director was insensitive to the blind BESB employees and the blind client base served by BESB.
Discussion: Our investigation substantiated allegations that Mr. Tripp was insensitive to blind and visually impaired BESB employees and the blind and visually impaired clientele served by BESB. Specifically Mr. Tripp has been accused of being engaged in a conversation with a blind person, then walking away from that blind individual without acknowledging his departure.
In another instance Mr. Tripp was alleged to have removed a blind person from the front receptionist desk for BESB because he thought that she was unattractive. Specifically, a BESB employee gave sworn testimony that Mr. Tripp said of blind people that, "they don't look well; they are ugly." The witness testified that shortly thereafter, the blind receptionist was transferred to another department within BESB.
Mr. Tripp has also been accused of making jokes about blind people. One former blind BESB employee testified that she was at a conference in September, 1997, where Mr. Tripp was also in attendance. She testified that during the coffee break she was standing talking with Mr. Tripp and another BESB employee. She stated that she was drinking coffee and eating coffee cake when Mr. Tripp stated that the employee had crumbs on the top of her blouse and asked her how she would get them off. She indicated that she attempted to brush the crumbs off of her blouse, only to be told by another BESB employee, who was standing beside the blind employee, that there were no crumbs on her blouse. The blind employee stated that the joke or prank made her feel embarrassed.
Mr. Tripp has also been accused of not being receptive to blind employees, clients, and advocacy groups. Specifically, one BESB board member and several former employees testified that Mr. Tripp has missed several Agency Consumer Advocacy Committee (ACAC) meetings and has not been overly responsive to the Connecticut Council for the Blind. One employee further stated that when members of the Connecticut Council for the Blind attempted to contact Mr. Tripp about meetings, he either did not respond or had his secretary call with an unsatisfactory response.
Both blind and sighted employees testified the BESB Windsor facility is designed in such a way that makes it very difficult for the blind to navigate. Both blind and sighted employees have alleged that Mr. Tripp replaced positions that had been traditionally held by blind employees with sighted employees. One employee testified that, when blind employees left, they were replaced with not only sighted people, but sighted people without experience dealing with blindness. A large number of the employees deposed--sighted, visually impaired, blind, both current and former employees--testified that Mr. Tripp was not an advocate for the blind community. The employees based this on his lack of interaction with the blind community and insensitivity to the blind.
6. The Executive Director permitted the Director of Operations to give state property to a BESB employee for her personal use in violation of Title VII, .005 of the State's Property Manual.
Discussion: Ms. Urciuoli was asked about allegations that she had taken State property belonging to BESB for her personal use; she indicated that she had obtained a chair from BESB, but did not recall who gave her permission to get the chair or who delivered the chair to her house. Mr. Jack Whitham, the Director of Operations, testified that, when BESB was relocating from its Ridge Road facility in Wethersfield to Windsor, he had given Ms. Urciuoli permission to take the chair and that he had personally delivered it to her home. Mr. Tripp and Mr. Whitham both testified that the chair had not been retrieved from Ms. Urciuoli as of November, 1999. Under chapter 7 of the State Property Manual, section .004 and section .005 of the chapter entitled "Disposal of Items Deemed Scrapped," a State employee cannot, under any circumstances, receive state property, even if it has been designated "surplus" or "scrapped." Mr. Whitham was asked if his giving Ms. Urciuoli a BESB chair, whether designated surplus or scrap, was a violation of the State's property regulations. He indicated that BESB had violated this provision.
The Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) is a Connecticut State agency which was first established in 1893 and is responsible for providing services to blind and visually impaired persons. BESB implements education and training for the blind citizens of Connecticut through the initiation and coordination of specialized programming. BESB serves blind or visually impaired children as well as adults. BESB also provides vocational training and living skills to its client base.
Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director of BESB, was first hired in October, 1996, by Governor John G. Rowland. As Executive Director Mr. Tripp reports directly to the governor and is responsible for the overall management and daily operations of BESB. In overseeing the operations of BESB, Mr. Tripp has hired managers to supervise the various divisions of BESB. Those managers include John Whitham, Director of Operations and Chief of Adult Services; Albert Acayan, Fiscal Administrative Manager 2; Barbara Williams, Chief of Children's Services; Brian Sigman, Chief of Vocational Rehabilitation; John O'Connell, Acting Chief of Business Enterprise Program; and Steven Shapiro, Principal Personnel Officer.
BESB employs approximately 115 state employees in the administering of the BESB mission. Also several hundred non-state employees work in the BESB industries producing services and goods.
Based on the information which we obtained in our investigation, we have made the following findings:
1. The Executive Director is involved in a romantic relationship with another BESB employee and as a result of that relationship the employee was promoted three (3) times in a fifteen-month period in violation of Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations.
Many of the complaints received in this office allege a romantic relationship between Kenneth Tripp, the Executive Director, and another BESB employee, Karen Urciuoli. The complaints further allege that, because of Ms. Urciuoli's romantic involvement with Mr. Tripp, she was unfairly promoted. It is critical to determine the time frame for Mr. Tripp's interaction with Ms. Urciuoli because both allege that the romantic relationship did not begin until May, 1998. However, as will be discussed infra, the trips to the casinos, the trip to Washington, D.C., the telephone calls after work hours, the jewelry, the flowers, the candy, and the gift of the CD occurred much earlier than May, 1998. If Mr. Tripp's relationship with Ms. Urciuoli began earlier than the May, 1998 time frame, then her promotions, from the beginning of Mr. Tripp's tenure with BESB to May, 1998, are suspect. This is particularly valid if Mr. Tripp gave Ms. Urciuoli gifts and attended social outings and did not do the same with other BESB employees.
