Was the November 2018 selection of chief of police compromised because AJ Perez had an unfair testing advantage over other candidates?
That is in part what federal agents are probing as the city’s legal and consulting bills mushroom in response to a summer 2019 federal subpoena for records, city employees and current and former police officers face questioning while criminal defense attorneys position clients in what could emerge as a messy situation.
Federal investigators are probing allegations that Perez received an unfair advantage in the testing process such as advance help with question by a subordinate. That contention places Perez directly in line with the federal investigation.
Investigators from the Southern District of New York are actively involved interviewing witnesses in Connecticut and New York.
In November 2018, following a national search, Mayor Joe Ganim announced the appointment of Perez, his long-time friend, as the city’s top cop after Perez had served in an acting capacity since early 2016.
The city recruited five professionals in the field of police and municipal government to serve on a panel that conducted interviews Oct. 19, 2018 from a list of seven semifinalists. Executive search consultant Randi Frank, who has represented the city in several national searches, assembled the police chief search panel: Hartford Police Chief David Rosado, Yale University Police Chief Ronnell Higgins, municipal human resource official Bernadette Welch, UConn Health Labor Relations Director Caroline Beitman, and former Hartford City Manager Lee Erdmann.
The panel short-listed the search to three: in order New Haven Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova, Perez and Bridgeport Captain Roderick Porter, the highest-ranking African American in the department.
The City Charter, authorized by voters more than 30 years ago, empowers the mayor to select a chief from the three recommended finalists.
One of the key questions of the federal probe centers on the potential assistance Perez received in the testing process to position himself as one of the finalists. If true, who provided it?
On Monday Rowena White, Ganim’s Communications Director, distanced the city from the core of the probe focused on potential Perez testing assistance.
The City of Bridgeport police chief search was conducted by Civil Service in accordance with the Charter and the assistance of an outside consultant. In addition to those standards, the city sought to initiate open forums that allowed for public participation.
The administration stands by the process that was utilized, as it was utilized to hire other chiefs.
Translation: if there was any funny business involved blame it on bad actors not the process.
Supporters of Perez have been grousing about the distance Ganim has kept from Perez in the midst of this probe. Yes, Ganim puts up appearances when they are in public together but they are not nearly as chummy as yesteryear. It’s chilly.
As legal and consulting bills mount, now more than $300,000 in taxpayer dough in response to federal inquiry, a large question looms: are taxpayers picking up the bill for city employees who are lawyered up?
As a matter of practice, the city attorney can and does hire outside counsel for employees when appropriate. These determinations are made on a case by case basis as were done here.
Who are they and how many? Paging the City Attorney’s Office.