Connecticut has 169 separate towns, no Counties and a State Government in Hartford:  What are some of the issues and stress-factors in running municipal government?  Here are some examples, beginning Sept. 2010...


How will Weston fare in this review?  Tune in soon and find out!
OP-ED | What We See With Government Transparency

by Heath W. Fahle | Dec 6, 2013 11:56am

Making government more open and accessible is easy for politicians to say but usually hard to implement. At the same time, government transparency is often difficult to see, though its effects are plainly evident. In recent days, these truths have been as brightly displayed as holiday decorations...

The work of improving government transparency continues not just at the state level but also at the local level. In the coming weeks, the Yankee Institute will release a study of the local government websites for each of the 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The “transparency audit” evaluates the extent to which local governments make information available on their websites based on a 40 item, 100-point grading system. An initial review of every website was conducted in July 2013 and the results shared with local elected officials in August. A follow-up evaluation was completed recently to measure improvement since the initial evaluation.

The results are mostly encouraging. The vast majority of municipalities do a decent job of posting contact information for local elected officials and administrators, meeting calendars, minutes, agendas, budget information, tax information, and other key data. There remains a great deal of improvement to be made, but there is cause to be pleased.

Reducing the information asymmetry between government officials and citizens has been a problem since antiquity, but modern tools of communication offer the promise of reducing this imbalance more than at any other time in history. The task is often challenging but well worth the effort...

WATCH OUT WESTON - Sec. 3 (2) (d) (3) and (3)and (3)

Substitute Bill No. 6357
January Session, 2013   *_____HB06357ED_APP040113____*


Our quick read of CT MIRROR article:

WESTON NADA:  From the Administration:

GOVERNOR SAYS NADA THIS COMING YEAR:  Public transportation entitlement last year:

WESTON NADA:  From CCM proposal:

COMMITTEE BILL:  Town-by-town breakdown:

Hurricane Irene:  When Government Works
State and local governments did what they are paid to do.
National Review
Jim Lacey
August 31, 2011 4:00 A.M.

If there was a single defining moment during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was when Kate Hale, director of Dade County Emergency Management, stood in front of a nationally televised news conference and exclaimed, “Where the hell is the cavalry?” Quite clearly, local and state government had broken down, and the federal government was proving of little help. Well, that was true until President Bush the First heard Hale’s plea and ordered the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions to deploy to Florida. Forty-eight hours later the military was on the ground in force, and further crises were averted.

In Louisiana, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there was a similar localized breakdown of government, followed by a collapse of civil order. Once again, the 82nd Airborne left Fort Bragg, this time ordered out by President Bush the Second, and within 96 hours completely reversed what had been a rapidly deteriorating situation. Of course, not all local governments failed. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry managed an efficient response despite an area of devastation almost as great as Louisiana’s. Not only did Perry refrain from screaming for the Army, he also opened his state to hundreds of thousands of refugees that Louisiana could not care for. Similarly, Gov. Haley Barbour in Mississippi led a superb response and never pushed the panic button.

As Hurricane Irene made its way along the coast I did my best to judge the various local responses. After several days of watching, all I can say is, “Job well done.” If I was to grade the event, everyone gets an A+.

Let’s take stock. A major hurricane, over 700 miles wide, slowly moved through an area containing over a quarter of the entire population of the United States. At no point during the several days the storm wracked the East Coast was there any sign of panic or any breakdown of civil order. Everywhere one looked, from governors on down to town mayors and county councilmen, government officials were doing what they are paid to do.

Hardworking firemen, policemen, and other emergency-services personnel deserve even more kudos. Many of these persons worked double and triple shifts during the worst of the storm, again doing exactly what we expect of them. How many lives were saved or burdens eased by these selfless professionals will never be known. But that many people are alive today who would not be if not for their services is an undoubted fact.

It is also worth taking note of what did not happen during Hurricane Irene. No governor or emergency-services director got in front of the cameras and cried for help. Unneeded, the U.S. Navy evacuated Norfolk and sent the Atlantic Fleet to sea, in a successful bid to keep it away from the worst of the storm. Although I assume the soldiers at Fort Bragg and Fort Drum were leaning forward and fully prepared to deploy when called for, the call never came. The magnificent soldiers of the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain remained in their barracks, and out of the rain.

When I listened to the FEMA director speak around noon on Sunday, all she could do was encourage people to listen to their local authorities, and report that FEMA was coordinating with the locals to offer assistance as needed. It appears the locals had learned from Katrina: In times of crisis, FEMA is nothing more than a checkbook. For the really hard work, look to yourselves.

At one moment during the crisis, I actually felt bad for President Obama. With his presidency floundering and even his supporters publicly questioning his competence, he rushed back from his vacation to personally manage the federal response. Instead, he sat in the White House being briefed on the same information the rest of us were getting from newscasts. Because the locals were up to the job, the president’s moment to shine never arrived.

And let’s not forget the private sector. With a ruthless efficiency that can be bred only in a competitive capitalist system, firms such as Walmart and Home Depot moved hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies into stores throughout the stricken areas. Did they make a profit? Of course they did. But they also made it possible for families all along the coast to eat and otherwise prepare for the storm. And guess what — the profits those firms and many others make will ensure that they are even better prepared to meet the next crisis.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the bravery, skill, and dedication of those working for power companies. In many cases they were out in the worst of the storm already working to restore power to stricken areas. A personal thank you to whoever it was who restored power to my house after only five hours in the dark.

Americans all along the East Coast have just seen a remarkable example of how government is supposed to work. In fact, the biggest complaint being heard as the storm passed is that local governments may have overreacted. As there is no way to count the bodies of those not killed, we can never know if this is true. However, if the worst one can say about government is that in the face of a 700-mile-wide hurricane it erred on the side of caution, then all I can say is: Great job all around.

For this, I don’t mind paying taxes!

Town Record Turmoil
Court’s ruling on withholding addresses upsets clerks, assessors and lawyers

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tax assessors’ records, which have been complete and open to the public in Connecticut since Colonial times, are often the place a lawyer begins a title search. They are also the basis for public confidence in the fairness of property taxes.

But now their availability is in legal limbo.

In the wake of a recent state Supreme Court decision, town officials are unsure what records they can legally disclose, and some fear they will have to perform a gargantuan data-sifting process with no extra money or manpower.

At the heart of the problem is Connecticut General Statute 1-217, which creates an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that bars the disclosure of the home addresses of certain state employees who might be targets of harassment or violence. Initially, the law pertained to state and local police and prison guards, but over the years a patchwork of 12 separate employee groups has swelled the “protected” class.

The list now includes every Judicial Branch employee, federal and state judges, all employees of the Department of Children and Families, and employees of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction services who provide direct patient care. The exempted addresses also include any lawyer who has been a public defender, or a social worker in those offices.

Under a 1999 amendment, the public employee doesn’t have to ask state or local record keepers to have their addresses redacted from public records. The governmental bodies are expected to somehow know which addresses to remove.

Now the Supreme Court has decided that the statute also applies to each town’s grand list and other tax records. Justice Peter T. Zarella, writing for the majority, held that the address-exempting statute trumped a conflicting statute providing for an open and public grand list.

The net effect is that town officials risk breaking the law by releasing records to the public, unless they first undertake the daunting challenge of plowing through thousands of files, determining which belong to people in protected classes, and then redacting addresses.

In Danbury, the corporation counsel’s office initially advised the assessor to not disclose any records at all, pending closer study of the decision in Commissioner of Public Safety et al. v. FOIC. “This is worse than an unfunded mandate,” said Assistant Corporation Counsel Les Pinter. “Here, you don’t know what’s going to hit you – you don’t even know how to find the road.”

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Glastonbury Town Clerk Joyce Mascena, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks’ Association. “I don’t know the status of the job of everyone who lives in my town. I don’t know how I would know that.”

Mascena told the Law Tribune that town clerks are dismayed by the Supreme Court decision and its implications for other public record lists. In many cases, she said, there are legitimate reasons why someone would want lists that involve residential addresses. A public works supervisor might ask police for a list of homeowners who have reported mailboxes damaged by plows. An animal control officer might need to locate the holders of certain dog licenses. “A lot of the reasons addresses are in public records is for a consumer protection purpose,” Mascena added.

She added that the clerks don’t want to put judges, police officers and others at risk. “We’re seeking common-sense solutions that keep people safe, and are economically and administratively plausible,” she said.

An Experiment

The case started as a kind of experiment by Branford lawyer and private investigator Peter Sachs, who requested the Department of Motor Vehicles “car tax” file from the assessor in North Branford. The assessor, Darryl DelGrosso refused, unless Sachs would pay him to redact the full list of addresses of everyone exempted by C.G.S. 1-217.

In the subsequent FOI Commission appeal, Sachs won, on grounds that Connecticut’s statute defining the town grand list of assessed property requires the list to be complete and public. The FOIC concluded the Department of Motor Vehicles’ registration list for North Stonington is equivalent to the car tax segment of the town’s grand list, and ruled that Sachs should be able to get that list in unredacted form.

On appeal, New Britain Superior Court Judge Henry Cohn upheld the FOIC decision, citing centuries of open grand list records in Connecticut. But last December, FOIC lawyer Lisa Fein Siegel faced a frosty state Supreme Court bench. All six justices on the panel treated the issue as a simple matter of statutory construction, and, from their questions, appeared to value secret addresses more than open and complete public land records.

A few months earlier, at an April hearing of the legislative Judiciary Committee, powerful testimony was presented for and against a proposed statute that would, without exception, make it illegal to release home addresses of anyone in the 12 public employee groups.

