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Fired Hartford Public Works Director Corbin Says He Followed Procedures

JEFFREY B. COHEN

April 08, 2009

Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he fired public works Director Clarence Corbin last week because he disobeyed a city directive, hired political lobbyists when the city already had them, and "attempted to conceal the payments to a lobbying firm by routing them through an engineering firm."

But documents obtained from the city show that Corbin and his acting deputy at the time, John McGrane, submitted various forms to the city's purchasing department outlining some of their plans. Purchase orders they submitted show they wanted to hire someone for "political liaison services," "political liaison assistance," and "political lobbying."

"If there was something wrong, they should have said something," Corbin said Tuesday. "We did everything in accordance with the purchasing procedures."

Corbin was fired last Thursday. The city confirmed this week that it has placed McGrane on a 20-day unpaid suspension. When he returns, it will not be as acting deputy director but as assistant director and city engineer.The city said last week that Corbin crossed several lines when he hired Richard L. Moffitt and Associates last fall to help get State Bond Commission money. Moffitt later hired the Washington, D.C., firm The Ferguson Group to lobby federally on the city's behalf. Corbin said he was simply trying to help the city get much-need money for flood control.

Last week, Perez said Corbin "had been given clear guidance" that he couldn't hire lobbyists. Perez said Corbin violated the city's procurement procedures, city ordinances, and the city charter.

The city already has a federal lobbyist, it said. What's more, none of the paperwork Corbin and McGrane submitted to the city appears to mention The Ferguson Group which stood to make $24,000 for its work. And Moffitt doesn't appear to be a registered lobbyist in Connecticut, according to online records with the office of state ethics.

Still, just who knew what and when is murky. City Manager Lee Erdmann confirmed that he approved funding for McGrane to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials. But he said he didn't know the trip would include Moffitt, The Ferguson Group, or meetings with the state's congressional delegation.

Corbin concedes he didn't mention either Moffitt or The Ferguson Group to Erdmann, either.

"It didn't come up," Corbin said.

And Finance Director Christopher Wolf said that although his department approved the funding for Moffitt, it's not his department's role to fact-check each purchase order.

"Contract compliance is usually based on the engineers and the departments," Wolf said.

Sarah Barr Perez's spokeswoman said that a lack of oversight in the finance department doesn't excuse Corbin or McGrane.

"Though more diligence may be required by the staff in the finance department, it is no substitute for the DPW leadership exercising common sense, following procedure, and acting in a forthright manner," she said in an e-mail.

"I don't think anybody was trying to purposely go out of the way to try and hide anything. I certainly wasn't," Moffitt said in an interview. "I was assured that all the proper procurement procedures and guidelines were followed. Maybe certain people weren't communicating with one another."

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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