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Judge: Stratford Illegally Hired EMS Director

The town charter was violated when Philip Onofrio was hired, a judge ruled last week.

Stratford's director of emergency medical services could be stripped of his post after a judge last week ruled that the town's hiring violated the town charter and thus was illegal.

Philip Onofrio's appointment as the new director in March 2011 was made at a time when there was already an EMS director -- which violated a town law limiting the position to one individual, Judge Howard Owens ruled in his 10-page decision.

"The charter defines the position a singularity," Owens wrote. "It does not allow for a second director to be created."

"We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling," said Mayor John A. Harkins, adding that the town plans to appeal.

Donna Best, who was EMS head for 11 years before Onofrio, brought the lawsuit against the town. In her testimony, she said that only after Onofrio took her job was she demoted to a lesser role.

And the testimony of the town's human resources director, Ronald Ing, backed that claim.

"Ronald Ing testified without contradiction that as soon as Onofrio assumed the office of director, Onofrio took complete operational control of the organization and reduced Best to a subordinate role," Owens wrote in his memorandum.

"Ing also testified that Onofrio took over position as director in March 2011 without any authorization from the Town Council to pay for his salary."

According to a report in the Connecticut Post, Onofrio was hired at about $100,000 a year, whereas Best was paid $82,000 annually.

"This was all about money and the mayor trying to spend taxpayers' money on behalf of some folks he wanted to help," Leon Rosenblatt, the lawyer for Best, told the newspaper.

Furthermore, Owens ruled that Onofrio and the town of Stratford failed to show Onofrio's "complete legal title to the position." In fact, he decreed that Best presented "a solid foundation of evidence showing that she is the director."

And as for Onofrio's future: "Once a court ascertains that the person is not the de jure office holder he must be removed," Owens ruled.

