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Town Attorney: Education Employee Can Serve As Councilor, But Cannot Vote On Budgets

Some had called for the resignation of Councilor Tanner, who works as a Montville schools paraprofessional.

 

Town attorney Eileen Duggan told the Town Council Monday that in her opinion, an employee of the Montville school department or Board of Education can serve as a Town Councilor, but she also held that it would be a conflict for that person to vote on education budgets.

The issue came up at  Town councilor Laura Tanner abstained from voting; she is employed by the schools as a paraprofessional.  A number of residents at that meeting chortled when Tanner recused herself and one questioned her position as a town councilor.

In a press release sent to Patch last week, Jim Andriote Sr., chair of Independence for Montville, called for Tanner to “resign immediately.” He said that the town charter prohibits town employees from being town councilors:  “Except where authorized by law or otherwise specifically required by this Charter, no Councilor shall hold any other Town office or Town employment during the term for which he was elected to the Town Council…”

But Duggan said that despite provisions of the charter, state statute supersedes that law and, she said, specifically allows a board of education employee to serve “without conflict.”

Andriote charges that, “At no point, following the election did Councilor Tanner indicate she was still employed by the Board of Education until the previous mentioned meeting. “

“Based on the above information, Ms. Tanner should resign immediately.  Additionally, any votes that she has participated in should be struck from the record,” he said.

Duggan did say that while a town employee can serve, s/he cannot vote. Duggan said that a councilor who also happens to be employed by the school department may not vote on a budget.

“In my opinion, there did exist a conflict,” Duggan said.

In related school money matters

Councilor Gary Murphy, liaison to the BOE said he was told that the schools had a larger amount budgeted for “power, electricity and fuel, so they found some money, savings” which means, he said, that layoffs have been further reduced to 2.5.

Another opinion

Duggan also told the council that in her opinion, a petition to call for a change to the mill rate is not allowed.

Councilor Dana McFee said there’s a petition circulating that could see the budget go to referendum.

 

