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Joseloff Criticized Over $50 Million Miscalculation

Officials are calling for more accountability and an independent study following an error in participating municipal employees that's costing Westport taxpayers.

Westport officials are calling for an independent audit and accountability from the town’s highest elected official  

Other Post Employment Benefits, or “OPEB,” now is expected to cost Westport taxpayers an additional $12,500 per household, according to Michael Rea, chairman of the RTM Finance Committee and a Republican candidate for the Board of Finance. Originally reported at about $50 million due to the accounting mistake, the OPEB liability is now closer to $100 million, Rea said.

“In a corporate world, heads would roll, but we have an elected official here. He should take the appropriate actions necessary to correct this problem,” Rea told Westport Patch.

, a Democrat, could not be reached for comment.

Westport’s annual required contribution for OPEB had been thought to be about $4.1 million, but it appears to be closer to $8 million, Rea said.

Third Selectman Charles Haberstroh, a Republican, said Joseloff could do more to take responsibility.

“Basically he (Joseloff) could say ‘I’m accountable for it, I’m sorry, I want to stay in office,’ which he can do,” Haberstroh said. “Or he can say he has lost the confidence of the funding bodies and the voters and ‘I need to resign.’ Only he can decide that.”

“I think someone or some people in government made a serious mistake,” Haberstroh said.

Rea said: “There is a problem that exists in his (Joseloff’s) administration and it needs to be corrected and that’s why there should be a third party audit to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.”

