Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon schools, town now share unified maintenance

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 3:06 PM EDT

VERNON — The public works director is now the third highest-paid town employee, after the Board of Education approved an agreement to continue paying him $30,000 per year to manage school maintenance.

Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy hired Robert Kleinhans, a former Republican Town Council member and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, as public works director in November 2009.

He earned $92,123 in 2010, according to budget documents.

In late August, new School Superintendent Mary P. Conway also hired Kleinhans to manage school maintenance, nearly nine months after the retirement of former Maintenance Director Richard “Chico” Parrot.

Conway said at the time that the hiring was an emergency stopgap measure, and he was paid $10,000 for a four month “trial period.”

The council wasn’t informed that the board had hired a town department head until after the fact, and despite Democrats’ procedural objections, the Republican majority on both the council and the board approved the “temporary” measure.

Parrot earned approximately $70,000 annually before he retired in 2009, when he earned a total of $105,307 with longevity pay, according to information from the town.

Democrats on the board and council wondered how Kleinhans could fulfill a full-time job on a part-time basis and why a full-time employee had been kept in the director’s position for so long, but McCoy and Conway lauded the measure as a cost-cutting consolidation.

McCoy said that as of Jan. 1 the town had 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.

At the board’s meeting Monday, Conway said both she and Town Administrator John D. Ward were pleased with the efficiency and effectiveness of the arrangement.

Conway said she meets with Kleinhans biweekly to discuss maintenance goals, and they also meet with the town every two months.

“It’s a good partnership thus far,” Conway said.

While the initial arrangement was for the board to give $30,000 annually to the town to contract maintenance services through the Public Works Department, the agreement approved Monday had been expanded considerably, and there are few, if any dividing lines left between town and board maintenance employees’ responsibilities.

Town Parks and Recreation Department employees are now responsible for mowing the majority of school fields and inspecting and repairing playgrounds, and Conway said $25,000 has been budgeted in the schools’ 2011-12 spending plan for that purpose.

When necessary, board custodians and maintainers also would be required to do work for the town, and vice versa.

Because both the town and the board independently employ Kleinhans, the board now also is responsible for his payroll taxes and pension contribution.

Kleinhans is slated to get a 3.51 percent pay increase from the town in the 2011-12 proposed budget, and will earn $95,358 annually if the budget is approved at a town meeting scheduled for April 26 in the Rockville High School auditorium.

With the $30,000 he earns from the school, Kleinhans could now earn a combined $125,358 per year, making him the third highest paid employee in town.

Conway is first, with a salary of $155,000, and Assistant Superintendent Deborah Murasso is slated to earn $130,663 per year based on the 2011-12 proposed school budget.

Though Republican school board member George Apel said there’s been nothing to indicate that the arrangement is an issue, Kleinhans’ relationship to McCoy has been a sticking point for his critics, who accused the mayor of hiring a political ally to an essential town job over other potentially more-qualified candidates.

Kleinhans, a former councilman who twice ran for the state legislature and once ran for the mayor’s seat in 2005, actively campaigned for the mayor in 2007 when McCoy won his first term.

The McCoy campaign also had reimbursed Kleinhans $3,180 he made in in-kind contributions for the campaign, including fliers, website fees, and palm cards.

The council initially rejected Kleinhans’ appointment in July 2009, nearly six months after former Public Works Director George Fetko left for a job in Ellington, leaving interim Director David Tomko in charge.

With two council members absent — Republican Dan Champagne and Democrat Pauline Schaefer — majority Republicans approved Kleinhans’ hire in November 2009.

One Republican, Councilman Dan Anderson, joined Democrats Marie Herbst, Michael Winkler, and unaffiliated Councilman James Krupienski to vote against the hire.

Democrats argued that Kleinhans, who has never worked for a municipal public works department or in the public sector, was not qualified for the job.

In addition to his responsibilities for both the town and board, Kleinhans, who lives in East Lyme, also maintains at least one business, the real estate development company Bunnell Construction.

McCoy has said throughout budget season that he’s “held the line” on wages, but in addition to Kleinhans’ 3.51 percent raise, Ward, the town administrator, received an 8.33 percent pay increase and would earn $97,500 in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Assistant Town Administrator Peter Graczykowski also received a 3.45 percent pay increase, and would earn $85,501.

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