Mayor forms panel to study retirement payouts

NAUGATUCK — Mayor Robert Mezzo appointed four burgesses Tuesday to a subcommittee to confront the issue of retirement payouts to elected officials, which borough officials have widely debated since retiring Town Clerk Sophie Morton requested a payout of nearly $26,000.

Burgesses Ronald San Angelo, Michael Bronko, Robert Burns, and Patrick Scully are tasked with researching a solution, which some burgesses said would require changing a borough ordinance to clarify that elected officials do not receive sick or vacation days. They should make recommendations to the borough board in the next month or two, Mezzo said. Burgesses and finance board members protested when the town clerk’s office submitted a budget request that included the payout for Morton, who is retiring at the end of the month after 28 years on the job. Morton claims she is owed the money for 90 accumulated sick days and six weeks accrued vacation that she has not used.

Some members of the joint boards did not want to approve the payout, saying elected officials are not contracted to work a set number of hours and therefore do not qualify for sick or vacation time. The joint boards approved the amount in a budget meeting last month after Mezzo provided an opinion by borough attorney Nicholas Grello.

“The choices, after you let it go this long in your history, are pay it, fight about it and ultimately pay it and pay for fighting about it,” Mezzo said.

Ordinance 83 of the borough charter says that accumulated sick leave can be calculated toward the earnings of employees who contributed to the pension fund before Sept. 1, 1988, including the town clerk. The borough ahs, in the past, paid elected officials for accumulated vacation and sick days when they retire, Grello wrote.

“In all honesty, Ordinance 83 needs to be revised in order to avoid these types of issues in the future,” Grello wrote. “However, based upon the past practice and the current language set forth in Ordinance 83, I did not believe we had a strong argument to deny the payment for such benefits to Ms. Morton.”

San Angelo said at a budget meeting last month that he combed through human resources records and calculated Morton had taken 319.75 hours off to compensate for overtime in the past 46 weeks.

“That’s about nine hours of not working,” San Angelo said. “You don’t have to use sick time if you have all these comp hours.”

In a five-page letter of response to the borough board, Morton cited the ordinance and a provision in the non-union personnel policy manual that full-time elected officials are eligible for sick day payouts upon retirement. According to Morton, she started keeping track of compensatory time based on a directive from former Mayor John Letts. Morton requested that she be compensated for 1,469 hours of unused time during her tenure.