max December 11, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Hmm. Male hired at higher salary than female in existing job? Nice to have friends in charge in Stratford.
Mike Reynolds December 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM
What the article fails to mention was that Onofrio was hired to also run the dispatch operations as well as EMS, hence the higher salary since Mrs. Best does not run dispatch. What Harkins should have done is fire her for cause and there was plenty of cause.
Kevin Schneck December 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM
The title of this article is misleading, it was the mayor who hired someone illegally, so why are we having to foot the bill for his illegal actions or more to the point why should we have to pay for Harkin's personal vendetta against the Best family.
Dan December 11, 2012 at 12:48 PM
How come the mayor's chief of staff did not address this issue like every other issue in town? Just keep cutting ribbons Mister Mayor.
Jim D December 11, 2012 at 01:53 PM
This was the result of a political favor "circle" of sorts. State Rep. Jason Perillo needed a new job. He's friends with the mayor. The mayor hires Phil Onofrio, one of Perillo's friends after Perillo's company was paid $30k to find an EMS chief. Then, Rep. Perillo gets Phil's old job at Bristol EMS. Coincidence??
kathy December 11, 2012 at 02:40 PM
This is a Shame. The Mayor should be held responsible for this decision to hire and remove the one actually already holding the position. The Mayor of Stratford needs to act within the law and not personal favors as he did in this situation by hiring a friend to help his friends out! We need to know the facts on why he was hired for a higher salary too. Doesnt seem right!
Mike Reynolds December 11, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Phil Onofrio was given a higher salary because he had more responsibilities than Donna Best. He is also in charge of Stratford Emergency Dispatch as well as EMS.
disheartened resident December 11, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Funny how that RTC spinmaster "Mike Reynolds" fails to point out that before John Harkins hired Onofrio as an apparent political favor; the fire chief was in charge of stratford emergency dispatch as well as the fire department for no additional pay. What has not been disclosed is the following that was borrowed from another blog site: Rex525 on 11/30/12- "BTW, I was in Mary and Beth’s diner the other day and heard some of our local politicos talking about the Mayor’s former chief of staff Adam Bauer. They were saying Bauer left Stratford for a job in New Jersey because he foolishly sent emails to Jason Perillo (State Representative) of CBG Strategies concerning hiring Phil Onofrio to head EMS BEFORE all the applications for the job were even in and any interviews were held. They said Harkins was rattled because Bauer did this from a town computer, through the town email system which is subject to freedom of information requests. They also were saying Rep. Perillo got Phil Onofrio’s old job when Onofrio was hired by Stratford on “Perillo’s recommendation”. It gets even better, these politicos weren’t Democrats, they were high ranking REPUBLICANS. How much do you want to bet that this is a key point in Donna Best’s lawsuit? Again the lawyers will win and we taxpayers will take it on the chin." I would hope someone at the Patch would do some investigative journalism and follow up on this quote, we taxpayers tire of corruption.
Mike Reynolds December 11, 2012 at 03:58 PM
What spin? Kathy asked why Onofrio was paid a higher salary. Its the truth that he runs both dispatch and EMS that's why he's paid more. Also, I'm not spinning what Harkins did. I don't like the way they handled it. I think he should have fired Best outright and not put someone above her. The way it was handled was all wrong.
Mike December 11, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Hey, it's taxpayer dollars we are talking about here. There is as much tax money as you want. The taxpayers will just pay more and more. We like to pay taxes. It makes for a better Stratford.
Town Stratford December 11, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Why doesn't every one question all the money best coast the town with all her wrongfull terminations
Sue Collier December 11, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I am glad to see that someone else gets it! The lawyers always win...theysend their huge bills to the town for us to pay! Then you always see their names again on the political contributors lists. The town gets involved in these suits that are losers and the politico buddies all get their money one way or the other. And, Mikey. If P.O. is doing such a good job running dispatch then why did the town have to hire J.P. to run dispatch? Again, the old fire chief did this job with no additional pay. The only reason it was taken away from him was to pump up P.O.'s resume and try to make him look like more than he is for the court case. We now see how well take strategy worked.
disheartened resident December 11, 2012 at 07:29 PM
May be because she wasn't elected on "restoring the pride" and "transparency", there's also a difference between bad judgement and DOWNRIGHT CORRUPTION
disheartened resident December 11, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Let us not also forget that Harkins hired his buddy Perillo and GBG to find the Governers buddy as fire chief, the current police chief who was already doing that job and his other buddy Joe McNeil to be the deputy police chief. Including Onofrio, at $30,000 a piece that was $120,000 wasted on his buddy Perillo to hire either political cronies or buddies of the mayor plus the $170,000 already paid to Onofrio illegally. Add lawyer fees and it brings this scam to probably over a whopping half a million of our tax dollars so far and they're going to appeal it??? It is also not lost on me that NO ONE in the town council has said a word about it. RESTORE THE PRIDE??? It seems the only difference between Miron and Harkins is Harkins hides deeper in his office.
disheartened resident December 11, 2012 at 07:48 PM
WHERE IS THE TOWN COUNCIL ON THIS ISSUE???
Laura D December 11, 2012 at 08:02 PM
agreed
Laura D December 11, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Excellent Question DR!
Chris Stevens December 11, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Business as usual with the Harkins Adminstration, it's time for a change people!
mary young December 11, 2012 at 11:18 PM
