Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
McCoy’s storm overtime ‘proper’ administrator says

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, December 30, 2011 1:06 PM EST

VERNON — Town Administrator John D. Ward has responded to criticism of his decision to authorize $8,211.40 in overtime pay to former Republican Mayor and U.S. Senate hopeful Jason L. McCoy for his efforts during 2011’s major storms, calling it “proper and warranted in light of the extraordinary circumstances.”

In a statement Wednesday, Ward detailed the events of the February building collapse event, Hurricane Irene, and the October 29 snowstorm, and said that McCoy, “worked around the clock with other employees and for this they received compensation.”

He said that firefighters, community emergency response team members, town employees — including McCoy — the National Guard and others were paid under his authority as town administrator.

During emergencies, the town administrator has the power, “to make personnel decisions not specifically covered by these rules or the Town Charter,” and must report the action to the mayor, according to the town’s personnel rules.

In response to a freedom-of-information request by the Journal Inquirer, the town released several documents related to the overtime payments, including the legal opinion from labor lawyer Edward “Bud” O’Donnell used to justify the expenditures.

On July 14 O’Donnell sent an email to former Assistant Town Administrator Peter Graczykowski saying that, “exempt employees who perform extra duties beyond that which is normally expected of them in their position are eligible to receive additional compensation.”

On July 28, O’Donnell followed up with a more detailed email stating that exempt employees put in additional hours to remove snow from Vernon’s municipal buildings, and the town filed an insurance claim for all costs associated with that removal, which was accepted.

“Under this circumstance, it is my opinion that all employees who performed these additional duties may be paid from the proceeds of this insurance settlement,” O’Donnell wrote.

Later that day, Graczykowski sent a memorandum to McCoy and Ward that said O’Donnell “opined that exempt employees, including those whose compensation for regular duties is fixed by the Town Council … may be given additional compensation in several different forms,” if they worked beyond their normal duties.

When asked recently what the threshold is for “additional duties” beyond the norm, Graczykowski indicated that it’s a subjective judgement call and said that, “the people in charge made a decision.”

He said in the memo that the town kept records of time worked while performing the additional duties and “set an hourly rate of pay at $30 per hour.”

“Certain employees have decided to donate their time in lieu of additional compensation,” Graczykowski added, but McCoy and others took the pay.

Top elected officials in Windsor Locks, Ellington, East Windsor, Suffield, and West Hartford recently said they and their exempt employees did not take overtime pay following the storms. And Somers’ First Selectwoman, Republican Lisa Pellegrini, said she even used her volunteer hours as an in-kind contribution on the town’s reimbursement application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is expected to refund about 75 percent of storm costs to municipalities.

A lawyer facing nearly $200,000 in personal and business debts, McCoy was elected in 2007 after serving eight years on the Town Council. He also has run and lost elections for a state legislative seat three times.

He announced on July 22 that he would not seek a third consecutive term as mayor and instead would pursue the Republican nomination to run for the senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

Six days later, he received a check for $2,430 in overtime for the February storm, another check for $1,751.40 on Sept. 30 for Hurricane Irene, and a $4,030 check on Nov. 18 for the October snowstorm.

The $8,211.40 McCoy collected in additional “emergency pay,” as Ward described it, was equivalent to 40 percent of his annual pay as mayor.

While most towns have either a Town Manager or strong mayor form of government, Vernon’s administration is something of a hybrid between the two.

The mayor is expected to serve as the chief executive and ceremonial head of the town, and deals with mainly big-picture items, receiving, “such compensation as shall be fixed by the Town Council,” according to the Town Charter. The part-time mayor’s position pays an annual salary of $20,749.

The town administrator, meanwhile, is tasked with managing more of the day-to-day business, is directly responsible to the mayor, and does not have as much authority or autonomy as a Town Manager.

Ward received an 8.33 percent pay increase in the 2011-12 budget and earns $97,500, and Graczykowski — who is now the City Manager of East Providence, R.I. — received a 3.45 percent raise for a salary of $85,501.

Vernon’s administration also employs Executive Assistant and former Republican Mayor Diane Wheelock at a salary of $66,980, a public relations aide at $67,000, an administrative assistant at $37,830, and a receptionist at $32,750.

Emergency Management Director Michael Purcaro, who is paid $17,180 a year by the town to oversee emergency response, took $4,000 in payments for the most recent winter storm.

Town Finance Director James Luddecke, whose signature appears on all town checks along with Ward’s, earns $106,291 and received $6,378 in “merit pay” on July 2, 2010. In addition, Ward received $5,400 in merit pay on July 2, 2010, while Wheelock got $4,019 on June 25, 2010.

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