Linda June 12, 2012 at 11:07 AM
Any opinion this lawyer gives should not be considered. She always goes against previous attorneys opinions and gets us in more lawsuits than any other town. Nobody working for this town should be on the council.
Michelle Bychowsky June 12, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Really?! Mrs. Tanner did her research and she has the best interest of the town and the people of town in her heart. She would not have run for her seat if she did not! Sounds like someone did not do their research before they opened their mouth. OOPS!! This could be why more people do not get involved with politics.
Elizabeth June 12, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Some people are out for blood no matter what research is done. If it doesn't go their way, they blame anyone they can. She abstained from voting on the BOE budget, just as councilor Murphy has abstained when there is a conflict of interest due to his being the Oakdale fire chief. In about another year, the voters will have a chance to change the makeup of the council, just as they did last year. No one is going to die in the next two years while having a council made up of primarily democrats.
theinformant June 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Town Attorney Duggan did say that while a town employee can serve, she cannot vote. Duggan said that a counselor who also happens to be employed by the school department may not vote on a budget. “In my opinion, there did exist a conflict,” Duggan said. That means the vote on the Budget was in violation of the Charter, because Ms. Tanner voted for the whole Budget and that included the Board of Ed. Budget. What are you going to come up with now Ms. Town Attorney? This Town Attorney is going to cost this town so much money because she won’t do want she was hired to do, which is protect the town even if it means stopping the people you work for from carrying out their own personal agendas. The Town Attorney did exactly what the Democrats on the Council wanted her to do. Make up an excuse to allow the Democrats to do what they want. They even had her rule against petitioning the Mill-Rate, even though it has been petitioned in the past. If it was a Republican or Independent they would be calling for their resignation. You can count on that happening. By Charter she should not be on the Council. It’s clearly stated. This Council is creating its own rules through the Town Attorney to take away the rights of the people.
Elizabeth June 12, 2012 at 01:49 PM
State laws overrule the town charter.
J. Lincoln June 12, 2012 at 02:50 PM
The State Statute that I believe Atty. Duggan is referring to speaks directly to Teachers and Professional Administrators i.e. Superintendents not to Paraprofessionals (teacher aides). I don't know if her ruling is correct since the statute does not refer to all BOE employees.
J. Lincoln June 12, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Not if interpreted incorrectly. The town attorney has a flare for twisting, to the satisfaction of her clients, the intention of the statutes and charter provisions. What is not clear to me is who is her client, the Town Council or the people who pay the bills?
Ellen Hillman June 12, 2012 at 04:39 PM
To abstain was the right decision to make. But mr murphy has not always made the same decision on the general budget.
Liz June 12, 2012 at 10:06 PM
State Statute does not over rule the Town Charter, except if the Charter has FEWER restrictions than the Statute, not if the Charter is MORE restrictive. Cities that have more employees are extremely restrictive on their ability to serve on boards, councils and other elected and appointed position.
Joe Calcan June 12, 2012 at 10:22 PM
The Patch article doesn't seem to be clear- when Councilor Tanner was elected, did she work for the Board of Education, or did she get the job after the election? Could someone clarify this point.
Chuck Longton June 13, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Attorney Bruce Chudwick, council for the previous Republican and Independent run Council, addressed this same question and provided the same answer, based on the same state law, which overrides any town code. That law states specifically that members of the Board of Education may hold elective office in the town; with no qualifiers of any kind. So how is it possible to say that the Town Attorney’s opinion is biased toward the Democrats when the Republican and Independent’s attorney returned the same opinion? As to the poster seeking to limit that application to only officers on the BEO, the law makes no such distinction. If you are on the BOE you may hold elective office. Ms. Laura Tanner is allowed by state law to hold elective office in Montville. Anyone who continues to dispute that is only putting their ignorance of the law on public display. WRT the voting issue: Ms. Tanner abstained on the BOE budget vote. But once that budget was passed, she was free to vote on the overall town budget. The already approved BOE budget, was not up for vote and was not subject to further review. What Ms. Tanner voted on was the TOTAL, a vote that she, as a duly elected councilor was authorized to cast because the BOE budget, having already been voted on, no longer existed as a separate entity in the context of her vote. Therefore her vote on the total did not address the BOE budget in any fashion, only the total amount.
Jill J. June 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM
It does not matter if she was working when she ran, what matters is the Town Charter prohibits any town employee from serving on the Town Council. Once again the town lawyer is a sell out and gives the opinion that the Mayor and Council want -not what is right. It should put up numerous red flags when this particular attorney has gone against all previous legal opinion and also cost the town so much money with BS lawsuits due to her poor advice. There is no question that Ms. Tanner is nice the problem is perception, There could be an issue with her voting so there for do what is best and step down. She can still be involved in Town without causing a conflict.
