Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
McCoy paid $8,200 in overtime during 3 emergencies this year

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2011 12:19 PM EST

VERNON — Former Republican Mayor and U.S. Senate hopeful Jason L. McCoy collected a total of $8,211.40 in overtime payments this year for his efforts after the February building collapses, Hurricane Irene, and the October snowstorm, according to Finance Director James Luddecke.

That figure is equivalent to 40 percent of the mayor’s annual salary of $20,749, and McCoy, who is facing nearly $200,000 in personal and business debt, has defended his decision to take the money, saying the emergencies forced him to work above and beyond his duties as mayor.

But the Vernon mayor’s duties are so vaguely defined by the town charter, it’s unclear why and how it was determined that the response exceeded those responsibilities.

“The scope of duties are in the charter,” Republican Mayor George Apel said today. “They’re pretty broad, basically he’s in charge of the administration of the staff. … That’s about all it says.”

According to Luddecke, McCoy was paid $2,430 for time spent managing town operations following several building collapses after last winter’s heavy snowfalls. He also received $1,751.40 following Hurricane Irene, and $4,030 following the October snowstorm.

Town officials are basing the legality of the payments on an opinion from town labor lawyer Edward “Bud” O’Donnell, which determined that the mayor could collect the overtime through a payment mechanism devised for firefighters and emergency responders.

Apel said today he did not have a copy of the opinion on hand and did not immediately know why the provision was extended to McCoy or how it was determined the storms exceeded his normal duties.

Luddecke said he is putting together a more detailed list of who received payment for work during the storms, but it’s not yet available.

He also clarified that the payments were technically not considered a wage, and had been classified as stipends before a change in regulations by the Internal Revenue Service, meaning they are entirely separate from salary.

“This is the same as for firefighters and emergency responders, everybody was paid a wage this time around because that’s the way it worked,” Luddecke said.

While the Town Council has said its members were not informed that McCoy was receiving money from the storms, they didn’t need to be, according to Luddecke.

“I could have given them one number” and just presented the council with a lump sum for approval, Luddecke said.

The council would not normally be presented with each individual’s cut of the cleanup funds, “because they’re looking at $4 million, not $4,000 and rightfully so, so that’s the way they’re treating it and looking at it. But did they have that in front of them? Of course,” Luddecke said of McCoy’s payments.

McCoy submitted his own hours for the cleanup to Town Administrator John D. Ward, who put them through to the Finance Department for processing, Luddecke said.

“This is a FEMA reimbursable cost,” McCoy said referring to the 75 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency the town is set to receive for at least the cost of cleaning up after the October storm. “You’re supposed to submit your time over or outside of your normal duties.”

In terms of a policy on whether a salaried elected official, even a “permanent part-timer” with benefits like McCoy, can collect overtime, “there’s nothing out there one way or another, for any town, to do it or not,” Luddecke said. “It’s going to be up to each individual who decides that ‘well, we set up emergency response, we’re working 24 hours a day, and this is how we’re going to do it in Vernon.’”

But Democratic council member Marie Herbst said today the responsibility of overseeing emergency services after storms should have fallen to Emergency Management Director Michael Purcaro, not McCoy, and a legal opinion from a labor lawyer does not trump the council’s jurisdiction over the matter.

“The bottom line, the charter says that the mayor is to recommend policies to the Town Council, and the council can accept or not. That was a new policy, it was never brought to the Town Council, and I don’t care what the labor lawyer says,” Herbst said.

Ellington First Selectman Maurice Blanchette, who earns a salary of $70,000, said he didn’t consider seeking overtime for the countless hours he spent helping keep order after the storms.

“I never even thought about it, and I’ve not put in for anything,” Blanchette said. “I had not given it any thought.”

McCoy has complained that his duties as mayor prevented him from working at his private law firm. Yet in October he said he was too busy to meet with a reporter and perform some of the duties of mayor because he was concentrating on his court cases.

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