Torrington clerk Joseph Quartiero testified in his previous career as a state trooper, his home address was publicly listed and he never had any security issues. Nor did he know any other police officers who had problems. But as a clerk with 18 years experience, he predicted that having to redact addresses of all the members of protected groups would create an administrative nightmare. “It is physically impossible to search our vast amount of records to determine who should be redacted,” Quartiero testified.

Speaking in favor of proposed bill were representatives of the Judicial Branch, the Department of Correction and the Office of the Chief Public Defender, citing instances of past threats and some violence from lawbreakers and others. The Connecticut Bar Association’s Real Estate Section and its Media and the Law Committee were represented by Stephen Nevas, who testified that removing addresses would wreak havoc with real estate transactions.

Claude Albert, speaking on behalf of the Connecticut Counsel on Freedom of Information, said the proposed bill would make other legal work more complicated. “How, for example, could a zoning or inland wetlands board conduct a public hearing on a land-use request by a member of the protected class without revealing the address of the property involved?” he asked.

The Judiciary Committee declined to vote the bill out of committee this past session, in light of the controversy and the then-pending Supreme Court decision.

Real Estate Data

Vincent Valvo, group publisher for The Commercial Record, a publication that covers the Connecticut real estate industry, said the Supreme Court decision had an immediate impact on his company’s data collection.

“Danbury has refused to release its 2010 assessor file to us, until they develop a policy on what to do with firefighter and police records—and presumably any other of the 12 categories,” he said. Valvo, a former publisher of the Law Tribune, explained the role that assessors’ lists have in the compilation of a real estate database for Connecticut.

“We collect all of the real estate records in every Connecticut community, and have done so since 1882. For 129 years, we’ve gone to every town hall, collecting every real estate transaction and every mortgage transaction.”

Real estate transfers and mortgage transactions mean little without the property description and values from the assessor’s office. Said Valvo: “We know that 27 Jones Road in Coventry sold, but you need the assessor’s record to be able to say whether it’s a four-bedroom Colonial or a 100,000 square foot industrial building. It’s important.”

Statewide, the town clerks’ association and the Connecticut Association of Assessing Officers are hoping the legislature can remedy the current situation. Bloomfield Assessor Walter Topliff , the CAAO president, said his group plans to meet with other affected parties this week. “As it stands now,” he said, “the assessors are in a no-win situation without some legislative fix.”

One suggestion is for lawmakers to place the burden on the public employee to notify a clerk or assessor, and “opt-in” to the process of having an address deleted from specific records. The public employee would have to file an application with every record-keeping agency. Topliff’s group wants legislative language specifically stating that failure to notify an agency relieves it of any requirement to suppress the address.

State Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, co-chair of the legislative Judiciary Committee, expects his panel to seek solutions to satisfy both sides. “Safety of public officials is important,” said Fox, who is a lawyer. “Some towns are very concerned if people know too much. You have to look at the whole issue, and there are times when the courts look to us to establish a workable policy.”

Manwhile, Peter Sachs, the private eye who launched this case, says he is considering requesting a redacted car tax grand list from each of the state’s 169 towns. It would, he said, demonstrate how costly and unworkable the Supreme Court decision would be, if town assessors had to redact all 12 groups of protected public employees.

Weston reviews changing planning authority to a council of governments
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 12:08

The Board of Selectmen last Thursday debated the merits and possible disadvantages of changing the structure of the current regional planning agency to a council of governments.

Weston is one of eight towns that make up the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA). The other towns in SWRPA are Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport and Wilton.

Gerald Ellis, chairman of SWRPA, described the organization as similar to a “three-legged stool,” made up of: the staff of the non-profit SWRPA organization; the South Western Metropolitan Planning Organization (SWRMPO), composed of the chief elected officials of each town; and the SWRPA governing board, composed of town representatives appointed by each town’s Planning and Zoning commissions and chief elected officials (CEOs).


SWRPA, according to its mission statement, “focuses on inter-municipal issues of transportation, housing, community development, environment and open space ... SWRPA provides a forum for local governments to foster communication and collaboration in addressing inter-municipal issues and needs, and at the request of its constituent municipalities SWRPA provides technical and planning assistance.”

SWRMPO, on the other hand, is limited to regional transportation planning.

The CEOs in SWRMPO have launched a council of governments initiative to discuss changing the structure to make it less confusing and more streamlined and efficient, Mr. Ellis said.

SWRPA is one of 15 planning regions in the state. Of those, Mr. Ellis said 10 have changed their structure from a regional planning agency (RPA) to a council of governments (COG).

SWRPA has put together a task force that is looking into the pros and cons of converting SWRPA to a COG.

Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein is a member of the task force. “While I think transportation is important to the region, it’s just one of the issues we are dealing with on a regional basis,” Ms. Weinstein said. The current structure makes it harder, not easier, for town leaders to move forward with those other issues, she said.

Mr. Ellis said thus far, the task force has discovered several benefits to organizing as a COG:

• The regional planning would be led by the local chief elected officials rather than having three entities all trying to direct the SWRPA staff separately.

• A COG would be more streamlined, with 16 members (the CEOs of each town and a P&Z representative from each town) instead of the current 22, holding 12 meetings instead of 24 each year. (Only the CEOs would be voting members.)

• A COG would be able to focus on CEO priorities, not just transportation.

• It promotes regional collaboration, making possible things like regional dispatch and purchasing cooperatives.

Mr. Ellis said four SWRPA towns — New Canaan, Wilton, Westport and Stamford — are in the process of authorizing the change to a COG.

Bill Brennan, Wilton first selectman, said the main reason he supports the switch is “I really don’t think the current organization works very well.” There are “obvious coordination issues,” he said.

With a COG, Mr. Brennan said, there is one group in one room. “The CEOs lead the process and try to determine priorities,” he said, adding there is better control over the direction of the planning group as a whole, and better focus regarding what the group is working on.

“I think the time has come [to switch to a COG]. It’s been evolving... Clearly, it’s the direction others are moving in,” Mr. Brennan said.

First Selectman Weinstein said she thinks it would be far easier for a COG to work with one neutral staff for things like applying for competitive grants for regional projects. Currently, SWRMPO is limited to using the SWRPA staff only for things related to transportation.

All those who spoke in favor of switching to a COG — including former Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss — made it clear that this would not be akin to county government; the COG would not have taxing authority.


Both Weston selectmen are former members of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, and both brought up several concerns they have about switching to a council of governments.

Selectman David Muller said P&Z has always been concerned about a loss of local planning autonomy if the regional planning agency model were to be scrapped.

In addition, he said he is worried if five other towns decide to authorize the change, Weston’s only choices then are to either “be dragged into” joining the COG, or opt out and not be a member of any planning region — not a realistic option, he said.

Selectman Dan Gilbert said one of his concerns is the voting procedures for a COG.

Under the current structure, all eight towns have to reach a consensus or, essentially, nothing happens, he said. “With a COG, you don’t have to find common ground, you just have to find five votes.”

Ms. Weinstein said that is a valid point and the task force will look into whether it would be possible to structure the bylaws of the COG in such a way that certain situations would require more than a simple majority vote.

Mr. Bliss pointed out that with either an MPO or a COG, no town is mandated to follow what has been voted on by the group.

Mr. Brennan said it’s important to note that the chief elected officials work very well together and tend to support each other. “Very seldom have we seen issues where it’s one town against another. We work well at synthesizing issues” and there is a lot of coordination between CEOs, which is why a COG makes sense, he said.

Selectman Gilbert said he believes the COG would weaken the P&Z’s role in regional planning because, while they would be a part of the COG, P&Z representatives would not be voting members.

Mr. Brennan acknowledged that it is the CEOs who make the decisions, “but we don’t make them in a vacuum,” they are made based on P&Z input, he said.

Dr. Gilbert also voiced concern about who might get to join the COG. He said his interpretation of a state statute is that if another town asks the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to join the COG, it’s up to the secretary, not the other towns in the COG, and that could prove problematic.

Mr. Ellis said the task force will likely explore this issue. When the task force comes back in August with its final findings about forming a COG, “governance will be one of the things they talk about,” he said.

P&Z opposed

Joe Limone, a member of Weston P&Z, spoke on behalf of the commission. Mr. Limone said the commission took an “unofficial vote” at its last meeting and it is “unanimously opposed to going to a COG.”

He cited several of P&Z’s concerns:

• The current representatives on SWRPA appointed by the Board of Selectmen and P&Z have degrees and expertise in land use, and they have “consistently advocated for P&Z’s positions rather than opposed them at the regional level.”

• In a COG, the CEOs would have voting power, P&Z representatives would not; now, SWRPA P&Z representatives have a vote.

• The commission believes inclusion of a voting P&Z representative “is critical to ensuring the commission has oversight and regular reports about our representation at the regional level.”

Mr. Limone said in speaking to P&Z members in other towns in the region, they, too, are concerned enough that they plan to get together as a group to discuss them.

Mr. Ellis said he would be interested in having the task force hear from the group of P&Z commissioners about its concerns after they have met.

“It would be very useful to know what your concerns are” so the task force can address them, Mr. Ellis said. “If you are going to this effort, we darn well want to hear from you.”

In order to make the change to a COG, First Selectman Weinstein said the Board of Selectmen would need to pass an ordinance. Rather than scheduling a public hearing — which is required before the selectmen can vote on an ordinance — they decided to wait until after the task force presents its findings at the beginning of August.

