Even when out of town, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst seems to draw the ire of the town's Democratic leaders.

Looking ahead to his meetings in Washington D.C. this week, the town's top official designated Town Council Chairman Carl Massaro to act as his replacement in a letter that was signed Thursday, Jan. 14.

The decision has left Town Treasurer Anthony Musto and Democratic Town Committee chairman Tom Kelly scratching their heads and pondering the legality of such a move.

In a letter to town attorney Vincent Marino, Musto went over the language on the succession provisions of Chapter III, Section 3 of the Charter.

According to the charter, in the event of a disability, personal emergency or temporary absence, the first selectman may, by letter filed with the town clerk, appoint the town treasurer or the chairman of the Town Council in the event that the town treasurer cannot or will not serve, to perform the duties of and serve as acting first selectman.

"Based upon this language, if the First Selectman believes his absence will require someone to perform his duties he “may” appoint the Town Treasurer during his absence," Musto wrote in his letter. "He may appoint the Chairman of the Town Council only 'in the event that the Town Treasurer cannot or will not serve.' The language seems clear: while the First Selectman is not required to appoint anyone, should he choose to do so he must appoint the Treasurer unless the Treasurer is unable or unwilling to serve."

Musto noted that the provision is the result of a recent change in the charter and was approved by a town-wide vote.

"The voters approved the Charter change based upon the following explanation provided to them in writing at the polls," he said.

“The proposed revision allows the first selectman to appoint the town treasurer to act as first selectman in the event of the first selectman’s disability, personal emergency or temporary absence," the town treasurer added. "If the town treasurer cannot or will not serve as first selectman, then the first selectman may appoint the Chairman of the Town Council.”

Musto, who won a narrow election over previous Town Treasurer John Ponzio in November, said he was not contacted.

"Nothing prevented my service, nor did I refuse to serve," he explained. "Therefore, I believe the appointment of the Town Council Chairman was illegal.  If so it raises several issues.

"As stated in the first selectman’s letter, there is apparently an 'emergency operations plan' that was not shared with me," Musto continued. "This means that the First Selectman did not communicate important information to the appropriate officer, which could delay its implementation to the detriment of our citizens in an emergency situation.

"It causes confusion in the offices and department heads in Town Hall, giving rise to potential conflicting instructions to the detriment of the efficient functioning of government. Any actions taken during such an illegal appointment may be challenged and potentially expose the town to some sort of liability.  In all cases, it appears to be a clear violation of the Charter and the choice of the voters."

Future issues

Musto pointed out in the letter that the same issue would arise if the first selectman vacates the office involuntarily.  

"At such a time, a dispute between the council (whose chairman would be possibly appointed) and the treasurer could be detrimental to the town as well," he wrote. "Therefore, an opinion at this time would prevent any dispute in the future."]

Response

Marino released a response to the treasurer's letter Friday.

"With the possibility of a significant weather event approaching the region, First Selectman Herbst felt very strongly that it was critical that the person designated to serve in his absence had the requisite emergency management training and experience," he said.

That statement drew the frustration of Kelly who wrote his response on a local Facebook group Saturday.

"To me, it seems that Mr. Herbst must be a great weather forecaster to know that a significant weather event would be approaching the region when he signed the letter designating Mr. Massaro NINE days ago, on Jan. 14," he said. 

"It will be interesting to see if Mr. Herbst has designated Mr. Massaro previously when he has been away since the Charter specifies that the Treasurer is next in line, and he's always had a Republican Treasurer in the past," he added. "We'll find out who he has designated in the past."

The Democratic leader pointed out that First Selectman Herbst has had a contentious relationship with Musto since he was Trumbull's state senator for six years.

"It would be great for Trumbull if Mr. Herbst would work collaboratively with the Town Treasurer," he said. "The people of Trumbull elected him over a six year incumbent Treasurer. He should bring him up to speed on the emergency management plan for the good of the town of Trumbull. If Mr. Herbst cannot serve, the Treasurer IS the next in line, according to the Town Charter."