Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Kleinhans gets go-ahead to head public works, school maintenance

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, December 22, 2010 12:20 PM EST

VERNON — The Town Council has agreed to allow the public works director to continue managing maintenance of the town’s schools for one year, despite objections from some who argue that the move is not allowed under the town charter.

Democratic council member Michael Winkler said Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans “is without blame in this situation,” because his hire by the schools catches him in the middle of a town vs. schools debate.

In fact, Winkler and other opponents of the consolidation said they support the cost-saving idea and don’t deny that Kleinhans is doing a good job for both the town and the schools.

But they argued during a council meeting Tuesday that the procedure used to hire Kleinhans for the parallel position was flawed and the arrangement is not allowed under the charter.

“Excellent management requires presence,” Winkler said, reasoning that because both town and school maintenance workers are on the job throughout the day, Kleinhans could not be in two places at once.

Winkler argued that because Kleinhans will be paid $30,000 a year by the board and will work essentially the same schedule he is now, “this means the taxpayers of Vernon will be paying Mr. Kleinhans twice for the same hours.”

School plumber Brian Usher told the council that “he’s doing a good job,” and under Kleinhans’ supervision, “we got more stuff done in the last eight weeks than we did in the last 20 years.”

School Superintendent Mary P. Conway hired Kleinhans to manage school maintenance in late August upon the retirement of Richard “Chico” Parrot last year.

Republican school board Chairman Anne Fischer said a number of applicants turned out for the school maintenance director position, but none of them were qualified.

Consequently, the board decided to use the “opportunity to be creative,” and hire Kleinhans, she said, urging the council to formally approve the arrangement.

Upon the board’s request, the council on Tuesday extended Kleinhans’ temporary school position for a year on a 7-4 vote with Republicans in support and Democrats and unaffiliated council member James Krupienski opposed.

Former Republican school board and council member Christy Vale said she’s been won over by the idea to consolidate the positions, “The efficiencies to be had and the savings to taxpayers are huge.”

During council discussion, Krupienski argued that the schools cannot employ a town department head because it violates the town charter, which allows the board only to ask the town to provide maintenance for school buildings.

Krupienski maintained that Kleinhans’ management does not constitute maintenance, saying, “management and maintenance are two separate things.”

To which Mayor Jason L. McCoy shot back, “In your opinion.”

“You are interrupting a speaker that has the floor,” Krupienski replied, but McCoy went on to accuse him of improperly offering legal advice and shouted over him repeatedly.

McCoy’s continued interruptions during council members’ comments prompted Winkler to object, saying that he normally overlooks the intrusions because McCoy is brief in his interjections.

“Under Robert’s Rules I’m allowed to correct incorrect statements,” McCoy replied, and continued to interrupt speakers undeterred.

When Democratic council member Marie Herbst said she wasn’t sure if a list of objectives for school maintenance could be accomplished on a part-time basis, McCoy chided the veteran politician.

“You know better than this,” McCoy said, telling Herbst that “it is overall supervision. … It’s not two jobs, it’s one job.”

He continued, “This isn’t more than one job, it’s supervising additional people, that’s all it is.”

But Herbst countered, “I cannot see how our director can do all this and still run the Department of Public Works. I’ll support your program tasks, but I will not support the way you want to do it.”

Republican council member Daniel Champagne said he was satisfied with the three legal opinions from town and board lawyers sanctioning the consolidation, and has heard good things from maintenance staff.

“They’re happy. They say they know their jobs and he’s allowing them to do their jobs,” Champagne said. “We should be trying to save money any chance we get.

Republican council member Bill Campbell said he was concerned about the legal issues that had been raised.

Town Attorney Harold Cummings said, “The bottom line is, I believe, it is my opinion, that the proposed resolution is legal.” He also said Krupienski was using overly restrictive definitions to distinguish between maintenance and management.

“The charter is designed to be a road map, a guideline. It’s not intended to be a restraint or a girdle,” Cummings said.

In addition to the $10,000 Kleinhans already has been paid by the board for four months of work, he now will earn a combined $122,123 annually, making him the fourth highest paid town employee.

When asked if the board’s contribution to his salary would be included in his pension amount, Assistant Town Administrator Peter Graczykowski responded that, “in a manner of speaking, yes.”

McCoy said that as of Jan. 1, the town has saved about $149,048: $81,530 for salary and vacation accrual, $27,219 from retirement bonus, $1,500 on-call stipend, $8,434 in payroll taxes, $13,358 in dental and life insurance premiums, $12,006 in defined benefit pension contributions, and $5,000 in vehicle expenses.

That’s compared to the salary of school maintenance directors in Darien, Farmington, Simsbury, and South Windsor, who earn between $90,000 and $146,000 annually, McCoy said.

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