Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Union leadership says political hire won’t affect town business

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:17 PM EST

VERNON — Municipal union leadership has said that despite the controversial hiring of former councilman Robert Kleinhans as Public Works Department director, town services won’t be harmed.

“Our commitment to the town never changes, regardless of who’s serving as director,” union president Jim Tedford, who also works in the Public Works Department, said.

The local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees represents more than 100 local employees in five bargaining units, including the Public Works Department.

“We need to move forward and be proactive and synergistic to provide the best possible services to the citizens of Vernon,” Tedford said. “That’s why we’re here.”

The union and Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s relationship has been strained in recent months as the two sides near agreement on several labor contracts.

Union officials have criticized the mayor for failing to hiring a full-time public works director in a timely way this summer and for disclosing the terms of a contract agreement that had not been ratified by members.

Those agreements are still pending, AFSCME spokesman Larry Dorman said.

Dorman said that while Kleinhans’ appointment may be politically volatile, it won’t have an effect on how members perform their jobs.

“Our members are going to continue to do what they do best, which is providing the services” to the town, he said. “If the mayor’s recent appointment isn’t qualified or lacks the people skills or the smarts to make this work, that will be obvious.”

McCoy today praised the Public Works Department and all local employees, who provide “dollar-for-dollar higher quality services” than other communities.

He said that while the economy or personalities may change and duties evolve, the quality of work in town won’t deviate.

“The ultimate goal is to deliver services to the citizen,” he said. “Hopefully we can just move on in this administration and do what we need to do to run this government.”

Kleinhans, a former Republican councilman and McCoy supporter, was appointed Tuesday. The appointment triggered debate among Town Council Democrats, who pilloried McCoy for politicizing the Public Works Department by hiring an unqualified, personal friend over potentially better candidates.

Kleinhans has owned and operated Bunnell Construction Co. Inc. in Vernon since 1991. He is a developer and property manager, serves on the town’s Economic Development Commission, and is a member of the Rockville Downtown Association board of directors.

He has never worked in a municipal Public Works Department or in any department in the public sector, Democrats said.

Republicans, meanwhile, defended Kleinhans’ experience in property management and development and said his private-sector experience would be an asset to the town.

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