Specific allegations have been made that Ms. Urciuoli received promotions because of her relationship with Mr. Tripp. A review of BESB's personnel history indicates that Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from a secretary I to a secretary II, and a secretary II to an administrative assistant, and from an administrative assistant to an office supervisor, between February, 1997, and May, 1998. Prior to these promotions she had been a senior clerk from 1986 to 1992; thereafter she was an office assistant from 1992 to 1995. In 1995 she was promoted to secretary I. Specifically, in February, 1997, Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from a secretary I to a secretary II and was transferred from Children's Services to Adult Services. Three months later Ms. Urciuoli was recommended for a promotion from a secretary II to an administrative assistant and subsequently promoted in August 1997. Thereafter, in May, 1998, Ms. Urciuoli was promoted from an administrative assistant to an office supervisor.
In a sworn deposition Ms. Urciuoli testified that she began a romantic relationship with Mr. Tripp somewhere between May, 1998, and the fall of 1998. Mr. Tripp, in his deposition, testified that he first began a relationship other than platonic with Ms. Urciuoli in May or June of 1998. However, during Mr. Tripp's deposition he was questioned when he would have had his first social interaction with Ms. Urciuoli, either platonically or romantically, and he stated that they drove to a wedding together in the spring of 1997. Specifically, Mr. Tripp testified that he asked Ms. Urciuoli if she would like to ride with him to Mr. Tom Grossi's wedding, another BESB employee. She accepted his invitation and drove to the wedding with Mr. Tripp. Mr. Tripp testified that no one else rode with them to the wedding. During his deposition Mr. Tripp was asked why he would invite a BESB employee who was a secretary II to ride with him to another employee's wedding. He replied that, "I enjoyed her company and thought it would be appropriate to share the day." Mr. Tripp also indicated that he did not invite any other BESB employees to ride with him to the wedding.
Many of the BESB employees in their depositions testified that Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli went to lunch together on numerous occasions and that those lunches normally were in excess of one hour. Mr. Tripp testified that he and Ms. Urciuoli went to lunch together alone on two occasions between January and May, 1997. Mr. Tripp did not recall going to lunch with Ms. Urciuoli frequently. However, several employees under oath testified that they observed Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli have lunch together three or four times a week during a two-year period, beginning early in 1997. The employees further indicated that the lunches often exceeded one hour and sometimes even two hours. Ms. Urciuoli's current supervisor indicated to Mr. Tripp, "if Karen is going to spend time away, we've got to make sure we have coverage down there."
When questioned whether he went out to lunch with any other clerical staff, he indicated that he had gone to lunch with Ms. Lisa Tanquay, his Executive Secretary at that time; he did not recall, however, if there were other people. When questioned if he had eaten lunch with Ms. Urciuoli in her office, Mr. Tripp indicated that he had. He further elaborated that Ms. Urciuoli often picked up take out and that he would simply eat it in her office. When questioned whether it was just he and Ms. Urciuoli having lunch in her office, he indicated, "yes". When questioned whether he had eaten in any other female clerical staff's office, he replied, "no." Mr. Tripp indicated that he had eaten lunch with Ms. Tanquay and other clerical staff, but the lunch was in a conference room and not in their offices.
Allegations were made that Mr. Tripp spent an inordinate amount of time frequenting Ms. Urciuoli's office. Mr. Tripp denied being in Ms. Urciuoli's office frequently. Numerous BESB employees under oath who worked in the Executive Director's Office, Children and Adult Services Divisions testified that over a two-year period, roughly from late 1996 through 1998, Mr. Tripp was at Ms. Urciuoli's desk or she was in his office daily for numerous hours laughing and socializing.
Several employees made allegations that Mr. Tripp would visit Ms. Urciuoli's office with the office door locked. Allegations were also made that the glass partition in the door would be covered with paper so as to obstruct the view. Mr. Tripp denied ever intentionally being in Ms. Urciuoli's office with the door locked. He admitted that he could have been in Ms. Urciuoli's office with the door locked and not known it. Mr. Tripp did not recall if he had been in Ms. Urciuoli's office with the glass partition in the door covered with paper. The glass partition could have been covered, and he was unaware of it. Numerous employees testified that Mr. Tripp was in Ms. Urciuoli's office in many instances with the door closed.
When questioned whether he had ever touched Ms. Urciuoli at work, Mr. Tripp responded negatively. Mr. Tripp was further questioned if he had massaged Ms. Urciuoli's neck during working hours, and he further denied any touching of her neck. BESB employees testified that they had seen Mr. Tripp touch Ms. Urciuoli during the work hours at BESB. Specifically, employees said it was quite common to observe Mr. Tripp in Ms. Urciuoli's office, standing behind her and massaging her neck. Another employee testified that she had observed Mr. Tripp put his arms around Ms. Urciuoli's waist on several occasions and touch her buttocks, in one instance during business hours. The time frame the employees gave for the touching instances was as early as the winter of 1997. Furthermore, one of Mr. Tripp's managers testified that roughly in July, 1997, he observed Mr. Tripp holding Ms. Urciuoli's hand and also observed Mr. Tripp touching her shoulders at work.
Mr. Tripp was asked if he had ever called Ms. Urciuoli at her private residence. He indicated that he had. He was given a copy of his state cellular telephone log record with two entries specifically highlighted. He examined the log and indicated that it was, in fact, his telephone log, and that the two calls in question were made by him to Ms. Urciuoli. Mr. Tripp was also asked to identify the date and time that the calls were made. The telephone log indicated that Mr. Tripp called Ms. Urciuoli at her private residence on May 23 and May 24, 1997. The first call was at 7:46 p.m., on a Friday evening, for six minutes and the second call was at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening for fifty minutes.
