Stonington's Haberek withdraws request for expense account increase

Stonington - First Selectman Ed Haberek has rescinded his request for a 50 percent increase in his expense account in the proposed 2014-15 budget.

On Wednesday, Haberek told the Board of Finance, whose chairman had earlier indicated it would reject the request, that he was reducing the $9,000 request back to the current $6,000, which he will now add to the employee travel expense account.

He said he would use an iPhone application to track the miles he drives on town business and would be reimbursed at the rate of 56 cents per mile. He said this is the same procedure used to reimburse other town employees for work-related travel.

In the past, Haberek had received the $6,000 in addition to his salary, which will be $97,150 in 2014-15, and did not have to account for how he spent it.

Past first selectmen said they used the money in part to pay for gas they used while driving their personal cars on town business.

Former finance board Chairman Glenn Frishman, now a regular member, had also criticized Haberek for seeking and receiving $1,800 in per diem payments and reimbursing himself for expenses he incurred on trips to promote the town at trade shows, rather than drawing from his expense account.

Before Wednesday night's meeting, finance board Chairman John O'Brien had said members were prepared "to get to the bottom" of why Haberek wanted more expense money. They did not need to ask those questions after Haberek announced his plan to move his expense account back to the current amount.

Haberek had refused to discuss the reason for his request.

Haberek canceled a trip to Canada to promote the town last year after Frishman criticized him for "double-dipping" by paying himself per diem payments that ran as high as $71 a day and reimbursing himself for hotel stays and transportation instead of drawing from his expense account.

Haberek had said town policy calls for town employees to receive per diem payments per IRS guidelines when away on town business. But Frishman argued those employees do not have an expense account.

Last fall, The Day reported that Haberek had been extensively using a 2011 Ford Fusion leased by the town, including taking it home at night. Frishman said it was the understanding of the finance board that Haberek would use the 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.

Haberek had argued that he is much more active than, and does more driving than, previous first selectmen. Haberek has also said he fueled up the car at the town highway garage, but there is no record of him doing so.

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. The Board of Finance has recommended that the town specifically state in the policy that it also pertains to the first selectman.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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