Editor's note: Documents cited in article are included in photo gallery as PDFs.
Councilwoman Stephanie Philips (D-2) would like some answers.
At a Town Council meeting four months ago, Philips read off a list of questions about town contracts and an apparent lack of transparency.
At last week's Council meeting, she shared the answers she received during meetings with Town Attorney Tim Bishop and Director of Human Resources Ron Ing.
"I spoke about the mistakes in the contracts, a possible violation of the pension plan, lack of review by town attorneys, and future financial commitments without Town Council approval," Philips said in an email. "This [is] an incredible mess that was done without any transparency."
Philips said she's still waiting for information regarding a question about Deputy Police Chief Joe McNeil's contract as it relates to his pension and a provision that did not seek Town Council approval.
McNeil topped the town's wage earners in 2011 with a gross income just under $300,000. The swollen figure was due to a settlement which, according to Philips, was frozen into pension calculations.
"The administration still needs to unravel how they are going to handle McNeil receiving his pension benefits immediately if he leaves Stratford's employment before the 25th year," Philips said.
McNeil is eligible for early retirement benefits thanks to a special provision discussed via email by Stratford Police Union President Carlos Castro. In an email to HR Director Ron Ing, Castro writes, "Stratford Police Union Local 407 has no objections to any provision which allows the retirement benefit to be paid prior to the twenty fifth (25th) year of service."
Philips argued that this provision should have gone through the town's pension board, or at the very least, the Town Council. McNeil is in his 19th year of service, Philips said.
"The police chief is not a political appointee," former town attorney and current Democratic Town Committee Chairman Richard Buturla said at last week's Council meeting. Buturla, who served as Stratford's town attorney from 1995 to 2009, said it was against pension policy to approve the special provision for McNeil.
Another concern pursued by Philips involved multi-year contracts for town employees. The Councilwoman said none of the town attorneys were consulted or asked to preview the contracts of Mayor John A. Harkins's senior staff. Philips also said that she learned not all contracts are reviewed by town attorneys, and hopes that can change.
"The mayor does not have authority to give out these contracts without Town Council approval," Philips said.
Philips is also seeking answers regarding a $7,500 "un-vouchered" expense account included within the mayor's W-2 for 2011. Her question: By not specifically tying advances from this account to direct expense reimbursement, has the town violated the Connecticut constitutional provision forbidding an increase in an elected official's compensation during his term of office?
Marc Dillon, the mayor's chief of staff, said the administration will answer all of the Councilwoman's questions in due time.
"My suspicion is no matter what she gets she'll interpret in a way that politicizes," said Dillon, who added that Buturla’s appearance at last week's meeting seemed like "a bit of gamesmanship" on behalf of Democrats.
He said the administration has taken extra steps to answer Philips's questions and the mayor prides himself on being transparent.
"It's unfortunate after three years of progress in town Democrats want to go back to days of fear and smear politics," Dillon said.