Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town, former fire marshal Patrizz close to settlement

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
March 8, 2006

VERNON - A federal lawsuit involving the former fire marshal could be close to a settlement.

The Town Council voted 9-0 Tuesday night to approve a tentative settlement in the case involving Anthony N. Patrizz Jr., who resigned as fire marshal and emergency management director in April 2004.

The Town Council decision came after an executive session, which lasted roughly 30 minutes, Town Attorney Joseph D. Courtney said Wednesday.

Because they were named as parties in the lawsuit, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer, Democratic Council-woman Marie A. Herbst, and Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer were absent from the executive session and vote.

Republican council members Jason L. McCoy and Mark S. Etre were absent from Tuesday's Town Council meeting.

In December 2003, Patrizz filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Haven claiming that town officials and several others defamed his character.

The lawsuit sought more than $800,000 in damages.

In addition to Marmer, Shaffer, and Herbst, the lawsuit also named as defendants Fire Chief Robert Kelley; volunteer firefighters Chris Hammick, Kenneth Kalos, and William Graugard; and resident Roger Pugh, who died in June 2004.

Neither Courtney nor New Haven lawyer Norman Pattis, who is representing Patrizz, would comment on specifics of the settlement.

"This is not signed and sealed yet," Courtney said. "It's still pending."

Pattis said the parties in the lawsuit reached the settlement about 10 days ago and the result should be to the satisfaction of all parties.

"A settlement involves compromise on both sides," Pattis said.

Once the settlement has been approved, Pattis said, claims would be dropped against all the defendants, with the exception of Pugh, who was not a town official.

Because the matter is still pending, Marmer said Wednesday that she would not comment on the Town Council's vote.

Phone messages left with Shaffer and Patrizz Wednesday were not returned.

In the lawsuit, Patrizz claimed that Graugard, Hammick, and Pugh, an ally of the mayor, tarnished his reputation and sought to remove him from office by a "campaign of deliberate lies and untruths."

Among the claims cited are that Patrizz had a sexual relationship with a previous Vernon mayor and that he was trying to design an insurance billing program to receive "kickbacks."

Patrizz was appointed emergency management director and fire marshal in 2001.

About a month before the lawsuit was filed, Patrizz, a 33-year member of the volunteer Vernon Fire Department, was fired as first assistant fire chief after sending a harshly worded e-mail to members of the Fire Department, defending himself against some of the rumors.

Patrizz had held the fire chief's position since 1986.

On Nov. 18, Patrizz was suspended for two weeks with pay from his two town positions.

The suspension came after Shaffer and Kelley reported to police that Patrizz had willfully destroyed or stolen fire department computer records.

The Police Department found no wrongdoing and later determined it wouldn't fire criminal charges against Patrizz.

According to the lawsuit, Shaffer and Kelley made the allegations "in bad faith," which caused further damage to Patrizz's reputation.

The lawsuit contends that Patrizz had been deprived of due process of the law and suffered "adverse" employment action without the minimal process required by the law.

The suit also contended that Marmer promised to fire Patrizz if she were elected to office.

Marmer, a Democrat, narrowly defeated Republican Diane Wheelock for office in November 2003.

During a recount of the race, Kelley leaked information about Patrizz to a Journal Inquirer photographer, saying Democrats wanted Patrizz out.

Kelley denied making such statements.

Three days later, Kelley asked for Patrizz's resignation, but Patrizz refused.

The lawsuit also contends Graugard and Kalos tried to retaliate against Patrizz for past action taken against them.

In April 2004, the then 46-year-old Patrizz resigned as fire marshal and emergency management director.

He had been on sick leave since February 2004 for "stress-related reasons."

Patrizz earned $76,385 as fire marshal and $10,000 as the town's emergency management director.

©Journal Inquirer 2006