Mr. Tripp was asked why he, as the Executive Director, would call a clerical staff, who was a Secretary II and not working directly with him, at home in the evening on a weekend. He replied that his relationship with Ms. Urciuoli was platonic and that they shared a commonality of experiences, mainly their children. Mr. Tripp was asked if he telephoned any other female BESB staff at home after work hours between May, 1997, and December, 1997, and he indicated that he did not. Mr. Tripp also added that he had called his former Executive Secretary at home and that, although the call was for business purposes, some personal items were discussed.
When questioned, Mr. Tripp acknowledged that he had attended several social functions with Ms. Urciuoli away from the office. Specifically, he testified that he and Mrs. Urciuoli, along with another BESB employee, went to Foxwood casino. Another BESB employee indicated that she attended the Foxwood casino with Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli in March of 1997. Mr. Tripp also acknowledged going to another gambling casino after May, 1998, with Ms. Urciuoli and her cousin, Susan Mannix, who later became Mr. Tripp's Executive Secretary. Mr. Tripp testified that he had gone to a baseball game with Ms. Urciuoli and her family which included her own children, her sister and brother-in-law, and their children. Mr. Tripp indicated that this would have been in 1998, during the baseball season.
Allegations were made that Mr. Tripp gave Ms. Urciuoli gifts of candy, flowers, and jewelry. When Mr. Tripp was questioned concerning gifts that he had given to Ms. Urciuoli, he acknowledged that he had given her gifts. He was specifically asked if he had given Ms. Urciuoli a pair of diamond earrings, a ruby and diamond ring, and ruby and diamond earrings. He testified that he had given her all three jewelry items. Mr. Tripp was asked if these items were given before May of 1998, when he had indicated that a romantic relationship began between him and Ms. Urciuoli. He responded that he gave the gifts of jewelry to Ms. Urciuoli when the relationship was still platonic.
When questioned why he would give such expensive gifts in a platonic relationship, Mr. Tripp responded that, "I am generous to a fault when I give gifts." Mr. Tripp was asked if he had given jewelry to any other employee at BESB since his tenure, and he replied that he had not. Mr. Tripp further indicated that he had given flowers, a musical CD, and candy to Ms. Urciuoli on various occasions. Specifically, Mr. Tripp testified that he gave Ms. Urciuoli a box of candy, a musical CD, and poinsettia for Christmas, 1997. He also stated that he gave Ms. Urciuoli flowers in the spring of 1998 and that he sent them to her in the capacity of a romantic relationship.
Mr. Tripp was asked if he had given flowers to any other clerical staff, he indicated that he had given flowers for Christmas and other notable holidays to the clerical staff that worked for him in his own office. He was asked if he had ever bought a musical CD for any other clerical staff and indicated that he had not. . . .
[Allegations concerning delivery of a computer to a rehabilitation client were found to be groundless.] Mr. Tripp indicated that the timing of the delivery of the computer coincided with a trip to Washington, D.C. that he had planned with Ms. Urciuoli and her sisters. Mr. Tripp stated that, in February, 1998, they traveled to Washington, D.C., and spent three days and two nights before traveling to Delaware to deliver the computer to [the agency client]. Mr. Tripp indicated that he stayed in the same hotel room overnight with Ms. Urciuoli and her sisters. When questioned whether the relationship was platonic, Mr. Tripp indicated that it was. Mr. Tripp was asked if he had ever delivered any other BESB property outside the state, and he responded that he had not. He was asked if he had ever gone on a trip out of state with another female BESB employee and stayed overnight in the same hotel room, and he replied that he had not.
Ms. Urciuoli's immediate supervisors, Mr. Tom Grossi, former Chief of Adult Services, and Mr. John Whitham, Director of Operations and Acting Chief of Adult Services, were questioned regarding her promotion to administrative assistant. Mr. Whitham indicated that Ms. Urciuoli was promoted because she was the most qualified person to take the job. He further stated that Ms. Urciuoli had an extensive knowledge of the computer client databases, as well as an understanding of the operation of Adult Services and that this set her apart from other clerical staff.
A review of BESB's organizational chart for the spring of 1997 indicates that there were numerous clerical staff that would have been qualified for a promotion or lateral move to the position of administrative assistant. Many of the clerical staff deposed indicated that, given the opportunity, they would have applied for the promotion that Ms. Urciuoli received. They were, however, not given an opportunity to compete for this position because Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification.
Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 5-227a, an employee may be promoted by reclassification when the following items are met: (1) The employee meets the minimum qualifications established by the Commissioner of Administrative Services for the career progression level of the reclassified position; (2) the employee has maintained an adequate performance record and received a satisfactory appraisal on his two most recent consecutive performance evaluations; (3) the employee has worked at his existing level in his current position for a minimum period of six months; and (4) the reclassified position is approved by the Commissioner of Administrative Services. . . .
[Quite a long passage follows providing the details of Ms. Urciuoli's several promotions without having met the specified time working at each level. Mr. Shapiro, director of personnel, even audited her job and gave her his notes to incorporate into her application.] It would appear that Mr. Shapiro's actions were not inadvertent but intentional. Mr. Shapiro was asked if he was aware of Mr. Tripp's romantic relationship with Ms. Urciuoli when he processed her promotion for office supervisor. Mr. Shapiro testified that he was aware of rumors of Mr. Tripp's involvement with Ms. Urciuoli when she was promoted to office supervisor in May, 1998. He also testified that he was not concerned with Ms. Urciuoli's promotion to office supervisor at Mr. Tripp's request, even with the rumors of a romantic relationship occurring.
