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Town Attorney's Opinion Invalidated June 26 Budget Vote

Town Council voted again Monday, this time with no conflicts...of interest. But sparks flew anyway.

 

The political fireworks in the Town Council chambers Monday may not have equaled those enjoyed this past weekend and during Fourth of July celebrations, but at least a few councilors got heated and let the sparks fly.

“What’s your point with all of this,” Town Councilor Laura Tanner asked fellow councilor, Republican Dana McFee. “Are you trying to have me removed?”

McFee was angry about conflicting 

McFee called the decisions “flip-flops.”

Town attorney Eileen Duggan called it a clarification of an opinion she offered in May.

Either way, the vote last month to approve the budget after a mayoral veto – which was held with just four councilors present – was deemed invalid and needed to be re-done Monday night. And it was the Tanner vote that was at issue.

Duggan said last month that it was a conflict of interest for a town councilor employed by the board of education to vote on the budget; Tanner is employed by the Montville Board of Education as an elementary school paraprofessional.

And Monday, in a letter to Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel, Duggan not only clarified that Tanner could not vote on the general town budget since he has the school budget within it, but that since she did, the vote was invalid.

“Although Ms. Tanner certainly had no malevolent intent in voting” it was nonetheless “at odds” with Duggan’s opinion.

Duggan said Tanner’s vote in early June to approve the overall budget -- where the vote was 6 to 1, -- was  “inconsequential” as there were already a majority of yes votes. But on the June 26 vote, Duggan said, Tanner should have abstained and she did not. That vote was invalidated and the resolution was brought back to the table and voted on Monday, with McFee the lone dissenter.

“What a mess,” he said.

McFee has called for an independent review of Duggan’s opinions. The council did not back that request.

And in addition to that ruling, McFee questioned Duggan’s call that the budget recall petition he and others circulated was not permitted also was a dubious opinion.

“We need to discuss why we did this. The attorney’s flip-flopping position and the underhanded politics with this council…this whole  (expletive), I’m sick over it,” he said. “You stole the right to petition from the people. It’s a sad day in Montville.”

Councilor Rosetta Jones said she was concerned about McFee’s “indictment” of the entire council adding she was not even at the June 26 meeting. Jones, McFee and Council President Candy Buebendorf did not attend that meeting.

