April 24--STAMFORD -- With input from around the country, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is still searching for a good fit for state transportation commissioner, one of his most important administrative appointments.
The governor, who announced he would conduct a national search to fill the job in December, is working with political contacts nationwide to find the best candidate for a job considered crucial to the state's economy, spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said.
"The candidate will have to have substantive knowledge and incredible experience in making transportation systems work," Flanagan said. "This commissionership is a very key one in making the state more attractive to businesses and functional to residents."
The post's allure could be enhanced by its broad responsibility, including managing the state's highways, rail, and port systems, said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transit Officials. The group's members includes the transportation commissioners of all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
"Connecticut is among a small group of states where the DOT is the lead agency for transit, which makes it an attractive position, especially for someone with a transit background," Horsley said. "I don't know anybody who takes the helm of a state DOT to make money because you almost always make more money in the private sector. The challenge is managing a state agency."
State lawmakers and other observers acknowledged Connecticut faces a difficult array of transportation challenges, but said they believe Malloy's long-range commitment to infrastructure indicates he will make a deft choice of commissioner.
Several lauded Malloy's decision to propose bonding $1 billion between 2011 and 2013 to finance major transportation projects as an illustration of his refusal to halt upgrades to the state's rail and bus systems amid political pressure to resolve a historic budget deficit.
"It is very clear the governor has a strong commitment to transportation infrastructure specifically as a means of economic growth," said Oz Griebel, president of the Metro-Hartford Alliance and former chairman of the state Transportation Strategy Board. "Getting the right person is absolutely critical and if it takes longer I have to trust in the governor's judgment."
State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, vice chairman of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, said he expected Malloy's selection to stay several years and break a streak of rapid turnovers in the previous decade.
Since 2003, eight men have held the commissioner's position, which has hindered some efforts to reform the agency and made setting transportation policy more difficult, Duff said.
"I think the governor has to find somebody who will really be at the agency for the long term and polish up the agency and the talent they have there," Duff said. "Because there has been quite a bit of turnover it has been quite difficult to get things moving with a new commissioner every couple of years."
In 2008, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell recruited Joseph Marie from a job running Phoenix's public transit system; Marie resigned suddenly in June 2010 after an unsubstantiated sexual harassment charge surfaced.
When Malloy took office he retained Marie's appointed successor, Jeffrey Parker, as his acting commissioner until Parker's resignation in early March.
James Redeker, who joined the DOT in 2008, was chosen to serve as acting commissioner for the remainder of Malloy's search.
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said the recent history of turnover in the post and controversy at the agency might cause qualified candidates to question if the position would be a good career move and prolong the search.
Cameron said that Marie's leadership from his 2008 appointment through his June 2010 resignation was well regarded by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and Malloy should select a candidate with similar experience with rail systems.