City Ordinance Vs. City Charter

by Categorized: Internal Audit Commission, Pedro Segarra Date:

The city’s internal audit commission, capping an investigation into an anonymous complaint, has found that six Hartford workers — including the chief operating officer and chief of police — are unlawfully employed because they retired from the city, but have been back on the payroll for more than six months, a source familiar with the investigation told Cityline yesterday.

Basically, the issue breaks down like this: A city 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.”

The audit commission found that six employees (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; Nancy Mulroy, a police department spokeswoman; Linda Bayer, a civic engagement consultant; and Betty Szubinski, an administrative assistant) violated the ordinance because they’ve served in their positions for more than six months. All of them are city retirees.

However, the city’s deputy corporation counsel, L. John Van Norden, wrote to the commission that the city charter supersedes the ordinance. He wrote this is an e-mail:

“[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. 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. 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.”

The commission is expected to send letters about their finding to the mayor, city council, city treasurer and corporation counsel soon, a source said. It is not expected to make any recommendations as to how city officials should remedy the situation.

We’ll have more on this in tomorrow’s paper. You can also read city blogger Kevin Brookman’s post on it here.


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6 thoughts on “City Ordinance Vs. City Charter

  1. Max

    I believe Nancy is a consultant, which would not count. There are others who are double dipping. The IT department director of business systems is a city retiree making six figures by putting his job under the board of ed. Similary the CIO has been “acting” for years despite an ordinance limiting the arrangement to one year.

    It is shocking that Kee Borges would not know the law or be arrogant enought to ignore it, while trying not supporting staff who council are trying to eliminate for living out of town. The city leadership including the council, mayor and senior leadership are so dysfunctional maybe they should all consider putting the city before politics.

  2. Brendan

    I’m not usually one to stir the pot, but Chapter 4 Sec. 2(d) of the charter allows the council to circumscribe the mayor’s appointing authority with respect to the COO & department heads. The Council did pass an ordinance which did exactly that and there authority exists as follows (emphasis added): “Appoint, subject to section 2(d) of Chapter IV of this Charter, the chief operating officer, corporation counsel and the heads of all departments, except as otherwise provided in this Charter or collective bargaining agreement, and such other officers and employees of the city as this Charter or an ordinance of the council consistent therewith may provide.”

    Council can affect personnel decisions by ordinance. It looks pretty clear.

  3. The Bystander

    However, the Council by acting as it has to confirm the department head and as it may with the COO, now pending, by its own action creates an exemption to the rules it otherwise created by ordinance. It’s settled law that a legislative body can’t contradict itself, so every time it would, instead it creates an exemption. Any employees not subject to Council approval is another matter.

  4. Luis

    which brings up the question: Has the current acting COO been appointed/approved by Mayor/Council as a permanent appointee?

  5. Brendan

    @The Bystander

    Well, no. Unlike a corporation, a government cannot make contracts that exceed their authority, so I don’t think principles of ratification would apply. For instance, a contract awarded outside the bidding process would be void. The council or mayor does not have the power to make an exception. Someone would have to challenge this, to have the contract declared void. It makes sense, doesn’t it? From a policy perspective, would you want a government that makes contracts in violation of the law be allowed to later ratify and be bound by the illegal contracts? That defeats the whole purpose of making laws about competitive bidding, etc.

    At the same time, those who are presently employed under these ultra vires employment contracts face a property deprivation if they’re terminated. So, I don’t think they can just be fired without some kind of process.

    Maybe there’s also some equitable relief for them, but that may only be payment for the work they’ve already done.

    I don’t really know anything about this & there’s probably a bunch of research that someone should get paid to do. However, I can speak from personal experience. I was hired by the Census Bureau when I was 16. I worked for awhile and was curious as to why I hadn’t received a pay check. I called payroll and was told that they hired me in error, because you have to be 18 to do the job. I was terminated, but paid for the work I’d done.

    This seems to be more or less the same thing.

Comments are closed.