The city’s internal audit commission this morning sent a letter to Mayor Pedro Segarra, Saundra Kee Borges, the city’s corporation counsel and chief operating officer, and the city council notifying them that five employees are violating a city ordinance because they are retirees who have been back on the city payroll for more than six months.
The commission is recommending that the council hire an outside attorney to review the matter and issue a formal opinion, since the city’s chief lawyer, Saundra Kee Borges, is one of the five employees found in violation of the ordinance.
An ordinance enacted in 2005 states that retired city employees “shall only be eligible to return to city employment in a temporary … position for a maximum of six months in a fiscal year.” Members of the internal audit commission received an anonymous complaint asking them to look into the possibility that some employees were in violation of the ordinance, and found that five retirees have been hired for terms of longer than six months. They are Saundra Kee Borges, the city’s corporation counsel who was recently named chief operating officer; Police Chief James Rovella; Andrew Jaffee, head of emergency services and telecommunication; Linda Bayer, a civic engagement consultant; and Betty Szubinski, an administrative assistant.
H. Patrick Campbell, the chief auditor, wrote in the letter that the commission sought input from L. John Van Norden, the deputy corporation counsel.
“Initially, Mr. Van Norden informed us that unless there is some overriding statute, legislation or other basis for the situations noted, it would appear that these individuals are working under conditions that are in violation of the terms and conditions of Municipal Code,” Campbell wrote in the letter. “In a subsequent, ‘unofficial opinion’ on this matter, Mr. Van Norden provided various possible reasons and/or justifications as to why the hiring of a number of these employees may not be considered in violation of the municipal code due to the mayor’s powers as granted by the City of Hartford Charter or the vetting, appointing and approval processes for these employees.”
Campbell added: “Also of note, we were informed by the Corporation Counsel’s Office that while a request was made to review the legislation in question for form and legality, there is no evidence that it was actually reviewed or endorsed as to form and legality by the corporation counsel’s office.”
In an email exchange with members of the commission, Deputy Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden wrote that the city charter supersedes the ordinance, giving the mayor the power to hire whoever he wants.
“[The ordinance] is one discrete provision in a much larger comprehensive revision of the city personnel policies and procedures which the council codified in 2005. It is an ordinance and as such is superior to a resolution but subordinate to federal and state law and to the charter,” Van Norden wrote to the commission. “To the extent an ordinance is in conflict with federal or state law or the city charter, the superior laws prevail.”
“The charter vests the mayor with authority to make appointments with only one restriction, confirmation of certain executive level appointees (but not all) by the council,” he continued. “Thus, at least for department heads and direct mayoral appointees, the restriction on rehiring city retirees arguably usurps the mayor’s authority since the charter contains no such restriction on eligibility.”
If the outside attorney finds no legal basis for exempting the five employees from the terms of the ordinance, the city should take “appropriate action” to address the issue, Campbell wrote, including enforcing the code — ultimately, terminating the employees — or making changes to the code that would allow retirees to work for the city for longer time periods.
The commission also recommended that “procedures and controls” be developed to “prevent this from occurring again in the future.”
Maribel La Luz, Segarra’s spokeswoman, said earlier in the week that the mayor can hire whoever he wants based on experience and qualifications, and that no interference was needed. We’ve asked for a follow-up comment.
To view the letter, click here: RetireeEmploymentSpecialReviewMemorandumFinal