MIDDLETOWN — Retirement Board Chair Steve Gomes called out the city administration for arranging for former Fire Chief Robert Kronenberger to receive both a pension and pay under a vendor contract, earning him $190,000 before taxes.
Kronenberger, who retired as fire chief in July 2021, began working as superintendent of the Keating building, a business incubator owned by the city, that same summer.
Gomes told CT Examiner that he believed the arrangement was made specifically to circumvent a rule under Middletown’s retirement plan preventing full-time employees from collecting a pension while continuing to work full-time for the city.
Middletown’s retirement plan states that former employees collecting a pension who are re-employed by the city should have their pension suspended for as long as they are working for the city, except in the case of a temporary employee.
Gomes, who also alleges that Kronenberger had been denying him a space for over a year in the Keating building to open a bottle redemption facility — which Kronenberger denies — brought his concerns to an Economic Development Commission meeting in September.
“How does somebody who’s retired have a job with the city? It’s not supposed to happen,” he said.
Kronenberger told the commission during the meeting that he was not employed by the city, but rather the city had a contract with his business, RWK Enterprises, which was filed with the state of Connecticut in August 2021.
Kronenberger said former Director of Economic Development Joseph Samolis had approached him about the position, since the former building superintendent, John Moore, had passed away.
Kronenberger told the committee he took the position on a part-time basis, and received a raise when he went from part-time to full-time. He said Samolis, who was preparing to retire, felt the position would be a good fit for him.
“I knew the city was in line for some serious grant funding, and I was very interested in running those projects. So that’s why I took the building over full-time,” Kronenberger said.
Samolis told CT Examiner that while he was involved in discussions and drafting the agreement, it was ultimately the city who had entered into the contract with Kronenberger.
According to city documents, Kronenberger received approximately $118,000 in pension funds between August 2022 and July 2023.
Kronenberger also received about $17,500 between August 2022 and July 2023 for part-time work as the director of emergency management. Gomes acknowledged that this work was “legitimate,” as the money was reimbursed by a FEMA grant. Gomes’ wife, Tina Gomes, who was formerly the city’s budget analyst, also receives money for her work through the same grant.
In August 2021, Kronenberger contracted with the city under a personal services vendor contract to act as superintendent of the Keating building on Johnson Street, which the city owns. He was paid $34,200 under the arrangement. In August 2022, the contract was renewed for $72,000 annually, and was renewed again in July 2023 for the same amount.
Kronenberger told CT Examiner he has contracted with other organizations through his company, but is currently working with just the city of Middletown.
Gomes said the city was circumventing the equal opportunity hiring process by contracting with Kronenberger. But Mayor Ben Florsheim said this was not the case. He said the city contracted with Kronenberger because he had “unique professional expertise” that he could lend to the project. For contracts where there is a specific need for certain services, he said, the city is not required to go out to bid for the contract.
“Kronenberger has a property management background separate and apart from his career in the fire department,” Florshiem said. “The other big criteria we would have been looking for is just knowledge of the building and awareness and expertise with building codes, fire codes, that sort of thing, which he brought to the table in abundance.”
Florsheim insisted that Kronenberger was not “double dipping” or increasing the benefits he would receive under the pension.
“It’s fee-for-service work. We are paying him for a professional service and the building has come a long way — which is great — under his direction,” Florshiem said. “He’s not going to get a second pension because of this. It is not going to increase the pension benefits that he’s entitled to from his retirement. He’s somebody who has a lot of experience with the building and what was needed to be done there. And that’s why we decided to bring him back on board.”
Madi Csejka, press secretary for the Office of the State Comptroller, referred CT Examiner to rules governing the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System, a public pension system used by other towns. Csejka said that under those rules, whether a person is considered an “independent contractor” would depend on the facts of the individual case.
But she said, generally, a person can engage as an “independent contractor” with a town without having to stop collecting their pension.
“As long as a MERS retiree is offering services under a personal services contractor agreement — the terms of which would pass the IRS’s “control” test … their pension payments would not be paused,” Csejka said.
Csejka did not respond to a request for comment on Kronenberger’s specific case by the time of publication.
Editor’s note: this story has been edited to clarify that Middletown does not participate in the MERS system, but the rules provide context for the decision by the town.