FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Paul Hiller has already stepped down as Fairfield’s chief fiscal officer and signed an agreement on his retirement plan. But the Fairfield Board of Selectmen now plans to vote on that contract after the fact.
“This is not personal, nor is this partisan,” said Republican Selectman Kevin Kiley, who called for the vote Wednesday. “This is about what I would call the professional process that we have used to get to where we are, and has that process been proper.”
Whether the vote will have any effect is still under debate. Town Attorney Stanton Lesser called the motion “a nullity” when asked for his opinion Wednesday.
Lesser said he agrees with previous legal opinions that the agreement is out of the board’s power under the Town Charter. And since it is already signed by Hiller and First Selectman Michael Tetreau, if it were overturned by a vote, Hiller would be able to sue Fairfield.
Hiller announced his resignation as town CFO at the beginning of August. As part of the deal, Hiller will stay with the town as a part-time employee until the end of June 2013. The agreement also calls for higher pension payments through a salary change on his last day at work.
The Town Charter gives the Board of Selectmen the power to vote on contracts, and tasks the Board of Finance with approving actions that require taxpayer money. But attorney Floyd Dugas said Tetreau had the right to replace Hiller and negotiate his retirement package without approval from other elected officials.
“The First Selectman is empowered to set workplace standards and govern the terms and conditions of employment, including the terms of the Settlement Agreement, without BOS approval,” Dugas wrote in a legal opinion.
Tetreau said that he cannot comment on his reasons for asking for Hiller’s resignation because of a confidentiality clause in the settlement. But he said Wednesday that he was following his attorney’s advice in not bringing the deal to other town boards.
“The key was to follow the charter throughout, and I believe we did that,” Tetreau said. “And we followed the attorney’s advice for that.”
Elected leaders from both parties have criticized Tetreau’s handling of the situation. Kiley expressed frustration that he and Democratic Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey were not allowed to vote on the arrangement before it went into effect.
Kiley attempted to call for a vote on the agreement at the board’s meeting two weeks ago. Tetreau declined at the time, saying the item was not in the agenda.
McCarthy Vahey agreed to add the vote to the agenda Wednesday, and they overruled Tetreau by a 2-1 vote. But she said Wednesday that she was not sure if she could turn down the deal at this point.
“A practical matter at this point is that this contract is binding,” McCarthy Vahey said. “If it were to come before me for a vote, though I am frustrated with certain aspects of this, I would feel bound to support the agreement. Because I feel that a vote against it would put the town at risk.”
The selectmen then agreed to postpone the vote to their next meeting on Oct. 3 so that they could gather more information.