Mike Z. July 10, 2012 at 11:40 AM
How sad, a councilors most important job is to pass the town budget and Ms. Tanner can not vote on it. Why even be a councilor when you have conflicts of intrest like this? How much more did we spend last night to have both attorneys at the meeting defending themselves? Lastly is Councilor Murphy's vote count as part of the budget he passed gave him around $90k for his fire department?
Liz July 10, 2012 at 12:11 PM
In truth, not only is Ms. Tanner not allowed to vote on a budget, but is not allowed to participate in the discussions about the budget before the vote so as not to pursuade other councilors to vote the way she would have. And yes, unfortunately, Mr Murphy should have abstained from any vote that would produce a benefit to the Oakdale FD since he, as chief and therefore town employee, proposed the FD budget request. Whenever there is discussion on the council in which there could be a conflict of interest of one of the councilors they should excuse themselves. That will never happen until, sadly, the Town is sued over the violations because they just don't have anyone with a sense of propriety.
Jeffrey Rogers July 10, 2012 at 12:54 PM
The biggest shame of this whole thing is that these people who ran for council were elected by the majority. It was without any interest at the time as to where they work or volunteer or what they may have involvement with. What everyone needs to understand is that these individuals all care about the town of Montville and the issues at the table are not about Montville, but rather "People living in glass houses casting stones." It is clear that Mrs. Tanner has no involvement in how the BOE spends the money allocated in the budget. She does not hold a position that would influence that. Chief Murphy does hold that position and should abstain but only in how it is applicable to the Oakdale Fire Department, not the entirety of the budget. The council needs to work together and if you can't, step down and get people who can. The other option is, if you want to keep fighting with each other over "Personal Attacks" and not handle the town business as you said you would, than hold on because we the people will remove you.
montvillejive July 10, 2012 at 01:06 PM
I will disagree with what Jeffrey Rogers said about Councilor Tanner. She does hold a position that influenced the budget process or else the Council wouldn't have voted for the budget a third time. To go back to what Tanner said over a year ago, "No leadership whatsoever, the bickering is out of control, and instead of people voting what is RIGHT they vote with their party." She voted for her party, the Democrats. Tanner is a political hypocrite who said what she needed to so she could get elected. Nothing personal there, I'm just sick of the two-faced people who have been elected to the Council. Never before has a budget been messed-up as bad as these people have done.
J. Lincoln July 10, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Bill Caron: if you had done you job (properly chair the meeting) on June 26th and and disallow Tanner from voting as ruled by the Town Attorney, on May 27th and reconfirmed last night, a lot of the contention could have been avoided. I'll bet that ruling cost us a pretty penny. Laura Tanner: If you can't vote or be involved with discussions pertaining to the BOE's budget as part of the Towns overall budget your responsibility is seriously jeopardized. It is the most important duty for a councilor. Mayor McDaniel, when the original line item vote was taken why didn't you inform the council then about your union negotiations. Could have avoided veto and this entire mess. Two members of this council, Tanner and Longton, used to hammer at how inept the last chairperson was and how decisive. Well it looks to me like you better take a look at yourselves and the money your wasting on legal fees.
Wayne July 10, 2012 at 02:12 PM
The difference is that Ms. Tanner receives personal gain from the BOE budget through her salary. Mr Murphy does not. He is a volunteer and does not receive personal gain or a salary from the budget. I also feel it's foolish that a person that make one of the smallest pay rates in the BOE system is being attacked for her vote that she was unaware of being a conflict of interest. How about all the years that Max Kopko voted on the BOE budget when his daughter was employeed by the BOE. The same people yelling now were around then. What's the difference?
theinformant July 10, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Ms. Tanner before she was elected did nothing but criticize the previous Chairman for not having control during a meeting. Well, the present Chairman not only has no control, she doesn’t make decisions just like the Mayor. Every time the Attorney gives an opinion, the Mayor and the Chairman takes it as gospel. The Attorney is only giving an opinion. In the end the Council has the final say whether they want to go by her opinion or vote to do what they want. Remember, the Attorney is only giving an opinion as to what she feels the reading means. Anyone can read something and say what they think it means. The Charter is the Governing Document that the Town goes by. The Statue only supersedes a Charter when the Charter is weakening what the Statue says. Most of the time the Statue is not involved in Town matters unless it is referred to in the Charter.
theinformant July 10, 2012 at 02:28 PM
In Ms. Tanner’s case, the Charter is the Document that the Town should rule by and it’s very clear what should be done. The Chairman asked the Attorney to give an opinion because she didn’t want to follow the Charter. The Attorney being a good obedient Attorney followed her directive. Thus giving the opinion to what the Chairman wanted to hear. If the Chairman and Ms. Tanner were individuals who cared about the town of Montville and what’s right or wrong, then they could have saved the Town a lot of money paid in Lawyers’ fees and just asked Ms. Tanner to follow the Charter. It seems to me, that every time they know their wrong, they ask for an opinion to justify their mistakes. It’s pretty clear out of all the Mayors and Town Councils this town has had, they are the worse.
