Councilwoman questions contracts

Council member Stephanie Philips has a set of questions for Mayor John Harkins that she wants answered regarding contracts with top town officials. Harkins staff say the questions have been answered.

“She met with members of the staff for five hours over two meetings,” said Harkins’ chief of staff, Marc Dillon. He said every attempt was made to answer her questions.

Philips seems less satisfied that her questions were answered. She said she appreciated staff meeting with her but there were still things that needed to be addressed. During Tuesday’s Council meeting, she told the mayor she would be following up further with his staff.

Philips’ questions were read into the record by Democratic Town Committee Chairman and former Town Attorney Richard Buturla. The questions were originally sent directly to Harkins. Dillon questioned the motivation for the DTC chair reading them into the public record during the council’s public comment session, especially after the mayor’s staff had already met with Philips to discuss them.

Philips demanded at the September Town Council meeting to get answers to her questions in writing. Harkins repeatedly told her he would be happy to schedule a meeting and she could take whatever notes she wanted.

“There wasn’t a hesitation to give written answers, it was just often with contracts, and these sorts of situations’ answers just lead to more questions,” said Dillon. From his perspective, the mayor’s office was attempting to open a dialogue and discuss the issue.

Most of the questions revolved around what Philips said appeared to by inconsistencies in contracts. Fire Chief Robert McGrath’s contract is dated May 16, 2012, but runs for two years starting Sept. 1, 2012.

Phil Onofrio’s contract appears to start more than a month before he signed it.

Other contracts refer to at-will clauses and 30-day termination clauses that might be improper in a contract for a high-ranking town employee.

Of particular note in Philips questions are a number relating to the contract for Deputy Chief Joseph McNeil. Philips questions the calculation of his pension as well as the terms of payment.

Under Pension Plan A, town employees are allowed to collect their pension 25 years after they started work. McNeil’s contract states that he is eligible for all pension benefits immediately if he is removed from the deputy chief position. The agreement references Stratford Police Department Plan A. He also retains health insurance.

McNeil’s salary is locked at $95,000 for the purposes of the pension calculation. Philips also questioned if that was appropriate.

For the mayor himself, she posed the question of whether or not a $7,500 “un-vouchered” expense account violated state provisions forbidding an increase in an elected official’s compensation during the term in office. She also questioned if it appeared on his W-2 forms or if former Mayor James Miron received a similar “un-vouchered” expense account.

Philips’ largest contention is that the contracts did not appear to have been reviewed by any town counsel or attorney, which may have led to inconsistencies. She said she just wants everyone on the same page, and if two employees are on the same plan that they be treated equally.

Philips said she still doesn’t have all the answers she was looking for but feels that there is some agreement that the contracts may include errors that need to be addressed. She plans to keep seeking answers.

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