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  October 18, 2004

No Gift, No Problem, Governor Rell Advises

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell Thursday offered some simple advice to state employees about accepting gifts from businesses working with the state. Advice that, although phrased differently, could have come from former First Lady Nancy Reagan: just say no.

Image: Governor Jodi Rell

Gov. Jodi Rell delivers the Myles Martel Lecture in Leadership and Public Opinion at the Student Union Theatre.
Photo by Peter Morenus

She also had some simple advice to businesses’ about giving gifts to state employees: “Just don’t do it.

“Don’t put our employees in that position,” she said, noting that, although state workers can say no, “even offering a gift in the first place puts them in an uncomfortable spot. No gift, no problem. It’s as simple as that.”

Rell gave this year’s Myles Martel Lecture in Leadership and Public Opinion at the Student Union Theatre on Oct. 14.

Rell was sworn in as Connecticut’s 87th governor on July 1, after former Gov. John G. Rowland resigned in the face of allegations he accepted expensive gifts from high-ranking state employees and private contractors. Since then, she has taken a strong stance on ethics, forming a task force that has already proposed changes in the state’s contracting process; taking steps to recreate the state Ethics Commission; and, almost immediately after being sworn in, creating the position of special counsel for ethics compliance. Dubbed the Ethics Czar, the job was filled by Rachel Rubin, who is also UConn’s director of compliance.

Referring to the creation of an ethics code for state employees, Rell said the regulations “will be a part of state employees’ lives from before they are hired. When potential employees are interviewed, we will lay out the details of it, and they will be told to follow it. Managers will be evaluated on how well they create an environment where enforcement of the ethics code” is a given. Ethics statements for employees will be updated annually, she said, and they will be “vibrant, vigorous policies, posted in obvious places, not dusty documents written as a public relations ploy.”

Rell is the first Republican female governor of Connecticut, and only the second female governor of the state. She was first elected lieutenant governor in 1994 and was re-elected twice. Previously, she served for 10 years as state representative for the 107th district, Brookfield.

Rell says that work will serve her well once she faces her first legislative session as governor, in January 2005. Returning to the theme of the lecture, leadership, she said a true leader “works with the team, and with other teams as well. As we head into the next legislative session, the pundits already are saying it’s going to be tough for me – crafting a budget, getting along with the legislature.”

But, she said, “I know many members of the legislature, and I think they know me. We can get the job done if we work together.”

Martel, president of Martel & Associates, received his bachelor’s degree from UConn and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Temple University. He was President Ronald Reagan’s personal debate advisor and an advisor to the White House Office of Communications. Currently, he is part of a panel of experts analyzing the presidential debates for USA Today.

Martel and his wife, Leslie, established an endowment fund at UConn in 2001 that provides financial support for programs at the Center for Survey Research and Analysis and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This is the second lecture funded by the endowment.