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Hennessy Gets A Bonus

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

August 28, 2009

When Matt Hennessy leaves his job at city hall next month, he'll no doubt have souvenirs and mementos, keepsakes and reminders of his time as chief of staff to the capital city's mayor.

But the best parting gift of all may be the one given to him by Mayor Eddie A. Perez himself: a $11,400 bonus.

Hennessy announced his resignation two weeks ago. He said his departure is unrelated to Perez's looming trial on bribery and other charges, and has not said what his next job would be. His last day as Perez's chief of staff is Sept. 14.

When he leaves, he'll go with $17,615.20 for unused vacation time, plus that $11,450 bonus from Perez -- equal to 10 percent of his salary -- in a payment the city calls an "Exceptional Service Increment."

Perez's staff says Hennessy hasn't had a raise since 2005 and will get the extra money on the way out in recognition of three things: his work to bring federal dollars to the city, his selection of a new development services director, his "leadership in resolving the living wage dispute with the Waterford Group," and the development of the mayor's arts stimulus plan.

Perez approved the bonus -- one of 51 totaling $214,000 paid out by the city since the beginning of 2008 -- two days before Hennessy publicly announced his resignation, documents provided by the city show.

Hennessy's critics are dismayed by the payout, which comes a year after the city paid at least $58,000 to send him to a two-month management training program at Harvard Business School as its budget deficit grew.

"We have people losing their jobs, we have people that don't get that similar treatment and we are in deep financial straits here," said Councilman Pedro Segarra. "For anyone to think they can run our city like a Fortune 500 company making millions in profit -- it doesn't match our current reality."

And Segarra doesn't think Hennessy deserves the bonus.

"I don't like his management style," Segarra said. "On the other hand, I'm sure many people would consider [$11,450] an incredible bargain in order to have him out of city hall."

Hennessy has served as Perez's loyal chief of staff since 2001. He is paid $114,500 a year to handle public policy development, intergovernmental relations, special economic development projects, and strategic communications.

Efforts to reach him Friday were unsuccessful, as were efforts to reach the city council's Democratic leaders -- President Calixto Torres and Majority Leader rJo Winch.

Councilman Matt Ritter said, regardless of whether the bonus is deserved, he's upset that the council has no oversight over bonuses like it.

"To not have input and sign-off power to me is not a good public policy," Ritter said. "It should be very public. People should be aware of it...One person making the decision leads the public to believe it's not the most open process it could be."

Working Families party Minority Leader Larry Deutsch chose his words carefully.

"It's unseemly, inappropriate, undeserved, and it's an affront to the working people and taxpayers," he said. "Those, if I had to choose words, I guess those are modest ones."

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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