Town To Consider Charter Revision
Plainville Residents Want Change In Budget Approval Process
The Hartford Courant
10:16 PM EDT, May 29, 2011

PLAINVILLE —The town council has agreed to discuss revising the town's charter, an issue being pressed by residents who want to change the way the town approves budgets.

The council was presented last December with a petition with 385 signatures demanding that a charter revision commission be appointed. People behind that effort said they want the commission to explore the current budget preparation process, which they say ignores residents' wishes about taxes and spending.  The petition wasn't an officially sanctioned one and couldn't force a charter revision commission. But supporters continued to make their case.

The council on May 16 briefly discussed appointing a charter study committee. Council Chairman Dan Hurley said a study committee has more flexibility than a charter revision commission and can lay the groundwork for a formal commission.

"A study committee can make suggestions without dealing with the restrictions and requirements that a charter commission has to deal with," Hurley said.

Hurley said he wants the council to discuss the issue further when it meets June 6.  Under the current charter, the town council proposes a budget and sends it to a referendum. If residents reject the budget, it goes back to the council, which may then alter it and send it back for a second vote.

If the second vote fails to produce a budget, the council may then make further changes before holding a third and final referendum. But no matter the results of that referendum, the budget presented at the last vote is adopted.

That process was adopted in 2004 and since then voters have approved a budget just once, in 2009 when only a small tax increase was proposed. This year, the budget was rejected by wide margins in referendums that had only small turnouts. The final vote was May 24, and less than 5 percent of the town's registered voters participated.

John Kisluk, who presented the original petition, said he is encouraged by the council's interest.

"I think the council is getting the message that people feel the all-day budget vote is worthless," he said.

But Arthur Screen, another proponent of charter revision, said he is skeptical that anything will be done.

"This is an election-year stunt," Screen said. "The council can run on the fact that they are looking at charter revision, but I don't think anyone on the council wants charter revision."

Kisluk said the vote results reflect public opinion.

"The low turnout proves people are disgusted with this system. People are saying 'My vote doesn't count,' " he said.

Attorney says Preston's land buy invalid; referendum needed
By Claire Bessette Day Staff Writer
Article published May 29, 2011

Preston - The recent town meeting vote that approved the purchase of two large wooded lots off Route 2 for open space is invalid, and the issue will have to be voted on at a referendum, the town attorney has ruled.

The Board of Finance had asked Town Attorney Frank Manfredi for an opinion on whether the purchase needed a referendum vote, as it called for spending $230,000 from the town open space account to match a $230,000 state grant to buy 140 acres of rugged woodland property.

The open space account consists of fees collected over the past several years from subdivision developments for the strict purpose of acquiring land for open space. Because the purchase did not involve spending taxpayer dollars, town officials had thought the purchase could be approved at a town meeting.

But Manfredi said the town ordinance requiring a referendum for expenditures exceeding $100,000 does not differentiate between general town funds or funds restricted for certain purposes. The open space fund belongs to the town, so a referendum would be necessary to approve spending more than $100,000 from the fund, he said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved the purchase using the open space fund and the state grant and forwarded the recommendation to the Board of Finance. The finance board will set a second town meeting date on the issue, and that will be adjourned to a referendum.

If approved, the purchase would use up most of the $265,000 in the open space account, Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said.

The commission also heard a request Tuesday from the Avalonia Land Trust to use some of the remaining funds in the open space account.

Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen agreed to ask the land trust if it wanted to acquire two vacant parcels totaling 30 acres on Lake of Isles Road that were in tax foreclosure. The properties abut existing preserved land owned by the land trust at the Preston-North Stonington border.

Land trust officials said they are excited at the offer and intend to pursue the acquisition for the back taxes owed, now about $17,000. But the land trust's own acquisition fund, called the Bedrock Fund, is depleted.

Land trust member Robert Chapin of Preston asked the PZC if the town would consider contributing half the total from its open space fund. Chapin said the land, abandoned by STPR Realty Development of Danbury, would provide valuable off-street parking to the entire combined preserve. It would also allow the trust to develop walking trails to land that is now "stuck back" off the road.

But this open space proposal also generated legal questions. Selectman and PZC member Michael Sinko questioned whether the town could use its own funds to essentially help pay off back property taxes also owed to the town.

"You'd be taking it from downstairs (the planning office) and giving it to the tax collector," he said.

First Selectman Robert Congdon said he has asked Manfredi for a legal opinion on the Avalonia request. Preston has worked in the past with Avalonia to preserve open space land in town. When developers of major projects have offered the required 10 percent of a parcel to the town in lieu of paying an open space fee, the land was donated to Avalonia. But in those cases, the transactions sidestepped the town and involved just the developer and the land trust, town officials said.

Chapin said Avalonia is "so thrilled" with the prospects of acquiring the land that the trust will try to buy it even if the town does not contribute.

"Our starting point was to ask for half, and then have a big fundraising effort in town to replenish the Bedrock Fund," Chapin said.

Weston Kiwanis "State of the Town"

AT KIWANIS MARCH 19th, 2011...Gayle Weinstein, First Selectperson.

"State of the Town" presentation by First Selectperson Weinstein not a rehash of the FY2012 budget - but a call for change in the way many things are done here.  In keeping with the difficulties we have been facing for the past 3 years - which will continue, in her opinion.

Ideas such as waiting for the Legislature to come up with regionalization mandates, having anticipated some areas where Weston might actually make out well, and finding ways to make "virtual government" or online provision of services, a reality even more than we do already. 

Questions were about school/parent drop off disruption of traffic on Weston Road and School Road, the budget and how to keep school teaching expenses down in the next contract, how to make Weston even more energy efficient were asked and answered.  How could the Town make a cemetery revenue neutral was asked.  More photos below.

KIWANIS "State of the Town" speach, March 19, 2011.  Thoughtful and thought provoking, and puts into perspective the problems of Weston, CT compared to some other places in the news, words by Kiwanis President (re: Japan tragedies ongoing).  A "lucky buck" contributed by one Kiwani member, recalling his own experience in Japan during a previous earthquake there, recalling the noise and, our words here, "end of the world" quality to the event.


LWV of Weston "Speak Up" March 12, 2011 covered all issues, "power to the people" approach - more here

'While you were away' - Weston town leaders set the tone

Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 11:59

In answering the question posed by the League of Women Voters of Weston at last weekend’s forum, “What happened in Weston over the summer?” town officials and audience members realized the answer was, “a lot.” They also managed to set a tone for moving forward.

Four of Weston’s top elected officials gave brief five-minute presentations explaining what their respective boards or commissions focused on during the “slow” summer months when many people are out of town, and where officials hope to go from here.

First selectman

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein gave an overview of “buildings, budgets, beyond Weston, and bye-byes.”

She explained the town saw several construction and infrastructure projects get underway this summer, including the Valley Forge bridge, the library roof, paving projects, town hall upkeep, and the completion of the Booster barn at Weston High School.

A joint meeting of the boards of selectmen, finance, and education was held to “wrap up” the 2010-11 budget process. The capital committee met to begin discussing the town’s needs and how to pay for capital projects without increasing the town’s debt service.

The selectmen also appointed a preliminary facilities committee to examine town buildings and help the board to “formulate the questions” that need to be asked.

Police union and town hall employees union contracts were finalized, Ms. Weinstein said.

The first selectman said unemployment in Weston peaked at 6.2% in July, and is now hovering at about 5.9%. “This is always in the back of my mind” when planning the budget, Ms. Weinstein said.

“If we want people in Weston to have employment, we have to look at regional economic development as a solid means of support, and also as a way to bring people who potentially want to live in our town,” she said.

The first selectman also mentioned a few staff changes, including the elimination of a transfer station employee — this position had been cut to a part-time one in the budget, but when the union did not agree, the position had to be eliminated, Ms. Weinstein said.

School board

Phil Schaefer, chairman of the school board, began his initial comments by praising the accomplishments of Weston students, who had the highest scores ever in the state on the standardized CAPT (Connecticut Academic Performance Test), as well as “outstanding” results on the CMTs (Connecticut Mastery Tests) this year.

“These results indicate we have a powerful curriculum, and strong instruction,” Mr. Schaefer said.

As to physical work, the schools began a roof replacement project at the middle school, installed new boilers, did asbestos abatement, and installed 300 new computers and WiFi throughout the district (before that, 72% of the district’s computers were more than six years old, Mr. Schaefer said).

The school board chairman praised energy and utility cost reductions that have taken place, saying costs were reduced by $40,000 this summer alone, even though it was hotter than usual.

The administration has also significantly reduced transportation and health care costs, he added.

Finance board

Mike O’Brien, chairman of the finance board, said the joint tri-board meeting at the beginning of the summer set the stage for his board, especially when it comes to weighing needs vs. wants and the importance of capital projects and infrastructure maintenance.

“I think we need to focus in this climate on what we need to have,” while keeping in mind that if facilities are neglected, it will cost more in the long run, Mr. O’Brien said.

He said in June, the finance board approved a transfer of $20,000 to help repair the ailing Revson Baseball Field.

The board is also looking at its until now “very aggressive stance” on addressing OPEB (other post-employment benefits) obligations, to see if now is the time to spread out some of those obligations over a longer period of time, Mr. O’Brien said.

In that vein, the finance board has also issued an RFP (request for proposal) for investment services to take a new look at Weston’s financial portfolio. “We have a $63-million budget — we need to make sure that money is working for us throughout the year,” he said.


Stephan Grozinger, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said P&Z actually tries “to avoid making substantive decisions in August, since so many people are away and public input is so important.

On July 1, however, the commission did approve a new Plan of Conservation and Development that was two years in the making. “We’re extremely proud of this document,” Mr. Grozinger said.

