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Probe advances into firefighter promotions, pension flap

Updated 8:39 am, Thursday, January 24, 2013
  • First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey on Wednesday discuss the independent counsel's review of firefighter promotions and pensions. FAIRFIELD CITIZEN, CT 1/23/13 Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen

    First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey on Wednesday discuss the independent counsel's review of firefighter promotions and pensions. FAIRFIELD CITIZEN, CT 1/23/13

    Photo: Genevieve Reilly

 

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Former Representative Town Meeting member Alex Trembicki will conduct an independent review into the recent flap over recent Fire Department promotions granted firefighters shortly before retirement, a practice that boosted their pension benefits.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau told the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday that he has asked Trembicki, a lawyer, to report back to the board within 30 days. If a report is not ready by then, Trembicki -- being paid $250 an hour -- will be asked to come back before the selectmen to explain why, he said.

Tetreau decided to hire independent counsel after controversy erupted when an anonymous letter sent to the chairman of the Board of Finance questioned the firefighter promotions.

Selectman Kevin Kiley previously said the promotions over transfers in the past year could cost the town an additional $1.8 million in combined pension payouts.

In reports to the selectmen, the Board of Finance and the Fire Commission about the issue, Fire Chief Richard Felner said he was unaware that firefighters had been planning to retire just after they were promoted. He said the promotions were made in some cases to fill vacancies created by retirements, or in two instances, because he said he wanted to give Assistant Fire Chief Chris Tracy, in charge of the training center, experience as a shift commander.

Under the firefighters' union contract, if there is no active list for promotions, provisional, or temporary, vacancies are filled by promoting the most senior firefighter. The contract also requires that in the event of a vacancy and no promotional list, the Fire Commission must set a date for promotional testing within 90 days.

Since the promotions controversy erupted, the commission has halted all provisional appointments for 30 days, and a test is being administered for future promotions. Tetreau said that testing process is slated to be finished by Feb. 15.

"A number of things have happened," Kiley said. "There's a lot more that will be happening in the next few weeks. I think at this point, I've listened and learned a lot." He added that he's "at a place" where he believes it makes more sense to allow the independent counsel review to proceed.

"I have open questions," Kiley said, "but I don't think they're answerable at this time."

Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey agreed. "At this point, I think it is wise to hear the report from independent counsel."

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