As indicated earlier, both Ms. Lawson and Mr. Shapiro determined that Ms. Urciuoli did not possess the requisite requirements for promotions to administrative assistant and office supervisor. Ms. Lawson was asked what measures the State could take when such improper promotions had been made. Ms. Lawson indicated that in the absence of additional information indicating that Ms. Urciuoli was qualified for the administrative assistant and office supervisor positions, Ms. Urciuoli should be reclassified back to a secretary II and required to repay the state for all monies that were paid to her in error. Based on Mr. Tripp's involvement with Ms. Urciuoli and her promotions, it may appear to other female employees that, in order to get some job opportunities, you need to be involved in a personal relationship with the boss or connected with the girlfriend of the boss. This can be viewed as a form of sexual harassment because the message is, "promotions are given because of sex." . . . [The following passage describes the qualifications of another employee who had passed the examination for office supervisor six months before but who was not considered for the job when it was clear that Ms. Urciuoli was on the fast track.]
When questioned about Ms. Urciuoli's reclassification to administrative assistant, Mr. Whitham and Mr. Shapiro indicated that Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification because she was already performing the duties at the higher level. Their rationale is questionable given the reasoning that Ms. Urciuoli, as a secretary I, worked in Children Services and was promoted to a secretary II in Adult Services. These are different units serving a different population. If BESB management did not consider that working experience in Adult Services was a necessary factor for a secretary II in the Adult Services Division, then it would follow that the clerical staff in other divisions should have been considered, either for the reclassification, or the position should have been posted for a competitive process.
In August, 1997, Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification from a secretary II in Adult Services to an administrative assistant in Adult Services. A historical review of the administrative-assistant position in Adult Services indicates that Sally Ross, a state employee for approximately twenty-seven years, served as the administrative assistant in Adult Services until June, 1995, when she retired. From June, 1995, until February, 1996, Diane Dawson, an employee from the SEBAC 2 list, was hired as an administrative assistant to replace Ms. Ross. Approximately one year later it was determined that Ms. Dawson had not worked long enough as a secretary II to meet the qualifications of her current administrative-assistant position. Subsequently Ms. Dawson was transferred to BESB's personnel office.
The administrative-assistant position remained in Adult Services and unfilled, and Ms. Urciuoli was promoted by reclassification from a secretary I to a secretary II and transferred to Adult Services. Despite the fact that Ms. Dawson was a secretary II with extensive experience in Adult Services, Ms. Dawson was transferred out of Adult Services, and Ms. Urciuoli was promoted and reclassified into a secretary II position in Adult Services. Both Mr. Grossi and Mr. Whitham were asked why Ms. Dawson was transferred out of Adult Services. Mr. Grossi responded that Ms. Dawson did not meet the qualifications for the administrative-assistant position. On the same point Mr. Whitham responded that Ms. Dawson was incapable of performing the responsibilities of an administrative assistant and was insensitive to blind people and their issues.
Mr. Whitham's explanation as to why Ms. Dawson was transferred is inconsistent with Mr. Grossi's explanation. These diverse opinions are particularly interesting because Mr. Grossi, who is legally blind, was Ms. Dawson's immediate supervisor and had the opportunity to interact with her on a daily basis and never testified that she was incompetent or insensitive to blind people. Mr. Grossi's testimony that the personnel manager at that time, John McMahon, and Mr. Tripp made the decision to transfer Ms. Dawson would further indicate that he was not displeased with her level of performance.
A review of all the testimony and a review of Ms. Urciuoli's personnel records would indicate that Ms. Dawson, having served in the position of an administrative assistant, would be more knowledgeable of the workings of Adult Services than Ms. Urciuoli, who transferred from a different unit at two levels lower, that of secretary I. Given that they were aware that Ms. Dawson did not meet the qualifications for administrative assistant, it appears that Mr. Grossi, Mr. Whitham, and Mr. Tripp should have been aware that Ms. Urciuoli also lacked the qualifications for the subsequent promotion to administrative assistant.
At the time that Ms. Urciuoli received the administrative-assistant promotion, there were two secretary II's and three administrative assistants in other divisions that were not given the opportunity to compete for that position. Many of them testified that, if given the opportunity, they would have applied for the position. It should also be noted that other office positions were manipulated to allow Ms. Urciuoli to be promoted to administrative assistant by reclassification rather than by competitive exam. The administrative-assistant vacancy in Adult Services was transferred to the Business Office shortly before Ms. Urciuoli was reclassified to the administrative-assistant position. Without the transfer of the actual administrative-assistant position in Adult Services, Ms. Urciuoli's secretary II position could not have been reclassified to an administrative-assistant position. Instead, Ms. Urciuoli would have been required to take a test and compete for the existing position. It appears that the administrative-assistant position was intentionally transferred to another division to accommodate Ms. Urciuoli's reclassification from a secretary II to an administrative-assistant position.
Finding: Because of Mr. Tripp's romantic involvement with Ms. Urciuoli, she was improperly promoted to the positions of administrative assistant and subsequently to office supervisor. Mr. Tripp was assisted by Mr. Whitham, Mr. Grossi, and Mr. Shapiro in violating the Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations in the promotions of Ms. Urciuoli. Based upon the testimony of DAS personnel, she should be reclassified back to a secretary II and be required to pay back the additional money that she was paid in error.
2. The Executive Director hired Susan Mannix, who is the cousin of Ms. Urciuoli, the employee that he is romantically involved with, as a clerk typist and within six months promoted her to Executive Secretary.
Allegations have also been made regarding favoritism in the hiring process of Susan Mannix. Ms. Mannix and Ms. Urciuoli are cousins. Ms. Mannix testified that in early 1998 Ms. Urciuoli, her cousin, told her of clerical openings at BESB and sent her a job application. Ms. Mannix further testified that she applied for the job and was hired in May, 1998, to work as clerk typist in Mr. Tripp's office. Mannix worked as a clerk typist for six months until November 20, 1998, when she was reclassified and promoted to a secretary I.
