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Judge: Stratford Illegally Hired EMS Director

The town charter was violated when Philip Onofrio was hired, a judge ruled last week.

Stratford's director of emergency medical services could be stripped of his post after a judge last week ruled that the town's hiring violated the town charter and thus was illegal.

Philip Onofrio's appointment as the new director in March 2011 was made at a time when there was already an EMS director -- which violated a town law limiting the position to one individual, Judge Howard Owens ruled in his 10-page decision.

"The charter defines the position a singularity," Owens wrote. "It does not allow for a second director to be created."

"We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling," said Mayor John A. Harkins, adding that the town plans to appeal.

Donna Best, who was EMS head for 11 years before Onofrio, brought the lawsuit against the town. In her testimony, she said that only after Onofrio took her job was she demoted to a lesser role.

And the testimony of the town's human resources director, Ronald Ing, backed that claim.

"Ronald Ing testified without contradiction that as soon as Onofrio assumed the office of director, Onofrio took complete operational control of the organization and reduced Best to a subordinate role," Owens wrote in his memorandum.

"Ing also testified that Onofrio took over position as director in March 2011 without any authorization from the Town Council to pay for his salary."

According to a report in the Connecticut Post, Onofrio was hired at about $100,000 a year, whereas Best was paid $82,000 annually.

"This was all about money and the mayor trying to spend taxpayers' money on behalf of some folks he wanted to help," Leon Rosenblatt, the lawyer for Best, told the newspaper.

Furthermore, Owens ruled that Onofrio and the town of Stratford failed to show Onofrio's "complete legal title to the position." In fact, he decreed that Best presented "a solid foundation of evidence showing that she is the director."

And as for Onofrio's future: "Once a court ascertains that the person is not the de jure office holder he must be removed," Owens ruled.

disheartened resident December 12, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Mr. Catalano, my humble apologies I should have known that you would again be the lone voice in the wilderness. Please allow me to me correct my comment to "Time for a full house cleaning of BOTH parties in November except for Councilman Catalano".
disheartened resident December 12, 2012 at 05:11 PM
"The Town Attorney issued an opinion at the time that said it was in the Mayor's purview to do just what he did." As we all know the town attorney is very good at making work for himself and his colleagues.
Stephanie Philips December 12, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Disheartened resident. I am on record in 2011 opposing the hiring of another EMS Director as a violation of the Charter. In fact I wrote a published Editorial Opinion on Patch.com detailing my concerns http://stratford.patch.com/articles/council-member-outlines-ems-hiring-and-charter-concerns and in the CT Post http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Councilman-Hiring-of-EMS-director-violates-town-1277221.php. At this last council meeting following the judges ruling, I reiterated my charter concerns further questioning the cost and the process of appealing. Moreover, Mr. Onofrio was hired and paid before the Town Council approved any funding for this unbudgeted position. I voted No to the funding request. The EMS budget continues to strain with the cost of duplicate salaries. Let’s be clear not to let the question become side tracked with the accomplishments of each director, both of which I believe are capable individuals whom I have great respect. Stephanie Philips, 2nd District
disheartened resident December 13, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Ms. Philips, my humble apologies to you as well, please allow me to me correct my comment to "Time for a full house cleaning of BOTH parties in November except for Councilpersons Catalano and Philips". As far as the accomplishments of the director in question of which “you have great respect”, if he was gifted his position scandalously as may be the case I believe that is a criminal act. I sincerely hope that both you and Mr. Catalano are going to use your positions of trust to conduct a bipartisan investigation of these claims concerning Bauer/Perillo/Onofrio/Harkins. I'd start by requesting the alleged emails, I’m sure they haven’t already been erased. Please let us know what you find out. Someone has to stand up for us taxpayers.
disheartened resident December 13, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Councilpersons Catalano and Philips THIS SHOULD HELP: "§ 2.2.15. Power to Investigate and Procure Information. [Amended 11-4-2008] The Council shall have the power to investigate town affairs. In exercising this power, the Council shall have the power to require any town elected or appointed official, officer, director, department head, or employee to furnish the Council or its designee all information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material which is in the possession of the elected or appointed official, officer, director, department head, or employee, and which, in the opinion of the Council is necessary to enable the Council to discharge the duties imposed upon it by this Charter, or to properly and completely investigate town affairs. It is hereby made a duty and obligation of all town elected or appointed officials, officers, directors, department heads, and employees to provide the Council with the requested information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material when so required by the Council. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Charter, the Council shall have the right to appropriate funds, either by way of the budget or by special appropriation, to fund any costs and expenses which may, in the opinion of the Council, be necessary, proper and required to conduct the investigation or to procure any information, contracts, reports, papers, documents, records, or other material."

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