The forced resignation of town Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller will cost the town $127,000, according to reports reviewed Tuesday night by the Board of Finance.
The reports detailing the financial impact of the settlement agreement between Hiller and First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who has not specified why he wanted Hiller to resign the post he held for about 13 years, state that Hiller will be paid:
- $31,046 for 60 days of unused vacation.
- $33,632 as a severance payout.
- $52,090 in additional pension costs due to a bump in Hiller's fiscal officer salary from $134,591 to $155,600 immediately before he leaves town employment.
- $10,000 in legal fees (an estimate.)
- $1,000 in deferred compensation.
James Walsh, a Board of Finance member, said the cost associated with employing Hiller for only two days a week in an advisory role at $134,591 through Dec. 31 vs. Hiller's previous five days a week at $134,591 was not included in the report. Hiller's salary drops to $110,000 on Jan. 1 and stays at that level through June 30 unless Hiller accepts a job with another public sector employer, in which case the town will pay the difference between his salary in that job and $134,591 through June 30.
Tetreau said Hiller is now working on a per diem basis overseeing the city of Shelton's Finance Department, but he doesn't know how long that will last.
Tetreau said the salary account for the Finance Department would not be exceeded by the payouts to Hiller. "That's the job of the executive branch -- to manage the financial department appropriately and stay in budget," he said. "We've made a commitment to make sure service levels don't drop and all the work gets done."
But Walsh said, "If we're paying the same price in the budget and getting less services, how is that the same thing? We're paying Mr. Hiller $134,000 for two days [a week] of work."
Robert Mayer, Tetreau's chief of staff, is serving as both chief of staff and chief fiscal officer at no additional cost in the meantime, said Ken Brachfeld, a Board of Finance member. He said the reduction in Hiller's salary to $110,000 effective Jan. 1 "sounds like it's a savings." Brachfeld said he'd be interested in seeing the difference in cost between the settlement agreement and the cost of Hiller resigning or being terminated without a settlement agreement. "That's the more interesting question -- what's the incremental cost to the town because it was done in this fashion?" he said.
Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn estimated the cost at $95,000.
But the question of whether Tetreau had the authority to unilaterally enter into the settlement agreement with Hiller -- officially termed a "General Release and Settlement Agreement" -- dominated Tuesday night's discussion.
Walsh and Board of Finance Vice Chairman Robert B. Bellitto Jr. agreed that Tetreau had the right to hire or fire a town fiscal officer, but didn't think Tetreau had the right to enter into a settlement agreement without approval from the Board of Selectmen.
Bellitto said the two legal cases cited in the opinion letter from Floyd J. Dugas, the lawyer Tetreau consulted and relied upon, were "not directly on point and not directly relevant to the factual circumstances we're talking about here."
Bellitto said the settlement agreement reached between Tetreau and Hiller without approval from the Board of Selectmen was "at best legally questionable," and Walsh said Dugas, at a previous meeting, had said it was a "gray area" that involved "judgment calls."
Tetreau said he had sought a legal opinion on whether he could unilaterally enter into the settlement agreement with Hiller and that he had asked Town Attorney Stanton Lesser to review it. "Their conclusion was we were following the [town] charter and it was in the first selectman's authority to proceed as we did," he said.
Walsh said the settlement agreement could be classified as either a settlement or a contract and, in either case, it needed approval from the Board of Selectmen.
"I don't question your authority to hire a chief fiscal officer or let him go," Walsh said to Tetreau. "The question comes in regard to the agreement you signed, which is a very rich agreement. If it's a contract, it has to go to the Board of Selectmen. If it's a settlement, it has to be done in executive session at the Board of Selectmen. Either way, it's got to get there."
But Tetreau said Dugas "clearly states it's the first selectman's obligation and the Board of Selectmen does not have authority." But Tetreau added that the settlement agreement was added to the agenda of Wednesday's Board of Selectmen meeting..
Lesser noted that some contracts, such as those with the police chief and fire chief, do not go to the Board of Selectmen for approval, but instead are reviewed by the Police Commission and Fire Commission. But Bellitto said language in the charter about the fire and police chiefs' contracts supersedes language in the charter about contracts needing approval from the selectmen.
Board of Finance member Robert Stone said lawyers disagree. "That's why Supreme Court decisions are 5-4. Mr. Tetreau got an attorney, an unbiased attorney, and got a legal opinion from him. That's the opinion he got and he ran with it," he said.
Brachfeld said he didn't think the board's role was to adjudicate different legal opinions. "We're the Board of Finance, not the board of legal affairs," he said. "To be adjudicating ... different opinions from different attorneys and trying to resolve that here, I'm not sure that's our proper role." But Bellitto said the removal of the chief fiscal officer, who traditionally also serves as clerk of the Board of Finance, has implication for the finance board. And Flynn said the settlement agreement with Hiller also has an impact on town finances.
Just after the meeting began, Flynn introduced two new people -- Caitlin Bosse, a controller in the Finance Department who is serving as the board's interim clerk, and Catherine Albin, a former Board of Education member who replaced Elaine Gaffney, a finance board member who resigned several weeks ago.