Two weeks later on December 4, 1998, Ms. Mannix was promoted to executive secretary for Mr. Tripp. The allegations of favoritism in the hiring and promotion process go to Ms. Mannix's relationship to Ms. Urciuoli and following therefrom, Ms. Urciuoli's romantic involvement with Mr. Tripp. It should be noted that Ms. Mannix was hired in the same month that Ms. Urciuoli and Mr. Tripp acknowledged the beginning of a romantic relationship between them. Ms. Mannix was deposed and testified that three months after she was hired in May, 1998, Mr. Tripp approached her and told her that he was going to promote her to become his executive secretary. As indicated, Ms. Mannix was promoted to a secretary I and, shortly thereafter, promoted to Executive Secretary.
We asked Ms. Mannix why she was in a secretary I position for two weeks. She could not explain the reasoning and referred those questions to Mr. Shapiro, the Principal Personnel Officer. . . . [The following text explains that Ms. Mannix's promotions were opposed by the Affirmative Action office, and there was no good explanation for their speed.] Under questioning, Mr. Shapiro testified that the decision was Mr. Tripp's. Mr. Shapiro further testified that he thought that the promotion process for Ms. Mannix's tenure as a secretary I for two weeks was unusual. Mr. Shapiro was asked whether he thought that Ms. Mannix's promotion to executive secretary was appropriate in light of her relationship to Ms. Urciuoli, and he replied that it was not appropriate.
As with Ms. Urciuoli's promotions, significant manipulation of the personnel system within BESB was necessary to enable Mr. Tripp to hire and rapidly promote Ms. Urciuoli's cousin, Ms. Mannix. Specifically, Mr. Tripp reclassified an open secretary I position in his office to a clerk-typist position, a lower position, in the spring of 1998, shortly before Ms. Mannix applied for the position in May, 1998. The clerk typist was a non-competitive position which allowed Ms. Mannix to be hired. The secretary I position was made available when Uma Arun, who had been functioning in Mr. Tripp's office as a secretary I, was reclassified and promoted to a secretary II and transferred to BESB Industries.
Mr. Tripp was asked about the specific downgrading of the open secretary I position to clerk typist. He responded that the decision to proceed in this manner was a management tool used to save dollars and to assess the candidate's abilities and qualifications. A recitation of the facts indicates that Ms. Mannix was hired in May, 1998; she was promoted to secretary I on November 20, 1998, and two weeks later was promoted to Mr. Tripp's executive secretary.
As a clerk typist Ms. Mannix would have worked for the then executive secretary, at that time Lisa Tanquay. Ms. Mannix would have had very little interaction with Mr. Tripp as a clerk typist. Therefore, it is questionable about Mr. Tripp's opportunity to assess Ms. Mannix's skills for a reclassification to secretary I. Mr. Tripp's former executive secretary, Ms. Tanquay, testified that, when Ms. Mannix was hired, Mr. Tripp instructed Ms. Tanquay to train Ms. Mannix to be the executive secretary.
Mr. Whitham, Director of Operations, testified that he told Mr. Tripp that Ms. Mannix was not qualified for the position because she lacked the demeanor needed to competently function in such a position. He further testified that Mr. Tripp promoted Ms. Mannix despite his objection. Ms. Mannix, as a clerk typist and a secretary I, also was not required to participate in the telephone rotation. . . . [All clerical employees in these jobs were supposed to take turns doing these tasks, but Tripp kept Ms. Mannix out of the rotation.]
Finding: Mr. Tripp manipulated the personnel process to hire and promote Ms. Mannix because she is the cousin of Ms. Urciuoli.
3. The Executive Director touched female BESB employees in an unwelcome and offensive manner, and the Executive Director made unwelcome and sexually offensive remarks to female BESB employees.
A BESB female employee testified that Mr. Tripp grabbed her buttocks with both hands during a volleyball game at a BESB agency picnic. The employee further stated that, based on the grip of his hands on her buttocks, it did not appear to be accidental. Another BESB employee, through sworn testimony, corroborated the incident. Mr. Tripp acknowledged that he may have touched the employee during the volleyball game but testified that he did not grab her buttocks; he said he merely touched her buttocks and that it was purely accidental.
In another incident a blind former BESB employee testified that Mr. Tripp touched her buttocks at a work conference. The blind employee stated that she asked her sighted guide, another BESB employee, to assist her in identifying who touched her and was told that it was Mr. Tripp. The BESB employee, who witnessed the alleged touching, testified that Mr. Tripp was the only person who had passed the blind employee at the time of the touching and that she assumed that it was him.
In addition, at least four female employees have indicated that Mr. Tripp massaged their necks and shoulders without their permission. Another employee testified that she observed Mr. Tripp, in his office, massaging the neck of a female BESB employee. She testified that he jokingly said to her, "I can get in trouble for sexual harassment about this [massaging necks] because of the way I touch people, and I have to be careful who I do this to."
When these women were asked why they did not tell Mr. Tripp that they were uncomfortable with him touching them, they all indicated that they were afraid that their jobs would be made unnecessarily difficult, that they would fall in disfavor and receive retaliation from management and after all Mr. Tripp was "their boss," the Executive Director. It should be noted that many of the female employees cried and became very emotional when they testified about Mr. Tripp's touching of them and offensive remarks made to them or in their presence. Other employees viewed Mr. Tripp's touching as unwelcome but did not find it offensive. These employees were still reluctant to tell Mr. Tripp because of intimidation and possible retaliation.
