Candlewood Lake Authority releases hiring legal opinion

Photo of Katrina Koerting

A legal opinion related to the authority’s decision to not hire back six marine patrol officers was made public at last week’s Candlewood Lake Authority meeting.

The legal opinion was issued in response to debate among delegates about who was authorized to make marine patrol staffing decisions and whether a vote from the authority’s board was needed.

Recently, six officers were not asked back after their contracts expired. Three of the marine patrol officers, who are seasonal employees, contested that decision.

Officers receive letters annually either inviting them to apply again or telling them they won’t be rehired.

These decisions are made by the executive committee at the recommendation of the public safety committee. If an officer disagrees with the decision, a hearing is scheduled with the executive committee and a vote is taken, said Phyllis Schaer, who chairs both the executive committee and the lake authority.

The legal opinion was kept confidential because of “attorney client privilege,” even though it focused on procedure and didn’t mention a specific case.

Schaer said the three officers have withdrawn their complaints, but she wanted to release the legal opinion to address misinformation regarding the “issues discussed” and “steps taken to manage” them.

Schaer, who has not responded to requests for comment, didn’t specify in last Wednesday’s meeting what inaccuracies were reported.

The legal opinion answers questions about the evaluation process and states that the executive committee makes decisions about seasonal employees’ termination or non-appointment. It also states the chairman has a responsibility to investigate complaints brought to her, especially those regarding supervisors.

Jack Keating, a New Fairfield delegate, prepared a separate opinion and submitted it to the board at the same meeting.

He said the opinion the authority received doesn’t address the memorandum of agreement with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which gives certain enforcement power to the patrol. Keating said that agreement superseded the lake authority’s policies and bylaws.

He said the agreement establishes a chain of command where the patrol chief reports to DEEP, not the authority’s chairman. Schaer said the authority has the power to make these decisions because it pays the officers’ salaries, hires them and is liable for their actions.

Several of the concerns addressed in the legal opinion were also raised by the supervisors of the marine patrol in a vote of no confidence letter filed earlier this month.

The supervisors claimed Schaer was taking too long to vote on the recommendation and had been “meddling” in the marine patrol’s hiring process.