Middletown councilors, pension board question legal fees

MIDDLETOWN, CT –  Some members of the city council and pension board are asking questions about who is paying for what attorney, but they may have to wait for answers, despite those items’ inclusion on a committee meeting next week.

At its meeting Monday, the Finance and Government Operations Committee will examine how much it has cost for a workers’ compensation attorney to attend Pension and Retirement Board meetings, who should pay the tab for the mayor and city attorney consulting pension attorneys and who should foot what bill to law firm Robinson + Cole, which has examined different issues for both the city and the board.

The pension board makes its allocations from the city’s pension fund, separate from the city’s general fund or departmental line items.

But since General Counsel Brig Smith will likely be on vacation Monday, Deputy General Counsel Kori Wisneski indicated that the commission will likely have to wait for concrete answers on these issues, since Smith is not only the primary staffer for that committee but also City Hall’s point person on many of those issues.

Robinson + Cole had examined pension retirements for the Common Council and, specifically, disability pensions for the Pension and Retirement Board, said Wisneski, but had simply invoiced the city directly, so it’s a matter of “just making sure what money goes where.”

As for the other matters, “I’ve been a member of the pension board since, I believe, 1987, and there’s been a number of disabilities that’s come before us and we haven’t had workers’ comp attorneys at our meetings,” said Councilwoman Hope Kasper, who also sits on the finance committee. “I question why they were at our last three meetings that involved an application for disability and I wanted to know what that additional cost is.”

The board has recently considered disability pensions for three terminated police officers, at least two of whom had workers’ compensation claims still pending. The city has maintained that considering disability pensions before workers’ compensation is unorthodox, and it would be better for the pension board to wait on the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Michael McAuliffe, an attorney for Glastonbury-based Pomeranz Drayton & Stabnick who represents the city on certain comp issues, has attended several meetings.

“I think the workers’ compensation attorney has his charge to represent the city before the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which is a whole different set of laws than the disability pension that an applicant may come before the board for,” said Kasper.

As for Smith and Mayor Daniel Drew’s consultations with pension attorneys, Councilwoman Deborah Kleckowski, also on the finance committee, said that “the reason they are on the agenda is because the pension board had received a bill from Brig talking to this attorney.”

“My understanding is that the pension board denied payment because nobody at the pension board asked the city attorney to have the city attorney talk with the pension attorney, and they don’t know what was asked,” said Kleckowski.

Majority Leader Thomas Serra, who chairs the finance committee, said the items were on the agenda precisely to determine who is paying whom how much and for what.

“This is a question of who pays for the hours at these pension board meetings,” said Serra. To that issue, and to the Robinson + Cole invoices, he said that council members simply wanted clarification as to who was allocated which bill.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Gecan
Middletown reporter with a focus on municipal government and courts. Reach the author at agecan@middletownpress.com or follow Alex on Twitter: @stunati0201.

http://www.middletownpress.com/government-and-politics/20141223/middletown-councilors-pension-board-question-legal-fees