Mr. Tripp was asked if he ever touched his female employees or gave them neck massages. He responded that he did not give them neck massages. He would manipulate a point on their necks with his index finger, if he thought that they were experiencing some neck pain or tension.
In addition to the physical contact, many female BESB employees testified that Mr. Tripp made sexual and offensive statements to them or in their presence. One female employee testified that Mr. Tripp stated to her, while she was standing at her desk, in the presence of other employees, that she needed to wear panties to a BESB event that was held in the evening. Mr. Tripp's panties remark was heard and corroborated, in sworn testimony, by another employee. The corroborating employee stated that, when she heard Mr. Tripp make the remark, she was outraged that anyone, particularly a manager, would make such an offensive remark. Both employees were asked why they did not tell Mr. Tripp that his comment was inappropriate. One responded that she was afraid of retaliation. The other employee responded that she thought that it was very disrespectful but did not say anything to him. Mr. Tripp was specifically asked if he made a statement about a female employee's panties, and he replied that he did not.
In another instance a female employee testified that she was walking past Mr. Tripp and two or three of the male managers (Mr. O'Connell, Mr. Acayan, and Mr. Whitham) and that Mr. Tripp yelled to her down the hallway, "Is that the way you walk on your part-time job at night?" The employee stated she thought Mr. Tripp was implying that she looked like a prostitute. She further testified that she felt humiliated and embarrassed and went home after the incident and cried. She stated that she felt dirty and wondered if the other gentlemen thought of her like a prostitute too. The employee further stated that she felt harassed. Mr. Tripp was asked if he made the statement regarding a part-time evening job, and he replied that he did not.
Female employees alleged that Mr. Tripp has made a myriad of sexually offensive remarks, such as, but not limited to, "She's so hot, she will make you come in your pants"; "I wonder what it would be like to do her?"; comments about a blind, double amputee man, reading Braille with his tongue and indicating that the women must love him; "I can say nice tie, but not nice thigh"; called a female employee a "fat ass." Mr. Tripp was asked specifically about each of the above statements and denied making them. He did, however, indicate that there is a blind, double amputee man on the BESB board, but he had never made any derogatory remarks about him.
Mr. Tripp was asked specifically if BESB had a sexual harassment policy. He responded yes. Mr. Tripp was also asked if he had attended sexual harassment training during his tenure at BESB. He indicated that he had attended sexual harassment training on March 11, 1998. Mr. Tripp was also asked if he had any sexual harassment training prior to his employment at BESB; he responded that he had sexual harassment training when working for a nonprofit organization in Fairfield, as well as with the telephone company. Mr. Shapiro, the Principal Personnel Officer responsible for administering BESB's sexual harassment policy, testified that BESB does have a sexual harassment policy and that it is updated annually on October 15. Mr. Shapiro was asked if BESB's sexual harassment policy was posted in any location in the agency. He indicated that the policy was posted on BESB's main bulletin board in the agency. Mr. Shapiro testified that he was aware of rumors of a romantic relationship between Mr. Tripp and Ms. Urciuoli. Mr. Tripp requested Mr. Shapiro to perform an audit for a promotion for Ms. Urciuoli to an office supervisor. Mr. Shapiro should have known that she did not qualify. Therefore Mr. Shapiro should have known that he was contributing to an atmosphere of sexual discrimination due to favoritism. Both Mr. Tripp and Mr. Shapiro testified that no employee had told them that they were being sexually harassed. Based on the testimony of Mr. Tripp and Mr. Shapiro, BESB had an annually updated sexual harassment policy. The policy was posted at BESB. A review of the policy indicates that all of the behavior alleged to have been made by Mr. Tripp would be considered violations of the policy.
Finding: A review of the sworn testimony of numerous female BESB employees indicates that Mr. Tripp engaged in unwelcome and offensive touching of these employees during the performance of their jobs. This office further concludes that Mr. Tripp did make unwelcome and sexually offensive statements to BESB female employees.
4. The Executive Director's use of loud, profane, and abusive language, coupled with inappropriate behavior of some of his managers and Ms. Urciuoli, intimidated employees and created a hostile work environment.
Many of the female employees and some male employees testified that Mr. Tripp speaks in loud, profane, abrasive, and abusive tones, creating an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation. One employee testified that Mr. Tripp stood very close to, nearly on top of her, pointed his finger in her face, and ordered her to "shut up." The employee testified that she felt afraid and threatened. Another employee testified that many of the female clerical staff in particular were singled out for jokes and teased. The employee testified that, in many instances, she felt harassed and humiliated. She further testified that Mr. Tripp and his managers were often together and that they made insensitive jokes directed to the clerical staff about their clerical abilities.
Many of the BESB employees in their sworn testimony indicated that Mr. Tripp spoke in loud tones that they found threatening. Mr. Tripp was asked if he raised his voice or spoke to employees in loud or yelling tones, and he responded that he did not. In individual depositions a large number of the employees indicated that there is a pervasive atmosphere of unprofessionalism, which is the accepted modus operandi of not only Mr. Tripp but also some of his managers. This unprofessionalism is marked by unwelcome touching by Mr. Tripp, sexual jokes, offensive remarks, harassing and intimidating behavior. Based on the collective testimony of employees that the managers were present when many of the statements were made indicates that the acceptance of this behavior has permeated the management staff. The managers collectively were not seen as buffers between Mr. Tripp's unprofessional behavior and the employees, but rather were facilitators.
