Ray Baldwin’s career may be about to come full circle.
More than four decades after joining the Trumbull Police Department, the former four-term first selectman finally has a clear path to gaining a seat on the town’s Police Commission, a spot he has long considered his final goal in service to the town.
“I was a police officer for 14 years, it’s where I began my career,” Baldwin said. “Over the course of the years, I’ve served on the Town Council, Board of Finance, Golf Commission, been the town attorney and first selectman. It’s a way to make a contribution to the town that I haven’t done.”
Earlier this month the Town Council, now with an 11-10 Democratic majority, repealed an ordinance prohibiting people who are collecting town pensions from serving on the town board that controls their pensions. The previous council under Republican control had passed the ordinance at its November 2017 meeting, which took place after the November town election but before the new council took office. First Selectman-elect Vicki Tesoro said at the time that the ordinance was targeted at a specific individual, but declined to say who. Baldwin, who was nominated by the Democrats for a spot on the Police Commission twice in the past eight years but was not appointed to the panel by former First Selectman Tim Herbst, said state law was clear that retired municipal employees were eligible to serve on town boards and commissions.
“You can’t be an active police officer and sit on the commission, that wouldn’t be allowed,” Baldwin said. “But there is no prohibition for a retiree; the substance of the state law is pretty strong on this.”
When the Town Council passed the prohibition in November, the concept seemed simple: Collecting a pension from the town while also sitting on the panel that controlled the pension fund represented a conflict of interest.
While seemingly common sense, Baldwin said that reasoning was deeply flawed.
“I’ve been off the Police Department for 32 years, I retired before I was fully vested in the pension and because of that, my pension is not affected by any contract negotiations,” he said. “I’m receiving $617 a month, and that’s how much I’m going to collect until I die. Nothing I could do on the Police Commission would change that. Even if I could, there’s five other commissioners, and it would be an ethics violation, and that’s what we have an Ethics Commission for.”
Former First Selectman Dave Wilson, a retired police captain, served as chairman of the Police Commission with no conflict, Baldwin said. He added that Deborah Herbst, Tim Herbst’s mother, sat on the Board of Education while her husband, Michael Herbst, served as Trumbull High’s athletic director, and then interim athletic director after he retired.
“If a conflict comes up, you recuse yourself from the discussion and the vote, and that’s it,” he said. “No one had a problem with the other situations, and then on their way out the door, two weeks before leaving office, they pass a resolution to bar retired police officers from serving on the Police Commission. There’s just no good reason for it.”
Tesoro agreed, citing Baldwin’s service to the town and status as a Vietnam combat veteran during his four-year stint in the Marine Corps.
“You won’t find a person of greater integrity,” she said. “Given his background in law enforcement and as an attorney, Ray would know when it was necessary to recuse himself.”
Tesoro said banning retired police officers from serving on the Police Commission was likely illegal, but was also bad policy. While she did not say if she intended to appoint Baldwin to the commission, Tesoro praised his qualifications and judgment, calling him “a qualified and deserving citizen that’s eager to serve the town as a volunteer.”