New London must check legality of cutting job

New London - The city law director will be looking into the legality of eliminating the city's purchasing agent position, a week after the longtime employee was told he would be out of a job July 1.

On Monday night, City Councilor Adam Sprecace, along with resident Kathleen Mitchell, pointed out that the purchasing agent is a position required by the City Charter.

"We're all interested to know if this action opens us up to any liability,'' Sprecace said during the council meeting.

Mitchell cited Section 68 of the City Charter, which says the mayor "shall" appoint a purchasing agent. Section 71 of the charter also calls for an audit of purchasing accounts "upon the death, resignation, removal or expiration of the term of any officer of the city ..." The purchasing agent is considered an officer of the city.

Last Tuesday, the city notified William Hathaway, and two clerks in the finance department, that their jobs were being eliminated as of July 1.

Hathaway, who was worked for the city for 19 years, said he was surprised when he was called to the personnel office and told he was being laid off.

Mitchell called Hathaway one of the nicest and most decent people working in the city.

City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan told the council Monday he would need some time to research the question.

"I hadn't been asked to review this issue prior to it happening,'' Londregan said.

Finance Director Jeffrey Smith said last week the job descriptions for the three positions were re-evaluated and changed. The department will retain two full-time clerks, but the pay will be less. Local 1378 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, which represents the two clerks, filed grievances on Friday accusing the city of unfair labor practices.

Smith said the city no longer needs a full-time purchasing agent because the state allows municipalities to "piggyback" on state contracts, and in some cases, with other cities or towns. The position has turned into an administrative one, he said.

His plan is to replace the purchasing agent with a part-time purchasing agent/accountant. He also will hire a second part-time accountant for the finance department.

The personnel changes are part of a larger plan to restructure the department and save money. The reorganization would save the finance department about $100,000, but because some of the work will be picked up by other departments, the net savings to the city will be about $50,000.

The three workers are represented by unions and have what is called "bumping rights" and can fill another job within their unions if they are qualified.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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