Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council members question hiring Kleinhans as school maintenance director

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 12:00 PM EDT

VERNON — Democratic council members Tuesday questioned the legality of the procedure used to hire Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans as maintenance director for the schools, but didn’t get much of a response from town administrators or the Board of Education.

Mayor Jason L. McCoy reluctantly agreed to add the discussion as an agenda item to Tuesday’s meeting after Democrat Marie Herbst requested that council members be allowed to address the hiring.

Unaffiliated council member James Krupienski started off by saying, “This council was sort of left out of the loop in this whole process.”

Krupienski parsed the events that led to Kleinhans being hired by Superintendent of Schools Mary P. Conway as a temporary employee in charge of school maintenance, in addition to his duties as director of public works, which Kleinhans has said takes up to 50 to 60 hours a week.

The school maintenance director position has been vacant since Dec. 31, 2009, when Richard “Chico” Parrott resigned and took another job delivering mail within the same department. Parrott, who had been earning approximately $70,000 annually, is eligible for a pension in addition to his current salary, but has not yet requested the pension, according to Assistant Town Administrator Peter Graczykowski.

At the school board’s meeting on May 24, before Conway had started her new job as superintendent, board members held an executive session for an undisclosed reason that isn’t identified in the meeting’s minutes. Following the executive session, board members voted to form an ad hoc committee to “discuss with the town the concept of combining the management of facilities,” minutes say.

Krupienski said the executive session constituted an illegal meeting, because the subject matter does not fall under any one of the five reasons for a private session, such as pending litigation or personnel issues.

Some time during the summer the three-member school managers’ union heard about the discussion and filed a grievance to keep the maintenance manager position from being eliminated, Conway said today.

McCoy and other council Republicans, including Sean O’Shea and Daniel Anderson, framed the issue as purely a money-saving tactic that took advantage of attrition.

While the union “dragged their feet” as to whether it would allow the move, Conway said, the schools went neglected and she was forced to make a quick decision a week before school started on the advice of board lawyer Fred Dorsey.

At the board’s meeting on Sept. 27, Conway announced that Kleinhans had been working as school maintenance director for three weeks and would be employed by the school temporarily for 120 days for a salary of $10,000.

Council members expressed frustration that they were not informed of the decision or the discussions and criticized Conway for not making them aware.

“I wish that before you hire our employees in the future, you pay us a courtesy call,” Democrat Michael Winkler said.

But Conway said she had assumed the council knew, because the town’s administration assured her the arrangement was acceptable.

“The temporary employee was not about the grievance, it was not about the town, it was about our ability to get the work done,” she said. “Mr. Graczykowski was in the room when the board’s attorney determined we could hire the employee.”

She acknowledged that “there probably could have been more communication between the town and the school system. I certainly apologized for not being proactive in that communication. I labored under the assumption that the communication had occurred between the town and the school system in May and June.”

Conway said she still is figuring out what happened before her arrival July 1, adding: “I learned last night that the presentation was an executive session.”

If the union agrees to eliminate the management position, Conway said, the board then could move forward with a plan to hire Kleinhans for an 18-month trial period. The board would give $30,000 annually to the town for the management of maintenance services, which could be given to Kleinhans or used in other ways.

But Krupienski objected, saying that under the town’s charter, the board can request maintenance of certain school buildings, but not management of services.

Winkler suggested that the town and board work together to rewrite a job description that combines both town and school maintenance, and all of the council members who spoke said it wasn’t the consolidation they were objecting to, but the way in which it had been handled.

Krupienski said he didn’t understand why Kleinhans was hired under a provision of state law that classifies him as a “seasonal employee,” as Graczykowski stated during the meeting.

“It’s unfortunate you’re confused,” McCoy responded.

“This is technically not outside employment,” Graczykowski said, adding that there is precedence for the arrangement, though Krupienski disputed that.

“There is no conflict here. We’ve done this before, it’s happening now, we’re saving money,” Graczykowski said.

“That’s an interesting spin,” Krupienski replied.

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