NEW CANAAN, Conn. Former New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker and former Chief Financial Officer Gary Conrad, who is currently Westport's finance chief, should have known changing Walkers pension rate was not proper, according to a report commissioned by the town.
Garrett Denniston, an attorney with Bishop, Jackson and Kelly, unveiled his findings Tuesday to the Board of Selectmen. The firm was hired by the town to review the pension process that led to Walker receiving a higher pension than he was eligible for.
While it was unclear if Walker and Conrad, who served on the towns pension committee, knew if their actions were incorrect, It appears that both were in a position to know that their actions in approving the benefits were improper, the report states. If they were in violation of the towns code of ethics, they could be fired or suspended, Denniston said, but those penalties cannot be imposed because Walker is retired and Conrad is now the Finance Director in Westport.
Walker has since repaid the $4,300 in extra benefits he received.
Denniston said it is unclear whether Conrad or Walker violated the law with the overpayment. The report recommends the pension committee should review and determine if the matter needs to be handed to police for investigation.
The report states that neither Conrad nor the towns pension committee has the power under the towns charter to unilaterally alter the terms of the pension plan or grant benefits greater than what had been agreed to. Only a vote of the Town Council can modify pension plans, Denniston said, and it would have to come after a recommendation by the Board of Finance.
Votes of the town council and finance board last summer changed the vesting time from four years to five, effectively grandfathering Walker and former selectman Sally Hines, who had served on the board of selectmen for four years. Former town attorney Chris Jarboe said last month that those votes are not valid.
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III said the policies review was as much a look forward as it was a look back. We need to leave this chapter feeling confident that the policies, procedures and responsible personnel are in place to prevent this from happening in the future.
The first selectman also noted that the town has made several changes to prevent a pension overpayment from happening again, including the hiring of new Chief Financial Officer Dawn Norton in May and an expansion of the role of the pension committee.
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