Ansonia Aldermen voted this month to give the city’s grants writer and economic development director an 11.45-percent raise.
But the vote left one Alderman questioning why and how the raise was handed out.
Sheila O’Malley had been earning a total of $87,034 serving in the two roles in Mayor David Cassetti’s administration — $51,197 as economic development director and $35,837 as grants writer.
The Feb. 13 vote boosted those salaries to $56,000 and $41,000, respectively, for a new total of $97,000.
The Aldermen’s vote also included a $3,000 raise for the mayor’s assistant, Cristina Molina, from $27,405 to $30,405.
That’s an increase of 10.95 percent.
Both of the raises were made retroactive to Jan. 1.
As part of the same resolution, the Aldermen voted to change the pay structure for IT Manager David Connolly.
He had been paid by the hour but will now be paid a salary of $30,000.
According to minutes of the Aldermen’s salary committee, a total of $38,000 had been budgeted for the position, $8,000 of which will now be returned to the city’s general fund.
Click play on the video above to watch the Aldermen’s Feb. 13 meeting. The discussion of the raises begins about an hour and 10 minutes into the video.
The Aldermen’s discussion of the raises lasted about 90 seconds, and didn’t include any discussion of why the raises were proposed. Neither do the minutes of the salary committee meeting the day before.
Mayor David Cassetti and Aldermanic President Lorie Vaccaro have since said that O’Malley has brought roughly $20 million in grant funds to the city and helped grow the grand list, which demonstrates her value and more than compensates for the raise.
The mayor also noted he no longer has a full-time chief of staff, so O’Malley “has been performing duties beyond her roles as Economic Development Director and Grants Writer.”
But not all of the Aldermen were sold on the proposal.
During the Feb. 13 meeting the First Ward’s Charles Stowe asked the raises be put off unless the city delivers a budget for next year without a tax increase.
The suggestion was ignored, and the board proceeded to vote 11-3 to approve the raises.
Stowe, Second Ward Alderman Phil Tripp, and Fourth Ward Alderman Richard Kaslaitis voted no.
About 15 minutes later the matter briefly came up again during discussion of a proposal to change the way the city pays for people to take minutes of public meetings.
O’Malley questioned why Stowe and Kaslaitis would be against that proposal when it could “potentially” save $24,000.
“You seemed very concerned about saving money and not passing any salary resolutions before the budget process,” she said.
Kaslaitis said he voted against the raise because the percentage was so large.
Stowe said other city employees will ask for pay hikes.
“Every department between now and the end of the budget, we will be fighting about ‘Well, City Hall got raises, well, the mayor’s department got raises.’ And it’s a distraction,” Stowe said.
Asked if she had any response to Stowe’s comments, O’Malley said no. She said she is “grateful that the BOA thought enough of the job I’m doing to give me an increase.”
In a phone interview Stowe said he’s been trying to get the Aldermen to approve raises for foremen in the public works department to no avail.
He said it sends the wrong message when “we can’t address that but we can address the people in the mayor’s office.”
Stowe also raised questions about the timing of the Aldermen’s vote.
He said if O’Malley deserved the raise so much the Aldermen should have voted on it before last year’s election.
“They should have put that raise right out there if they felt so confident,” Stowe said.
Stowe pointed out the raises weren’t listed on the agenda prior to the meeting as something to be discussed.
They were listed on an agenda of a subcommittee meeting the night before.
Elizabeth Lynch, a former town clerk who attended the Aldermen’s meeting, agreed.
During the meeting Lynch asked that the public session be reopened since the matter wasn’t on the agenda.
Vaccaro declined to reopen the public session.
Lynch said the raises “were purposely not included on the agenda, ensuring that they would be approved without question.”
Cassetti and Vaccaro said the process was transparent and the Aldermen did not break any laws.
“They followed the rules and certainly all increases are part of the public record, as they should be,” Cassetti said.
“The salary increase was discussed openly at two public meetings of the Board of Aldermen, who represent the residents of their respective wards,” Vaccaro said. “It was voted on and approved at a meeting that featured a full quorum of the aldermen, meaning that each and every resident of the city was represented in the process.”
Lynch said Cassetti’s administration isn’t walking the walk when it comes to government transparency.
“I recall several occasions over the past four years when the current administration pledged absolute transparency,” Lynch said. “Apparently, they no longer follow that principle.”