The 10-year plan for the town relied on “an unprecedented amount of public input,” Mr. Grozinger said. As a result of that public participation, and because there is currently a “really strong” commission, P&Z was able to identify and address some issues that “were maybe too controversial for past boards,” he added.

As a result of the town plan, P&Z has forwarded requests to the selectmen to form a bicycle/pedestrian committee, and to the other town committees, as well as the health district, to do some testing of water samples in town.

P&Z is also looking into a community garden, and examining options for cemeteries on private property.


Of the 30 or so audience embers, about 10 asked questions of the panelists. Questions included:

• How is the town is developing a strategic plan?

• How is Weston’s unemployment rate impacting things in town other than the obvious increase in the use of social services?

• Is a tax increase inevitable?

• How can an uproar like the one surrounding the school board’s approval of a high salary increase for the superintendent be avoided in the future?

• How can town and school officials better disseminate information to the public?

Some of the answers the panelists gave were:

Strategic plan: First Selectman Weinstein said she cannot justify spending upwards of $100,000 for an outside party to develop a strategic plan, so the town will use the Plan of Conservation and Development as a basis, and she plans to work closely with the Capital Committee and the newly formed Facilities Committee to prioritize needs and wants.

Unemployment impact: Mr. Grozinger said the bleak economic conditions that occurred during the creation of the town plan may have actually been a blessing in disguise. “It had a tremendous impact on how we developed the town plan,” he said, saying it forced the planners to be more realistic so that it did not end up being a “wish list.”

Mr. O’Brien said the economic picture definitely affects the “affordability of the budget.”

Mr. Schaefer said not only has the economy and Weston’s relatively high employment kept the school budget nearly flat, it has also created new or additional “social pressures” for kids and their families. As a result, the schools hired a new social worker, whose first year salary is being covered by an unexpected federal grant.

Taxes: Mr. O’Brien said taxes are dependent on the town’s mill rate, which is driven by the town’s debt service, and interest payments, which, for now, are “pretty stable.” Salaries, benefits, and rising insurance costs will also be a factor.

“I’d like to see [any increases to the budget] match the rate of growth in town,” which he predicted will be under 1%.

School salaries: Mr. Schaefer acknowledged that the superintendent’s 7.5% increase, on top of a base salary that increased by 2% because of a previous deferral, “really are high numbers.” The decision to approve the increase was “a very tough one,” but an equity adjustment was the primary justification, he said.

The board felt the superintendent and his team were directly responsible for bringing significant cost savings to the district, but still, board members knew some people would not be happy with the raise.

“Going forward, I think we need to listen more carefully and intently to the entire town... It seems like it should have been done differently,” Mr. Schaefer said.

The main thing at this point, Mr. Schaefer said, is “we need to move forward.”

Ms. Weinstein said she wanted to point out something Mr. Schaefer never would: Mr. Schaefer initially voted for the increase, then, after much public input and many executive session discussions, he voted against it. However, as the chairman, Mr. Schaefer is “in a position where he has to defend the board’s position,” and the decision made by the majority, she said. While difficult, as the chairman, that is “the right thing to do” and she praised his ability to do just that.

Disseminating information: Each of the chairmen said they would like to increase e-mail notifications and possibly do more mailings about their board’s activities. They also pointed to the town and school Web sites as places where people may find information.

Mr. Grozinger said, “P&Z lives and breathes on public input. We would rather make no decision than an uninformed one.”

Laura Smits, who moderated the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Weston, ended the event promptly at noon, and she urged people to continue the spirit of community by going from town hall to the Emmanuel Church Fair.

A tape of the forum will be replayed on town channel 79 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. every day until the next Board of Selectmen’s meeting Oct. 7.

East Hampton Council OKs Settlement With Police Chief
The Hartford Courant
By ERIK HESSELBERG, Special to The Courant
9:55 PM EDT, June 28, 2011


— The town council voted on Tuesday night to approve a settlement of legal actions Police Chief Matthew Reimondo filed against the town but offered no details of the deal, including any monetary compensation.

Council member Barbara Moore, who chaired the meeting, refused to comment about the agreement on the advice of the town attorney.

But Reimondo's attorney, Leon Rosenblatt, said, "We have a deal, and the chief is very happy with the settlement."

The vote was 5-0 to approve an agreement settling all legal claims Reimondo has brought against the town, including a civil lawsuit and several complaints he filed with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

The vote followed about 45 minutes of discussion in a closed executive session. Council Chairwoman Melissa Engel and Vice Chairman John Tuttle did not take part; Engel said they were advised by their lawyer to excuse themselves from discussion of the settlement.

The two took part in a May 31 mediation session during which a settlement agreement was reached. The deal approved Tuesday night was a modified version of that, and Rosenblatt said some language still has to be worked out.  The council had been expected to take action on the settlement Monday night, but postponed a vote until Tuesday night.

Engel and Tuttle, along with former Town Manager Jeffery J. O'Keefe and police Sgt. Michael Green, were named in Reimondo's civil suit. Reimondo was removed as police chief in June 2010 by O'Keefe, and Green was promoted to lieutenant to lead the police department. Reimondo regained his job in a referendum in November, but filed legal actions against the town over his ouster.

Reimondo's lawsuit alleges that town officials conspired to abolish the police chief's job to prevent him from investigating sexual harassment complaints against O'Keefe by three female town employees. O'Keefe denied those charges.

In April, council members voted to have their attorney make a "compromise offer" to settle all legal claims against the town by Reimondo. Since then, lawyers for the council and Reimondo have been negotiating a settlement.  Earlier at Tuesday's council meeting, during the public comment portion, residents urged the council to approve a settlement.

There's "no way the town would prevail" should the lawsuit go to trial, said resident Bill Marshall.

Resident Mary Ann Dostler agreed, saying, "This has dragged on far too long."

East Hampton Council Votes To Abolish Police Chief's Position
By ERIK HESSELBERG, Special to The Courant
10:33 PM EDT, September 28, 2010

EAST HAMPTON —Nearly 600 people crowded into the high school auditorium Tuesday to watch the town council approve the controversial ordinance to eliminate the position of police chief — a job Matthew Reimondo held for 12 years.

Despite fierce objections during an hour of public comment, the council voted 5-1 to abolish the chief's position.

Susan Weintraub, who cast the lone dissenting vote, called the council's action "lawless."

"This process is corrupt and illegal," Weintraub objected before the vote. "I will not support this corrupt regime."

Council Vice Chairman John Tuttle defended the decision to abolish the chief's position, saying it would save the town money in the long run.

"Downsizing and realignment comes with costs," he said. "We have to look at this over 10 years."

Prior to the vote, one resident after another stood before the council to implore members not to approve the ordinance. Some said they were lifelong residents; others recent arrivals. They were old and young, Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated. But nearly all said the same thing — they wanted Reimondo back on the job.

"I've been a resident all my life and I've never seen anything like this," said Donna Valli, referring to the controversy that has enflamed the town since June. "When will this end?"

Laurie Wasileski said the police department needs more funding, not less. "This is not just about what you want, it is about what the town wants," she said.

The council's approval of the ordinance was greeted with boos and hisses. The crowd surged to the exits, where petitions were circulating to force a townwide vote to consider overturning the ordinance.

Reimondo, who sat quietly at the back of room during the meeting, has been on paid leave since June, when he was ousted by then Town Manager Jeffery O'Keefe. The proposed ordinance was drafted in August to meet objections that the chief's removal violated the town charter. The ordinance was revised at least three times by three separate attorneys.

The ordinance approved Tuesday strikes any reference in local codes to the police chief and vests the police lieutenant — a position now held by Michael Green — with the powers of police chief, excluding administrative oversight of the department. Green, a former police sergeant, was promoted when Riemondo was stripped of his badge and gun.

Organizers of the petition drive to reinstate the chief are confident. Only 10 percent, or 1,200, of the town's registered voters are required to force a town meeting or referendum within 20 days of the town clerk's verification of the signatures.

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant

Former East Hampton Town Manager Is Deposed In Lawsuit Over Chief's Dismissal
Town Council To Vote Tonight On Plan To Abolish Police Chief's Position
By ERIK HESSELBERG, Special To The Courant
9:37 PM EDT, September 27, 2010

EAST HAMPTON — Former Town Manager Jeffery O'Keefe was deposed Monday in Middletown in the lawsuit stemming from his June dismissal of Police Chief Matthew Reimondo. Earlier Monday, a judge rejected O'Keefe's request to block the deposition.

Reimondo's attorney, Leon Rosenblatt, said the questioning of O'Keefe in a Middletown law office was not completed on Monday, and another session will be scheduled. As part of a court agreement, the deposition will not be made public for at least a week after it is completed, Rosenblatt said.

The deposition is part of the lawsuit filed by Reimondo — police chief for 12 years and a member of the force for 25 years — who claims that he was removed because of his investigation into sexual harassment complaints against O'Keefe by three female town employees. O'Keefe, who resigned as town manager on Sept. 17 with a $170,000 severance package approved by the council, denies Reimondo's claim.

Judge Robert Holzberg, who ruled in Middlesex Superior Court against O'Keefe's request to block the deposition, is also considering a motion filed last week by O'Keefe's attorneys seeking to have Reimondo's suit dismissed. The judge also has yet to rule on a request by Rosenblatt for a temporary injunction that seeks to have the police chief reinstated.

The citizens group Take Back Our Town, meanwhile, organized a petition drive to fight the anticipated approval tonight of an ordinance that would abolish the position of police chief. The ordinance is supported by six of the seven town council members, who maintain — as O'Keefe has — that Reimondo's position was eliminated as a cost-saving measure.

