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Hartford Commission Recommends Outside Attorney Be Hired To Look Into Retirees' Re-Hiring

By JENNA CARLESSO

April 12, 2013

HARTFORD The city's internal audit commission on Friday recommended that an outside attorney review whether five city employees are in violation of an ordinance that says retirees cannot be re-hired on the city payroll for longer than six months.

The commission is recommending the hiring of an attorney because Saundra Kee Borges, the city's corporation counsel whose office would normally examine the legality of the situation is herself a re-hired retiree. Kee Borges is also the city's chief operating officer.

The ordinance, enacted in 2005, states that retired city employees "shall only be eligible to return to city employment in a temporary position for a maximum of six months in a fiscal year."

The investigation by the internal audit commission, which stemmed from an anonymous complaint, found that five retirees have been hired for terms of longer than six months: Kee Borges; Police Chief James Rovella; Andrew Jaffee, head of emergency services and telecommunication; Linda Bayer, a civic engagement consultant; and Betty Szubinski, an administrative assistant.

In a letter to Mayor Pedro Segarra, the city council and the corporation counsel's office, H. Patrick Campbell, the chief auditor, said the commission sought input from L. John Van Norden, the deputy corporation counsel.

"Initially, Mr. Van Norden informed us that unless there is some overriding statute, legislation or other basis for the situations noted, it would appear that these individuals are working under conditions that are in violation of" the ordinance, Campbell wrote. "In a subsequent, 'unofficial opinion' on this matter," Campbell wrote, Van Norden "provided various possible reasons why the hiring of a number of these employees may not be considered in violation of the municipal code due to the mayor's powers as granted by the charter."

In an e-mail exchange with members of the commission, Van Norden wrote that the city charter supersedes the ordinance, giving the mayor the power to hire whoever he wants.

"[The ordinance] is superior to a resolution but subordinate to federal and state law and to the charter," Van Norden wrote to the commission. "The charter vests the mayor with authority to make appointments with only one restriction, confirmation of certain executive level appointees (but not all) by the council. Thus, at least for department heads and direct mayoral appointees, the restriction on rehiring city retirees arguably usurps the mayor's authority since the charter contains no such restriction on eligibility."

If the outside attorney finds no basis for exempting the five employees from the terms of the ordinance, the city should take "appropriate action" to address the issue, Campbell wrote, including enforcing the ordinance ultimately, terminating the employees or making changes to it.

The commission also recommended that the city develop "procedures and controls" to prevent such a conflict from happening again.

Maribel La Luz, Segarra's spokeswoman, has said that the mayor can hire whoever he wants based on experience and qualifications.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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