Don Bergmann October 06, 2011 at 01:42 PM
Michael Rea is a fine person who has devoted much time to Westport and its citizens, including as the Chair of the RTM Finance Committee. As Chair of the RTM Finance Committee, Michael should not have been expected to "discover" the OPEB error. However, as Chair, I believe Michael has not been as effective as the job calls for in focusing on financial issues, including reporting, confronting Westport. Clearly, First Selectman Joseloff is to be faulted. However, these mistakes have been long brewing and many people did not do the job that should have been done. Westport's Financial Reporting systems need to be overhauled. Finally, in my judgment, the parties that have best tried to address the financial reporting and problems in Westport have been the members of the Westport Board of Finance and its Chair, and my friend, Helen Garten. Our relatively new Town Internal Auditor also appears to be performing her duties admirably. Don Bergmann
Judy Starr October 06, 2011 at 07:33 PM
Don, There is absolutely no question of Helen Garten's competence and dedication. She takes her leadership role seriously and fulfills it more than admirably well. We are extremely fortunate that she is willing to give of her knowledge and time, no question there. The RTM has an important role in these matters, and a significant role in town government, but while it may seek information and make recommendations, it is not the prime policy setting board in town government. Mike Rea's financial knowledge and expertise has been an asset to the RTM and everyone it serves, and his contribution has been constant, consistent, and helpful.
carolanne curry October 07, 2011 at 12:40 AM
However good everyone is on the Finance Committee, where does the buck stop? OPEB that is miscalculated to this degree is not an easy pill to swallow. Feels more like Bridgeport than Westport
Tom Prince October 07, 2011 at 11:50 AM
Joseloff can NEVER be reached for comment (except by WestportNow). It's his JOB to respond to the press and voters. He can't manage town finances, he can't manage emergency response (or find a tree warden), he can't lead during controversies like the Y, he can't distinguish journalism from self-puffery. I hope he can pack his office up after the next election.
Stacy Prince October 07, 2011 at 12:11 PM
And it's the second public official in a row asleep at the wheel. Remember the back-taxing that occurred when the last first selectman wasn't paying attention to post-renovation valuations? (Not that I think all the blame rests with the selectmen; why can't the town hire competent financial people?)
Tom Doyle October 07, 2011 at 12:15 PM
We don't need explanations or excuses we need a plan to resolve this problem without crushing taxpayers. I would love to hear about a plan that will overtime reduce this future burden on taxpayers.
Jack Whittle October 07, 2011 at 12:22 PM
@Stacy - You may be right about the Town's hiring of competent financial people being another area of culpability - but that road leads right back to the same man - Gordon Joseloff - who was primarily involved in the decision to hire the firm (which was absolutely lacking in experience with municipal finance, "unqualified" is a term that comes to mind) that missed a big chunk of this OPEB issue in the first place.
Stacy Prince October 07, 2011 at 12:31 PM
@Jack - "Primarily" involved is my point. Where are the checks and balances?
Charles Wesley Kelakos Haberstroh October 07, 2011 at 04:34 PM
I want to clarify what I was quoted in the article, since it was taken out of context. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the reporter explaining the OPEB issue in detail and contrasting what would happen if such occurred in the corporate world versus what the options are in municipal government. On the corporate side, for an error of this magniture the corporation's Board of Directors would likely review what happened to cause the misinformation and miscalculations. The Board would likely use outside accountants, lawyers, etc. to obtain the facts. They would then decide whether the CEO would stay, resign and what the ramifications would be. In town government, there is no Board of Directors. One of the funding bodies could request an Internal or external audit of what happened. Absence that, the First Selectmen himself has to decide what are the appropriate actions. To his credit, he has taken full responsibility. But the accountablity for what happened is unclear. He could say he's sorry, stay in office and work to address the underlying issues. If he feels he has lost the confidence of the funding bodies, he could decide to resign. In November the voters could decide to change the composition of the BOF in the November elections to either replace members or change control of the board from Democrat to Republican.Lastly, in the November 2012 elections, the voters could decide to change the First Selectman if the incumbent decides to run for re-election.
Michael Dinan (Editor) October 07, 2011 at 04:45 PM
Mr. Haberstroh, thank you for clarifying your comments. —Michael Dinan, Patch regional editor for Fairfield County (michaeld@patch.com, 203-917-7293)
Stacy Prince October 07, 2011 at 05:30 PM
I really wish we could expunge the words "Democrat" and "Republican" from the rhetoric of local politics. It just increases partisanship and further clouds the issues.
carolanne curry October 07, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Stacy You know that if Wishes were diamonds.... The Reality of democrat and republican shouldn't in any way cloud an issue as much as clarify the issue. Let's face it...it is more the distinction between cooperation or confrontation...
Michael Dinan (Editor) October 07, 2011 at 09:18 PM
Stacy: Thank you for your comment. I added that information to the story because, given that it's a local election year, I feel it is important to err on the side of giving more context and not less to our readers. In no way is it my intention to create partisanship, rather to provide as much information as possible to Westport Patch readers. -Michael
Curious October 07, 2011 at 11:51 PM
In November 2012, we have Federal and state elections. The First Selectman's term (as well as Mr. Haberstroh's) expires in 2013. Sounds like the 3rd selectman has started his campaign year early.
Charles Wesley Kelakos Haberstroh October 08, 2011 at 04:05 PM
Sorry for the typo. Yes, the Selectmen elections are in 2013 and, no, I am not running for anything. My comments were not meant to be partisan. I was trying to compare what would have likely happened in the corporate world to what is going on in Westport.
Stacy Prince October 08, 2011 at 09:08 PM
@carolanne -- I gather from your response that you buy into the popular meme that all Republicans are fiscal conservatives/businesspeople/good with money, and that the only reason the town (nay, the nation) is in such straits is that the Democrats are "in charge." I take a somewhat longer view, and in my own head spread the blame around pretty equally. But no matter what your affiliation or belief set, I hope you understand that my wishes are not fantasies; they are the only way I can see for creating meaningful change. Unlike most Americans, I don't think switching the party in charge makes a much of a difference in the long run. As long as we continue to label each other AS "other," we'll stay hot under the collar and waste precious time and energy pointing fingers when, in reality, our ideological differences aren't as stark as the media and certain pundits would like us to think they are. No matter what their party affiliation, most Westporters I talk to are horrified by the OPEB fiasco. Changing the players is probably a good way to start fixing things, but it's nothing more than window dressing if we can't figure out a way out of this mess together.
Charles Wesley Kelakos Haberstroh October 08, 2011 at 09:48 PM
Stacy, That's a pretty cynical view. There are obviously better managed companies than others. The objective for government should be the same: to elect the most qualified individuals to their respective offices. The difference is in government you have the ability to pick those individuals who more closely represent your views or those views which you believe are better. There is merit in changing horses if you as a voter is dissatisfied with how government is being managed. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. After the election, it is also important to hold those elected officials feet to the fire, if they are not doing their jobs properly. We are fortunate in Westport to have many high quality individuals willing to serve in essentially a volunteer position. Nevertheless, one can certainly differentiate between those who are more qualified than others.
Stacy Prince October 08, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Charlie, I do agree that some companies are managed better than others, as are some towns. Alas, "better" is in the eye of the beholder. For example, some people believe companies that maximize profits by lobbying government to let them pollute are well-managed companies. As you might surmise, I'm not one of them. What I'm looking for, hoping for, praying for on all fronts are checks and balances that protect the interests of all stakeholders, and the ability to work together when we disagree. I don't think that's naive, as carolanne suggests, or cynical, as you do. I think it's both hopeful and -- given the absurdity of trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results -- smart.
Charles Wesley Kelakos Haberstroh October 08, 2011 at 10:39 PM
Your last response sounds much less cynical than your first.

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