Heavy turnout is expected for tonight's council vote, which will be preceded a public hearing at 6 p.m. at the high school.

Members of Take Back Our Town plan to begin gathering signatures immediately after tonight's vote. The group on Monday also circulated a brochure claiming that East Hampton actually spends less on police services than other Connecticut towns of a similar size. The brochure also claims that the effort to eliminate the police chief has already cost the town close to $500,000, offsetting any projected savings.

Bill Marshall, a member of Take Back Our Town, said in a statement Monday, "The petition drive is the vehicle for ordinary citizens to have some degree of control and influence over the events that are unraveling in our town. In our form of government, veto power is invested in the people by the town charter, which gives us the ability to have checks and balances over our elected officials."

The group says that, by charter, signatures of at least 10 percent, or 1,200, of the town's registered voters are required to force a town meeting or referendum within 20 days of the town clerk's verification of the signatures. The meeting or referendum would consider overturning the ordinance.

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant


April 2, 2013

Preston, Conn. —

State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection lawyers and regulators plan to review a Preston wetlands lawsuit judgment in which the town’s first selectman was held personally liable and ordered to pay $3,000...

Removing A Wetlands Commissioner: Officials Recount Dealings With Fromer
By DAVID DRURY, Courant Staff Writer
11:56 AM EDT, September 28, 2010

WINDSOR —Dealing with Robert Fromer became so taxing that town Wetlands Agent Cyd Groff said she eventually sought outside counseling.

"As a result of all this, [Town Planner] Eric Barz and the human resources director approached me about seeing someone through the employee assistance program.

"It's not an easy thing for me to admit, but I needed it to function,'' said Groff who testified Monday night before the town council in a special town meeting called to determine whether Fromer, 69, should be removed his seat on the Windsor Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.

Groff, a town employee since 2002, gave a deeply felt, often-riveting account of her dealings with Fromer, who was appointed to the commission in November 2008. He was suspended from his duties in May. Commission members are volunteers and appointed by the council.

Groff and Barz both testified in what was the second session in this highly unusual proceeding, virtually unprecedented for the state's oldest town, according to those participating. The council must judge whether Fromer's "antagonistic, condescending and unprofessional behavior and comments to applicants, fellow commissioners and town staff'' justifies his removal. At least five members must approve his ouster.

As was the case during the opening session held Sept. 13, Monday's testimony ran for 4½ hours, concluding at 11 p.m. The hearing is expected to conclude tonight, with Town Manager Peter Souza and Fromer expected to testify before the council makes its decision.

Groff, who holds a master's degree in environmental biology, testified that she has known Fromer since 2004 and had enjoyed a generally cordial relationship with him up through the first months of his appointment to this commission. Then, she said, he began to monopolize more and more of her time.

His e-mail contacts, calls, visits and constant demands for information escalated. Groff testified that she has received a total of 611 e-mails from him, many of them demeaning, harassing and critical. Sixty-one of those e-mails have been sent since his suspension, she said.

"I consider it harassment, in fact, sexual harassment,'' said Groff, who like several female commission members who testified earlier in the proceedings, said Fromer's interactions with women differ from his behavior toward other men.

During the five-month period from December 2009 to April 28, 2009, Groff said she received 34 Freedom on Information requests from Fromer. She had only received one prior FOI request during her entire tenure. Since Fromer's suspension, she has received 15 more FOI requests from him, leading her to conclude that Fromer was using FOI as "a weapon against me."

Groff said she began to dread logging on to her computer in the morning, or answering her phone. At one point she was disciplined for lateness, she said. Her stress level became so great, that in February she left the office in tears and spoke with the town attorney, who she said told her, "If you are going to have a nervous breakdown, I need some documentation."

"I used to love coming to work,'' Groff said. "Mr. Fromer has altered my life, my physical well-being and turned my job into a chore."

Barz testified that he became aware that Fromer was monopolizing more and more of Groff's time following his appointment. At one point, he said, he advised her that if she didn't stand up to him, she'd wind up in a straight jacket.

He tried unsuccessfully "to shield her from his monopolizing and abusive behavior.'' In his view, Barz said, Fromer simply refuses to accept the role of a lay commissioner but seeks to be "the de-facto dominating wetlands agent by fiat," determinedly running roughshod over his fellow commissioners, town staff, applicants and expert witnesses.

"He appears to be on a mission to protect the environment at whatever the cost,'' Barz concluded.

Instead, Fromer's actions have exposed the town to potential litigation, alarmed the development community and impeded the commission's ability to review applications thoroughly and place appropriate conditions on approvals.

Should Fromer be allowed to resume his seat, six of his fellow commissioners have testified that they would resign, or consider resigning.

The mass resignations would leave the commission with only two members, well short of the five needed to conduct business. In such an event, Goff sand Barz each testified that that the Department of Environmental Protection would have to step in to review applications until a new commission could be formed.

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant

Strained States Turning to Laws to Curb Labor Unions
January 3, 2011

Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.

State officials from both parties are wrestling with ways to curb the salaries and pensions of government employees, which typically make up a significant percentage of state budgets. On Wednesday, for example, New York’s new Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, is expected to call for a one-year salary freeze for state workers, a move that would save $200 million to $400 million and challenge labor’s traditional clout in Albany.

But in some cases — mostly in states with Republican governors and Republican statehouse majorities — officials are seeking more far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones.

For example, Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers.

Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts.

“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a speech. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers.”

Many of the proposals may never become law. But those that do are likely to reduce union influence in election campaigns, with reverberations for both parties.

In the 2010 elections, Republicans emerged with seven more governor’s mansions and won control of the legislature in 26 states, up from 14. That swing has put unions more on the defensive than they have been in decades.

But it is not only Republicans who are seeking to rein in unions. In addition to Mr. Cuomo, California’s new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, is promising to review the benefits received by government workers in his state, which faces a more than $20 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months.

“We will also have to look at our system of pensions and how to ensure that they are transparent and actuarially sound and fair — fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers,” Mr. Brown said in his inaugural speech on Monday.

Many of the state officials pushing for union-related changes say they want to restore some balance, arguing that unions have become too powerful, skewing political campaigns with their large war chests and throwing state budgets off kilter with their expensive pension plans.

But labor leaders view these efforts as political retaliation by Republicans upset that unions recently spent more than $200 million to defeat Republican candidates.

“I see this as payback for the role we played in the 2010 elections,” said Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the main union of state employees. Mr. McEntee said in October that his union was spending more than $90 million on the campaign, largely to help Democrats.

“Now there’s a bull’s-eye on our back, and they’re out to inflict pain,” he said.

In an internal memorandum, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. warned that in 16 states, Republican lawmakers would seek to starve public sector unions of money by requiring each government worker to “opt in” before that person’s dues money could be used for political activities.

“In the long run, if these measures deprive unions of resources, it will cut them off at their knees. They’ll melt away,” said Charles E. Wilson, a law professor at Ohio State University.

Of all the new governors, John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, appears to be planning the most comprehensive assault against unions. He is proposing to take away the right of 14,000 state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize. He also wants to ban strikes by teachers, much the way some states bar strikes by the police and firefighters.

“If they want to strike, they should be fired,” Mr. Kasich said in a speech. “They’ve got good jobs, they’ve got high pay, they get good benefits, a great retirement. What are they striking for?”

Mr. Kasich also wants to eliminate a requirement that the state pay union-scale wages to construction workers on public contracts, even if the contractors are nonunion. In addition, he would like to ban the use of binding arbitration to settle disputes between the state and unions representing government employees.

Labor leaders, who argue that government employees are not overpaid, worry that many of these measures have a much better chance of enactment than in previous years because of Republican electoral gains and recession-ravaged taxpayers’ reduced sympathy toward government workers.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s internal memo warned labor leaders, “With the enormous losses in state legislatures around the country, we will face not only more attacks on working families and their unions — we will face more serious attacks, particularly in the formerly blue or purple states that are now controlled by a Republican trifecta.”

It pointed in particular to six states, including several former union strongholds, where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature: Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Naomi Walker, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s director of state government relations, said many voters would oppose the antiunion efforts. “I think folks in these states are going to ask whether this is the right time to weaken unions when corporations are amassing more power than ever,” she said. “We’ve been fighting against privatizing Social Security and sending jobs offshore and to get the best deal for the unemployed. It would be a lot easier for Republicans if unions weren’t there to throw up these roadblocks.”

Union leaders particularly dread the spread of right-to-work laws, which prevail in 22 states, almost all in the South or West. Under such laws, unions and employers cannot require workers to join a union or pay any dues or fees to unions to represent them.

Unions complain that such laws allow workers in unionized workplaces to reap the benefits of collective bargaining without paying for it. Pointing to lower wages in right-to-work states, unions say the laws lead to worse wages and benefits by weakening unions.

But lawmakers who are pushing right-to-work laws argue that they help attract investment. “The folks who work day-to-day in economic development tell us that the No. 1 thing we can do to make Indiana more attractive to business is to make Indiana a right-to-work state,” said Jerry Torr, an Indiana state representative who backs such legislation.

Some union leaders say that proposals like right-to-work laws, which have little effect on state budgets, show that Republicans are using budget woes as a pretext to undercut unions.

“They’re throwing the kitchen sink at us,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We’re seeing people use the budget crisis to make every attempt to roll back workers’ voices and any ability of workers to join collectively in any way whatsoever.”

A group composed of Republican state lawmakers and corporate executives, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is quietly spreading these proposals from state to state, sending e-mails about the latest efforts as well as suggested legislative language.

