Secret Derby Report Can Remain Secret, FOI Rep Says

Derby officials do not have to release a secret report regarding the alleged malfeasance of a former city employee, according to a letter from an attorney for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

Note — after this story was published, the Valley Indy received a copy of the report.

The former Derby employee, Katherine Kulhawik, “may have” mishandled cash, misapplied tax payments, deleted cash payments, manipulated data and suspended tax billing statements while she worked in the Derby tax office.

She worked out an agreement last year with the Derby Board of Aldermen in which she promised to pay $9,000 to the city if the city promised not to file a formal criminal complaint with police. She was allowed to resign and gave up her right to file a lawsuit or file a grievance.

Kulhawik eventually paid the money — but only after Derby threatened to take her to civil court after the president of the Board of Aldermen revealed Kulhawik had fallen behind in her payment plan.

The specific details of how and what Kulhawik allegedly did have never been made public, in contrast to the public airings of internal City Hall controversies in Ansonia, Oxford and Shelton.

Derby Corporation Counsel Joseph Coppola prepared a report for the Derby Board of Aldermen, but the Aldermen voted to label it attorney-client privilege, which shielded it from the public’s view.

The Valley Indy attempted to obtain a copy of the report by filing a complaint against the Aldermen with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

A hearing on the complaint was held July 1. The Valley Indy argued that the Aldermen did not seek legal advice from their attorney, but merely requested a summary of his investigation, so the report shouldn’t be protected.

In addition, the news site argued that a Valley Gazette article indicated the report had been shared with a third party and therefore lost its status as privileged.

Art Gerckens — the Derby Alderman who requested Coppola prepare the report — testified at the FOI hearing, saying he did not think the report should be kept secret.

However, in a letter dated Aug. 14, Victor R. Perpetua, an attorney and hearing officer with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, said that while the report is not purely a legal opinion, it relates to legal advice “concerning the disposition of the issues raised by the employee misconduct,” and is therefore protected by attorney-client privilege.

Perpetua’s four-page letter is a proposed decision. The Freedom of Information Commission is expected to formally accept it at a meeting Sept. 11.

Perpetua reviewed Coppola’s secret report, and his letter sheds some new light on the document.

Coppola’s report contains information on “how to resolve issues surrounding the mishandling of cash in the tax collector’s office, including whether to file a complaint with the police department, and how (to) resolve issues surrounding the employment rights of the employee accused of misconduct.”

“It is further found that the respondents (Derby elected officials) found just cause to terminate the employee, and that the employee ultimately agreed to voluntarily resign, reimburse the town $9,000, and waive any claims against the town,” Perpetua said.

Perpetua’s letter is printed below.

FOI SAYS NO by ValleyIndyDotOrg


posted by: Stan Muzyk on August 22, 2013  8:55am

Now—let the City of Derby get on to new business.