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Charges of political firings and nepotism in Sprague

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published August 02. 2013 4:00AM

I would say state Sen. Cathy Osten, who also serves as first selectwoman of Sprague, has just delivered some of the most bare-knuckled political punches I've seen thrown in Connecticut in a long time, and I've seen a lot of them.

Edward "Buddy" Meadows is the Republican now running for first selectman of Sprague, opposing Osten, the Democrat who intends to keep double-dipping in the taxpayer pool, running for re-election as first selectwoman while keeping her state day job in the General Assembly.

As part of her taxpayer-funded trifecta, she also collects a Connecticut pension and medical benefits for her years of service as a prison guard.

Meadows, who has a part-time job in Sprague as the senior citizen coordinator, told me he announced on a weekend in the spring, in an interview with a local newspaper, that he was planning to run for first selectman.

That Monday, he said, Osten came to his office and announced she was working on the new town budget and was planning to cut his hours. Indeed, voters eventually approved the new budget that led to a reduction of Meadows' hours, from 32 to 20 hours.

With the same budget ax, Osten eliminated Meadows' son's full-time job in public works.

Michael Meadows, who is also his father's campaign manager and vice chairman of the Sprague Republican Town Committee, told me he kind of saw the writing on the wall because of the way Osten has treated him as an employee since he supported the campaign of her Republican opponent in the race in which she won the Senate seat.

Michael Meadows said he was often given demeaning, difficult and even unsafe jobs, like weed-whacking alone on the roadside in the snow. He said he has been told Osten was directly responsible for the assignments.

Michael and his father both say it seems unfair that Michael, a full-time employee who has worked for the town for five years, was laid off at the same time two part-timers, who do the same public works assignments, not only kept their jobs but got raises.

And one of the part-timers who didn't get laid off is Osten's son-in-law.

Check. Add charges of nepotism to the Sprague palace intrigue.

Wait. It gets worse.

After Michael Meadows lost his full-time job, he was offered a part-time position, which would have resulted in 15 hours less of work a week and the loss of his medical benefits. He said no because he is a single dad and needs a full-time job with benefits.

When he went to collect unemployment, he was initially told he was qualified, since he was laid off in a budget cut.

But then he learned that Osten is challenging his right to collect unemployment. She participated by telephone in a hearing on the benefits, and a decision from the Department of Labor is pending.

Meadows is pessimistic about the outcome, since Osten is a state senator who sits on a labor-related committee in the General Assembly.

When I reached Osten Thursday, she didn't challenge the facts of the complaints by the Meadowses, although she questioned the timing of her cutting her opponent's hours. She said she learned he was considering a run for her job from a newspaper reporter, but she said the budget cuts were already made by the time he became a candidate officially endorsed by the town committee.

Osten forcefully denied having any direct involvement with Michael Meadows' work assignments, which she said would have been made by his supervisor.

She said this year's budget cuts were difficult to make, and she had many sleepless nights over them. The downsizing eliminated two full-time positions and one part-timer. She said politics had nothing to do with the cuts, which she said were part of a budget that eventually passed at referendum, in a close vote.

She said she didn't lay off her son-in-law, the part-time employee in public works, instead of Michael Meadows because eliminating the two part-time positions in public works would not have resulted in enough cuts to eliminate other hours and job cuts.

But she had no answer when I suggested the pay of the two part-timers in public works, including her relative, would have been enough money to keep on the son of her political opponent, a full-time employee, doing the same work.

As for challenging Meadows' unemployment, Osten says the town has always done that. It's routine, she said.

She said she would leave it up to the Department of Labor to decide whether offering Meadows a part-time job after eliminating his full-time job would mean he's not entitled to unemployment.

Osten, in our conversation, said a lot of things that make it sound like she has a full plate, working two jobs. She was talking to someone in public works during our phone call, calling it multitasking.

But she bristled when I suggested that she sounds busy, maybe too busy to work two public jobs at once.

She also talked about "busting her butt," traveling the state, trying to create new jobs and eliminate chronic unemployment.

That kind of caring approach to joblessness doesn't seem to square with trying to keep a five-year veteran of town government, one with a child at home, from collecting unemployment after you've eliminated his job in a budget cut.

The gloves are off in Sprague.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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