Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Tonight’s council meeting in Vernon will adjourn November meeting

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 12:11 PM EST

VERNON — After three Republicans walked out of the Town Council meeting on Nov. 16 eliminating a quorum and therefore the ability to adjourn, controversy is brewing over how unfinished business from that meeting will be handled by the council tonight.

Council members Daniel Anderson and Bill Campbell left the previous council meeting after a discussion about hunting in the privately-owned Talcottville Gorge. Fellow Republican Mark Etre, who objected to a subsequent discussion about the legality of Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans’ employment by both the town and Board of Education, followed them shortly after.

Because Republican council members Judy Hany, Harry Thomas, and Sean O’Shea were absent from the meeting, Anderson, Campbell, and Etre’s departure left only six: Democrats Marie Herbst, Michael Winkler, Pauline Schaefer, unaffiliated council member James Krupienski, and Republicans Daniel Champagne and Deputy Mayor Brian Motola.

At that point in the meeting, the council no longer had a quorum — a minimum number of people required to make a vote legal — and therefore couldn’t even consider a motion to adjourn the meeting, leaving two executive session items untouched.

In addition, Motola essentially ran the meeting after Mayor Jason L. McCoy left and never returned.

McCoy said afterward that he had another meeting and could not change it. It appeared at the time that McCoy might have been meeting with School Superintendent Mary P. Conway, but Conway said later that she was at the council meeting to support a student who received an award.

McCoy has declined to say what the conflicting meeting was about, but did say that he has gone to other appointments during council meetings in the past and it is not unusual for him to do so.

After the meeting, Etre sent an e-mail to council members and town staff, clarifying his reasons for walking out and accusing “several” unnamed council members of harboring “absolute hatred of our public works director.”

With the permission of the town administration, Kleinhans was hired by the school board to manage maintenance of the schools, in addition to his duties as a town department head, a situation which Krupienski and others have argued is not allowed under the town charter.

“It has become obvious that these people will not be happy until they can destroy this individual’s name and livelihood. I will continue to walk out of these meetings when I believe that we are violating both the federal and state laws, as well as the individual’s rights to defend himself,” Etre wrote.

He went on to cite excerpts from the federal criminal code and the Connecticut General Statutes. The brief excerpts included a clause that states that anyone who knowingly “takes an action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person… shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years or both.”

Etre said today that Krupienski is not concerned with the legality of Kleinhans’ employment, only with promoting his personal politics.

“He’s trying to run for mayor, and that’s the only reason he’s doing it, and there’s no other reason,” Etre said.

Etre said that four lawyers, including Cummings and board lawyer Fred Dorsey, have given written opinions confirming that Kleinhans’ dual positions are acceptable.

He also said that his intention with the e-mail was to avoid another lawsuit like the one former Fire Marshal Anthony Patrizz brought against the town when he sued for defamation of character. Etre said the town paid a significant amount of money in a settlement.

“It’s not asking questions,” Etre said of Krupienski’s actions. “It’s intentionally trying to sabotage someone’s employment, that’s a big difference.”

Etre also contended that Krupienski just isn’t satisfied with the legal opinions of the town’s lawyers and should put his concerns in writing if he wants them addressed.

“I’m at the point now of saying, ‘How many more attorneys are we going to pay to answer one individual’s question?” Etre said.

But Krupienski said today that he has submitted his concerns in writing to Town Administrator John Ward, and the town charter already contains the written language that he contends prevents Kleinhans from holding employment outside his duties as a department head.

“All I’m trying to do is make sure that, as Mr. Etre said, the town is protected against a lawsuit,” Krupienski said, adding that the opinions of town lawyers have addressed only collective bargaining concerns and none have answered his questions related to the town’s charter or personnel rules.

“Nobody will speak to that part of it,” Krupienski said.

As far as his political aspirations go, Krupienski said he has not made a bid to run for mayor and as a council member, “I’m doing the job I’m supposed to be doing.”

A special meeting is scheduled for 6:55 tonight for a motion to adjourn the Nov. 16 meeting.

McCoy said today the unfinished executive session items have been added to the regular meeting agenda.

Krupienski has objected to the schedule, however, and said that according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the council should pick up where it left off in November with the discussion of the public works director’s employment.

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