If you’ve never been to Connecticut, where I live, do yourself a favor, and stay away, as far away as you can. This state is a bizarre one, where things are done very differently than elsewhere, where government agencies that barely know what they’re doing at any given moment, and whose contact with reality is minimal at best and non-existent at worst. Normally I restrict comments on this blog to irrationality based on religion, superstition, or other false beliefs. But I came across something that is so bizarre, I cannot help but comment on it here. This stunning example of Connecticut’s raging bureaucratic irrationality is reported by Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant:

DSS: You’re In New Britain, Even If You’re Not

The Department of Social Services recently moved its New Britain welfare service center from its longtime home in that city’s downtown area to new, significantly more-expensive leased quarters 3 miles to the southeast in Newington, just over the town line.

The office serves thousands of clients from a district of seven towns stretching as far west as Plymouth. But Newington isn’t one of those towns, and the 500 or so clients from there must go to DSS’ Hartford office.

So how did DSS deal with the prospect of locating its “New Britain Sub-Office” outside the New Britain district? Not by reconsidering the Newington location, but by changing the address on paper.

Instantly, the privately owned, lately vacant building that had always been known as 30 Christian Lane, Newington, became 30 Christian Lane, New Britain — at least on the DSS Internet website and on the agency’s official stationery. They even made special arrangements with the local post office to maintain a New Britain address and ZIP code.

Some of you from other parts of the country may not understand the real impact of this. Unlike what you find in some other states, where municipalities consist of variously-shaped incorporated and unincorporated districts (meaning that boundaries are malleable and there are communities that cross jurisdictional lines) — so much so that people have adapted to it — Connecticut’s towns and cities all have clearly-defined borders. Each and every square inch of land is part of a specifically-designated, fully-incorporated or chartered municipality. Boundaries are clear, unmistakable, and non-negotiable (changing them — a rarity to be sure — requires an act of the legislature). Moreover, state agencies such as the DSS operate with rigidly-defined districts; a municipality — all of it, as laid out on a map — lies within one bureaucratic district or another, and that’s it.

Thus, this redefinition of a DSS office’s location is not just a matter of interpretation. The CT DSS has very clearly redefined the geography of its new Newington New Britain office. The reason for this appears to be that they do not want Newington residents — who lie within the Hartford-area DSS district, not the New Britain district, and therefore must go further away to the Hartford DSS office — coming into their new Newington New Britain office, as Lender goes on to explain:

DSS says that creating a New Britain address for the Newington office, which opened Feb. 17, was intended to avoid “undue confusion” for clients used to visiting a New Britain building.

As with many tales from the bureaucracy, the story is told in public documents. This one surfaces in an e-mail last Oct. 29 from one of the new landlords, David Occhialini, to Mayor Jeffrey Wright of the town of Newington.

“Can you please confirm with the Town Manager that you have no objection with the State addressing the 30 Christian Lane property as New Britain?” Occhialini wrote. “As we discussed, they are trying to avoid the ‘perception’ that they have relocated the New Britain office to Newington.”

Wright immediately e-mailed the Newington town manager, John Salomone, saying that Occhialini’s “new tenant is the Dept. of Social Services, which is moving from New Britain. As a result, he is running into some political winds on the move. He would like the mailing address of the building to reflect a New Britain address and he has already cleared it with the Postal Service.”

“He wanted to check to see if we have an objection, understanding the building is still technically in Newington and [he will] continue to pay Newington taxes,” Wright wrote. Wright later e-mailed Occhialini to say he spoke to Salomone, and “you are all set to move forward as discussed.”

So, for public consumption, the address became 30 Christian Lane, New Britain.

Granted, calling the DSS office part of New Britain rather than Newington is not entirely off the mark, it’s very close to the town line:

The new office building is not many yards away from the New Britain line, but still is completely in Newington. There are several buildings in the plaza, and there’s a part of the parking lot by another building nearby, at 48 Christian Lane, that is in New Britain. You can drive in that entrance, and go past that building to get to the DSS building now leased by the state for the DSS office.

Nevertheless, this does represent a problem in other ways:

Still, it prompted James P. Donnelly, director of New Britain’s public safety telecommunications center, to send letters on Feb. 25 to various officials informing them that test 911 calls from the building “are being directed improperly” to New Britain. “These are significant errors and could delay response to the building from the proper agency in event of an emergency,” he wrote.

The problem has been dealt with, he said, but he added that while many towns have “vanity or alias addresses” such as CityPlace or Constitution Plaza, “this is the first time I have ever seen an alias city used.”

And so, for emergency purposes, and for legal purposes, the true address is still 30 Christian Lane, Newington.

So this artificial relocation could well have an effect if someone needed to call 911 from inside the DSS office in Newington New Britain. That’s not trivial.

What happened, then, is that DSS — in order to avoid the inconvenience of having to deal with people who might conceivably go to a DSS office they’d rather they not go to, demanded that the USPS and two municipalities buy into this “alias” relocation idea. Talk about irrationality … not only did they cook up something nonsensical, they forced other people to go along with their nonsense.

This, I’m afraid to say, is very typical of how Connecticut state government works.

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