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Latest News - November 2014

November 18, 2014
Conflict Of Interest Charge Delays Wethersfield Vote On Union Contract

WETHERSFIELD — The town council tabled action on a new union contract Monday to obtain a legal ruling on a Republican charge that a conflict of interest prohibits Democrats from voting on the agreement.At issue is $1,500 in donations made in 2011 and 2013 by the Pro-Progressive Energetic Political Action Committee to the Democratic Town Committee.

Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes the bargaining unit covered by the labor agreement before the council, had made earlier contributions to the PAC. The town committee used the money to support Democratic candidates in local elections during those years. Republicans said that Democrats should not vote on the contract because of the donations.

"To me, there's an apparent conflict of interest," GOP Councilman Michael Rell said. "To me, it undermines the process, the public's confidence in union negotiations."Rell said he supports the proposed contract with Local 818-22 of Council 4, which represents 28 managers and supervisors."It's a good contract," he said. "I would like to see this contract approved."Majority Democrats, most of whom reluctantly agreed to have the town attorney rule on the issue, strongly denied any conflict of interest and accused the GOP of paralyzing the council's ability to approve union contracts.

The council cannot approve the agreement or other agreements with AFSCME bargaining units if the town attorney sides with Republicans, Democrats said. That's because council rules require at least five votes for ratification, and Democrats control five of the body's nine seats."[Rell] supports the contract, so why would he justify endangering the contract with a political stunt?" said Democratic Mayor Paul Montinieri, who voted against tabling the vote. "It's irresponsible."

Rell suggested Monday that if the town attorney finds a conflict, the union could operate under the old contract until a new council is elected next year."I think we would have to consult with counsel to smooth a continuance of the existing contract," Rell said.

On Tuesday, Rell said in an email that the council could also suspend its rules so the contract can be approved with fewer than five votes.

Montinieri called Rell's suggestion "absurd."

"Can you imagine the public reaction if we suspended the rules and passed a contract?" Montinieri said. "That smells. They're backtracking. They shot the gun before they aimed. “Town Manager Jeff Bridges said negotiations are nearly done on a new contract with a different AFSCME bargaining unit. Democrats also complained that Republicans never raised concerns about a conflict of interest during three private sessions on the contract. The council is allowed to meet behind closed doors to discuss labor negotiations.

GOP Councilman Michael Hurley responded that Republicans believed the issue should be discussed in open session. “In executive session, it doesn't go out to the public, and we feel the public should be aware," he said. Bridges said he hoped to have an opinion from the town attorney in time for the next council meeting. The new three-year contract, which the local has already approved, includes yearly raises of between 2.5 and 2.85 percent. It also requires employers to pay more for their pensions and new hires to sign up for a high deductible health insurance plan. Delaying implementation denies the taxpayers the savings in the agreement, Montinieri said. State Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, controls the Pro-Progressive Energetic Political Action Committee.



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