Published July 26. 2011 4:00AM
Hartford - A conservative think tank accused by state employee unions of meddling in their labor deal with the governor has been told to leave Trinity College's campus.
The college notified the Yankee Institute for Public Policy last week that it will stop renewing the organization's lease for the second floor of a college-owned house on the northern edge of campus. The institute must vacate its headquarters there by year's end, said Paul Mutone, the private college's vice president for finance and operations.
In an interview Monday, Mutone said he asked Yankee Institute to leave because Trinity needs more space and the organization has no formal affiliation with the college that would require it to stay.
This nonrenewal of the lease is unrelated to the controversies involving Yankee Institute and the state's public-sector unions, he said.
"The decision to move them out had nothing to do with anything else that's going on," Mutone said. "This was a non-Trinity function in Trinity space, and Trinity needs more space."
Fergus Cullen, the institute's executive director, said he was disappointed by the college's decision and hoped that there was indeed no connection between the dismissal and the unions' allegations.
"But given the timing, the thought has crossed our minds," Cullen said.
Last month, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition asked state Attorney General George Jepsen to investigate its claims that Yankee Institute hacked into a state email system and launched "an orchestrated campaign of misinformation and propaganda" to scuttle the first concessions deal between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the 15 state unions.
The deal, projected to save state government $1.6 billion over two years, was ultimately voted down by rank-and-file union members. The Malloy administration reached a second concessions agreement late Friday with union leaders that still requires ratification.
Yankee Institute says the unions' claims of malfeasance are unfounded. It characterized the allegations as a desperate maneuver by union leaders to shift blame for the ratification failure.
The allegations against Yankee Institute were widely reported in most Connecticut daily newspapers, in addition to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Susan Kinsman, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said Monday that "our preliminary inquiry is still pending, but should be concluded quickly."
Founded in the mid-1980s, the Yankee Institute bills itself as nonpartisan and the biggest free-market, limited-government think tank in Connecticut. It publishes policy papers and reports, organizes opinion polls, conducts investigations and operates the popular CTsunlight.org salary database. One of its founding members, Gerald Gunderson, is a Trinity business professor.
Yankee Institute has occupied its three-bedroom, 800-square-foot apartment on the Trinity campus since the late 1990s, Cullen said. The organization employs 3.5 people in addition to student interns from the college.
Trinity has yet to decide which tenant will replace Yankee Institute at 133 Allen Place, Mutone said. It is considering 10 options, including administrative offices.
He said the college reviewed its real-estate inventory after the institute asked about renting a different spot on campus. But they couldn't find a suitable location on the 100-acre campus.
"There just isn't any," Mutone said.
Cullen said the institute will begin searching for a new headquarters.
"We have appreciated being able to have space at Trinity for as long as we've had," he said.