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If It Quacks Like A Duck ...

Hartford Schools Three who picked contractor now benefit

Hartford Courant Editorial

December 27, 2008

In 2001, three members of the Hartford school building committee were among the six who unanimously chose Diggs Construction, a Kansas City firm, to oversee the $1 billion Hartford schools reconstruction project. Later, the three businessman D. Anwar Al-Ghani, Urban League of Greater Hartford chief James Willingham and former city councilman Louis Watkins went to work for Diggs. All deny there was any quid pro quo. Nonetheless, the situation reeks of conflict.

There ought to be state and local revolving-door laws that would stop even the appearance of corruption. If you award a firm a big contract, you should be barred from working for that firm for many years.

The schools project is said to have caught the eye of a state grand jury investigating allegations of corruption at Hartford city hall. If the grand jury, which soon expires, is not extremely interested in Diggs' hiring practices, we'll be surprised.

Mr. Al-Ghani went to work as a consultant for Diggs three years after helping give the firm the multimillion-dollar contract. Mr. Al-Ghani could make more than $680,000 for his consulting work by the time his own contract expires in April.

Mr. Willingham did consulting for Diggs beginning in 2006 and made some $15,000. He voted for Diggs because the company was a minority contractor "and I thought it was time for that in Hartford." The Urban League's board of directors is looking into Mr. Willingham's work for Diggs.

Mr. Watkins, chairman of the selection committee, got a one-year, $3,000-a-month contract with Diggs in 2006 to work as a liaison with the Hartford community. He still works for Diggs. After an ethics investigation, the city and Mr. Watkins signed an agreement saying he unintentionally violated the city's ethics code.

Excuses aside, it just plain looks bad when three members of the selection committee end up on the payroll of the company they chose. Councilman Kenneth Kennedy was right when he said the three hirings raise "the appearance of impropriety, even if one doesn't exist. We always have to make sure that everything's on the up and up."

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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