Former Chief Financial Officer Gary Conrad did not have the authority to make unilateral changes to pension benefits according to the official review presented to the Board of Selectmen this morning.

Garrett Denniston, of the law firm Bishop, Jackson & Kelly, LLC, also said that it is unclear whether Conrad's actions constitutes criminal activity.

The report stems from an amendment to the town pension plan that passed unanimously through the Board of Finance and in a close vote through the Town Council, to retroactively lower the number of years needed for an elected official to be fully vested under the town's pension plan from five years to four. The amendment allowed former First Selectman Jeb Walker to receive $944 in pension benefits per month as a fully vested retiree, as opposed to $373 per month as a partially vested retiree.

The report dealt with four issues: whether the former CFO Gary Conrad had the authority to make pension benefits changes unilaterally; whether his actions violated the town's Code of Ethics; whether the town has the right to require Walker to repay the excess money; and whether the Board of Finance had the authority to pass health care amendments in 2007.

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With regard to the first issue, Denniston said the answer was "pretty easy, and that's `No,'" the former CFO, Conrad did not have the authority to unilaterally make changes. The report stated that "there is no clear answer" to the question of whether the former CFO's or former First Selectman Jeb Walker's conduct violates the law.

Denniston said the "Code of Ethics generally provides that officials can't exceed their authority under the [Town] Charter. In this case that probably did happen," though he added that since both men are no longer employees of the town, the punishment for such actions is a moot point.

The report determined that the town does have the authority to require Walker to repay the money. First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said at the meeting that Walker already has repaid the excess money in full.

Finally, the report said that the 2007 health care amendment which was passed by the Board of Finance but not the Town Council should be considered null and void. Those amendments had been reversed by a 2011 email by the payroll benefits administrator, which the report concluded should similarly be considered meaningless before the law.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews

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