Mayor Anthony Staffieri vetoed a move by city Aldermen ordering a written report be prepared regarding a scandal within Derby’s tax office.
On Thursday, Dec. 27, five Democratic members of the Board of Aldermen approved a motion from Alderman Art Gerckens asking that corporation counsel Joseph Coppola prepare a report on the investigation he conducted into Katherine Kulhawik, a city employee who resigned from the city’s tax office in August.
Click the video to watch a portion of the discussion from the December Aldermen meeting.
The next day Staffieri filed his veto with the Derby Town Clerk’s Office.
However, the mayor’s veto — and an e-mail he sent to the Board of Aldermen — indicate Coppola is still drafting a document to be discussed in a private, executive session of the Board of Aldermen later this month. Staffieri says the report could be released to the public — if at least six members of the Derby Board of Aldermen vote to do so.
“I feel that it is in the best interest of the tax payers and residents that such a report not be discussed in public until and unless six or more members approve of such a report,” Staffieri’s veto reads.
Kulhawik was escorted out of Derby City Hall in June.
In August, Coppola released a letter saying Kulhawik was being investigated for allegations of mishandling cash, the intentional “deletion of data regarding cash payments” and the “intentional suspension of tax billing statement.”
A “separation agreement” with Kulhawik was approved by the Aldermen in late August, with Gerckens and Alderman Barbara DeGennaro voting against it.
The agreement was released to the public six days after it was approved by the Aldermen.
The agreement said Kulhawik “may have engaged in:”
- “Mishandling of cash”
- “Misapplication of payments”
- “Data manipulation or fraud”
- “The intentional deletion of data regarding payments of cash”
- “The intentional, unauthorized suspension of tax billing statement”
As part of the agreement, Derby allowed Kulhawik to pay the city $9,000 — and the city agreed not to file a complaint with police.
The agreement did not provide any details as to how city data was manipulated, how cash was mishandled or who, if anyone, benefited.
Tax and finance offices in Ansonia, Derby, Oxford and Shelton have been rife with allegations of corruption during the last two years.
Derby’s internal handling of the allegations against Kulhawik differs from probes in Ansonia, Oxford and Shelton, where investigations were turned over to outside independent agencies, such as state police or prosecutors.
Detailed, public explanations of some kind — whether in the forms of detailed investigative reports (Ansonia), civil lawsuits (Oxford and Shelton), or arrest warrants (Oxford) — were prepared and released to the public in each case.
Ansonia and Oxford took extra steps and held public discussions on how they would prevent the misdeeds from happening again. Oxford, for example, announced the installation of video cameras and a host of other reforms to let the public know their tax money was being protected.
Derby has been less open about how they were “damaged,” saying the information about the publicly-funded office is too sensitive for the public to know.
Several sources have repeatedly told the Valley Indy Derby officials opted to work out an agreement with Kulhawik because they didn’t have enough evidence to pursue a formal criminal complaint against her. The separation agreement was the best way to ensure she didn’t continue to work in Derby City Hall, those officials said.
In addition, the city didn’t want to spend the time or the money needed to file a civil lawsuit against the former employee. Finally, officials have claimed taxpayers who owe money could use the data as a way to get out of paying their taxes.
The lack of information about how city taxpayers may have been scammed is a concern, according to statements made at the Dec. 27 Aldermen meeting by Democrats Stephen Iacuone, Carmen DiCenso and Gerkens (who officially enrolled in the Democratic Party in late December).
Staffieri told the Valley Indy Jan. 2 that the previous discussions about what allegedly happened inside the city’s tax office has been discussed in private executive sessions — and that should continue.
“This is sensitive information and it needs to be done in executive session. That’s it. It just has to be done professionally,” the mayor said.
Gerckens, the Alderman who voted against the initial separation agreement and requested a written report from Coppola Dec. 27, said Wednesday he is thoroughly confused by Staffieri’s veto.
“I asked for a written report about an investigation. I don’t remember if I specifically asked for a ‘public written report.’ In any case, we did everything by the book. I made a motion for a written report and it passed. Now the mayor files a veto — but we’ll still be receiving a written report? I’m confused,” Gerckens said.
Gerckens said the amount of “damages” incurred by Derby changed over the course of several executive session meetings. First it was more than $10,000, then it was $9,000, Gerckens said.
Gerckens said the public has a right to know what happened in the tax office. Specifically, the public should know how it happened and what steps the city took to make sure it does not happen again.
“I’m an idealist. I believe in open government. I just don’t understand why we have to hide everything in executive session. I don’t understand why we have to be so secretive,” he said.