Mayor Hires GOP Chair: SEEC Complaint Involving Peter Steele For Campaigning From Mayor’s Office Still Under Investigation

“Oh. What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  – Sir Walter Scott

In her campaign for Mayor last fall Erin Stewart was critical of Tim O’Brien  for rewarding political friends while in office. As Ms. Stewart said last year, she wanted to “take the city back from political cronyism.”

In her first announced appointments Stewart tapped staffers from her youthful campaign team and appointed John Healey, an aide to Republican House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, to be a $90,000+ a year chief of staff. So far so good. New Britain mayors, coming into office just one week after elections, are entitled to assemble an office with people they know  — even if the hires are political friends.

Two months after the election, however, Erin Stewart’s promise to root out cronyism is just that — a campaign promise not meant to be kept. More important,  her recent and unannounced hire raises new concerns about the use of  government resources for partisan political activity. Republican Town Committee Chair Peter Steele, a perennial GOP candidate, comes in — “returns” is a better word — as an aide at $45,000 annually. For Steele this is a pay hike and political reward.  He was a $25,000 a year aide to  Mayor Tim Stewart during his time in office.

GOP Town Chair Peter Steele

Here is where candidate Stewart’s anti-cronyism pitch falls apart.  In that previous stint in the Mayor’s office, Steele may have blatantly used  city resources to do political campaigning on the public’s dime in the Mayor’s office..

In a complaint filed early last year to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) by O’Brien Aide Rosemary Klotz, Klotz asserted that when O’Brien came into office city information technology employees discovered “at least 200 files on city computers that indicate former Mayor Stewart and his staff, including Steele, used the machines to conduct campaign business.”  After the complaint was filed SEEC investigators subsequently visited City Hall and collected evidence in the still unresolved case.

The New Britain Herald in a March 26, 2013 story by Lisa Backus, reported:

“Klotz’s complaint alleges that the files, which range from campaign fundraising lists to lists on which residents would allow campaign signs on their lawns, were created and maintained on city computers, by Stewart and city staff members Peter Steele, Joe Shilinga and Lisa Carver, on city time.”
The dates of when the files were created range from 2003 as Stewart was running a mayoral re-election campaign to 2011 when Stewart ran in a special election to fill a vacancy in the state Senate 6th District. The documents, obtained by the Herald, include drafts and final versions of campaign mailings, scripts for electoral “robo-calls,” and “primed” voter lists indicating voter preference.”

As of now that SEEC investigation about  using the Mayor’s office for partisan Republican work is active and awaits a judgment from the commission.

The hiring of  GOP Chair Steele in and of itself isn’t surprising. What is disturbing is that an unresolved case  alleging campaign work in the Mayor’s office by former Mayor Stewart and Peter Steele still hangs in the air.

To be true to her high-mindedness against “political cronyism” it’s time for Mayor Stewart to publicly announce the hiring of GOP Chair Peter Steele and provide the specifics on what his job functions are at $45,000 a year.

For all the campaign talk of cronyism in the O’Brien administration, every position in the last term had a clear function and every hire was tasked to be working in service to the city, not a political party.

At the very least the public has a right to know what Peter Steele does and when he does it on the City Hall clock.

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