Flatto's finale: A celebration and veiled warning

First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, after serving as Fairfield chief executive for 12 of the last 16 years, presided Wednesday at his last meeting of the Board of Selectmen.

And as at many of the prior twice-monthly sessions, there was something that undoubtedly pleased him and something else, well, not so much.

The session got under way with a party at the historic Old Academy on Town Hall Green and ended with Republican Selectman James Walsh expressing hope that Flatto, in his final days in office, would not obligate the town to major commitments that he won't be responsible for the consequences.

Flatto leaves office May 3 to take a position with Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration as director of special revenue, and a farewell reception was held for town employees at the start of the meeting.

As the meeting drew to a close -- after moving from the Old Academy back to Sullivan-Independence Hall, the board's usual venue -- Walsh, a Republican, broached the question as to whether there is anything Flatto, a Democrat, plans to sign in the next few days that could have long-term obligations for the town.

"Between now and then, do you see any major things that will affect the town?" Walsh said, adding that if anything does come up, he and Selectman Sherri Steeneck, who will take over as acting first selectman until an interim successor is chosen, should be notified.

Flatto said it is possible that negotiations with two municipal employee bargaining units might ratified by the union members, but also pointed out that if that were to happen, the Representative Town Meetings would cast the final vote on those contracts in May. "It wouldn't be an agreement I could sign," he said.

Walsh suggested that should wait until Steeneck becomes acting first selectman next week, because she would be the one that would have to answer to taxpayers and the RTM.

"I appreciate the concern," Flatto said. "That's my power, my authority." The Board of Selectmen has no role in contract negotiations or approvals.

Walsh said he wasn't challenging Flatto's authority. But when a "lame duck" makes major changes or appointments in the waning hours of an administration and "it comes out in the press afterwards, it looks horrible."

"I understand what Jim's saying," Steeneck said. "Whoever comes in next just takes what's there. You're not going to be there."

"It's a moot point," Flatto responded, adding that if a contract were ratified by a union prior to his stepping down, it would be Steeneck's choice whether or not to support it once it goes before the RTM.

Town Attorney Richard Saxl said once an offer from the town is ratified by a bargaining unit, if the town were then to withdraw that offer, the pact could end up before the labor board responding to charges that the town had bargained in bad faith. No new negotiations have started since Flatto announced his resignation.

"Hopefully, it will be a smooth, quick week," Flatto said.

Walsh and Steeneck thanked Flatto for his work on behalf of the town as first selectman, and as a member of the Board of Selectmen, for the last 14 years -- 12 as first selectman and two as a board member.

"That's a long tenure," Walsh said. "You should be proud of that. You've done a great job."

Remarking on her impending stint as acting first selectman, Steeneck said, "I can't really say I'm going to look forward to this." She hopes that she and Walsh could quickly come to an agreement on an interim first selectman to serve until the November election. Flatto's interim replacement must be a Democrat, and the Democrats have recommended Board of Finance member Michael Tetreau, be the interim official. He is also expected to be the party's candidate in the fall.

Republicans have argued that the interim first selectman should be a placeholder and not a potential candidate in November.

Steeneck and Walsh have 30 days from Flatto's last day in office, originally said to be April 28, to choose a successor. If they do not agree, all of the town's elected Democrats have 60 days to do so. There is also the possibility that residents could petition for a special election if they do not like the choice of an interim first selectman.

Flatto on Thursday said he pushed back the date he's starting the state job in order to be here for the May 2 budget vote by the Representative Town Meeting.

Before he adjourned the Board of Selectmen for the last time, Flatto asked for a moment of silence in memory of Denise Dougiello and Ralph Bowley, both members of the board who died while in office over the last two years.