The state is reviewing
Maturo, who makes $75,000 a year as mayor, started receiving the disability pension in 1991, after injuring his back on the job as an East Haven firefighter, according to his
Maturo previously served as mayor from 1997 through 2007. He made national headlines recently by saying that he would eat tacos as a way to reach out to the Latino community after the arrest of four town police officers charged with discrimination.
"It has come to the attention of the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System (CMERS) that you were sworn in as Mayor of East Haven on November 19, 2011. Your acceptance of this full time position will affect the continuation of the disability retirement benefit you receive from CMERS," states a Nov. 21 letter from the state Retirement Services Division of the Office of the State Comptroller.
State officials said in the letter that there were two provisions that would terminate the pension — each on its own:
1. A CMERS retiree is prohibited from working more than 90 days a year for a municipality that participates in CMERS.
2. To be eligible for a disability pension, a retiree must continue to be disabled.
"The position of Mayor of East Haven is a full time position: as such it is considered gainful employment in the service of the municipality," CMERS supervisor Kimberly McAdam wrote. "The fact that you are performing the duties of this position indicates that you are neither permanently nor totally disabled from engaging in gainful employment in the service of the municipality."
Maturo's lawyer objected in a letter to the state last month. In it, Sgrignari requested a review of the state's decision. The state is complying.
Maturo sustained a
The lawyer also maintains that just because Maturo is not able to work as a firefighter doesn't mean that he is unable to perform the duties of mayor.
In his letter to the state, Sgrignari said that presumably the different interpretation of the disability pension law went into effect after Maturo served as mayor the first time.
Maturo continued to receive his disability pension — which the lawyer estimates to be $43,000 to $44,000 a year — when he served as mayor from 1997 through 2007, according to Sgrignari.
The attorney said that although the state once allowed pensioners to take non-CMERS positions, like the mayor's post, the state is now prohibiting pensioners from taking any position in a municipality that participates in CMERS.
Sgrignari said he doesn't understand the reason for the change in interpretation when there's been no change in the law.
"The question is: what prompted a new interpretation out of the blue?" Sgrignari said.
The lawyer also said that there was a statutory distinction between a "regular employee" and an "elected officer," like Maturo. He said that although state statute says: "Member means any regular employee or elective officer receiving pay from a participating municipality," it also says, "Pay means the salary, wages or earnings of an employee," — failing to mention the elective officer.
"Thus," the lawyer wrote in his Jan. 9 letter to the state, "while Mr. Maturo clearly receives a salary as Mayor, that salary is not considered 'pay' as that term is defined in the MERS statute. The omission of the salary of an elected officer from the definition of 'pay' indicates a legislative intent to treat 'public employees' and 'elective officers' differently in this context.
"Thus, while Mr. Maturo is devoting his full time to the position of Mayor, and receiving a salary as allowed under the Charter of the Town of East Haven, the position is not considered 'employment' in the traditional sense, nor for 'pay' as that term is defined in the MERS statute."
The review is internal — and there is no set schedule.
"We're hopeful that when they do review it, they would reach a different result," Sgrignari said.