Many of the employees testified that Ms. Urciuoli walked around BESB and gave orders and directions to the other employees as if she were the executive director or a manager. One employee who managed a BESB project testified that Ms. Urciuoli spoke to her in a manner as if Ms. Urciuoli was her supervisor, when she clearly was not. The employee testified that she told Ms. Urciuoli that her tones were inappropriate, and, even if Ms. Urciuoli was involved with Mr. Tripp, she still could not speak to her in those tones. Other employees indicated that Ms. Urciuoli was always using Mr. Tripp's name and indicating that she would have to report certain incidents to him. Many employees testified that they feared saying anything unfavorable to Ms. Urciuoli for fear of retribution by Mr. Tripp. Ms. Urciuoli's behavior of acting like a manager, when she was not, only fueled an already hostile work environment.
Finding: Based on the sworn testimony of some BESB employees, including some BESB managers, we find that Mr. Tripp's use of profane and abusive language, coupled with inappropriate behavior by some managers and Ms. Urciuoli, has intimidated BESB employees and created a hostile work environment.
5. The Director permitted the Director of Operations to give state property to a BESB employee for her personal use in violation of Title VII, .005 of the State's Property Manual. . . . . [Ms. Urciuoli was inappropriately given permission to take home a chair which was state property.]
6. The Executive Director is insensitive to blind BESB employees and the client base served by BESB.
Mr. Tripp has been alleged to be insensitive to blind BESB employees and the blind clientele served by BESB. Specifically, Mr. Tripp has been accused of being engaged in a conversation with a blind person, then walking away from that blind individual without acknowledging his departure. Two employees testified that, on different occasions, they saw Mr. Tripp walk away from a blind person in such a manner.
One employee testified that she had observed Mr. Tripp do this on at least five occasions. She also testified that, in one instance, she walked over to the blind person to inform her that Mr. Tripp had departed. The employee went on to say that the blind individual that had been in conversation with Mr. Tripp was very upset to learn that he had walked off from her without acknowledging his departure. After witnessing Mr. Tripp walk away on numerous occasions, she informed Mr. Tripp that a blind person does not know when you are walking away, and you should tell them or excuse yourself so that they are aware that you are leaving. The employee said Mr. Tripp thanked her and that she did not observe him repeat that type of behavior thereafter. Mr. Tripp denied walking away from a blind person and not acknowledging his departure. In another instance Mr. Tripp was alleged to have removed a blind person from the front receptionist desk for BESB because he thought that she was unattractive. Specifically, a BESB employee gave sworn testimony that Mr. Tripp stated that "they don't look well; they are ugly." The witness testified that shortly thereafter the blind receptionist was transferred to another department within BESB. Mr. Tripp was asked whether he made a statement concerning the appearance of a blind receptionist at BESB. He denied making any such comments and further testified that a blind receptionist was removed from the front desk because of security reasons. Specifically, he stated that the BESB receptionist needed to be sighted in order to make a security assessment for entry into the BESB agency; a blind person is not capable of making that assessment.
Mr. Tripp was accused of referring to a blind BESB board member as a "blind bitch." Mr. Tripp denied making any such statement. Mr. Tripp has also been accused of making jokes about blind people. When asked specifically about this, Mr. Tripp denied that he had ever made jokes about blind people. One former BESB employee who is blind testified that she was at a conference in September, 1997, where Mr. Tripp was also in attendance. She testified that during the coffee break she was standing talking with Mr. Tripp and another BESB employee. She stated that she was drinking coffee and eating coffee cake when Mr. Tripp stated that the employee had crumbs on the top of her blouse and asked her how she would get them off. She indicated that she attempted to brush the crumbs off of her blouse, only to be told by another BESB employee who was standing next to her that there were no crumbs on her blouse. The blind employee stated that the joke or prank made her feel embarrassed.
The employee further testified that, if a blind person spills something on their clothes, they would like to be told discreetly about the spill and not be embarrassed about it.
Mr. Tripp also has been accused of not being receptive to the blind employees, clients, and advocacy groups. Specifically, one BESB board member and several former blind employees testified that Mr. Tripp has missed several Agency Consumer Advocacy Committee (ACAC) meetings and has not been overly responsive to the Connecticut Council for the Blind. One employee went further to state that when members of the Connecticut Council for the Blind attempted to contact Mr. Tripp about meetings, he either did not respond or had his secretary call with an unsatisfactory response.
Both blind and sighted employees testified that the BESB Windsor facility is designed in such a way that makes it very difficult for blind employees and visitors to navigate.
Specifically, one blind employee testified that there are no Braille signs for direction; there is no color differential in the carpet, which would assist visually impaired people; there was a lack of mobility training for blind employees. This employee also stated that a mobility instructor did a report on the building and safety and determined that the building was on a street with the most unsafe crossing to get on a bus that he had seen. When asked about the floor plan and mobility concerns for the blind in the BESB Windsor facility, Mr. Tripp replied that a comprehensive review of both the physical site externally and internally was done by his trained staff to make sure that the building was in compliance with both building, fire, life safety codes and the ADA.
Both blind and sighted employees have alleged that Mr. Tripp replaced positions that had been traditionally held by blind employees with sighted employees. One employee testified that, when blind employees left, they were replaced with not only sighted people, but sighted people without experience dealing with blindness. This employee went on to say that the management was insensitive to blind or visually impaired employees in other ways; specifically, managers would edit a visually impaired person's document in illegible markings. The visually impaired person would be unable to read the edits.
The employee further stated that in another instance management made the decisions that employees could not call information or 411 for telephone listings. Employees were asked to look up telephone numbers in the telephone book. The employee thought that this was insensitive to the blind employees because they could not see listings in a telephone book and there were no Braille telephone books.
