Stonington - A state arbitration panel has denied a grievance by longtime Zoning Official Joe Larkin who alleged the town violated the provisions of a union contract when it reduced his position from full time to part time in the 2011-12 budget.
The panel found that the town has the right to decrease its workforce and thus did not violate the contract when it cut Larkin's hours and eliminated his benefits.
The panel also pointed out that residents had approved a budget that called for the reduction and the Board of Selectmen could not spend money that was not in the budget.
In addition, the panel said it could not ignore that the union did not file a grievance when the town reduced the hours and salary of Zoning/Inland Wetland Enforcement Officer Candace Palmer in 2008 due to budget problems.
The town reduced Larkin's salary from $60,630 to $31,194 and cut his hours from 35 to 17.5.
The town presented evidence that Palmer, who had handled Larkin's duties when he was not in the office and when the cut went into effect, said she was not overwhelmed by the workload. The town also presented testimony from Palmer that even when she was working reduced hours in 2009 she performed almost four times the enforcement work that Larkin did as a full-time employee. During 2010-11 Palmer said she did far more inspections working part time than Larkin did working full time at a time when zoning activity had decreased.
The union argued that because Larkin was a salaried employee, the contract and state law prevented the town from reducing his salary because of a lack of work.
The Day had requested a copy of Larkin's grievance when it was filed in the spring of 2011, but the town refused to release it even though previous FOI decisions had found that such grievances are public documents.
Earlier this year, the state Freedom of Information Commission ordered the town to release the grievance and required town officials to undergo educational training to become familiar with the requirements of the state's freedom of information law.