Town treasurer accuses RTM committee of bullying
“Bullied” and “harassed” are two accusations Darien Town Treasurer Joan Hendrickson has come forward to town officials with in regard to the RTM Finance & Budget Committee.
For the first 14 minutes of the July 23 Joint Department Heads meeting, which preceded the Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Hendrickson faced town officials from the podium and described the unfair treatment she said she has received during the town’s months-long budget process.
According to Hendrickson, members of the RTM F&B Committee have been telling her how to do her job and persuading her to change her budget projections to satisfy them.
As part of her claims, she said “there were threatening phone calls made. They showed up at people’s houses who agreed with me. It was ugly—It got into this power game.”
Directing her comments to town officials, Hendrickson further said, “You need to protect your department heads against this type of bullying and harassment from people who shouldn’t be doing this.”
At the meeting, Hendrickson said her accusations pertain to being told by the committee that she had to change her budget projections from $300,000 to $500,000.
In an in-person meeting with committee members in February, Hendrickson said the higher figure “isn’t analytically sound. I showed them why I gave those numbers and what I expected. But, at the end of an hour and a half explanation, I got, ‘But Jack [Davis, Chairman of the RTM F&B Committee] wants it.’”
At the July 23 meeting, Hendrickson said the net difference to the taxpayer between the two projections is about $1.50 a month.
“We’re not talking huge dollars here. But this bullying happened regardless of that small amount that was going to make a difference in the overall tax scheme,” Hendrickson said. “They then proceeded to tell me how I should be investing and that I was under-performing because I was not investing in STIF (Connecticut’s Short-Term Investment Fund.”
Hendrickson said one of the reasons she doesn’t support STIF is that it “our money could go up to STIF and be lent out to another part of the government to pay their bills if they got in a bind.”
She further said Darien’s town counsel Wayne Fox and the town’s bond council agree STIF can do that.
Hendrickson said, “that’s a no-brainer.”
“We’re not going to do that,” she said in a voice filled with emotion, while gesturing with her hands. “My goal is to keep our money safe.”
“But the F&B Committee just kept harping and harping and saying that I was under performing, I wasn’t doing my job because I wouldn’t investing in STIF,” she said.
Hendrickson adamantly said she doesn’t report to the RTM and they don’t assign her work.
“They clearly don’t understand what my job is. They’re willing to tell me how to do it but they did not understand what my job is,” she said. “I do investing.”
In a telephone conversation after the July 23 meeting with The Darien Times, Hendrickson said Davis “was determined to try and push” her to do what the committee wanted, “even though I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
During the budget process, committee members “went to anybody they could to influence me to do what they wanted me to do,” she said, claiming that she is not the first person to be bullied by the committee.
“The larger issue is that I’m not the only one that has been bullied by the RTM. From my fellow department heads, I had heard that this has happened to them.”
Response: Treasury is “low-balling”
In a Letter to the Editor that will run in Thursday’s Darien Times and also on the Darien Times website, Bert Von Stuelpnagel, vice chairman of the RTM Finance & Budget Committee, refuted Hendrickson’s accusations, writing that there was no “bullying” by anyone on the committee.
He wrote that the treasury department is continuing its practice “of low-balling.”
In his letter, Von Stuelpnagel further pondered if Hendrickson is “low-balling because there are performance issues.”
He also wrote that the treasury department “doesn’t use any performance benchmarks,” and said he is in favor of STIF.
“Perhaps the town treasury should invest in the STIF. The money would recently have earned 2.4 percent instead of 85 basis points in bank money market accounts. There are $7 billion in assets and over 200 municipal depositors. The model of pooling municipal funds to achieve higher returns and less risk by diversification is unassailable.”
Von Stuelpnagel also addressed Hendrickson’s claim that the differences amount to only a few dollars for each household.
“Yes, but if all departments were to plan this way, this would seriously undermine the town’s budget efforts,” he wrote.
He further wrote that a one-person treasury “doesn’t work well.”
“There is too much work to be done in analyzing credits, selecting deposit institutions and determining deposit maturities, as well as preparing budgets and reports.”
Von Stuelpnagel additionally accused Hendrickson of being under stress. “Are the treasurer’s recent verbal derailments due to stress?” he wrote in his letter.
Town officials’ comments
In an email to The Darien Times, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson wrote that she knows the Town Treasurer and RTM Finance & Budget Committee Chair “care deeply for our town and work diligently to represent and serve our taxpayers very well. My great hope is that as elected professional colleagues, they can work together to resolve their differences.”
In a separate email, Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky agreed with Stevenson, adding that any role in town government “can be challenging, and given the number of people involved, disagreement and conflict are inevitable. We're all human! But when such difficulties come to light, we should do our best to talk them through and strive for resolution. This is not easy to do, but it is always worth the effort.”
Zagrodzky wrote he has known Davis and Hendrickson for years, “and I respect them both. I have high confidence they can work out their differences, and I will do what I can to help.”