montvillejive July 10, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Wayne, Councilor Tanner was aware of the conflict back in April 2012. She and the rest of the Democrats knew there was a problem. Yet they went ahead regardless of the price the taxpayers would have to pay for their blunders. There's a huge difference between Kopko's daughter and Ms. Tanner working directly for the Board of Education. Kopko did not personally benefit while Ms. Tanner's paycheck every two weeks is a personal benefit.
Sam Rogers July 10, 2012 at 04:51 PM
"Remember, the Attorney is only giving an opinion as to what she feels the reading means. Anyone can read something and say what they think it means." Geez, that sounds just like something Dana McFee would say. Do you seriously believe that "anyone" is capable of rendering a legal opinion? Attorneys are paid to predict how a court would rule, to a degree of certainty appropriate to the circumstances, and in effect to absorb the risk of being wrong (which is why they usually carry professional malpractice insurance). Legal opinions given by persons lacking qualifications to do so are meaningless. You might as well hire a janitor to design bridges or a cop to do brain surgery. "The Charter is the Governing Document that the Town goes by. The Statue only supersedes a Charter when the Charter is weakening what the Statue says." That's a legal opinion in itself. What is your source for such a rule?
theinformant July 10, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Wayne Mr. Murphy may not be receiving finances directly to him, however is in control of the money received by the Firehouse. In my opinion, by him being on the Council and Finance Committee, he controls the amount of money that is allocated to his Firehouse. Maybe you should ask the Chairman of the Council to ask the Town Attorney for another opinion to say he is OK and can stay on the Council and be able to vote on Budgets. After all, it’s just money and the Mayor and the Chairman doesn’t mind spending it. That would solve everything. While you’re at it, ask about Mr. Carons company that he Manages doing work for the Town while on the Council.
Sam Rogers July 10, 2012 at 05:04 PM
"In Ms. Tanner’s case, the Charter is the Document that the Town should rule by and it’s very clear what should be done." Wow. I underestimated your qualifications, Mr. Informant. Obviously, you are a Judge of the Superior Court, and thus capable not only of formulating legal opinions but also rendering legal decisions. "It’s pretty clear out of all the Mayors and Town Councils this town has had, they are the worse." Yes, it's clear that they are far, far worse than the Republican mayor and Republican-controlled council chaired by Dick Wilson, who signed the Rand-Whitney contract against legal advice and wound up obligating the taxpayers to the tune of 12 million or so. Those were the good old days ....
montvillejive July 10, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Sam Rogers, because someone doesn't hold a juris doctorate, it shouldn't exclude a person from interpreting a document, statute, or even charter provision. Just because someone may hold an MBA doesn't mean automatically that they are capable of being Mayor. Education and knowledge of subject matter is not always connected. There are many, many people who do not hold college degrees and have succeeded in life. And yes, a janitor could design a bridge - never assume anything about an individuals capabilities. I think your statement sounds like elitism at best.
theinformant July 10, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Sam When it comes to Town Attorneys, they can say whatever they want. Are you going to spend thousands of dollars to challenge in Court the Attorneys opinion? How many people you think have that kind of money to spend? Besides, what would it solve, that’s why they can say what they want and get away with it? The big mistake was made by the Mayor from the advice of the Town Attorney, about firing McNally. The court will decide if the Attorney gave the Mayor good info or not. Unfortunately, the Attorney is not going to pay for anything, even though she investigated the incident and advised the Mayor to fire him. So the town is sued and who loses if the Mayor is found at fault, not the Attorney and she gave her opinion. Can you sue the Attorney for giving a bad opinion? Get real, Attorneys are hired by the Council, they work for the Town and they do what they are asked to do, who’s going to challenge them? Mr. McFee asked for another Attorney to Audit the Town Attorneys opinions, they shot it down. In answer to your question my info came from another Attorneys opinion. Then again, what I write has as much credibility as anything you write. What’s your source that you are able to make your statements?
Mike Z. July 10, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Funny the mayor and council ran on a ticket to do what's best for the town and promised to work together. However as we can all see those hopes have all been but forgotten. What happened to the tee shirts that said Ronny Mac has got your back? O yea he did take care of his boy Lenny. When will we learn that the lawyers run up billable hours and don't give a care about montville? When will we learn that outsiders come in screw up the town then leave? The cycle needs to end...
Dana McFee July 11, 2012 at 02:58 AM
