FAIRFIELD, Conn. – First Selectman Michael Tetreau took some heat from the Representative Town Meeting Monday night for his actions surrounding the retirement of former Fairfield Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller.
Many RTM members criticized Tetreau’s “lack of transparency.” Members of the Board of Selectmen, of which Tetreau is a member, said they did not know about the decision to replace Hiller until after the agreement.
“This just feeds into that perception that the town government isn’t serious about transparency,” said Rep. Joseph Palmer (R-4).
Hiller announced his resignation Aug. 1 after a previously unexplained administrative leave. Part of his retirement included a settlement negotiated with Tetreau that kept him in the town’s employ through June 2013 with a reduced salary after Jan. 1.
Once he leaves for good Hiller will be entitled to 13 weeks’ severance pay, compensation for unused vacation days, and a one-day raise in salary on his last day to boost his pension. Tetreau said the adjustment was meant as to bring his pension payments to the level they would have been if he had retired in four years as planned.
Tetreau apologized Monday night for the mystery surrounding the administrative leave, and for agreeing to a non-disparagement clause that forbids him from explaining his reasons for replacing Hiller. But he stressed that the decision was within his power.
“It is my job to make the difficult decisions to keep our town moving forward. And significant improvement is difficult without change,” Tetreau said. “I did consult with outside legal counsel to confirm my options and correct procedures of our Town Charter.”
Other RTM members questioned whether Tetreau had the authority to agree to Hiller’s retirement package without approval from other elected officials. Rep. Ed Bateson (R-3) and others compared the situation to the deals made with the state surrounding the Fairfield Metro Center construction, which attorneys ruled were outside the first selectman’s power.
“At the end of the day, this is a settlement, and any settlement needs to go to the Board of Selectmen,” Bateson said. “And I think you owe the executive body an explanation.”
Attorney Floyd Dugas has said that the deal was legal as part of Tetreau’s authority to handle staffing in certain town hall positions. Tetreau said he hired Dugas to guide him through the process, and confirmed with Town Attorney Stanton Lesser that the procedure was correct.
Fellow Democrats defended Tetreau’s authority on the RTM floor Monday night. Rep. John Mitola (D-2), an Associate City Attorney for the city of Bridgeport, also vouched for Dugas’s credentials.
“The fact is that the charter authorizes the first selectman to do what he did. He followed the law. He sought legal advice,” Mitola said. “To suggest that the legal opinion was sought for political purposes is extremely unfortunate, because what you’re doing when you say that is you’re disparaging not only the office of the first selectman, but also a professional, a lawyer who does this for a living.”