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New Canaan Council Members Express Regret Over Pension Vote

NEW CANAAN, Conn. – If he could do it again, New Canaan Town Council member Steve Karl said he would reconsider his vote that changed the rules that gave former First Selectman Jeb Walker a higher-than-anticipated pension.

“Nobody is proud of what happened and the vote that was taken. If you could hit the rewind button and do it all over again, we would,” Karl said Wednesday.

The Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to hire Bishop, Jackson and Kelly, LLC, to review the town’s processes. Walker’s pension will be recalculated, and the former first selectman plans to repay his excess pension payments.

The votes of the council and the Board of Finance effectively grandfathered in Walker and former selectman Sally Hines, who had served on the town’s top board for four years. Walker ended up receiving a higher-than-expected pension. But Town Attorney Chris Jarboe said those votes are not valid.

Council Chairman Mark DeWaele said that, while he is not a big fan of pensions, he voted for the change on philosophical grounds because an elected official would have to serve for six years to get to the 5-year vesting mark. “With more information that I’ve gleaned, I probably would have voted against,” DeWaele said during Wednesday’s Town Council meeting to review that July decision.

Council member John Emert, who voted no on the amendment, reiterated his opposition. “It just was the wrong thing to do. It smelled, excuse me, of cronyism,” he said.

Tucker Murphy said the council might borrow from the New Canaan Board of Education, which has first readings on certain matters and then makes a binding vote at a following meeting. It might offer more time to gather information, she said. “It’s certainly something I think that could have helped alleviate a lot of the angst in this situation,” she said.

Resident George McEvoy said he spoke with more than 100 residents about the council’s pension vote and “not one of these taxpayers agrees with the votes made” by the six council members who supported it.  “How can you justify these actions to the public you are supposed to represent?” he said.

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