Mari Jurczyk June 13, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Someone please clear this up for me. If state statutes can override Town Charters then why do we have Charters, period. If Laura Tanner did her research and knew that she could, in fact, serve as a Town Councilor and work for the BOE simultaneously, then why did we hire a lawyer to do research when supposedly we already knew the correct answer. I don't understand why we keep hiring and paying Suisman, Shapiro for legal research on issues that so many people keep saying they knew answer to. We need to cut back on spending not spend more!!!
Elizabeth June 14, 2012 at 10:56 AM
It is my understanding that Councilor McFee requested this particular legal opinion. Perhaps he is not as fiscally responsible as he portrays himself to be.
J. Arrington June 14, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Elizabeth, it appears that you are on a quest to attack Councilor McFee. I would suggest that you check with the Town Clerk's office to see who initially requested the legal opinion. My understanding is that all legal opinions should be on file in that office.
Elizabeth June 14, 2012 at 12:12 PM
If you don't believe me, perhaps you should go check. Mr. McFee was the councilor who put in the request for that legal opinion.
theinformant June 14, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Sorry Elizabeth You and Councilors Longton are way off base. It was Councilor Buebendorf who asked for the opinion back in 2007. She was or wanted to apply for a job with the Board of Ed. In Montville She asked the then Town Attorney if she would be able to serve on the Town Council while working for the Board of Ed. Of course she used the Town Attorney for her own personal use, I’m sure that means nothing to you two. The decision was never filed or cc’d to anyone else. It was just sent to her. The town paid for that ruling that was done for her personal interest. As far as State Statues, They only supersede if you try to weaken it. The Town strengthened the Statue by saying you can’t be on the Council if you work for the Town. This Attorney will say anything that these Democrats want her to. She needs to go and a real Attorney put in her place. Just because she is an Attorney doesn’t make her totally knowledgeable about Charters and State Statues.
J. Arrington June 14, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Elizabeth, I will check with the Town Clerk as soon as possible and let you know what I find.
J. Arrington June 14, 2012 at 01:16 PM
No Councilor Longton, according to the minutes of the Council, the Democrats initially hired the law firm of Shipman and Goodwin. The following Council kept that firm on as the Town Attorney.
J. Arrington June 14, 2012 at 01:17 PM
theinformant, how do you know that Councilor Buebendorf requested the opinion 5 years ago?
theinformant June 14, 2012 at 01:21 PM
It's amazing what you can find if you take the time and look in the right places.
theinformant June 14, 2012 at 01:54 PM
J. Arrington Please do check the Town Clerks Office. If you don’t find a Legal Opinion on file about Councilor Buebendorf request, then it must mean that there is no Legal opinion from the previous Town Attorney and that means this Town Attorney is just making up her own rules again and Mr. Longton is once again just spouting out false statements. It would be interesting to know if Councilor Buebendorf's request was obtained legally or not.
Elizabeth June 14, 2012 at 02:07 PM
I was talking about the current opinion, not the one from 2007. True, an opinion was obtained back in 2007, but rather than use that opinion, Councilor McFee requested a new opinion, only to receive the same answer.
Dana McFee June 15, 2012 at 12:32 AM
ahh Elizabeth, I see mommy is sharing confindential information with you.BTW mommy didnt file that oppinion with the town clerk so only your mommy knew about it. That is why the "current" opinion was asked for.
Jim Andriote Sr. June 15, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Chuck You are not giving true information. What the informant said was true. What the town Attorney says is not gospel. She is just saying what you and the Democrats want her to say. She states what the Attorney ruled back in 2007 as a reference to her opinion. I believe there was no ruling. If there was then why wasn’t it filed with the clerk’s office this way? Ask yourself •There is no time stamp from the Town Clerk's office where legal opinions should be filed. •Why is the 2007 attorney's opinion addressed to Buebendorf's home versus the Town Hall? •Why aren't any other councilors or the Mayor on the list of recipients? (cc's) •Why was the 2007 opinion even requested? Was it because Buebendorf was seeking employment as a teacher while serving as a town councilor? Also, I agree with the informant, He/She State Statues only supersede town charters when the charter weakens the Statue. In this case the Charter strengthens the Statue. Seconded of all it doesn’t specifically state Board of Ed. Employees. I assume once again you didn’t read it you just went by the Town Attorneys opinion, which isn’t worth the paper her contract was written on.
Dana McFee June 23, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Mt Longton states............ Chuck Longton 7:45 pm on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 Attorney Bruce Chudwick, council for the previous Republican and Independent run Council, addressed this same question and provided the same answer, based on the same state law, which overrides any town code. That law states specifically that members of the Board of Education may hold elective office in the town; with no qualifiers of any kind. So how is it possible to say that the Town Attorney’s opinion is biased toward the Democrats when the Republican and Independent’s attorney returned the same opinion? Chuck –Chuck- Chuck why would you say such a thing? It was atty. Fiengo from Suisman,Shapiro who gave that opinion and it was back in 2007 asked for by none other than Candy Buebendorf the council chair of the democraticaly controlled council (I guess she forgot to tell you) because she was applying for a job in the Montville school system. Had it been a republican / Independent controlled council Buebendorf would have paid for that opinion out of her own pocket instead of the taxpayers and that opinion would have been recorded in the Town Clerks office where it should have been so that question would not have had to be asked again.

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