SOUTHINGTON — Town leaders have mixed opinions on Town Council Chairman Chris Palmieri’s recent appointment as principal of DePaolo Middle School.
The educator and Democratic councilor said he feels the two positions won’t conflict and a majority of the Board of Education agreed when they voted to promote him from assistant principal to principal of the school last week. He also oversees lifeguards during the summer with the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Palmieri said he feels he’s been successfully managing his commitments since starting as an administrator at DePaolo 14 years ago. Students will remain his top priority, he said.
“I have turned down other opportunities I could have had in the past because I love what I’m doing and I’m fully committed to DePaolo. I consider it a family,” Palmieri said.
Two board members, including Chairman Brian Goralski, said they had reservations about Palmieri’s ability to devote the necessary time to each job as well as the possible complications from holding the two positions. Palmieri was appointed by a 7 to 2 vote. Usually such appointments are unanimous.
Goralski, a Republican, said his vote last week wasn’t against Palmieri but in the best interest of the district. He was concerned about “the perceived conflict of interest in the community and the real conflict that he’s the top administrator of the building.”
“I don’t believe he was the best choice given the circumstances,” Goralski said. “Chris has 100 percent of my support moving forward, he just didn’t have my vote that night.”
Terri Carmody, education board vice chairwoman and a Republican, said she didn’t agree with the concerns of the two board members who voted against Palmieri’s appointment.
“Those are their personal opinions,” Carmody said. “Chris has put 13 years in as an assistant principal… I felt that he deserved that.”
Mark Sciota, town manager and former town attorney, has advised Palmieri that he’s allowed to vote on budgets as long as the vote doesn’t specifically involve payroll. The Town Council doesn’t determine pay for administrators, who are Board of Education employees, and doesn’t have line-item control over how the education board spends money allocated to it.
As a member of the administrators’ union, Palmieri’s salary and benefits are determined through collective bargaining.
Palmieri said a second opinion from Town Attorney Carolyn Futtner agreed with Sciota’s previous positions. State law allows Board of Education employees to serve on any elected groups, with the exception of the school board, Palmieri said.
Michael Riccio, a Republican councilor and prior council chairman, said he feels Palmieri has to choose between his different roles. Riccio said he is concerned about Palmieri’s paid roles of principal and lifeguard coordinator.
“You can’t be getting a paycheck for the same time period for two different jobs in the same municipality,” Riccio said. “Chris has some serious choices he needs to make. He can’t continue to do everything and be effective in all these roles he plays.”
Palmieri said the pool supervision work takes place during the summer and weekends. His primary job at DePaolo hasn’t suffered from his involvement elsewhere, he said, and there haven’t been issues.
“I think actions speak louder than words,” he said, citing his record.
Victoria Triano, Republican minority leader, said career and volunteer position decisions were up to Palmieri.
“We all have things we’re involved in,” she said. “It comes down to a question of what our feelings will be about how much time is involved, is it an indirect conflict of interest? We all have to answer that for ourselves.”