FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Former Fairfield Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller’s retirement package once again sparked a debate Monday night — at one point a loud one. This time, members of Fairfield’s legislature questioned whether Hiller’s raised pension payments would violate the Town Code.
Hiller announced his resignation earlier this year at the request of First Selectman Michael Tetreau. As part of a settlement between the two, Hiller’s annual salary will be increased on his last day of work to add to his annual pension payments.
Representative Town Meeting member Edward Bateson (R-3) asked for an opinion from Town Attorney Stanton Lesser on the legality of the move. Bateson said Monday night that since the adjustment was a change from the Town Employees Retirement Board’s normal policy, it needed RTM approval under the Town Code. Lesser disagreed.
“It is clear that the Retirement Board is the only board authorized to adopt its rules,” Lesser wrote in a formal opinion. “The RTM has what is essentially veto power over adopting the rules but does not have the right to promulgate rules and regulations of the board.”
Tetreau also pointed out that the same system had been used in the past. In 2009, 30 employees were offered early retirement with a similar package, though none were department heads. The Board of Finance signed off on the program at the time, Tetreau said.
Bateson argued that since Hiller would only be paid his raised salary for one day, the adjustment was a policy change. He was also concerned that by not rejecting it within 60 days, the RTM would make the option an official policy.
“My opinion is that paid means that you received [that salary]. I don’t think he’s going to receive it. So I think this is a change,” Bateson said. “I would like to see that acted upon.”
Majority Leader David Becker (R-1) also pointed out that the agreement said the change did not go into effect until Hiller retired and demanded another opinion on whether that changed the legality of the settlement.
Tetreau questioned the logic of asking for more legal opinions, citing the cost of Lesser’s hourly fees. Becker then began to say that Tetreau’s policies were the problem, including the decision to ask for Hiller’s retirement. The statement led to shouts from RTM members calling the statement out of order.
RTM member John Mitola (D-2), who works as a city attorney for Bridgeport, said he agreed with Lesser’s interpretation of the law. He also suggested a possible change to the town code to clarify the issue. Moderator Jeffrey Steele (R-2) agreed with the idea before closing the discussion.
“We’re not going to battle it out right here. I’m glad the issue was brought out, and I think that’s important,” Steele said. “Some questions were asked, maybe not all the answers were satisfactory to people, but we need to move on.”