Conflict and confrontation over Meriden’s city budget is nothing new, but this year was different.
First a group of activist residents gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the City Council’s proposed budget, and the voters overwhelmingly rejected that plan and the tax hike it would have required.
Then Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, facing a $250,000 cut to his budget prompted by the referendum, announced that he would have to eliminate the Neighborhood Initiative Unit and three school resource officers.
Then Mayor Kevin Scarpati presented a plan that would cut $173,000 from the Police Department's administrative salaries line, provided that Cossette and Deputy Chief Tim Topulos would retire by October. Under this plan, some compensation for Cossette and Topulos would have been rolled into their pensions, Deputy Chief Mark Walerysiak would have been promoted to acting chief, and the city would not have filled the deputy vacancies this year.
The plan — worked out in a meeting attended by Scarpati, Cossette, Topulos, Finance Director Michael Lupkas and Human Resources Director Marci Nogueira — was rejected by the City Council.
After that, Cossette said he considered the idea “off the table” and proceeded to squabble with the City Council over additional cuts to his budget prompted by the failed early retirement plan
Was this a matter of Scarpati thinking “outside the box,” as Cossette said at one point? Or was this a case of a mayor going beyond his authority?
The City Charter speaks of the mayor’s duties as presiding over council meetings, with limited veto power, along with some ceremonial duties.
It says he shall also “keep informed on City matters and may make reports and recommendations to the City Council and electors of the City on matters of legislative concern and general town policy.”
He “may attend any meeting of any board, commission or other governmental body of the City and … shall have the full right of participation in discussions but shall not have the right to vote.”
Nowhere, however, does it say the mayor has the authority to engage in contract negotiations with the police chief — or anyone else. Not even close.
Scarpati had good intentions, but he overstepped his authority and by stepping on the toes of the City Council he probably has made it more difficult to reach an early retirement agreement with Cossette and Topulos.
Any future early retirement negotiations should be handled by the city manager, under the direction of the City Council.
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