In another break with First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Selectmen Kathleen Corbet and Nick Williams last week voted 2-1 in favor of a new policy that sets out the role of their elected body with respect to the hiring of all town employees.
Drawn up by Corbet after working with municipal staff members and consulting with the town attorney’s firm, the policy formalizes in black and white a policy already on the books New Canaan’s governing documents, the Town Charter and Town Code, and what had been a past practice of the town, she said during the Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 3 meeting.
In short, the policy calls for the full Board to approve all full-time, part-time and seasonal employees of the town.
The process “has not been followed with respect to part-time employees,” Corbet said during the Board’s meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
Under a resolution that Corbet and Williams voted in favor of—and which Moynihan opposed—the selectmen retroactively approved the hiring of 11 part-time and 25 seasonal employees. The part-time employees include a “Waveny wedding coordinator,” part-time town planner and “special projects staff” member, according to a resolution that forms part of Corbet’s Dec. 29 memorandum on the matter, obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request.
Moynihan, in a discussion that grew contentious at times, said he disagreed with Corbet’s interpretation of the Town Code. At issue was the following definition of “Town Employee” as spelled out in Chapter 44 of the document: “Means all salaried officials or employees of the Town whose appointment or dismissal is under the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen or the Police Commission.”
According to Moynihan, that definition doesn’t include part-time or seasonal workers.
“You are not an attorney, Kathleen,” Moynihan said. “That is not the proper interpretation.”
He added, “I am the chief administrative officer. That is not how I read it and we can’t possibly comply with it.”
Williams said, “I am an attorney and her memorandum was spot on legally. And I am sorry, Kevin, but you’re wrong. We are the executive branch of the town of New Canaan. You can’t deal with the fact that the three of us are the executive branch. You seem to take it upon yourself that you are the executive branch.”
This exchange followed:
Moynihan: As I said, I am the chief administrative officer. I disagree strongly with the interpretation. The town attorney tells me I am not wrong.
Corbet: They [the town attorney’s firm] actually in their memos to us—
Moynihan: —No they didn’t.
Corbet: The most recent ones, they said that this is not a legal issue.
Williams: That is correct.
Corbet: It is not a legal issue and that is why they [the town’s attorneys] are not here today. But if you want to make it a legal issue, we will bring them forward.
Moynihan: It’s absolutely a legal issue. I have to follow the Town Code.
Corbet: We follow the Town Code and the Charter and it has not been followed with respect to part-time employees. And so this is what the proposal is. It is quite clear. It has been checked by both attorneys.
Moynihan: That’s not true.
Corbet: Yes it is. It has been checked by both attorneys and—
Moynihan: I talked to [Town Attorney] Ira [Bloom] last week about this afterwards. He gave me no comfort about this policy.
Corbet: Well, check his email that he sent to all of us. And it’s quite clear. This is not a legal issue. Thank the forefathers who developed both the Charter and the Code. They knew what they were doing. They made it quite clear in terms of the role of the Board of Selectmen with respect to approval of appointments and dismissals of town employees.
The selectmen had been discussing the question of part-time employees for more than two months.
Much of last week’s discussion focused on conflicting interpretations from lawyers.
At one point Moynihan said, “Kathleen, you are so wrong. You are so wrong.”
When Corbet pointed out that the Town Code references salaried “officials” not “employees,” Moynihan responded, “Nick Bamonte told me I am not wrong.”
Williams said, “Nick Bamonte said you can’t give money to St. A’s and you denied that. I mean, this is nuts.” (He referred to an earlier discussion regarding ARPA funding.)
Moynihan said after being outvoted—which happened multiple times at the Jan. 3 meeting, including on the reappointment of Police Commission Chair Paul Foley—that he would not support the newly adopted policy.
“I am against it and as the chief administrative officer I cannot enforce it, so I’m just telling you that,” Moynihan said.
Corbet responded by saying the town must operate under the Charter.
Williams said to Moynihan, “So you are saying publicly that as the chief administrative officer of this town you will not abide by the decision made by the Board of Selectmen of this town, which is the executive branch of the town of New Canaan, is that correct? You’re doing this publicly?”
Moynihan answered, “My job as the chief administrative officer is to enforce the bylaws and ordinances of the town. This is contrary to the ordinances of the town. We will talk about it with the Town Council.”
Corbet noted that the Board of Selectmen had already approved the policy and that she would be happy to bring it before the Town Council.