Derby City Hall’s new hours of operation led to confusion among elected officials and the public, according to a discussion among Aldermen Jan. 26.
The new hours went into effect Jan. 1. The confusion was over whether nonunion department heads were supposed to work longer days on Fridays.
Derby City Hall now closes at 12:30 p.m. on Fridays, but stays open longer on other days. Click this link for the complete schedule.
At the Aldermen meeting, board president Carmen DiCenso said he received a few phone calls from constituents asking about why City Hall was closed on a Friday afternoon.
DiCenso said that when the Aldermen previously discussed the new hours, the building department, the fire marshal’s office and the town clerk’s office would stay open longer on Fridays. The idea was to still make it easy for people needing things like birth certificates and building permits.
He said he thought department heads would still work the traditional hours, which had them staying until 5 p.m. on Fridays.
“That’s what I remember voting on when we agreed to change the hours at city hall,” DiCenso said. “If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong.”
DiCenso said the city needs to clarify the new hours.
Mayor Anita Dugatto said the hours are posted in Derby City Hall and on the city’s website. People can call the department heads to make arrangements if they need to meet after regular business hours, she said.
DiCenso said that’s not what the Aldermen voted on, alluding to the expectations department heads would work a longer Friday.
Dugatto said the Aldermen negotiated a union contract, which specified new hours, which included closing City Hall at 12:30 p.m. on Fridays.
Why FOI Matters
First Ward Thomas Donofrio said the Aldermen’s discussion about department heads working a longer day happened in executive session, while the elected officials were talking about union contracts.
“It was in executive session. That’s why they don’t know what we talked about,” he said.
Executive sessions are a type of meeting closed to the public.
Under state law, the Aldermen are allowed to negotiate employee union contracts in private, assuming the contract is not in its final form.
But state law forces local government to stick to the stated topic at hand while in executive session. In this case, the Derby Aldermen did not do that.
Even if they had, the discussion would still be improper under state law governing executive sessions. Routine discussions such as City Hall’s hours of operation, or how long employees work in a day are not supposed to be discussed in executive session.
The improper closed-door discussion could explain why the departments heads in Derby City Hall didn’t seem to know they were expected to work past 12:30 p.m. on Fridays.
At the Aldermen meeting, Carlo Sarmiento, the Derby building official, pointed out department heads traditionally follow the rules as defined in union contracts, though department heads are not members of the union.
“I’m supposed to follow the union contract, and that’s what I’m doing in my department,” Sarmiento told the Aldermen.
Dugatto said her phone number is posted on the door at City Hall, and that she’s available after the doors are locked at 12:30 p.m. every Friday.
Officials said at least three members of the public have tried to get into City Hall on Fridays after the doors were locked.
Derby Town Clerk Marc Garofalo said the new hours have Derby City Hall open 40 hours a week, just like the old hours. All city hall employees are paid based on working 35 hours per week.
“By virtue of your vote to approve the contract, that’s what we all understood the hours to be. Monday to Wednesday, 8:30 to 5, Thursday, 8:30 to 6,” Garofalo said. “I’m just telling you what we heard, and there was nothing on the record — in the recording or in the minutes — that would indicate anything different than that.”
He suggested the Aldermen “ratify” the new schedule, but the discussion ended without formal action.