Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
McCoy was only area top elected official to take overtime pay following storm

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, December 23, 2011 12:23 PM EST

VERNON — While former Republican Mayor and U.S. Senate hopeful Jason L. McCoy collected thousands of dollars in overtime pay for his efforts after the February building collapses, Hurricane Irene, and the Oct. 29 snowstorm, leaders of surrounding towns say steering a community through crisis is part of every elected official’s normal duties.

“I consider it an insult for anybody, any town officials, to put in for overtime,” Windsor Locks First Selectman Steve Wawruck, a Democrat, said Thursday. “To me, it is an insult to the residents.”

McCoy, 40, owns his own law practice and is facing nearly $200,000 in personal and business debt.

He collected $2,430 in overtime expenses for time spent managing town operations following several building collapses after last winter’s heavy snowfall, received $1,751.40 following Hurricane Irene, and $4,030 following the October snowstorm, according to Vernon’s Finance Director James Luddecke.

The payments total $8,211.40, the equivalent of 40 percent of his annual $20,749 salary as mayor.

McCoy has said that he worked hundreds of hours over and above his normal duties and deserves additional compensation. He says the payments are reimbursable through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is expected to cover about 75 percent of storm costs.

‘It’s part of the job’

Wawruck earns $72,000 a year, and while he and many other municipal leaders are paid far more than the Vernon mayor’s salary, most area officials said there’s no reason for elected officials to collect more than their agreed-upon salary, even in exceptionally catastrophic and unforeseen circumstances.

“I work in excess of 40 hours a week. … It’s part of the job,” Wawruck said. “It always has been since day No. 1, and the storm was no different. It was just one of those necessities that had to get done.”

Ellington Republican First Selectman Maurice Blanchette, who earns $70,000, said that collecting overtime for helping his community during an emergency never crossed his mind.

“I did not receive anything beyond my standard salary for living in the emergency operations center for eight days,” Blanchette said. “I had not given it any thought.”

He said there were some town employees who put in for overtime they were guaranteed contractually, but salaried employees did not receive excess compensation, “even though their duties shifted them from their normal job to basically running the shelter.”

Blanchette said there is no question the most recent snowstorm was a major emergency, but in terms of connecting pay to the severity of events, “I never even thought about it. And I’ve not put in for anything. … Basically we operated within the rules that we have.”

East Windsor Democratic First Selectwoman Denise E. Menard, who earns $62,000 a year, said she did not collect overtime for her work during the storms and didn’t consider asking.

During the most recent storm, “I was probably working more than I was doing anything else and that’s part of the job,” Menard said.

“I work 24/7 and that’s what I signed up for,” she continued, because the voters “elect me for the day-to-day taking care of the paperwork, but they also elect me to be available for every situation and that’s what I do.”

Menard also said town staff and public safety personnel didn’t concern themselves with whether they’d be compensated, only keeping everyone safe.

“They were all on board working, it didn’t matter. They weren’t thinking about how they were going to get paid for their time, they just knew they needed to be there,” Menard said.

West Hartford mayor not paid

McCoy was not the only administrator in Vernon to receive additional pay for the emergencies, and Luddecke said Thursday that he’s working on an itemized list of everyone who was paid for the storms.

Democrat Tom Frenaye, who served as Suffield’s first selectman during the storm and lost his re-election bid to Republican Edward McAnaney, did not pay overtime to his salaried staff, according to the selectman’s administrative assistant Christine Koren, who said she and others volunteered at the town’s shelter and emergency operations center.

“During the storm itself, the highway crews had to plow the snow and open up the roads, and that’s where the overtime came in. But the rest of us, oh no, we didn’t incur any overtime expenses,” Koren said. “Everybody came together and chipped in, it was just a glorious effort.”

West Hartford Democratic Mayor Scott Slifka appeared on television with McCoy in the aftermath of the Oct. 29 storm and said he put in several 18 to 20 hour days.

Slifka is employed at Lego in Enfield and does not receive a salary for his role as mayor. He said that not only did he not receive compensation for his work after the storms, he took vacation days to be on hand in the community.

“I lost money on the deal, essentially. Not literally money, but that’s time I could have had over Christmas here and I used it for the storm. But that was the deal, that’s what was called for, that’s what it needed, and it was a judgment call,” Slifka said.

No salaried employees received extra compensation in West Hartford, “and nobody would even think of asking,” Slifka said. “For those on salary, that’s the deal. Until this popped up in Vernon, I never even heard the concept mentioned in West Hartford or anywhere else.”

Slifka said that while the most recent storm was severe, the previous two incidents for which McCoy was paid were, in terms of time commitment, “almost nothing. … They were in the relatively routine area. … It was unusual but not way above and beyond what you might run into in some other situations.”

Blanchette, Koren, Menard, and Wawruck all said that the town’s firefighters and emergency responders were compensated fairly through the appropriate payment mechanisms, but those provisions were not extended to elected officials or salaried staff.

Vernon officials have said a $25 per hour compensation system for firefighters and emergency responders was used to pay McCoy and other salaried workers who performed duties outside their normal job, a move sanctioned by a legal opinion from town labor lawyer Edward “Bud” O’Donnell.

Former Assistant Town Administrator Peter Graczykowski, who now serves as city manager of East Providence, R.I., insisted Thursday that the payments are “not overtime. … It’s just additional compensation.”

The funds are listed in a spreadsheet of estimated costs prepared by Luddecke as “overtime/wages.”

“It doesn’t apply just to the mayor, there was a multitude of people that worked and provided additional services during these emergencies, … firefighters, so-called volunteers, department heads, management,” Graczykowski said. “All these expenses were approved by the council. There’s nothing illegal or unorthodox about it like his political opponents claim.”

But Republicans and Democrats have said no council members were aware of McCoy’s payments to himself, though it was Democrats who teased answers related to the funds out of Luddecke at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Whether they chose to inquire more thoroughly into it at the time, I mean that’s the fiduciary responsibility of the council members to ask questions. It’s obviously their prerogative,” Graczykowski said.

McCoy has said he never collected payment for his role as mayor above his annual salary, as the storms represented duties in excess of that role.

Graczykowski said McCoy’s elected status is irrelevant to the issue, and “he was mayor at the time, but the work he was doing was outside the scope of the mayoral duties.”

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