Herbst release expense records, following opponent's FOIA request

Restaurant preference and a penchant for not tipping less than 20% seem to be the biggest revelations to come out of First Selectman Timothy Herbst’s expense account records of the last few years.

The expenses appear rather straightforward and include items like lunch or dinner with other town officials or developers, coffee and doughnuts for the Emergency Operations Center during storm response, and a couple nights away each year for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Expenses are charged to his town account, using an annual $3,500 budget. The expense records were released to reporters last week, and were part of a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request made by Democratic Challenger Martha Jankovic-Mark.

“I have a very demanding schedule and I try to meet with as many people as I can,” Herbst said.

If a developer wants to meet about a potential project in town, Herbst said he doesn’t want the developer to pay for his meal.

The records include receipts with notes of who Herbst was meeting with and why. He said he has been careful to keep detailed reports and Town Treasurer John Ponzio also makes sure he keeps records in order.

Herbst said that the first selectman’s expense budget used to be $6,000, until the Town Council voted to reduce it to $3,500 in 2009. That is less than the expense account available to the Trumbull Chief of Police, Herbst said.

“I could have easily vetoed that but I didn’t,” Herbst said of the reduction.

Phone records

The expense reports were only part of Mark’s request, which she initially made the night she accepted her party’s nomination as candidate for first selectman. Mark said releasing his cell phone and expense records should be done in order to keep his past campaign promise to run a transparent town government.

Herbst did release some cell records, though The Times has not had the opportunity to look at the documents yet. However, Town Attorney Ed Walsh recently contacted Mark, asking her to revise her FOIA request, calling it “overbroad.” Mark requested “detailed cell phone records from December 2009 to the present for any and all cell phones assigned to First Selectman Timothy M. Herbst and/or used by him, including any and all text messages.”

Walsh said the request goes beyond FOIA requirements, by requesting records whether or not it is related to public business and would include his personal cell phone.

“It must be emphasized that FOIA does not confer upon the public an absolute right to all government information,” Walsh said in the letter to Mark.

Tax returns

Herbst said he will be releasing his tax returns as he has done in the past, in order to be transparent. He challenged Mark to do the same.

“I think we need to know what she does,” Herbst said of Mark. “She says she is an attorney who is self-employed. If you want to run a $160-million corporation and put in a minimum of 80 hours a week, voters have a right to know your history and background.”

Mark told The Times that she does not plan to release her tax returns because she doesn’t believe it is relevant to the campaign.

“How Tim spends his personal funds is not relevant,” Mark said. “How taxpayer funds are spent is most definitely relevant.

“To me it appears that Tim is trying to change the focus away from his promise made on July 23, 2013 at his convention to release his phone records for a phone paid for by taxpayer funds and be more transparent,” Mark said.