MIDDLETOWN, CT — One of Middletown Mayor Daniel Drew’s closest legal advisers warned city departments two years ago that the home addresses of police officers are protected from disclosure by state law — but that didn’t stop Drew from obtaining those addresses last month to seek support in his campaign for governor.
Harsh criticism prompted Drew to apologize publicly on Sept. 21 for what he called an “error in judgment” in soliciting donations from the city workforce, including police officers and firefighters, to fuel his effort to win the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
He used a list of addresses that he had requested from the city human resources department, giving it to his campaign committee to send letters asking for $100 donations.
Documents obtained this week by The Courant show that the Drew administration’s deputy general counsel, Kori Wisneski, issued an email saying that in a July 2015 incident with similarities to Drew’s recent gaffe, city officials shouldn’t have released police addresses to John Milardo, a candidate for a local office.
“I apologize that this happened,” Wisneski wrote July 28, 2015, to officials of both the city and the local police union, which had protested the breach. Her message went to several police union officers, the other two city attorneys, the police chief, deputy police chief and Drew’s administrative aide at the time, a position that serves like a chief of staff. Drew was not included on the email.
“Given the steps that I took this morning,” Wisneski wrote, “I trust this will not happen again.”
But it did, last month, and the mayor himself was the person responsible.
Drew insisted Wednesday that he hadn’t been aware of the 2015 incident or Wisneski’s warning. He told The Courant that that despite an internal 2015 discussion that included all three city attorneys and his mayoral chief of staff, he did not know that police addresses were confidential. “It was a long time ago and it wasn’t something I ever recall being involved with,” Drew said.
“There’s so much stuff that comes up during a normal day,” Drew said. “That’s why we have staff, they handle what they handle and only bring to me what requires my immediate attention.”
Adviser And Donor
Public records show that in addition to serving as a paid city hall adviser to Drew, Wisneski is also a supporter of his campaign for governor.
She and her husband, Eamonn Wisneski, each made $100 campaign contributions less than a month ago — on Sept. 17 and 19, according to a new report filed Wednesday with state election officials by the Drew for CT campaign committee. Kori Wisneski’s $100 contribution was returned on Sept. 28, after Drew agreed to return donations that city employees made in response to the controversial fundraising solicitation.
Wisneski could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
A potential Republican opponent of Drew — Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, who is seeking the GOP nomination — said Wednesday that he doesn’t buy the Democratic mayor’s claim that he didn’t know about Wisneski’s previous warning.
Herbst, who has filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission over Drew’s use of the addresses, noted that Drew’s legal staff, including Wisneski, has jurisdiction over — and close contact with — the personnel officials who would have given the addresses to the mayor last month.
If Drew truly didn’t know, then Herbst said it means “he does not communicate with his department heads, and it’s the job of a leader … to know what’s going on and hold people accountable.”
“I don’t buy it,” Herbst said. “Hearing that explanation from Mr. Drew further underscores how untruthful he is with the public and how unscrupulous he is with his conduct.”
The elections enforcement agency has not commented on Herbst’s announcement that he filed a complaint. The agency is expected to consider whether to investigate the complaint at a meeting next week. Both Drew and Herbst are among contenders seeking the nominations of their respective parties in next year’s gubernatorial election.
“Tim is trying to make political hay and he’s trying to advance his campaign with this issue,” Drew responded Thursday. “I’ve been very clear about what happened here. We believed it was public information, as soon as we realized it wasn’t, it was corrected. This is typical politics for Tim. It’s what Tim does.”
Word of Wisneski’s 2015 warning reached The Courant in recent weeks through sources — and, on Wednesday, the city released that email and two related ones at a reporter’s request.
The documents have resurfaced nearly a month after Drew’s use of the addresses rekindled interest in the issue. In mid-September Wisneski found herself again fielding complaints from the police union about the same issue she addressed in 2015.
She apologized again to the police union over the latest episode in a Sept. 19 email.
“I was not aware of the request or the mailer, but have looked into the matter,” she wrote to the union president, Sgt. David Fuchs. “I addressed the issue with the department that released the information and reminded them of the relevant FOIA provision that exempts the members of the police force from such disclosure. I discussed with them that it cannot happen again.”
Fuchs, along with other union leaders and council members, some of whom are frequent critics of Drew, had gone to Wisneski with their objections to the Sept. 13 Drew fundraising letter. Fuchs said his members were more concerned with their confidentiality being protected, since their addresses had been accessed twice in recent years.
He said the union has no intention of endorsing any candidate, and said the union’s “displeasure with this incident should not be construed as an opinion of Mayor Drew or his campaign for governor.”
City General Counsel Brigham Smith said the 2015 disclosure of police addresses was not an issue that the staff would have felt the need to bring to the mayor’s attention. “We have to bring just the most pressing things to the mayor’s attention,” Smith said.
He said Drew assumed the list he requested was public at the time, and that the incident was different than the one in 2015.
“What happened was not a FOIA request,” Smith said. “There’s a difference between a FOIA request from the public and the HR department giving information to which a superior is fully entitled.”
Drew said he and the city attorneys have begun exploring policies that would ensure such an issue never arises again.
From The Hartford Courant