Michael Hough, director of the council’s commerce task force, said the aim of these measures was not political, but to reduce labor’s swollen power. “Government budgets have grown and grown because of the cost of employees’ pensions and salaries,” he said. “Now we have to deal with that.”

Westport cost-sharing plan 'breakthrough' proclaimed
Westport NEWS
Paul Schott,
Published 07:41 a.m., Sunday, June 26, 2011

Westport Board of Education and municipal officials have reached a "major breakthrough" by agreeing to consolidate several education and town services, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said Friday in a memo sent to school board members.

Within the next few weeks, the Board of Education will take over the town's mailroom operations, as well as its Voice over Internet Protocol system, Landon said. In addition, the board's online "Technology Help Desk" will expand to incorporate municipal departments' requests for technology repairs and assistance.

"We are quite pleased to have been able to take this first step toward meeting the Board of Education's goal and objective for cost efficiencies," Landon said. "Concurrently, we have been responsive to the Board of Finance's request that we make every effort to consolidate town and school services where appropriate."

Consolidation of municipal and education services has been a goal for months as town officials have sought to rein in spending. The Board of Education, for instance, identified the creation of "cost efficiencies through collaborative efforts" with municipal departments as a Fiscal Management Goal for the 2010-11 school year.

Consolidation planning accelerated last January when Landon delivered to the education board a memo that offered specific recommendations for streamlining town and education services. Two months later, the Board of Finance cut $250,000 from the Board of Education's proposed $98.3 million operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year to spur consolidation efforts. That reduction was upheld in May by the Representative Town Meeting, which has final budget approval authority.

The new consolidation agreement will result in the loss of at least one job. In approving the 2011-12 town budget, the RTM backed elimination of a town communications/technology specialist, saving the town approximately $80,000, according to Landon. That decision was made, the superintendent added, with the "understanding that the position would not be re-instated and that town and school functions would be consolidated to cover the responsibilities associated with the eliminated town position."

Landon added in the Friday memo that he, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Finance Director John Kondub and Board of Education Chairman Don O'Day had met April 12 to discuss the memo on proposed consolidation initiatives he sent in January to the education board. He said they agreed then that proposed areas of consolidation such as information technology required "further study and research."

Following the April 12 meeting, Landon added that Assistant Superintendent for Business Nancy Harris, Kondub, town Information Technology Director Eileen Zhang and Board of Education Information Technology Natalie Carrignan met regularly to discuss consolidation efforts.


Crushed by town pensions
Stratford: Many retirees receive payouts exceeding former salaries
Brittany Lyte, Staff Writer, CT POST
Updated 02:24 p.m., Tuesday, June 7, 2011

STRATFORD -- If you've retired from the town in the last five years, you are likely earning a pension that is greater than or nearly equal to your former salary.

Among the 71 town employees who retired between 2006 and January 2011 and for whom human resources officials provided data, more than half are earning more or nearly the same amount of money in retirement than they did from their former base pay. Pensions exceed former salaries for 74 percent of the top-earning pensioners in this camp.

On a larger scale, the town's pension funds are floundering. Currently they are underfunded by about 51 percent. There is now a $109 million gap between the town pension fund's assets and what it owes to future retirees. Here's one of the main reasons why: Many of the town's Police Department and Public Works employees, and all of the Fire Department employees, are still in a system that uses overtime and saved vacation to calculate pensions.

Moody's Investors Service last week downgraded the town's bond rating, citing a $2 million operating deficit, low revenues, high expenditures, a weakened grand list and a failing pension fund.

"Stratford's below average financial position," the Moody's report said, "is expected to weaken further at the end of fiscal 2011, which would represent the town's third consecutive operating deficit. The town's reserve position is expected to fall further below state and national medians and, looking ahead, the town's ability to regain structural balance and improve its financial flexibility will be a key driver in future rating actions."

The town's wobbly pension system, Mayor John A. Harkins has said, is the most significant threat to the town's long-term fiscal health.

"Things just got out of hand"

Stratford's top-earning pensioner is Mark DeLieto, a former police captain who left the department in 2008 after 27 years on the force. DeLieto was 54 when he retired with a $134,525 pension -- nearly 160 percent of his former salary.

If he lives to 75, the average life expectancy for a white male in this country, DeLieto's $11,000 per month pension will cost taxpayers $2.8 million.

"Basically," said Joe McNeil, president of the Stratford Police Union, "this man was never going home and working an ungodly number of hours, and the question is: Was this guy entitled to all these hours? I think the answer is `No.' "

The union reacted to DeLieto's pension payout by filing a grievance against him with the then-chief of police and former Mayor Jim Miron. Nothing ever came of it.

"The chief at the time failed to enforce the contract," McNeil said. "He failed to control overtime, and that's gross negligence. There are institutions to prevent this from happening, but they have to be enforced."

He added, "Things just got out of hand."

DeLieto, now assistant chief of the University of New Haven Police Department, said he earned his pension fairly, and never worked outside the limits of his contract.

"I know some of the pensions are high, but it just works within the collective bargaining agreements that were signed off on by both sides," he said. "Cops and firemen and other town employees gave up certain things for certain benefits.

"We worked hard and we worked as much as we could when we could within the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement. We just want what's good for our families."

While DeLieto's pension is extreme, it's hardly an exception to the rule. More than half of the 24 police department members who retired since 2006 are earning pensions nearly equal to or greater than their former base pay.

The town took a step toward addressing its pension problems with the police department in January by reaching an agreement with the police union to institute 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of pensions for new hires. But it will likely take many years for the town's pension liability to see significant relief from these newer contracts because the town continues to maintain obligations to its current police employees, all of whom have pensions.

Case in point: The town and the public works union ditched pensions for future employees in 1999. Yet, 12 years later, a maintenance crew leader retired in January with a pension that is 118 percent of his former salary.

McNeil said the switch to defined contribution plans for future hires moves the town closer toward stabilizing its finances. But he said the town now stands to lose officers who could get more benefits working at departments elsewhere.

"If people are shopping around for a job and they see Stratford offers a 401(k) and Norwalk has a defined benefit plan, they're going to go to Norwalk," he said.

Unlike pensions, the department's new defined contribution plans will be portable. New recruits could work in Stratford a couple years to gain experience and then move on to another department, taking their defined contribution plans with them.

"The job of a police officer is a very tough job, so you have to have something to attract you to the job," McNeil said. "For some that's the pension."


Stratford's Fire Department is the only town department that continues to allow all members to enhance their pensions with overtime and unused vacation. Here's the result: all but five of the 29 firefighters who retired from the town in the last five years are earning pensions nearly equal to or greater than their former salaries.

Fire Union President Bill Hansen said the pension benefit is an important recruitment tool.

"On a daily basis, every call you go on, you're putting your life on the line," he said. "We don't respond to structure fires every day in Stratford, but we fight our fires with a lot more limited manpower than some of the big cities do ... The pension makes people more willing to take a job where you're risking your life."

In the last twelve months, two firefighters retired with pensions that top $100,000. Two of the other three firefighters who retired in the same year now have pensions that exceed their former base salaries.

Pensions in the department are calculated by 60 or 70 percent of a workers' total earnings in their final two years on the job, Hansen said. Contract negotiations between the town and firefighters' union are currently under way.

Overtime assignments within the department are parceled out based on whoever has clocked the least number of hours that year, Hansen said.

The number of these pension-boosting assignments spiked recently, he said, because substitutes were needed to cover two vacant shift commander positions. The town, he said, left one of the positions vacant for a year; the other position was vacant for five months.

"Some of the guys are working an additional 1,000 or 1,200 hours a year," Hansen said. "It's not like they're making that money working 40 hours a week."

"The town did not have hiring lists in place," Hansen said, adding that the union filed a grievance over the matter. "We don't control how people are promoted; the town administration is in charge of promoting people. There was a lot of overtime when those positions were vacant and it will show when they retire."

Details of union deal released
By Kenton Robinson
Published 05/17/2011 12:00 AM
Updated 05/17/2011 10:49 AM

Hartford - The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition posted the details of the proposed concessions agreement between the state employees' unions and the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

In a statement posted on SEBAC's website along with the agreement, SEBAC spokesman Larry Dorman said, in part, "Absent an agreement with the administration, there would be no state budget. That would mean thousands of layoffs – and not just the nearly 5,000 state public service workers whose jobs were initially threatened – but many thousands more as "Plan B" failed.

"Additionally, tens of thousands more jobs would be lost in the private sector as massive state layoffs lead to a stalled economy. That alone, beyond the effects of draconian cuts to vital services and municipal aid, would have resulted in a Connecticut that 'none of us would recognize.'

"We would not be recommending any agreement that didn't provide short- and long-term stability for public workers and public services, and a real opportunity to be part of the solution for all working families."

Concession deal relies on millions in assumed savings
Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas
May 17, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's labor deal relies largely on hard, verifiable cuts to achieve its $1.6 billion two-year target, but also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in softer assumptions about savings to be derived from things like retirement, employee suggestions and a healthier work force.

The deal now awaiting ratification votes by unionized state employees includes a two-year wage freeze worth $448 million--a hard number largely based on a 3-percent raise owed state employees on July 1. Another big number--an estimated $485 million in pension savings--is based in large part on changes to the way pensions are calculated and funded.

But the deal also relies on softer numbers, such as administration projections of $180 million in savings from employee ideas or assumption that enough employees will participate in a wellness-based health plan to save $205 million.