A large number of the employees deposed--sighted, visually impaired, blind, both current and former employees--testified that Mr. Tripp was not an advocate for the blind community. The employees based this on his lack of interaction with the blind community and insensitivity to the blind, as discussed above. Mr. Tripp was asked, specifically, if he had ever made the statement that BESB is not an employment agency for the blind. Mr. Tripp responded that he did make that statement. Mr. Tripp went on to testify that he has also said that BESB is not a welfare agency. He commented further that BESB is about empowerment of its client base. When asked specifically about a practice of hiring sighted people in positions that were held in the past by blind employees, Mr. Tripp responded that he hires the most qualified person for the job. He concluded that his preference between a blind and sighted candidate is the blind candidate, if the candidates are equally qualified.
Finding: This office has found that Mr. Tripp has shown a lack of sensitivity to BESB's blind employees. This finding is based on the numerous incidents as observed and testified to by both blind and sighted BESB employees.
. . . [The final three allegations were not corroborated.]
The Office of the Attorney General's findings are based on a thorough investigation into the allegations that were raised in whistleblower complaints sent to this office. The depositions that were taken by this office, coupled with the review of hundreds of documents, allowed this office to conclude that many of the allegations raised were found to have occurred. Our findings indicate that Mr. Tripp has engaged in numerous acts of mismanagement at BESB.
Specifically, he has taken personnel actions that were in violation of Connecticut Personnel statutes and regulations and as a result has undermined the very integrity of the personnel process. Mr. Tripp's actions, which require immediate redress, are the promotions of Ms. Urciuoli and the recovery of the state property converted for personal use. The Department of Administrative Services should make a determination if any remedial personnel actions are warranted as regards Ms. Urciuoli's current position and whether Ms. Urciuoli should be made to repay all monies to the state which she received from her inappropriate promotions. This Office has determined that Ms. Urciuoli's promotions go to the heart of many of the personnel actions that were made in violation of the statutes.
Mr. Tripp has engaged in abusive conduct by inappropriately touching and making unwelcome and offensive comments to female employees at BESB. This abusive conduct created a hostile work environment for BESB employees. BESB had a sexual harassment policy in effect during Mr. Tripp's tenure; Mr. Tripp and his managers received sexual harassment training; Mr. Tripp commented on at least one occasion that he thought his touching of female employees may be considered a form of sexual harassment. Based on the posting of BESB's sexual harassment policy and Mr. Tripp's sexual harassment trainings, both at BESB and in the course of previous employment, he should have known that his behavior was not appropriate.
This Office is particularly concerned with Mr. Tripp's mismanagement of an important state agency. As indicated earlier, BESB has been established since 1893 and is one of the oldest state agencies. The very core of its mission is to serve the blind and visually impaired citizens of Connecticut. When that mission becomes difficult to accomplish because of poor management and violations of state law, then a sector of the population that is in great need of BESB's services--the blind and visually impaired--goes unmet. The employees, both sighted and blind, were found to be very committed to BESB's mission. However, because of the offensive and harassing behavior of the Executive Director and some managers, their productivity in meeting BESB's mission was challenged. BESB is an agency that is in need of professional leadership. With such leadership, BESB can continue to serve some of our most vulnerable citizens.
This Office also determined that violations of the Connecticut State Property Manual occurred when Ms. Urciuoli was allowed to convert State property, belonging to BESB, for her personal use. At the conclusion of Mr. Tripp's deposition in November 1999, the property had not yet been retrieved from Ms. Urciuoli and returned to the state. BESB should retrieve this property.
There you have the report, and it reminds us that even in these enlightened times, public officials can behave with a shocking lack of propriety and incredible arrogance. We conclude this article with an editorial which appeared in the February 16, 2000, edition of the Hartford Courant. It expresses the outrage that has characterized public comment about this scandal across Connecticut.
Governors, like most other top elected officials, are known to provide loyal political associates with government jobs. But the time-honored tradition gets a bad name when appointees are unqualified and their performance turns out to be disappointing or worse.
Examples of poor choices are Governor John G. Rowland's selections for executive directors at the Board of Education and Services for the Blind. Mr. Rowland has twice named political associates with no expertise to head the agency, which has a $25 million budget and employs 100 people.
The governor's first appointee, Kenneth R. Tripp, resigned under pressure last month after a report by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal accused him of, among other things, belittling and poking fun at blind people. Mr. Tripp was also accused of sexual misconduct with subordinates and having an affair with a female staff member whom he promoted three times in fifteen months.
Mr. Tripp's qualifications for the job: he was Mr. Rowland's political ally and had directed a Food Share program in Fairfield County.
To make matters worse, Mr. Rowland's staff knew of the allegations as far back as December, 1998, but that didn't prevent him from reappointing Mr. Tripp to a new term in early 1999. Moreover, upon learning that Mr. Blumenthal had corroborated the charges, the governor transferred Mr. Tripp to a higher-paying job in another agency. Mr. Tripp didn't resign until the attorney general's investigation was made public.
Mr. Rowland's continued loyalty to Mr. Tripp as he remained accused of mistreating the people he was supposed to be serving was inexcusable. Typically an employee so charged would have at least been transferred to a position where he was less likely to cause harm and referred for counseling. As a political appointee he could have been fired on the spot. Mr. Rowland did neither.
One would think that the governor would be extra careful in appointing a successor to Mr. Tripp. Apparently not. Mr. Rowland quickly chose another political ally with no experience, Lawrence Alibozek, to head the agency.
Advocates for the blind advised the governor to take time to find a director who is familiar with issues affecting blind people.
Mr. Alibozek, who has a business background, seems to be trying to understand the agency and the services it provides. But it's hard to believe there was no one else in the state with the expert credentials to run the agency.
Incredibly, Mr. Rowland, through a spokesman, declined to accept responsibility for the consequences of having named Mr. Tripp. Of course the governor is accountable. His appointees can make him look good or bad. More important, taxpayers deserve better than they were getting from the executive director of a $25 million state agency that performs a valuable service.