Former First Selectman Jeb Walker will not face a criminal investigation into the excess pension payments he received after the town's pension committee decided against taking action.
Walker received more than $4,000 in pension payments over and above what he was entitled to. Once the issue was brought to light, he returned the money.
After more than 45 minutes of closed-door discussion, the pension committee, chaired by First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, and comprised of town CFO Dawn Norton, Board of Finance member Mary Cody, Tony Ryan of the fire department, and John Milligan of the police department, came to a quiet verdict. There was no public debate following the executive session, and only Cody chose to give an explanation for the decision.
"The committee weighed their responsibility on the pension plan itself because that's what we're in charge of and the fund itself has received back the monies that were due or misallocated to begin with and therefore the pension fund itself is whole, it hasn't lost anything," she explained, adding that they did not deem it necessary to continue any further.
Walker was paid a pension of $944 per month for nine months before it was discovered this summer that he was only entitled to $344 per month due to the amount of service he was vested for. He has since returned the more than $4,000 he inappropriately received. An October review of the issue by the law firm Bishop, Jackson & Kelly, LLC, determined that Walker and former CFO Gary Conrad's behavior violated the town's Code of Ethics, but made no determination whether the acts constituted criminal activity. The firm advised that the town's pension committee decide whether to pursue an investigation.
The crowd wasn't privvy to the decision, however, as Mallozzi asked that since the discussion would involve personnel issues it be held in executive session, which prohibits the public from being present. After Mallozzi suggested it, Cody made the movement to go to executive session, which was seconded by Norton. Jones voted in favor of it. Neither the fire representative Ryan nor the police representative Milligan voted in favor of it, with Milligan offering a quiet objection.
"I think the public has a right to know," he said.
Norton disagreed explaining that Walker is a pensioner of the town, and as such, it is a personnel issue. Mallozzi added that the town has a responsibility not only to its residents, but also to the privacy of its current and former employees.
During the public comment portion, a number of residents spoke in support of Walker. In contrast to nearly all other comments made at public meetings, running from the Board of Selectmen to the Town Council to the Board of Finance, the speakers at the pension committee meeting talked of the potential cost of turning the issue over to law enforcement and of Walker's good character.
"Jeb Walker's a good man who's done a lot of good things in our town. He's also a veteran. We have a great group of people in our community, and if we want them to keep stepping up, they shouldn't be attacked like this," said resident Diane Hobbs.
Resident Mike Farrell announced that he worked for Price Waterhouse for 39 years, during which time he saw the Port Authority investigate profligate expense account spending on the part of its employees. He said that by the end of the process, the lawyers' fees amounted to more than twice what was actually spent.
He expressed his incredulity at the value of an investigation, "to move into a process where the total amount of funds on this issue would amount to less than one day's fees for a partner of a law firm, [doesn't make sense]. Mistakes are an ordinary part of large organizations, especially when they [involve] arcane rules like pensions. [We're] dealing with a person who in my own personal judgment is a responsible individual."
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