Tetreau breaks silence on Hiller's exit as CFO, but critics remain
Updated 1:07 pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012
First Selectman Michael Tetreau, after refusing to make any comment since last month on the administrative leave and abrupt departure of longtime town Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller, issued a statement on the matter Thursday.
Tetreau had refused numerous inquires from the Fairfield Citizen, as well as from other town officials, about Hiller's unexplained absence from his office for several weeks before announcing Aug. 1 that Hiller had "offered to resign."
In the statement issued Thursday, however, the word "resignation" no longer was used to describe Hiller's exit, and the language makes it apparent that Hiller's departure was not a voluntary resignation.
The first selectman also admits that he should have made information about the "settlement" that led to Hiller's departure sooner than he did.
Until Thursday, neither Tetreau nor Hiller would comment on Hiller's decision to step down from the fiscal post that he held for the last 13 years. Under his agreement with the town, however, Hiller is supposed to serve as the town's "manager of financial services" two days a week through next June 30.
In the meantime, Tetreau's chief of staff, Robert Mayer, is also serving as the acting chief fiscal officer.
In his statement on Hiller's departure issued late Thursday afternoon -- titled, "Responding to Community Concerns" -- Tetreau addresses the reasons for the resignation in only the most general terms.
And the first selectman also says -- at least to his knowledge -- there were no criminal or ethical factors.
But Tetreau's statement hasn't satisfied everyone.
David Becker, the Representative Town Meeting majority leader, said if anything, it created more questions.
"Mr. Tetreau seems to be using the `just trust me' approach which has failed us in the past," Becker said. "If anyone had any inkling of what was about to be signed, they could have brought up those concerns prior to the agreement being entered into. That to me would have made it very difficult for Mr. Tetreau to sign it."
He said simply saying that outside counsel approved the deal "is not enough of an answer for me and reeks of the tactics used by the previous administration." Becker also said he doesn't know why an "at will" employee, such as Hiller, needed a settlement upon leaving the job and said he's concerned that the bump to Hiller's pension payout will hurt the town during union negotiations. "This is going to look terrible when the units come to the table and we say there are issues long-term with the pension funds," he said.
Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn said his board will discuss the fiscal office at its Sept. 4 meeting. Topics, he said, will include the status of the current fiscal officer, discussion of the separation agreement's key terms and provisions, and the financial implications and the authority of the first selectman regarding certain provisions and clauses in the agreement.
"I am very glad that Mr. Tetreau has made it clear that Mr. Hiller has done nothing wrong," Millington said. "However, waiting over a month to publicly disclose this is unacceptable. The legal team Mr. Tetreau has working for us should be reconsidered for their positions as thei advice and guidance on this and several other issues has been poor at best."
Following is Tetreau's statement:
"To address any concerns that the CFO may have been engaged in illegal or unethical conduct, or was asked to leave because he discovered illegal or unethical conduct, let me be clear -- to the best of my knowledge, neither one occurred.
"Towns and cities across the country are facing issues that require a shift in direction in how to compensate employees, contain costs, and manage funds and finances in order to continue to flourish. Fairfield is no exception. As first selectman, trying to plan for the future of our community and its continued excellence, I determined it was in the best interest of the town to evaluate our approach and consider a change.
"After reviewing these issues with Mr. Hiller, we came to a mutual agreement that the settlement approach was the best resolution for everyone. It acknowledges Mr. Hiller's extensive work for this town and allows him to evaluate other options, while providing transitional guidance to the town. It also allows the town to move forward and develop other aspects of the department which are important for the future of our community's financial well-being.
"Concerning the CFO's temporary absence from work, when I considered that it was in the best interest of the town to make a change, and I presented the CFO with a number of possible avenues, our outside legal counsel advised that it was best for the CFO not to be at work during the time he was considering his options. That is the reason the he was placed on administrative leave. There was no wrongdoing, or suggestion of such. I believed then, and do now, that following legal counsel's advice was the prudent thing to do under the circumstances. Reports of the CFO being `escorted' out of the building are simply not true.
"It is the practice of this town, and most others of which I am aware, not to comment publicly on personnel matters. There are many good reasons for this practice, not the least of which are the privacy expectations of the employee, and that job expectations and an individual's performance are generally private matters between any employee and his supervisor. In the private sector, there are statutes prohibiting employers from publicly discussing an employee without their permission. Although we in the public sector are not bound by the same statutes, they do help define the way we deal with information regarding employees.
"Some have questioned the first selectman's authority to enter into an agreement with the CFO that transitions him out of the position somewhat earlier than he had planned, under terms that were fair to him and reasonable from the employer's perspective. During the process, I sought legal advice on this issue from a firm experienced in municipal labor matters and was advised by independent outside counsel that the first selectman in fact has the authority to enter into this agreement. I have reviewed this advice with the town attorney and he also confirms that the first selectman has the authority to enter into such an agreement.
"In hindsight, had I been able to know the questions that have been raised since I made this decision and acted on it, I might have shared the information in this message at an earlier time. I remain committed to transparency and collegiality in government, and will take the lessons learned here to do better in that regard.
"It is my sincere hope that this helps address all concerns and ends the speculation regarding the CFO so we can move forward from this point with the important business of the town."