Letter: Another embarrassing public spectacle for Trumbull

To the Editor:

Last week, the Connecticut Post and Trumbull Times printed articles regarding political disputes between Mr. Herbst and me. These were printed after Mr. Herbst sent a 4-page letter, with 29 pages of attachments, to the papers. This turned what could have been a productive discussion of commonly used fiscal controls into another embarrassing public spectacle for Trumbull.

Trumbull’s Charter, Art. III, Sec. 6(E), says “Expense reimbursements and payments made on behalf of the First Selectman and the Superintendent shall be by the Treasurer.”  (Page 10, online at http://www.trumbull-ct.gov/filestorage/10623/10675/Charter_Final_2011_(3).pdf.)  

The Connecticut Post reported that this provision was added in 2011 “to require expense reports for the first selectman … be approved by the town treasurer. The Finance Department now approves the first selectman’s expense reports. The Charter Revision Commission believes this is a conflict since the finance director’s report directly to (the First Selectman).”

Under the Charter, I asked to review Mr. Herbst’s expense reports. None exist. There were multiple restaurant credit card receipts with handwritten notes. I asked several questions and for itemized receipts. I received neither answers nor receipts. Instead, I received a 4-page letter from Mr. Herbst’s town attorney saying the Finance Department, not the Treasurer, should review his expenses.

I also asked the finance department for expense report policies. None exist. Without a policy two problems arise: first, employees have no guidance regarding whether expenses are valid for town budget purposes; second, when IRS regulations require certain policies, both the town and the employee may violate IRS rules if no policies exist.
To fix this, I reviewed policies from various businesses to create a draft policy for Trumbull.  I suggested common procedures, including having employees pay expenses directly and being reimbursed rather than using a credit card the town pays directly. I circulated the draft to town officials. From the reaction, I doubt any changes will be made.

What I did not do is contact newspapers to accuse Mr. Herbst of violating the Charter, breaking IRS rules or misusing the town attorney. I commented only in response to questions from reporters. Mr. Herbst contacted the press one day after I discussed the draft policy with the Board of Finance.

Alternately, I worked with town officials for a month to research expense issues and develop a draft policy. The Town Attorney suggested presenting the policy to the Council. I agree, and believe the Board of Finance should also comment. An expense policy that applies regardless of who is Treasurer or First Selectman should be approved by all relevant town bodies in a bipartisan manner. Proper fiscal control should not be a political issue.

Rather than discuss even basic fiscal controls, Mr. Herbst has chosen to violate the Charter and make irrelevant personal attacks. Placing himself above the law and common sense diminishes our residents’ faith in government. Mr. Herbst can choose to work with others to make Trumbull better, or he can continue his pattern of secrecy, arrogance and deflection that have become all too common in Trumbull.

Anthony Musto,

Town Treasurer