Stonington, insurer have spent more than $260,000 on DiCesare issue so far

Stonington — The town has spent more than $210,000 so far on legal fees and expenses in connection with three union grievances filed on behalf of fired Highway Supervisor Louis DiCesare II, as well as its unsuccessful battle to prevent him joining the union that represents Town Hall administrators.

In addition, the town’s insurer, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, has spent $51,650 so far on DiCesare’s federal lawsuit against the town, which remains pending.

If the town cannot reach a settlement with DiCesare, the town’s bill will continue to climb, as arbitration hearings on the second and third grievances have not yet begun. There were 17 arbitration hearings on the first grievance over two years that wrapped up last month. That grievance centered on the town’s five-day suspension of DiCesare in January 2015 that cost him $1,515.

Lawyers for the two sides are expected to file briefs with the arbitrator in November, with a decision expected in January 2018. Hearings then will proceed on the second grievance, in which DiCesare claims he was denied union representation at his suspension hearing, and the third grievance, which involved his termination. It is thought that the extensive depositions and information gathering for the first grievance will lessen the work that needs to be done for the second and third grievances.

The bills, which contain the legal and other fees related to actions involving DiCesare dating back to April 2015, were released by the town on Wednesday after The Day filed a Freedom of Information Act request for them on Aug 3.

Asked about the expenditures Wednesday, First Selectman Rob Simmons said that on the advice of the attorneys representing the town, he could not comment because the town is in the midst of legal proceedings.

The effort to stop DiCesare from joining the Stonington Public Administrators Association, his suspension and subsequent firing took place during the administrations of former first Selectmen Ed Haberek and George Crouse, the latter of whom is challenging Simmons for re-election in November.

Most of the costs involved bills from former town labor attorney Michael Satti, who continues to represent the town on the DiCesare issue.

In releasing the bills, the town has redacted all of explanations of work done in Satti’s invoices. The town did the same thing when it released bills related to the DiCesare matter in 2015, saying state Freedom of Information Act allows the town to do so.

DiCesare’s federal lawsuit states that after he tried to join the union in the summer of 2014, it became clear to him that he had “a target on his back” and that current Public Works Director Barbara McKrell “was gunning for his job.” The town tried to block him from joining the union but was unsuccessful.

In January 2015, McKrell suspended DiCesare for five days without pay for telling her that he felt she didn’t trust him, disobeying her orders and making errors that she said cost the town $106,000.

In April 2015 he was fired.

“As a result of your insubordination, poor performance, lack of credibility, inadequate planning and financial repercussions to the Town as a result of your conduct your employment is terminated,” McKrell wrote in her termination letter to DiCesare.

But DiCesare, who had worked for the town for 11½ years, including 5½ as its highway supervisor, disputed the charges and said he never had a single disciplinary incident during his employment.

He charged that McKrell took various retaliatory actions against him. He said he also had brought up safety concerns to Crouse about McKrell’s handling of snow and ice removal, and reported that highway department trucks were hauling valuable soil from the fields project to the Westerly home of a town employee’s relative.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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