FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Town leaders had a lot to say Tuesday night about Fairfield Chief Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller’s resignation scheduled for later this month in a joint Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen session.
Some criticized the cost of his severance package. Others questioned the need for replacing Hiller in the first place. But nearly all members of the two boards expressed doubts about First Selectman Michael Tetreau’s decision reach a settlement with Hiller without input from other town officials.
“There was nothing transparent about this,” said finance board vice-chair Robert Bellitto Jr. “Not one member of any elected body, either Republican or Democrat, was consulted about this before it happened.”
Hiller announced his resignation Aug. 1 and will step down Sept. 15. He will stay with the finance department through June 2013 as Manager of Financial Services. Chief of Staff Robert Mayer will take over Hiller’s duties until a full-time replacement is hired. Mayer’s salary will not change and Hiller’s will decrease starting January.
As part of an agreement he reached with Tetreau, Hiller will be paid 13 weeks’ salary as severance pay, plus the 60 days’ salary for saved vacation days. His town pension will also be calculated at a higher salary than he is currently paid, which Tetreau said is meant to make up for the amount he would have paid into the pension fund had he stayed with the town for the four to five years he originally planned.
Board members questioned whether Tetreau had the authority to make the deal with Hiller on his own. The Town Charter calls for all contracts to be approved by the Board of Selectmen. But attorney Floyd Dugas, who consulted with Tetreau during the negotiations, said that his ability to hire and fire the CFO supersedes that clause.
“It is solely the First Selectman that appoints, removes and sets the conditions of employment for the CFO,” Dugas said.
Finance board members James Walsh and Bellitto, both practicing attorneys, disagreed with Dugas’ interpretation. Other members felt it was not the proper decision, regardless of Tetreau’s legal right to do so. They demanded a report from Tetreau on the financial impacts of the deal and the legal basis for the decision.
“To say that it was legally right, doesn’t mean that it was right,” chair Thomas Flynn said. “And it doesn’t help our government going forward.”
Finance board members also criticized a part of the agreement that had Hiller step down as their clerk. Though technically a distinct position, the finance board’s clerk has traditionally also been the town Fiscal Officer. But Hiller’s retirement settlement includes a clause that says he will resign as finance clerk the same day he resigns as CFO.
Flynn said he plans to set up a subcommittee to find a replacement, and to determine if Hiller can be rehired. In the meantime the board unanimously voted to hire Town Controller Caitlyn Bosse as its interim clerk.