The town will pay a former Planning & Zoning commissioner $27,500 to settle a lawsuit he filed against Oxford to obtain legal fees related to his defense of an ethics complaint lodged against him in 2009.
The Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 at its last meeting to settle the suit filed by Vincent A. Vizzo Jr., former P&Z chairman.
“This is not a pleasurable thing to do but it is the prudent thing to do,” Selectman Dave McKane said. “Based on the information, I’m inclined to settle, although it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Vizzo was a P&Z commissioner from 1995 to 2009, and he had served as chair for about six years. In July 2009, a complaint was filed against Vizzo with the town’s Board of Ethics; town officials said he had recommended giving Town Planner Brian Miller a raise at a 2008 P&Z meeting but did not reveal a business partnership with Miller.
On Nov. 23, 2009, the Board of Ethics voted unanimously to take no action against Vizzo, saying it was a “technical violation of the code” of ethics, according to meeting minutes on the town’s website.
On Feb. 4, 2010, Vizzo filed suit against the town seeking unspecified legal fees that he said the town refused to pay, plus other fees related to the case. The lawsuit cited Connecticut General Statute 7-101a, which protects municipal officers and municipal employees from damage suits and discusses reimbursement of defense expenses. (Read the full statute here.) In his lawsuit, Vizzo said the town counsel at the time told him he could not represent him due to a conflict of interest and recommended that he hire his own attorney, which Vizzo did.
Last week, current special town counsel James Sheehy told selectmen he recommended settling the case after conferring in a pretrial conference with Superior Court Judge Arthur A. Hiller, chief administrative judge in the Ansonia-Milford judicial district.
Full-time town counsel Kevin Condon told selectmen the town would be released of any liability if the case were settled.
“Given the exposure the town could face, while it might not be the most pleasant thing to do, it’s in the best interest of the town,” he said.
First Selectman George Temple, himself an attorney, said the town could have been forced to pay more than $37,000 had the case gone to trial. He was not happy about settling the case but agreed it was fiscally responsible.
“These are the kind of things that waste town resources and waste town counsel’s time,” he said.