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.
The new commissioner will also face difficulties from the effect of early retirement buyout programs taken advantage of by some high-performing DOT employees, Cameron said.
"(Marie) was starting to give some stability to the agency after going through a number of commissioners, some of whom seemed to be brought in reaction to scandals," Cameron said. "Whoever is being auditioned will probably wonder how much independent thought and initiative they will be able to put into this job and survive."
Marie and Parker declined comment for this story.
State Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, a member of the Transportation Committee, said he expected Malloy to choose a leader able to balance the need to maintain the state's aging highways with ambitious rail projects.
Once the leadership question is settled, Stamford lawmakers will resume talks on plans to build new parking at the Stamford railroad station.
The oft-delayed project was halted last August when the General Assembly vetoed legislation by Rell and blocked the use of $35 million appropriated for the work to instead build rail parking on private land a short distance from the station. Legislators and rail advocates have insisted the parking be built on the same footprint as the existing garage, within steps of the train platforms.
"There is a lot of work to do but I'm confident the governor is going to pick someone who will be able to do the job," Leone said. "There are a lot of projects that are critical for Stamford's economic growth that we want to move forward on."
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or (203) 964-2264.
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