The Board of Alders Financial Committee unanimously voted last week to fund $15,000 in city funds for outside legal services to Michael Smart, a city clerk claiming that his deputy falsified official paperwork, some of which was related to the presidential primary in April.
Smart filed a request for the transfer on Nov. 9 after the State Elections Enforcement Committee launched an investigation in October examining a complaint from Smart, which claimed that the Deputy Clerk Sally Brown repeatedly signed her name in areas reserved for Smart’s signature.
Last April, Smart placed Brown on indefinite paid leave after learning of her supposed wrongdoing. But, in a September correspondence from the city’s deputy legal counsel Christopher Neary, Smart was told that the city would deny compensation for any litigation relating to the claims unless Smart reinstated Brown immediately.
Smart has not reinstated Brown and told the aldermanic committee that because of Neary’s refusal, he needs the extra funds to hire outside legal counsel.
“I am pleased that the city is assuring Smart’s interests are protected,” Smart’s attorney, Norm Pattis, told the News. “I remain hopeful that there will be no further litigation in the matter and that these funds will remain in city coffers.”
Asked where the funds would go if not used towards litigation by the end of the fiscal year, Smart told the Financial Committee that they would be used to balance the city budget, according to the Board of Alders’ minutes.
A search of case files in Connecticut yielded no active litigation involving Smart’s office in this matter. Smart did not respond to two requests for comment.
Asked whether Mayor Toni Harp and City Hall stood behind the discretion of both the alders and the city’s legal counsel, mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer expressed wish for a conclusion to the debate without a lawsuit.
“Attorneys in the Office of the Corporation Counsel, who represent the city in all legal matters, would prefer an expedient resolution to the existing personnel matter, without any litigation,” he said in an email to the News.
Smart’s complaint asserts that Brown “admitted” to signing her name on a September 2015 invoice, which Smart claims required his signature. Having Brown’s signature instead of Smart’s on the documents would call their validity into question and put the City Clerk’s Office and the city at risk of potential legal action, Smart argued in his complaint.
But both Brown and her lawyer, John Gesmonde, contend that she has not committed such violations.
“As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do anything wrong,” Brown told the New Haven Independent last May.
In an October interview with the News, Gesmonde said Brown’s job description vests her with the task of carrying out daily office operations. He also called the letter from Neary “extremely compelling,” and said Brown’s job description and the letter alone “are sufficient to debunk everything that [Smart] has said.”
Gesmonde went on to call attention to Brown’s extensive career in the City Clerk’s Office.
“She’s served four different mayors since the beginning of her time in the office over 30 years ago and has an impeccable personnel record,” he said in October.
SEEC spokesman Joshua Foley told the News in October that the investigation into Smart’s claims was not an indication of whether they are valid. When contacted again in January, Foley told the News that the investigation was still pending a final decision, and he declined to comment on the date of a decision.
Smart was elected into office in 2013.