The Derby Board of Aldermen met behind closed doors Jan. 24 to receive a report from its attorney detailing . . . well, the Valley Indy is not sure what the report detailed because the Aldermen are keeping it secret.
The Aldermen voted 7-1 to withhold a report by corporation counsel Joseph Coppola detailing (presumably) his investigation of Katherine Kulhawik, the former tax office clerk who “may have” mishandled cash payments from residents and manipulated taxpayer data.
Coppola said in December releasing his report to the public could — potentially — cause people who owe back taxes to dispute their tax bills.
Aldermen Art Gerckens was the lone Derby legislator in favor of releasing Coppola’s report to the public.
City Hall has allegedly changed procedures in its tax office to prevent whatever happened from happening again.
“They’ve (City Hall) stated they fixed the problem,” Gerkens said. “If they fixed the problem, what are they worried about?”
Gerckens said Wednesday there was nothing in Coppola’s report that would cause Derby to implode.
“There was nothing in the report damaging to Derby. It’s not the Kennedy assassination. There is nothing in there the public can’t see,” Gerckens said. “It could have been made public and I don’t think the city would have suffered damages.”
In terms of the President Kennedy assassination and government transparency, the feds held public hearings in an attempt to explain what happened. The Warren Commission Report is available to the public 24 hours a day online.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government detailed national security flaws in the “9-11 Commission Report.” Despite the subject matter, the report was released to the public and became a NY Times bestseller.
But in Derby, Aldermen Jan. 24 used attorney-client privilege to keep their report secret.
Kulhawik was escorted out of Derby City Hall in June after her supervisor became suspicious of the way she handled cash payments from residents. Some cash was allegedly missing and a “pattern of voids” was discovered.
Kulhawik was able to work out a deal with the Aldermen in which they promised not to call the cops if she agreed to pay $9,000 in “damages” to the city.
She’s been paying the money.
Corruption in local tax or finance offices have been plaguing the lower Valley in recent years.
The former tax collector in Oxford is in prison. The former assistant finance director in Shelton was just arrested. The Ansonia tax collector resigned her position amid a cloud of controversy in August.
Kulhawik was escorted out of Derby City Hall when her alleged misdeeds surfaced in June.
However, unlike Ansonia, Oxford and Shelton, Derby officials never consulted with an outside law enforcement agency to review the allegations.
In addition, Derby officials — unlike their counterparts in Ansonia, Oxford and Shelton — won’t provide details to taxpayers about how Kulhawik allegedly mishandled cash and manipulated public data.
In December, Gerckens noted that elected officials had nothing in writing pertaining to how Coppola conducted his internal investigation. He asked Coppola to give a report. The majority of the Board of Aldermen voted to do the same, but Mayor Anthony Staffieri filed a veto.
The agenda for the Jan. 24 Aldermen meeting called for an executive (closed to the public) session on “personnel: report regarding tax office matter, confidential attorney correspondence.”
During the closed door executive session, members of the Board of Aldermen could be heard arguing loudly, albeit briefly.
After the executive session, Barbara DeGennaro, president of the Board of Aldermen, made a motion to accept Coppola’s report as a confidential, “attorney-client privileged correspondence” and “not make that report public.”
See the video above for more.
The majority of the Aldermen then passed DeGennaro’s motion without discussion.
The Valley Indy has been told multiple times by several sources that the city did not have the evidence needed to file a criminal complaint against Kulhawik and that the $9,000 separation agreement was the best the city could do.
The Valley Indy Wednesday (Jan. 30) submitted a request under the state Freedom of Information Act to Derby City Hall asking for a copy of Coppola’s report.