Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School board votes to keep Kleinhans on the payroll

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 12:02 PM EST

VERNON — Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans said he’s saved a half million dollars by managing both town and school maintenance, and the Board of Education has unanimously agreed to extend his contract until the end of the school year.

“I certainly recommend that we continue on with this agreement, it’s been working very well,” School Superintendent Mary P. Conway said during the board’s meeting Monday.

Republican board Chairman Dean Houle said the board’s negotiating committee supports the measure, but Conway said officials have to work out an agreement with the manager’s union. The union had represented Kleinhans’ predecessor but agreed to reduce its membership from three to two when Kleinhans was hired.

Kleinhans’ contract with the board expires at the end of the month, and Republican board Vice Chairwoman Anne Fischer recommended an extension until June 30, 2012.

The board’s request to continue sharing Kleinhans’ services still needs to go before the Town Council. But with a 7-5 majority, Republicans are likely to approve the measure as one year ago they voted along party lines to allow Kleinhans to take on the formerly full-time school position in addition to his duties in public works.

Kleinhans provided the board with a list of cost savings totaling “over $418,500 realized in first year of consolidated maintenance operations through improved use of in-house resources and procurement efficiencies.”

Money was saved on projects such as re-paving of the board’s central administration parking lot, which was estimated at $150,000 and completed for $70,000. Renovation to the schools’ culinary lab was estimated at $250,000 to $300,000 and completed for $100,000. High school bathroom repairs were estimated at $50,000 and completed for $28,000.

Some $3,500 was saved by having public works employees install school signage at cost; “paper changeover” will save $15,000 on paper supplies; and “salary/benefit savings” were estimated at $100,000, among other estimated savings, according to Kleinhans.

One of the highest paid employees in town, Kleinhans earns $30,000 per year from the board in addition to the $95,358 he receives as public works director for a combined annual salary of $125,358. His earnings have grown by nearly 40 percent since he was hired two years ago, and the board’s contribution to his salary will be included in his pension amount, which will become available in four years.

Under Kleinhans’ direction, Board of Education maintainers have worked on town projects and vice versa, and other savings were achieved through “hiring skilled workers as temps and purchasing materials at cost versus hiring subcontractors.”

But the use of temporary contractors, some of whom worked for Kleinhans’ private businesses, Bunnell Construction and Center Road Ventures, caused the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 4 to file a grievance with the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration on behalf of Local 1471 last month.

The union’s contract with the town states that temporary workers — who do not receive health benefits and generally earn less than union members — shall not work more than 20 hours a week, but the grievance accuses the town of disregarding the rule.

Local 1471 spokesman Jason Wells has said that the town subverted proper procedure so former Mayor Jason L. McCoy and Kleinhans could trade favors and hire friends, including temporary employee Paul Griffin, who Kleinhans acknowledged had worked for him privately. Griffin was fired from the town after he was issued a misdemeanor summons for several motor vehicle infractions.

Police discovered that Griffin did not have a drivers license when he went to repair a garage door at the station and Kleinhans advised officers “not to tell anyone about the violation,” according to the police report.

Kleinhans said he was unaware that Griffin did not have a license because he was technically not a town employee and said Griffin did not drive town vehicles even though he was working as a mechanic and had a public works uniform.

Kleinhans, who several years ago moved from Vernon to the Niantic section of East Lyme, served as a Republican on the council from 1997-2005. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the 8th House seat and lost the mayoral election to Ellen Marmer in 2005.

He ran a now-defunct political consulting business with Republican campaign manager John Anderson, boosting the effort to elect McCoy in 2007. His son, John W. Kleinhans, is administrator of the group “Students for Jason McCoy” and is an associate at Vice and Victory, a conservative political consulting firm that is working on McCoy’s 2012 campaign for Senate.

Copyright © 2011 - Journal Inquirer