"Am I apprehensive that it's a bold target? Yes," said Benjamin Barnes, Malloy's budget chief, referring to the nearly $205 million in savings that hinges on workers taking better care of their health. But he added that the administration and union worked closely with health care actuaries--analysts who closely monitor health care trends and their associated costs. "The actuaries think it's a reasonable target."

A preliminary fiscal analysis released Tuesday morning by Malloy's budget office projects the deal, if ratified by unions and the General Assembly, would save $700.7 million in total in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $901.2 million in 2012-13.

Nearly 13 percent of the total $1.6 billion biennial savings is tied to language in the deal that would press all employees and retirees to join a Value-Based Health Care Plan. In this program, workers would commit to have regular physicals and other key health screenings. Those who don't participate would face a $100 per month premium increase and a $350 per person deductible.

Barnes added that an important safeguard also has been built into the plan in the form of penalty premiums and deductibles for nonparticipants. The administration expects to raise $36 million annually this way, and if larger numbers refuse to participate than expected, this number will grow quickly. "It's highly punitive," he said.

The deal also counts on a workers and the administration finding another $75 million in savings over the biennium working on a health care cost-containment panel.

Another big target Malloy hopes to hit involves the cost-saving measures union leaders have long insisted that rank-and-file workers have wanted to implement--but past administrations have refused to listen.

Barnes said these ideas include everything from tax auditing changes, agency restructurings, utility conservation, reductions in unnecessary management, and other ideas under development. And though he said the administration hasn't performed a detailed fiscal analysis of each idea, it is optimistic that the "pool" of ideas workers have developed is sufficient to produce about $90 million per year in savings.

"Hopeful savings - that's really what we're talking about," House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said, charging that the Democratic governor's tentative deal isn't as fiscally certain as he would have hoped.

Cafero also charged Malloy with flip-flopping on past opposition to relying on retirement incentives to balance the budget.

Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior adviser, and Barnes said the administration was anticipating questions and challenges about the savings assumptions.

But the projected pension savings were fully vetted by actuaries who were constantly consulted during the labor talks.

"The actuaries were on speed dial," Barnes said. "They were doing a lot of work for us."

Occhiogrosso said the agreement meets Malloy's goal of structural changes in the pension system that will save money now and for decades to come.

"He wasn't looking to destroy the system," Occhiogrosso said. "He was looking to save it."

Mark Ojakian, Malloy's chief negotiator on the deal, said Tuesday that the administration tentatively expects 1,000 senior employees to retire before a series of proposed rule changes designed to discourage early retirement kick in on Sept. 2--if the deal is ratified.

That would save an estimated $130 million over the next two years. In previous administrations, retirement incentive programs have been designed to replace about one-third of the outgoing workers with less experienced but lower paid replacements. Barnes said the administration hopes to replace only about 5 to 10 percent of the retirees under this plan.

Other more traditional components of the tentative agreement resemble past concession deals with state workers.

A two-year wage freeze would avert a 2011-12 pay hike authorized under the 2009 deal negotiated by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. That agreement called for a cost-of-living raise of 3 percent, plus step increases that would bring raises for workers close to 4 percent.

"I think the fact that you're asking state employees to take two years of a hard wage freeze is a sacrifice," Ojakian said. "They will be giving up that raise and another anticipated increase in 2013."

The wage freeze is expected to save $138.9 million next fiscal year, and - assuming workers might be able to secure a pay raise in 2012-13 through arbitration similar to the hike they would forfeit in 2011-12 - another $309.5 million in the second year.

Workers also would forfeit a longevity payment in October 2011.

About $140 million of that two-year, $485 million pension savings, stems from the earnings workers would lose through the wage freeze.

But the deal makes several changes designed to reduce state government's pension contributions, with projected savings of $237 million next fiscal year and $248.3 in 2012-13.

Proposed changes include:

    Reducing pensions by 6 percent for each year that veteran state workers retire earlier than allowed under normal rules. The penalty currently stands at just 3 percent.
    Reducing the minimum annual cost-of-living adjustment in pension payments from 2.5 to 2 percent.
    Using an average of an employee's five years of highest earnings for pension calculations for new workers. A three-year average is used to calculate pensions for current employees.

Governor Malloy Statement On Agreement With State Employee Union Leaders
Hartford Courant
3:02 PM EDT, May 13, 2011

Governor Dannel P. Malloy made the following remarks at a news conference this afternoon announcing an agreement between his administration and state employee union leaders.

“I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with our fellow state employee leaders that will, over the next 20 years, save Connecticut taxpayers a total of 21 and a half billion dollars.

“This is the most significant agreement with state employees in Connecticut history, not just because it solves a short-term problem – but because it produces the kind of long-term, structural reform WE – Connecticut’s residents, elected leaders and our state’s workforce – so desperately need if we are to again grow, produce new jobs, and prosper together.

“Our agreement is also historic because of the way we achieved it. We respected the collective bargaining process and we respected each other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger. To my friends in SEBAC, thank you. You have stepped up to the plate and said you want to be part of the solution. Under this agreement, we will all share in the sacrifices necessary to stabilize the state’s finances.

“In the short-term, over the next two years, this agreement will save taxpayers 1.6 billion dollars. The remaining 400 million dollars we need to balance this budget will come from a mix of additional spending cuts and existing budgeted revenues.

“Taxes will not rise beyond what is already in this budget...full report here.

OLR latest on budget, as of Monday, May 2, 2011:

Here is a link to the Fiscal analysis:

No problem - late Friday afternoon (May 27, 2011) announcement that the funds reserved to generate a projected surplus of $1 billion over the next two years will cover it!
Town leaders worry over how state will fill that $400 million gap
By Julianne Hanckel
Published 05/14/2011 12:00 AM
Updated 05/14/2011 02:28 AM

The governor's announcement Friday afternoon of the deal with state employee union leaders had local municipal officials giving cautious sighs of relief.

Because there remains a $400 million gap in the state's two-year budget, however, local officials are anxious to see budget Director Ben Barnes' next move.

Jim Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Friday the agreement should provide "much needed budget certainty at the local level." In response, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he "would be loathe" to cut aid to cities and towns.

Malloy's comment was "really good news," Ledyard Mayor Fred B. Allyn Jr. said Friday.

"I didn't think, nor did anyone else around the tables at [the Council of Governments] think that he would get that much" from the unions, Allyn said. "There's still a question of what we're going to get, and we always have to do our budget before we know what we're going to get."

He added that there is still no reason for the town to panic, stating that the town will come together if it has to come up with an alternate place to cut revenues.

Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said that the town is still "preparing for some cuts to our aid in one way or another to try to patch up the whole amount the governor is looking for."

"I'm cautiously optimistic. You almost kind of have to prepare for everything," Haberek said, referring to potential cuts to municipal aid grants. "We're moving forward with our budget as we have to by our own charter."

Norwich City Manager Alan Bergren also said he is "cautiously optimistic" but would have to see how the governor's agreement with state labor unions plays out.

"Hopefully there's other savings they might find within the state budget to reduce the impact," Bergren said. "We've been doing this for several years with city employee givebacks and wage freezes. Some of our unions have had wage freezes for two years now."

By charter, Norwich must approve its budget by the second Monday in June.

Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger said he was hesitant to make any declarations based on the limited information the governor provided. While Malloy and union leaders had an agreement, Oefinger noted, rank-and-file union members had yet to commit to any plan.

"The fact that a $2 billion hole is down to a $400 million hole is certainly good news," Oefinger said. "But we won't know exactly what that means for Groton until more specific details become available."

North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane also had a wait-and-see attitude, saying that said he's wary of any budget deal until he finds out what it means on the municipal level.

"I'm opposed to any town-aid cuts because any cuts will mean [municipal] tax raises for the people," Mullane said. "I don't believe they made enough cuts on the state level, plain and simple."

Mullane said this will be the third year he's had to formulate a town budget with no increase.

"They have to know how much they are getting at the middle-class and business people," he said of state officials. "I will do everything I can to argue and fight. The person on the street can't afford any more cuts or taxes."

New London Mayor Martin T. Olson was on his way back from a bus tour of three historic New England cities and "heard snippets" of Malloy's announcement.

He said it is a "positive step forward," but he said he needs to hear more about how the state will fill the gap.

The New London City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the budget for May 23 and must approve its budget by May 31.

"The city is very heavily dependent on the state for funding, so we have to be very aware and attuned to what's going on there," Olson said.

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon and Montville Mayor Joseph Jaskiewicz called Malloy's announcement a step in the right direction, but both are awaiting word on how the state will address the remaining $200 million per year budget gap. The answers won't come in time to adjust Preston's proposed budget, which goes to referendum on Tuesday. The Montville Town Council will vote on a final budget May 25 and set the town's tax rate. Jaskiewicz said he hopes to have answers by then.

"I think municipalities have already tightened their belts. I hope he keeps his promise that property taxpayers will not bear the brunt of the burden," Congdon said of the governor.

Our education should not be politicized," said Dan Silkman, president, GHS senior class.  Sure.  He'll learn - maybe.

Only 20 signatures needed to get on RTM agenda...
RTM's top leader opposes ouster of Finance Committee chairman
Neil Vigdor, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:43 p.m., Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Longtime Representative Town Meeting Moderator Thomas Byrne recently broke his public silence on the infighting among members of the legislative body's Finance Committee, bestowing a vote of confidence upon the group's embattled chairman Gordon Ennis.

In a July memo to fellow RTM leaders, Byrne said he saw no cause for Ennis to be removed from his leadership post, going against the view of the majority of Finance Committee members.  Byrne decided he won't exercise his authority to form a special investigatory committee to look into a set of grievances against Ennis, who has been at odds with his colleagues over the sharing of internal documents such as emails and reports, as well as the tenor of their communications.