This situation won't serve the Town well in the future when trying to hire respectable and responsible employees. This will result in a less to residents (AGAIN)! It appears neither the former Director nor current Director were treated fairly by the Town. Why would anyone (we would want) apply to a job posting in Stratford with behavior like this? We deserve the best employees we can get and want to attract them to work for the Town! I too look forward to learning if/how the Town Council plans to repair the Town's image. Spending more tax payer dollars to appeal the court's decision and voting to keep the spotlight on this mistake via the appeals process is not advisable in my opinion.
Jim D December 12, 2012 at 01:22 PM
The best part of it is that while Phil Onofrio was hired to run dispatch, one of his first moves was to go out and hire an individual to manage the dispatch center. From what members of EMS tell me, Phil isn't in much...so how does he run the center?
Jim D December 12, 2012 at 01:25 PM
I will say that the terminations that Donna Best initiated were justified and long overdue...only issue is that the town managers have NO idea how to document discipline and work within a union contract CBA....only real issue is that the town's HR department is so abysmal that many of these employees should have been weeded out before hire...many had been terminated from numerous other similar positions.
Jim Ravis December 12, 2012 at 02:30 PM
This has been passed around a few times.... Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.
disheartened resident December 12, 2012 at 03:38 PM
...and still no comments or answers from the mayor, his lacky Marc Dillon or especially our esteemed members of the Town Council on this issue on either side. Everyone knows they all read and some comment here. Their cowardly silence speaks volumes! Time for a full house cleaning of BOTH parties in November. Let's hope the FBI steps in, the endless corruption in Stratford and fleecing of us taxpayers must stop.
Matthew Catalano December 12, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Dear Disheartened, I made it very clear when this hire was taking place that it was in violation of the charter. I am clearly on record with that. The Town Attorney issued an opinion at the time that said it was in the Mayor's purview to do just what he did. I still believe its a Charter violation and, it seems, the judge in this case agreed with me. Matt Catalano-Dist 3
Jim Ravis December 12, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Thanks Matt - I hope you can convince the Mayor not to appeal the decision and stop wasting taxpayer money on Attorney fees.
disheartened resident December 12, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Mr. Catalano, my humble apologies I should have known that you would again be the lone voice in the wilderness. Please allow me to me correct my comment to "Time for a full house cleaning of BOTH parties in November except for Councilman Catalano".
disheartened resident December 12, 2012 at 05:11 PM
"The Town Attorney issued an opinion at the time that said it was in the Mayor's purview to do just what he did." As we all know the town attorney is very good at making work for himself and his colleagues.
Stephanie Philips December 12, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Disheartened resident. I am on record in 2011 opposing the hiring of another EMS Director as a violation of the Charter. In fact I wrote a published Editorial Opinion on Patch.com detailing my concerns http://stratford.patch.com/articles/council-member-outlines-ems-hiring-and-charter-concerns and in the CT Post http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Councilman-Hiring-of-EMS-director-violates-town-1277221.php. At this last council meeting following the judges ruling, I reiterated my charter concerns further questioning the cost and the process of appealing. Moreover, Mr. Onofrio was hired and paid before the Town Council approved any funding for this unbudgeted position. I voted No to the funding request. The EMS budget continues to strain with the cost of duplicate salaries. Let’s be clear not to let the question become side tracked with the accomplishments of each director, both of which I believe are capable individuals whom I have great respect. Stephanie Philips, 2nd District
disheartened resident December 13, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Ms. Philips, my humble apologies to you as well, please allow me to me correct my comment to "Time for a full house cleaning of BOTH parties in November except for Councilpersons Catalano and Philips". As far as the accomplishments of the director in question of which “you have great respect”, if he was gifted his position scandalously as may be the case I believe that is a criminal act. I sincerely hope that both you and Mr. Catalano are going to use your positions of trust to conduct a bipartisan investigation of these claims concerning Bauer/Perillo/Onofrio/Harkins. I'd start by requesting the alleged emails, I’m sure they haven’t already been erased. Please let us know what you find out. Someone has to stand up for us taxpayers.
disheartened resident December 13, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Councilpersons Catalano and Philips THIS SHOULD HELP: "§ 2.2.15. Power to Investigate and Procure Information. [Amended 11-4-2008] The Council shall have the power to investigate town affairs. In exercising this power, the Council shall have the power to require any town elected or appointed official, officer, director, department head, or employee to furnish the Council or its designee all information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material which is in the possession of the elected or appointed official, officer, director, department head, or employee, and which, in the opinion of the Council is necessary to enable the Council to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this Charter, or to properly and completely investigate town affairs. It is hereby made a duty and obligation of all town elected or appointed officials, officers, directors, department heads, and employees to provide the Council with the requested information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material when so required by the Council. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Charter, the Council shall have the right to appropriate funds, either by way of the budget or by special appropriation, to fund any costs and expenses which may, in the opinion of the Council, be necessary, proper and required to conduct the investigation or to procure any information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material."

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