July 11--EAST HAVEN -- Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr., who last month filed lawsuit against the State Employees Retirement Commission over its decision to deny him his firefighter's disability pension, is having his case transferred to the tax and administrative appeals session at New Britain Superior Court.
A pretrial conference has been scheduled for July 24.
Maturo's attorney, Lawrence C. Sgrignari, has said the SERC has singled-out his Republican client for political reasons. Maturo entered his complaint in court on June 23. He is also seeking "in excess" of an additional $15,000 from the commission to pay for damages, in addition to the reinstatement of his pension.
On Wednesday Sgrignari described the case's move from New Haven to New Britain as a "routine transfer."
"It's all part and parcel of trying to move cases like his (Maturo's) in a consistent manner," he said.
A recently filed exhibit, the May 30 letter to Maturo from SERC Chairman Peter Blum, states that the commission however referenced a 1987 law when making its final decision. The law, according to the letter, prohibits retirees from receiving benefits if they "accept employment from the same municipality or any other participating municipality" that is a member of the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System.
"By accepting the position of mayor of East Haven and by accepting remuneration for your services you have accepted employment from the same municipality," Blum wrote. "Accordingly you may not collect a benefit for a disability while actively employed by the town."
Blum also referenced another argument raised by Maturo during his hearing in which the mayor contended he is an elected official and not a town employee.
"The fact that you work for significant income, have taxes withheld by the town, work at a town office, use tools supplied by the town, follow town rules and regulations and are subject to time and work requirements imposed by the town all lead to the inexorable conclusion that you are a town employee," Blum wrote. "The town charter in East Haven refers to the mayor as one who must work full time for the town."
The commissioned also dismissed Maturo's argument that the mayor's job is a non-MERS position, meaning he is not a part of the retirement system and therefore is allowed to collect his pension.
"We have determined that the plain meaning of the statute allows for this consequence," Blum wrote. Maturo's complaint notes however that the commission never consulted with the state Medical Examining Board prior to making its decision.
During Maturo's first stint as mayor, from 1997 until 2007, he managed to collect both his pension and his mayoral salary. Town Council voted last year to raise the mayor's salary from $75,000 to $85,000. Maturo's disability pension would pay him an additional $43,000.
In June 2013, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill that would have reinstated Maturo's pension, despite the fact that the proposal won by a landslide in both houses of the Legislature.
In a twist of irony, Maturo's next court date is slated to be held in New Britain, the same town where a retired city worker managed to convince the commission to reinstate her $40,000 retirement pension despite the fact she currently takes home more than $100,000 working as an assistant to Hartford director of public works.
The Hartford Courant reported in September 2013 that employee Marilynn Cruz-Aponte, described by the paper as a veteran Democratic activist, won support from local lawmakers who sympathized with her situation, set in place in 2011 when state Comptroller Kevin Lembo decided to enact stricter pension rules. She did not retire until after the new interpretation was implemented. Her position in New Britain was covered under MERS. Her position in Hartford is a non-MERS position.
The Courant reported that the commission decided in Cruz-Aponte's favor because she is employed in a different city and in a non-MERS position.
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