Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council Democrats upset ex-prison guard hired as economic development coordinator

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:21 PM EDT

VERNON — Democratic Town Council members are crying foul over the hiring of a former prison guard as the new economic development coordinator after he acknowledged Tuesday that he is a friend, colleague, and current client of Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy.

McCoy selected Shaun W. Gately of South Windsor as his choice to fill the $66,347-a-year position, which has been vacant since March 1.

Majority Republicans voted 6-4 Tuesday to approve the appointment over objections from minority Democrats and unaffiliated council member James Krupienski.

Gately holds associate’s degrees from Asnuntuck Community College in criminal justice and general studies, a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration and criminal justice from Charter Oak State College, and has studied political science and sociology at the University of Connecticut, according to his resume.

From 1992-2004 he worked as a correction officer at various prisons around the state before becoming a managing partner of the private equity investment firm CCSR Associates in East Hartford from 2004-09.

Gately said he formed the partnership with his mother, who is a licensed real estate broker.

He also has been a co-owner and managing partner of Mariner Realty in East Hartford since 2003, and has worked as the operations and regional manager for three branches of Waltham Services, a pest control company in Waltham, Mass.

Democratic council members Marie Herbst and Michael Winkler questioned Gately about his experience in the field of economic development and Gately said he has been involved in the sale of one commercial building in the last two years.

He also cited his involvement in the sale of the former Elks Club on Roberts Street in East Hartford, “which was stalled ultimately by the town of East Hartford,” Gately said.

The developer in question, Masters LLC, had proposed locating a strip club there and filed a federal lawsuit against the town seeking an exemption from regulations that limited new sexually oriented businesses to certain industrial zones.

The lawsuit and deal broke down when the law firm representing Masters LLC withdrew from the case, saying developer Mark S. Chu was not responding to attempts to reach him and the suit was withdrawn in October 2009.

“I’m not seeing where your economic or community development experience is. You rehabbed some houses,” Winkler said, asking Gately why he felt he was qualified for the position.

“It would probably be my background as a whole,” Gately replied.

He cited his success in growing his trio of pest-control franchises 800 percent, and said some of the properties he’d dealt with had “environmental conditions,” so he’d worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection on cleanup efforts.

Herbst asked Gately if he had office space in McCoy’s commercial building on Talcottville Road, but Gately said it was only a “filing address for the partnership.”

“Does he know me? Yes,” McCoy interjected.

When Herbst asked whether their relationship was more than just professional, Gately responded: “Personal, professional; I wouldn’t do business with somebody if I didn’t trust them.”

Gately went on to say that McCoy, “had represented me in the past as a business attorney,” but did not acknowledge that he still is his lawyer until Herbst specifically asked whether McCoy was currently representing him in court.

“Is he representing me now? I believe he may be, yes. I’ve done business with the mayor for quite some time,” Gately said.

McCoy is representing Gately in a lawsuit pending in New Haven Superior Court and jury selection is scheduled for December, according to court records.

Gately was driving in West Haven in 2007 when he was rear-ended by another car and court records show he has argued that his “earning capacity has been greatly diminished” as a result of back and neck injuries sustained in the accident and is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.

State elections enforcement commission filings also show that in 2009, Gately donated $250 to McCoy’s re-election campaign.

Council members were not provided with Gately’s proposed development plan for the town until after he was hired, but he did offer one idea for future projects at the council meeting Tuesday, saying, “I think you should have an outlet mall.”

Minority members objected to the fact that the search committee to vet candidates consisted of Assistant Town Administrator Peter Graczykowski, former Republican Mayor and current Executive Assistant Diane Wheelock, and Republican council member Sean O’Shea, excluding minority members and Planning Department staff.

“I believe there is a conflict of interest when you are a client of the person who is hiring you, and not just once but on a number of occasions,” Herbst said. “We are not hiring qualified people.”

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