EMS Administrator wants EMS Director immediately removed

The attorney for Stratford Emergency Medical Services Administrator Donna Best is asking the court to immediately remove EMS Director Phil Onofrio from his post, which a judge ruled was illegally awarded.

Stratford will appeal the state Superior Court judge’s ruling that Onofrio, hired by Mayor John A. Harkins, has no legal claim to the job.

“The defendant Onofrio is not … director of the Stratford EMS,” according the Dec. 3 ruling but Judge Referee Howard T. Owens Jr.

The decision came in a suit against the town filed by EMS Administrator Donna M. Best, alleging that “Onofrio illegally usurped” her responsibilities for budget and command of Stratford EMS.

Marc Dillon, chief of staff for Harkins, said last week that the town will appeal, and the situation will remain status quo until appeals are exhausted.

On Thursday, Dec. 13, Attorney Richard J. Padykula of the Law Offices of Leon M. Rosenblatt in West Hartford filed a motion calling for the court to clarify its ruling by ordering Stratford to immediately remove Onofrio from his position as director of Stratford EMS.

Padykula sites the stipulation in the ruling that Onofrio has “failed to present any evidence to show complete legal title to his office, while the plaintiff presented a solid foundation of evidence showing that she is the director/administrator of EMS and has been for the past 11 years. The defendant, Onofrio, has failed to sustain his burden that he possesses complete legal title … .”

The decision by Owens focuses in part on the presence of the article “a” before “director” in the charter.

“Each department has only one director,” the ruling reads.

“As director and administrator of EMS, Best was responsible for all operative command, managerial and fiscal decisions and responsibilities for Stratford EMS from 2000 to 2011,” it continues.

The ruling says that Onofrio “effectively removed” Best from her position in March 2011, although the court ruled that Onofrio had no legal claim to the office, and Best maintained her employment.

Owens cited testimony from Human Resources Director Ronald Ing [placing quotes around the first reference to director] stating that Onofrio took over the position without a Town Council vote on his salary.

Ing, in testimony cited in the ruling, “eventually acknowledged” that as EMS administrator, the title granted Best’s role in the Town Charter, she served as director of the department.

When Onofrio assumed his role, Best was told to vacate her office, and Onofrio assumed the duties she was performing.

“The plain language of the charter states that the administrator of Stratford EMS is the ‘director’ of the EMS Municipal Department,” Owens wrote. “The charter does not provide for a second director.”

The judge further wrote that every reference to a director in the charter is singular.

“These are problems created by the administration’s oversight,” Councilman Matt Catalano (R-3rd District) said at the Dec. 10 Town Council meeting. “If we followed the ordinances, we wouldn’t be here.”

Stratford Town Attorney Tim Bishop told the Town Council Monday, Dec. 10, that the town will wait to see if the judge clarifies his ruling, which could take up to two months, before filing an appeal

“Two months is not an unreasonable time to know if the judge is going to articulate on his decision further,” Bishop said Monday.

“The fundamental issue of the case is the interpretation of the town charter,” Bishop said.

The judge wrote that use of the indefinite article “a” does not allow there “to be as many directors of EMS as the mayor wants.”

Judge Owens cited general statutes, saying that the court may proceed to punish a person or organization for “usurping” an office.

Joseph Cole contributed to this story.

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