Stonington panel seeks specific limits on Habarek's car use

Stonington - A Board of Finance subcommittee is recommending that the town clarify its policy limiting the use of town vehicles so it clearly applies to First Selectman Ed Haberek and the Board of Selectman.

Last fall, The Day reported that Haberek, who receives a $6,000 a year expense account in addition to his $92,000 salary, had been extensively using a 2011 Ford Fusion leased by the town, including taking it home at night.

At the time, then finance board Chairman Glenn Frishman said it had been the understanding of the finance board that Haberek would use the town-leased car to travel to out-of-town meetings but would use his own car for in-town business and would be reimbursed for gas. Frishman said he also was unaware that Haberek was taking the car home at night, something he said the finance board never envisioned when the car was leased.

The town's policy regarding the use of town vehicles states that vehicles must be parked at Town Hall or at the Human Services Department when not in use, unless otherwise authorized.

It is unclear who authorized Haberek to take the car home. The policy also prohibits the use of town vehicles for personal use.

Frishman also announced in September that the board would look into Haberek's use of the car, which he said was not authorized by the board, and make any needed changes to limit its use by Haberek.

He and current board Chairman John O'Brien formed a two-man subcommittee to look at the issue and make a recommendation, which they did at Wednesday's meeting.

The change calls for adding the phrase "including the first selectman and members of the Board of Selectman" to a sentence that had begun with the phrase: "This policy applies to non police department employees."

The recommendation for the 11-word addition will now be sent on to Director of Administrative Services Vin Pacileo to include in the policy. O'Brien said that he expects Pacileo to make the change. Pacileo had not yet seen the recommendation Thursday so was unable to comment on it.

"We just wanted to clarify that it applies to the first selectman so there's no misunderstanding," O'Brien said on Thursday. "It wasn't much of a change but it's an important change."

Although some town employees have referred to the vehicle as "Ed's car," Haberek has said the car is not assigned to him, and other employees may use it. Haberek said the car, which the town leases for $348 a month, is filled with gas from the town's highway garage.

Records also show that he had sought and obtained reimbursement for gas and mileage when he used his own car for economic development reasons even though he had the expense account.

The town's past two first selectmen have said they used their own vehicles and paid for gas with their expense accounts.

Haberek has said that if he used only his own car, his expense account would be exhausted before the end of the fiscal year, because he is much more active when it comes to attending after-hours meetings and events than his predecessors.

The town policy states that select vehicles may be assigned to employees to allow faster after-hours responses to emergency calls for better job efficiency and may be taken home. Haberek said he often responds to after-hours incidents when contacted by residents or town officials.

With gas at about $4 a gallon, and Haberek saying his car gets 16 miles per gallon, Haberek's expense account would pay for 24,000 miles per year of in-town driving.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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