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Director of CT social equity council handling cannabis cash resigns

A cannabis plant and flag bearing marijuana leaves outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Ginny Monk
CT Mirror
A cannabis plant and flag bearing marijuana leaves outside the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Ginne-Ray Clay resigned Tuesday as the executive director of the Social Equity Council, an agency that oversees elements of Connecticut’s cannabis industry and is the subject of an audit requested by Gov. Ned Lamont.

“Regrettably, my final days in this role have been marred by unsubstantiated allegations, threats, and publicly leaked false narratives, all of which have unjustly called my character and integrity into question,” she wrote in her resignation.

Clay offered no specifics, but The Connecticut Mirror reported two weeks ago that the council’s chair, Andréa Comer, received a complaint that Clay suggested that a license applicant make a donation to the church she attends. Clay denied the allegation.

Clay could not be reached for comment, but an ally on the council, Mike Jefferson of New Haven, defended her.

“It’s a sad day for me. I think she was a victim of a personal vendetta and personal infighting,” Jefferson said. “It’s unfortunate, because I think she was a very competent executive director, very intelligent and very hard working, and, most importantly I think, she was very compassionate about what was needed for Black and brown communities across this state.”

Comer was not alone in questioning Clay’s management and what the governor’s legal counsel and others complained was the absence of a strategy in the first distribution of social equity funds raised by cannabis licenses.

“For me, there is nothing personal,” Comer said. “I think she has made the decision to resign from her position. Second, there have been many conversations among the council members about challenges within the SEC and the way in which we need to course-correct.”

The SEC is the acronym for the Social Equity Council.

“We have a unique opportunity here to do some transformative work for the communities harmed by the war on drugs,” Comer said. “We’re not going to get another chance to get this right.”

The $5.2 million in the initial 162 community reinvestment grants authorized last year was sprinkled among scores of churches, youth programs and other nonprofits in census tracts deemed to be “disproportionately impacted areas,” or DIAs, as measured by poverty and residents convicted of drug crimes.

Clay’s church received a $15,000 grant, though the grant was made by one of the independent non-profits contracted to evaluate applications.

Further distributions were suspended after the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus objected to the lack of an overall plan — and a more granular concern reflecting the realities of retail politics: Which non-profits in their circles got money, and which ones did not?

Lamont asked the office of Comptroller Sean Scanlon to review the council’s management and spending, an inquiry that continues.

The resignation comes after an exchange of emails by Comer and Clay over recent budget decisions and Comer’s evident frustration over what she called a lack of “clarity.”

Clay was absent without explanation during the Social Equity Council’s finance committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.

“At this time, if we could have the SEC staff — whoever is designated at this point — give us an overview of the expenses to date. Who would that be?” asked Avery Gaddis, the finance chair. “I don’t see Director Clay.”

“Director Clay is not available,” a staff member replied. “She’s not here today.”

“I’ve been instructed to take any notes for questions you may have,” the staff member added.

It turned out Clay had resigned hours earlier, at 10:02 a.m., in an emailed letter.

“I have informed the SEC staff of my decision and expressed my deep gratitude for the opportunity to collaborate with such a dedicated and resilient team,” Clay wrote. “The culture of transparency and teamwork we have fostered reassures me that they will continue to excel and meet future challenges with confidence and competence. I extend my heartfelt wishes for their continued success in all their endeavors.”

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror July 9, 2024.

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