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Hartford Mayor Fires Public Works Director Over Lobbying Matter

JEFFREY B. COHEN

April 03, 2009

The city's public works director hired a lobbyist over the city's objections and routed payment to the company through a local engineering firm, according to Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who on Thursday fired Clarence Corbin as director of the city's department of public works.

Reached Thursday evening, Corbin took issue with portions of Perez's account. His intent was not to circumvent city regulations, he said.

"I was just trying to help the city get federal dollars," Corbin said.

But in a press release issued after city hall closed for business Thursday, Perez said that Corbin had crossed several lines.

The city has a federal lobbyist. Last fall, it selected the firm Baker Donelson which employs former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson to do its federal lobbying work.

But on Nov. 5, Corbin requested a $7,000 purchase order from the city for the services of engineer Richard L. Moffitt of West Hartford, who Perez said was hired by Corbin to perform technical, engineering, political liaison, and lobbying services.

"I paid Moffitt" as a consultant, Corbin said. "He decided what he would do," said Corbin of the move to hire a federal lobbying firm, The Ferguson Group.

On Feb. 4, a change order for $24,000 was forwarded to the city's purchasing office by Corbin's department. The city says it was to pay The Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm that lost a bid for the city's business to Johnson's firm months earlier.

The purchase order didn't name The Ferguson Group, but that's where Corbin intended the money to go, Perez said. It would get to The Ferguson Group via Moffitt, Perez said.

Then, on March 24, The Ferguson Group scheduled five meetings in Washington with staffers from the offices of various members of the state's congressional delegation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers, Perez said.

The meetings included Hartford's acting deputy director of public works, whom Perez has suspended and whom Corbin identified as John McGrane. Several people close to the situation confirmed that McGrane was the person in question. McGrane declined to comment.

In the end, although Corbin's department requested $31,000 to be paid to Moffitt, only $7,000 was actually paid, Perez said.

The mayor said he has asked city attorneys to inform the Office of State Ethics as well as the appropriate congressional offices of the city's findings. Perez has also asked the city's independent audit commission to review all professional service contracts held by the public works department.

Neither Moffitt nor The Ferguson Group could be reached for comment late Thursday.

Perez on Thursday named Kevin Burnham, the city's transportation engineer, as the department's acting director.

Councilman Kenneth Kennedy took issue with Perez's actions. "I can't fault anyone for trying to be aggressive in securing as much grant funding as possible," Kennedy said.

"I find it ironic that the mayor is calling in the ethics people, given his own legal and ethical troubles," Kennedy said. Perez has pleaded not guilty to bribery and other charges.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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