"The town attorney has ruled that such an investigative committee can be established only by the moderator or the full RTM," Byrne wrote. "As noted above, the moderator believes that Mr. Ennis has committed to following all applicable rules, and there is no need for the extraordinary remedy of removal."

Reached at home by Greenwich Time, Byrne said the memo speaks for itself.  Who has the authority to create a special investigatory panel has been a hot topic of debate since the spring, when all but one member of the Finance Committee voted to create a three-person entity to probe the actions of Ennis.

A message seeking comment from Ennis, committee chairman for 2½ years, was left at his office.  Byrne praised Ennis in his memo for his leadership during deliberations on the town budget and funding for the Greenwich High School auditorium project, but said that his words should not be interpreted as giving him a pass.

"The moderator does not minimize the violations that gave rise to the committee complaints," Ennis wrote. "If those violations had continued, the moderator would have authorized the commencement of the removal process."

Those familiar with the feud say it stems in large part from a special report on town property leases compiled by several of Ennis' subordinates, who then became irked when the chairman tried to unilaterally edit the document.  Relations between Ennis and his Finance Committee colleagues became so strained that they accused him of freezing them out of electronic and written correspondence, as well as name-calling.

Among those Finance Committee members with whom Ennis is known to have clashed is Rob Perelli-Minetti, co-chairman of the group that prepared the lease report.  Perelli-Minetti declined to comment in an email to Greenwich Time.  Byrne met with Ennis and Perelli-Minetti in April to try to defuse the situation.

"The moderator informed Mr. Ennis at that meeting that the failure to include all members in committee correspondence and the uncivil treatment of committee members or others who appeared before the committee could not be tolerated," Byrne wrote in his memo. "Mr. Ennis immediately agreed that such conduct was unacceptable. Shortly following the meeting, Mr. Ennis confirmed to the moderator that he would comply with such basic rules of conduct."

A month later, all but two of the committee's 12 members backed a motion to remove Ennis "for cause," but the coup attempt was thwarted when the town attorney concluded the action did not follow due process.

A message seeking comment from Town Attorney John Wayne Fox was left at his office.  The 230-member RTM is in summer recess and doesn't meet until September, the earliest the legislative body as a whole could take up the question of whether to create a special investigatory panel.

At least 20 registered voters must sign a petition to get such a motion onto the RTM's agenda.

There have been some rumblings that Ennis' critics will go that route when the RTM reconvenes.

"No one has spoken to me about it," Byrne told the newspaper.

Battle over records ends with high court backing town
Greenwich TIME
Debra Friedman, Staff Writer
Published 08:30 p.m., Monday, May 23, 2011

The state's highest court has backed the town's former First Selectman Jim Lash in a long-running legal battle surrounding a citizen's request for access to memos between the first selectman's office and the town attorney.

In a recently released opinion, five state Supreme Court justices found the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege because they pertained to a landmark state Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that awarded computer consultant Stephen Whitaker access to aerial photos and data on properties in the town's geographic information system.  Whitaker requested memos the law department sent to Lash briefing him on the case, as well as a summary of all town-incurred expenses in the 2005 case, including private money the town may have accepted for its defense. The town refused to release the records, claiming they were privileged.

In 2006, the state Freedom of Information Commission reviewed the two documents in question and declared them public records, a ruling the town unsuccessfully appealed to state Superior Court in New Britain. Lash was also fined $100 by the commission.

But in 2009, the town won an appeal through the state's appellate court, which overturned the commission's finding and voided the fine.  Backing that decision, the state Supreme Court stated in their ruling that the FOIA commission acted "illegally, arbitrarily, unreasonably or in an abuse of its discretion" in handling the case.

"It is difficult to imagine a document that could be more clear on its face regarding whether and for what reason it is intended to be confidential," the opinion states. "Based on our review of the documents, we conclude that the only reasonable conclusion that the committee could have arrived at is that the documents were privileged."

Justices also found the $100 fine was improper.  Attorney Valerie Keeney, assistant town attorney, said the town was pleased with the decision.

"I am satisfied that the process of independent review by the Appellate Court, and now the Supreme Court, has resulted in this reversal and found our legal arguments persuasive and in all respects legally correct," Keeney said.

However, Eric Turner, the commission's associate general counsel and managing director, said he felt the state's highest court got it wrong. Turner said he believed the town had not met the burden of proving the documents were exempt from disclosure.

"It was their burden to prove the claims," Turner said.

Turner also thought the commission was completely reasonable in issuing a $100 fine against Lash.

"The first selectman took too long to provide records that they knew or should have known were applicable,'" Turner said. "We believe the imposition of a civil penalty in this instance was certainly reasonable. I think that most parking tickets in Greenwich are more than 100 dollars."

In response to the ruling, Whitaker said in an email he was struck by the fact that the town went to such great lengths to withhold the documents, which presumably would have "disclosed the bureaucrats' and selectmans' motives in withholding the GIS maps, or stalling their release."

Turner said the commission would not be pursuing any further appeals related to the case.

RTM approves $17 million for auditorium project
Greenwich TIME
Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Updated 01:01 a.m., Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Busting a midnight deadline, the Representative Town Meeting approved a $358 million town budget early Tuesday morning, committing $17 million in funding for a new auditorium and music instruction space at Greenwich High School.  A motion to cut funding for project failed by a vote of 60 to 134 with eight abstentions just before midnight Monday, highlighting over five hours of deliberations that culminated with the approval of the overall town budget by the 230-member legislative body at 12:15 a.m.

"Our education should not be politicized," said Dan Silkman, president of the GHS senior class. "It is time to see this fantastic project completed."

Local property taxes are expected to go up 2.87 percent on average in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The projected mill rate for properties connected to town sewers is $10.64 for every $1,000 of assessed property. Those in non-sewered areas would pay $10.11 for every $1,000 of assessed property, a nearly 18 percent increase from the current year. Assessments equal 70 percent of a property's market value.

"I would have hoped to have a more restrained budget than the one we have before us tonight," Carlson said. "I don't think in a deflationary environment, and that's indeed what we have, that any homeowner needs any more tax to be put upon them."

The 11th-hour vote ends a long and winding odyssey for the overall $29 million project, one that saw the music facility's upgrade pushed to the back burner several times to make way for other capital expenditures. Passage of the funding came only after an intensive lobbying effort by students, parents and educators for months prior to the vote.  It also marks a major victory for the school district and a blow to hard-line fiscal conservatives, who argued unsuccessfully that the project was not a necessity.

Duncan Burke, an RTM member from District 2/Harbor, said the last thing he would want to see is Greenwich fire teachers, as New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed last week, after committing to such a big-ticket project.

"I feel that we should not undertake the option of the auditorium at this time with the situation in our country," Burke said.

The first phase of the project will culminate with the construction of a 1,325-seat auditorium, replacing an 860-seat facility that can only hold a third of student body and is plagued by poor acoustics. The second phase calls for the demolition of the existing auditorium, with the site being used for music classrooms and instruction space.

"We're designing a good high school auditorium, not a great auditorium, not Carnegie Hall, not Lincoln Center," said Steve Anderson, chairman of the school board.

In March, First Selectman Peter Tesei brokered a deal with fellow Republicans on the Board of Estimate and Taxation to delay construction on a new $24.1 million central fire station until the 2014 fiscal year and spread the cost of the nearly $29 million auditorium and music instruction space project over two years.  Under the compromise, the remaining $11.8 million for the project is to be budgeted 13 months from now.

The town's outstanding debt load of $89 million will go up to $105 million in the upcoming fiscal year under the budget, which calls for $17 million in borrowing for the auditorium and $15.6 million in borrowing for other projects.

"This enormous debt is troubling," said William Drake, chairman of the RTM's Budget Overview Committee. "Taxes will have to rise substantially."

Earlier in the evening's marathon deliberations, a motion to cut $1 million from the $136 million annual education budget also failed.  The Representative Town Meeting turned back the motion 133 to 76 with three abstentions, with proponents unsuccessfully arguing that the public school system is top-heavy.

"Ask yourself, did you ever learn anything from any administrators in the school system?" said Carl Carlson, an RTM member from District 1/South Center who supported the measure.

Educators countered that the 11th-hour proposal defied logic.

"We want higher performance, but the first thing we would do is handicap ourselves," Anderson said.

The thwarted cut proved a mere prelude to the highly anticipated vote on the auditorium, which took place at 11:40 p.m.  The RTM later suspended its rules to allow its deliberations to go until 12:30 a.m. Under the legislative body's usual rules, the RTM must complete its business by midnight.

"We are perilously approaching the bewitching hour," said Thomas Byrne, the RTM's longtime moderator.

A mechanism in place would have allowed the RTM to resume its deliberations at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Central Middle School -- the same time and place as Monday's proceedings -- if needed.  The overall budget passed 159 to 14 with one abstention at 12:15 a.m.

In one of the boldest moves of the night, the RTM voted to cut $39,000 in funding for Greenwich to be a member of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, effectively severing the town's ties with the 143-member New Haven-based lobbying organization.  The group's critics griped that the organization doesn't represent the interests of towns like Greenwich, instead pandering to its urban constituency.

"We are the cash cow and they're the milkman," said Mark Pruner, an RTM member from District 10/Northwest.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities represents 90 percent of the state's 169 municipalities.

"The action of the RTM is penny-wise but pound foolish," Jim Finley, executive director and chief executive of the conference, said in a statement Monday. "CCM's return on investment to Greenwich is second to none."