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Norwalk Council tables Fensore payment because it was already paid

Norwalk Common Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) moves to table the Fensore settlement payment Tuesday in City Hall.

Update, 7 p.m.: Minor edit.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Common Council Democrats professed surprise Tuesday that payment had already been made to settle former Special Education Department Director Chrissy Fensore’s lawsuit against former Board of Education Chair Mike Lyons.

The Council was set to approve the$150,000 settlement, but after a brief executive session voted unanimously to table the item indefinitely.

“Who paid it?” Mayor Harry Rilling asked after the meeting. “What process was followed to allow that payment? Where’d they get the money? It’s just right now there’s a lot of questions that … we needed to have answers because we just found all this out today. I just found it out in the caucus room when I went in.”
The Board of Education voted on Dec. 5 to settle the lawsuit, which accused Lyons of defamation of character.

The agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting called for the Council to authorize Rilling to settle the suit, “pending in the Connecticut Superior Court.” The case was withdrawn with prejudice on Dec. 8, according to the state judicial website.

“I move to table this item indefinitely or at least until such time as we can get further clarification,” said Michael Corsello (D-At Large), an attorney. “… We were told that it was necessary for us to approve, or give the mayor authority to execute an agreement to settle the lawsuit titled (Fensore) versus Lyons. We have since learned that not only has it been settled but it’s been paid. So, it would seem to me that there’s nothing, no action, that we can take that route or no action we should take unless other information comes to our attention.”

“We want to contact the attorney with Shipman and Goodwin, we want to meet with the Board of Ed and try to figure out how this happened, what happened, and what now needs to happen to finalize this,” Rilling said.

“It didn’t go before the BET (Board of Estimate and Taxation). It didn’t go before the Council,” Rilling said, suggesting that perhaps the BoE or the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency (CIRMA) paid it.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr, a City Hall veteran, said he’s never seen this happen before.

“We’ll get some answers from (Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton),” said Spahr, who was filling in for Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola.

Hamilton was in a City Hall room immediately adjacent to the Council chambers, explaining the Board’s proposed capital budget. After that meeting ended, about an hour after the Council members left, Hamilton said that he had paid the $150,000 on behalf of the Board of Education.

“They executed a settlement agreement, which is their purview as a body corporate under 10-241 of state statute. They are a separate body politic corporate with a right to sue and be sued and based on the decision of the Board they indicated the suit was settled. … I was instructed by the attorney representing the Board that it needed to be paid by Jan. 5th, and I paid it,” Hamilton said.

The Council action was a reimbursement route for the Board, he said.

“The issue is this claim was reserved on the insurance fund, that is part of the city insurance fund,” Hamilton said. “So my understanding is it was going to the Council because that bucket of the insurance fund is funded by the city. It’s not funded by the Board of Education. So those funds that are set aside and reserved for potential claims did not flow through the Board of Education operating budget. It’s appropriated and paid for directly by the city. But that insurance fund was established in order to pay liability claims associated with the Board of Education. I mean, it was the city Corporation Counsel that said it needed to go through the Common Council in order to be paid by the city insurance fund, as I understand it.”

7 comments

James Cahn January 10, 2018 at 3:06 pm

This is jaw droppingly hilarious. These jokers owe me a new display on my computer and a coffee to replace the one I just spit all over it.

I bet Dick Moccia paid it out when he declared the snow emergency last week.

This is like some absurd, Nabokovian dystopia where grey, bureaucratic clerks just punch tickets and the guy who’s supposedly in charge is just as astounded by what does and doesn’t happen as anyone else.

Protip Harry: next time someone on your team spends $150,000 of MY money that you’re surprised to find out about, you say, “Yes. I told my team to take care of it to not expose Norwalk’s tax payers anymore than they already are.” And then start tearing new ones behind closed doors and deal with the fallout after. Don’t stand there with your mouth hanging open and proclaim, “I literally have no idea what’s happening.”

EverMindful January 11, 2018 at 7:59 am

This is just another example in a long line of “questionable” behavior by the BOE. I guess its better to do it first and seek permission later. The BOE over the past several years has had some difficulties with adhering to the letter of law.

1. Miscommunication and lack of transparency among members during the Supt. search.
2. Ill advised negotiations directly with teachers over health insurance.
3. Social Media bashing and denigration of teachers by several officers of the BOE
4. The Fensore email.
5. Years of neglect and mishandling of Special Education.
6. Lack of training for administrators. The shifting of administrators among the buildings.

Now they seek to be repaid by the city for their own foolish behavior. This money could have been better spent on countless other things within the distinct. Or even better saved!

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm

This doesn’t sound like miscommunication from the BOE. They communicated clearly to the Hamilton to pay the settlement fee. And he did so. The error is that the CC believed they were responsible for paying the settlement rather than reimbursing the BOE.

All government officers, including elected members of the BOE, are indemnified by state statute.

Rick January 11, 2018 at 12:15 pm

hope they are planing on FIRETREE , where we all are wondering how that is going to play out this 150k is just a warmup exercise. Im sure that will be a surprise as well.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm

How much will it cost the taxpayers to undo a mistake that originated more than three years ago in the mayor’s office? More than 150k? Try more than 2 million. Do you suppose anyone will feign surprise when the Firetree settlement check is cut? We have parents outraged over how the 150 grand Fensore settlement could have been spent. When a 2-3 million dolllar check crosses Barron’s desk with Firetree’s name on it, will the BOE feel the heat or will the outrage be directed where it belongs, with the mayor?

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