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An Error Of Omission

City Ethics Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra should have reported spouse's contract

The Hartford Courant

April 13, 2011

Although there appears to be nothing untoward in the deal itself, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra erred in not reporting that his spouse has a Section 8 contract in the city.

The Courant reported Sunday that Mr. Segarra's spouse, Charlie Ortiz, collects about $2,000 a month in federal Section 8 rent subsidies as the landlord for two low-income tenants in apartments he owns on Wolcott Street, and that Mr. Segarra had not reported the contract in his financial disclosure to the city's ethics commission.

Mr. Segarra said he was not aware that the federal program qualified as a city contract, but that he would amend his ethics filing to reflect it.

Under the Section 8 program, a qualifying low-income tenant is issued a voucher that he or she can take to a landlord to rent an apartment. If the local housing agency determines that the apartment meets the standards of the program, it approves the rental arrangement. The tenant generally pays a small portion of the rent, with the rest supplied by the federal government to the city, which pays the subsidy to the landlord.

Mr. Ortiz, who is in the real estate business, got the two Section 8 tenants in November 2005 and September 2006, according to a spokesman for Imagineers Inc., which administers the city's Section 8 program. The tenants were picked from the waiting list in the normal course of business, the rents were comparable with similar apartments and no special breaks were offered, the spokesman said, adding that no one at Imagineers was aware of the relationship between Mr. Ortiz and Mr. Segarra. The two were in a legal civil union at the time and were married in 2010.

Their marriage, however, may trigger U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conflict-of-interest regulations, which prohibit any financial benefit to an immediate family member of any public official "who exercises functions or responsibilities" with regard to a city-run Section 8 program. HUD officials are looking into it.

Though this looks much more like an error of omission than a serious ethical violation, it nonetheless doesn't inspire confidence. Mr. Segarra, a lawyer, was a city corporation counsel from 1992 until 1996. He had four years on the city council before becoming mayor last year, succeeding a mayor, Eddie Perez, whose lapses got him a prison sentence.

Mr. Segarra has announced that he will run for a full term in the fall and had to know that potential opponents would come after him. Indeed, the Section 8 information initially came from a Freedom of Information request filed by a supporter of state Rep. Kelvin Roldan, a potential mayoral challenger, who is trying to make political hay with it.

This may be just a simple mistake, but it is the kind that Mr. Segarra, who has emphasized open and honest government, cannot afford to make more than once.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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