Westport RTM 'corrects' pact for cop, firefighter retirees
Updated 5:58 am, Friday, March 4, 2011
The Westport Representative Town Meeting, after lengthy discussion Tuesday night, voted 21-8 to make a correction to the fire and police pension contract approved more than five years ago.
The missing words -- "but less than" -- comprised the proposed change in the 2005 pact. Officials said the contract should have basically read that a person could retire and receive full municipal pension benefits after 20 years on the job, no matter their age. However, the contract failed to include the words "but less than" before "49 years of age" -- leaving in limbo retirement requests by police and fire personnel who have worked at least two decades for the town but are younger than 50.
The omission was discovered recently when a 48-year-old firefighter made plans to retire after 24 years on the job, finishing his career at the rank of captain.
Tom Hamilton, the town's personnel director, told the RTM before Tuesday's vote, "We request that you approve this so the contract reflects what was negotiated in 2005." First Selectman Gordon Joseloff also asked the RTM to approve the language change to the contract.
But a handful of RTM members said they did not feel comfortable changing the contract that had been signed off on by all sides.
RTM member Judith Starr wondered how such an error, or omission, could occur in a pension contract.
"Didn't everyone have legal representation?" she said. "Didn't us (the town) and the union have qualified lawyers?"
John McCarthy, a District 9 member, agreed with "everything Judy said." He found it ironic the slip-up was being called a "slight typo."
"It was in the cabinet for five years, but, oh wait a second, this isn't what we agreed upon," he said.
Leonard Rovins, the lawyer who represented the town during the pension contract negotiations, has since died.
But fire Inspector Nate Gibbons, a union representative who participated in the 2005 contract negotiations, told the RTM that if the language change were not approved, the issue would head to arbitration.
Starr said she didn't like the fact that "we're being asked to change a contract for one person."
Others, however, said the RTM was being asked to amend what had been intended by the contract negotiators.
District 7 RTM member Jack Klinge said he did not want to see the issue go to an arbitration hearing, "when my town lawyer says I should fix this."
But Matthew Mandell from District 1 felt differently. "If someone has a problem with it, they can go through the grievance process," he said.
Some RTM members wanted to know what the financial impact would be if the RTM approved the change as requested.
District 4's Jeffrey Wieser said only one person had come forward in five years who met the criteria of having worked 20 years but was younger than 50. "It shows we're not going to break the bank," he said.
Not long after, the RTM supported the contract change.
The meeting wrapped up just before 11 p.m., which Mandell said was an early night for the RTM.