Reversing a Town Council vote that approved a pay raise for the first selectman and some other town officials has become a campaign promise made by Trumbull Democrats.

The council vote on the ordinance, taken last week, gives the first selectman a 20% pay increase over the next five years and gives raises to other non-union elected leaders like the town clerk, registrar of voters, town treasurer, as well as the first selectman’s chief of staff, the selectman’s executive assistant and personnel manager. Democrats, who currently hold just four seats on the 21-member council, are vowing, if they get control of the council after the next municipal election, that they will repeal the ordinance.

“It raises salaries for people who are already making more than many Trumbull residents — the very people who have to pay for these raises,” Vicki Tesoro, the Town Council minority leader and Democrat running for first selectman, said. “The percentage increases for the first selectman are far higher than the average rate of inflation, higher than the average annual increases of Trumbull residents, and higher than the recent increases in our property values. If merit-based compensation is the rule under which the rest of us live our professional lives, why should that not apply to the person we hire to lead the town?”

However, a Republican on the Town Council is firing back, saying that Republicans on the council worked to rein in the increases, while trying to be equitable and create pay structure for the positions that was long overdue.

“One of the ultimate goals of this document was to create a structure for salaries for non-union employees,” Cindy Penkoff, a District 2 Republican council member, said. “Most of them serve at the pleasure of the first selectman and when you look at the salaries and structure, there was no rhyme or reason to it.”

The ordinance passed 16-5, with all Democrats on the council voting against it and one Republican, Anne Marie Evangelista, also voting no.

Penkoff said she can understand why some may not like the timing of the proposal, before an election.
“Is there any good time to make this kind of adjustment — especially since we have two-year terms?” Penkoff asked.
First Selectman Tim Herbst currently makes about $104,000. Under the original proposal that went before Board of Finance, he would have received a roughly 22% pay raise. According to Penkoff, the GOP caucus weren’t comfortable with that proposal as it was.

“Originally that raise was over a three-year period but many in the caucus felt that was too short,” Penkoff said. “Our original recommendation was moving to stretch that over six years and we eventually reduced that to five years. It increases in $4,000 increments, so it’s not a lump sum.”

Penkoff said the raise was necessary to create greater equity, since the first selectman oversees employees that make more than he does.

“The first selectman is where the buck stops,” Penkoff said. “Yes, police officers are in the line of fire every single day, but they still report to the first selectman, and, yes, our public works director is very good at what he does and supervises a lot of people — but he still reports to the first selectman.”

Other than stretching out the first selectman’s raise, Penkoff said Republicans made reductions to all the other position increases proposed.

“Even though some of these are elected positions, they are extremely important and we want to make sure they attract qualified people,” Penkoff said.
Tesoro’s promise
Tesoro is vowing that if elected to first selectman in November she won’t accept any pay increase, saying it isn’t in the best interest of taxpayers.

“If I’m elected first selectman, I will not take the raise,” she said, “and neither will any Democrat elected on my ticket. We believe that you either do it right or do not do it at all. It’s sad that in this deeply flawed process, even our new director of labor relations, who has a six-figure salary and a six-year contract, was not fully consulted on the changes. Shouldn’t he at least be part of the discussion?”

Penkoff agreed Director of Labor Relations James Haselkamp did not agree with some of the changes, but Republicans believed it was all in the best interest of the taxpayers.

Tesoro said the ordinance was passed with no support — and little input — from the Democratic members of the council. Tesoro promised that when Democrats regain control of the council, the increases will be repealed.

“This plan should have returned to subcommittee for further study and public input,” Tesoro said. “When Democrats have the majority of the council, we’ll create a real bipartisan committee to oversee the discussion of increases for elected officials and salary ranges for top municipal directors. And we will insist on empirical evidence from comparable communities.”

Penkoff criticized the Democrats’ reaction, saying that members were sent a copy of the changes proposed by the Republican caucus the day of the meeting, which is never done.

“They didn’t propose one amendment to that document,” Penkoff said of Democrats on the council. “If you are going to complain about something, at least have an alternative.”