Old Saybrook Department of Police Services (CT Examiner/McDermott)

Old Saybrook Police Commission Discusses Private Donations, Off-budget Accounts

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s police commissioners raised concerns at a meeting on Monday about the Old Saybrook Police Department’s policies governing private donations and off-budget accounts. 

Police Commissioner Alfred “Chubb” Wilcox asked that the commission form a subcommittee to speak with the finance director, First Selectman Carl Fortuna, Chief Michael Spera, the union and other communities, to better understand the donations to the department. 

Wilcox questioned whether the police department should accept cash donations, and said that donations that came with requirements or “strings attached” should need commission approval. 

Spera said that prohibiting cash donations to the department would be “impossible.” He pointed out that, for example, officers accept cash donations as part of the Turkey Drive in November. 

Commissioner Renee Shippee also brought up concerns with the department’s off-budget accounts, which she said as of last month totalled around a quarter of a million dollars. Shippee told CT Examiner that she wasn’t sure how much of that money came from donations. 

Spera said that some of these accounts have specific uses, such as animal control, the DARE program for the schools and asset forfeiture. Spera said that the accounts were used to take some of the burden off of taxpayers. He said that a policy already existed that places donations without a specific purpose into a designated account that can only be expended with a vote of the commission. 

Wilcox asked whether donations that came into the department should be sent to the town’s general fund, given that the department’s expenses were paid out of the town budget. 

Commissioner Joseph Maselli pointed out that off-budget accounts were not unique to the Old Saybrook Police Department. Maselli said they exist in every organization. 

Wilcox said that some of the donations he saw being made to the police department were “quite large.” He told CT Examiner that he had seen more than one donation of $5,000 listed in monthly documents that the Police Commission receives regarding off-budget accounts. 

Chairman Frank Keeney said he did not believe that the donations made to the department were given with the expectation of any “quid pro quo.” He said that the request for a new policy around donations was “a solution looking for a problem.” 

Spera suggested that he and the town’s finance director, LeeAnn Palladino, make a joint presentation on how the off-budget accounts work. The commission agreed unanimously to the proposal. 

Wilcox also requested that the Police Commission be told about civil lawsuits filed against the Old Saybrook Police Department. He said he was contacted by a reporter regarding a civil lawsuit filed against the department, which had been settled for an undisclosed sum. Wilcox said he had no knowledge of it. 

“I thought it was really odd if the board of directors of an organization don’t know about litigation that’s pending,” said Wilcox.  

Keeney volunteered to talk to Tom Hennick, the public information officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, to find out if the Police Commission could request further information about these lawsuits. 

The Police Commission also received copies on Monday of the report on turnover in the Old Saybrook Police Department, the result of a request made in January by First Selectman Carl Fortuna. The Commission will discuss the report at its next meeting on May 24.

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