If Dugans opinion is correct based on her interpretation of the charter and state statute, then what would happen if four members of the council were Board of Ed employees? If her legal opinion is correct it would have to apply to all Board of Ed employees that could conceivably be sitting on the council , and if so there would never be a quorum and could not approve the education budget. I invite all you “arm chair lawyers” to read below and give your own opinions. If an attorney reads this I also invite you to give an opinion ……..thank you
Dana McFee July 11, 2012 at 02:59 AM
CHARTER § C305. Prohibitions. A. Holding other office: 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, and no former Councilor shall hold any compensated appointive Town office or Town employment until one year after the expiration of the term for which he was elected to the Town Council. STATE STATUTE Sec. 10-156e. Employees of boards of education permitted to serve as elected officials; exception. Notwithstanding the provisions of any special act or municipal charter or ordinance to the contrary, any employee of a local or regional board of education or of an incorporated or endowed high school approved pursuant to the provisions of section 10-34 shall have the right to serve on any governmental body of the town in which he resides except that no such employee shall serve on such employee's employing board of education.
theinformant July 11, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Hey Sam I’m not a Judge, I’m not an Attorney, however, I have an opinion just like the Town Attorney. She does not give legal opinions; she gives her opinion to what she feels the wording in a Charter or Statue says. Ask her if that’s true, she’ll tell you. She shouldn’t lie about that. Jimmy Devine always said, I’m giving you my opinion. She’s not a Judge; she is a Lawyer, not a very professional one at that. You on the other hand I feel by your comments do not understand the Justus System. I do have a relative who is an Attorney. I pick his brain quite a bit. He only gives me his opinion. It’s not a legal one; it’s what he interprets something is saying. It’s amazing that two Attorneys can have such different opinions. Judges give legal opinions. That’s why if you are not happy with what the Town Council or Mayor does, you go to court. You can ramble all you want, what you say is just your opinion. I have mine; in this case I feel my opinion is correct. What I read in the Statue that Mr. McFee printed, is Ms. Tanner should not be on the Council. What the Town Attorney must have read is she can be. The Attorney is the adviser to the Council, that’s why they take what she says as gospel even though she could be wrong. The only way to prove otherwise is to go to court and get the legal opinion from the Judge.
Chris Lawton July 11, 2012 at 06:44 PM
I don't believe Mrs Tanner is trying to do anything wrong. I don't know her well, but have met her on a few occasions, and I feel she wants what is best for our town. With that said, the laws, charters and rules are in place for a reason. We, as citizens, do not want our leaders or officials to have the opportunity to use their power for an unscrupulous agenda. If we bend the rules now, what may happen in the future if someone less trust worthy is in a similar situation? This is not a situation where I would like it to set a precedent. Looking at the big picture, what is best for the town is to not have this conflict continue.
a.l. July 15, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Ms. Tanner did not hide her position during election season, nor did make any promises she has yet to keep. She IS working with the other councilors, and yes, the majority happens to be Democrats as elected by the good people of this town. The only "bickering" going on is by the few who feel it necessary to charge our present councilors and our mayor with negative and indecisive leadership. I also believe that Ms. Tanner has our town's best interest and commend her for subjecting herself to all of this because of it! I find it ironic that the decisions of the attorney, the fact that the attorney's opinion was even requested, and of course the cost of the attorney is the subject of much debate, and yet because some do not like her "opinion", the "shot down" suggestion of getting another opinion is criticized. So, it is ok to spend money on attorney's if they like YOUR opinion and give you YOUR outcome. Just as we have many "arm chair attorneys" this season, last budget season we had councilors that pretended to know more than a finance director and look where that got them! or rather, us. I guess it's easier to point fingers at the political party you are against, instead of the mistake of the one your in.
theinformant July 15, 2012 at 07:43 PM
a.l. Your quote “Ms. Tanner did not hide her position during election season, nor did make any promises she has yet to keep” I believe you’re correct. As matter of fact, I believe she didn’t say much of anything then or now. She seems to say a lot on Facebook, but not much during a Council meeting. She isn’t working with other Councilors, she is following the lead of her fellow Democratic Councilors. You wouldn’t notice the Mayor the council or the Town Attorney doing anything wrong if it smacked you in the face. You’re always willing to blame everyone else except the people making the mistakes, who happen to be the present party in power now. I also have to say, the past council did know more then the Finance Director, they found the 4.5 million dollar mistake the Finance Director, Council and Mayor before them made, or did you forget about that.
Owen Willis July 16, 2012 at 12:28 AM
a.l., Blaming the past council and Mayor for the problems the current Mayor and town council has created themselves is a great defense mechanism, but unrealistic.
a.l. July 24, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Incredible. Typical, but incredible.

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