Po­lit­i­cal fall­out fol­lows sex­ual ha­rass­ment set­tle­ment

Maturo sup­port­ers stand by him; oth­ers em­bar­rassed and want him out

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - From The Front Page/ News - By Han­nah Dellinger

“The money he’s cost the town in le­gal fees for his mis­be­hav­ior is un­ac­cept­able. I truly be­lieve he should re­sign.” Ni­cholas Pal­ladino, Town Coun­cil mem­ber

EAST HAVEN — Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. is again fac­ing push­back from con­stituents and town lead­ers, fol­low­ing the set­tle­ment of a sex­ual ha­rass­ment suit and the emer­gence of ac­cu­sa­tions from three more women.

Maturo de­nies that he re­peat­edly sex­u­ally ha­rassed and once ex­posed him­self to for­mer town em­ployee Francine Car­bone, ac­cu­sa­tions that first arose in a 2014 com­plaint to the state Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights and Op­por­tu­ni­ties. He fought Car­bone’s state civil suit with town le­gal re­sources for three years. In Septem­ber, Maturo’s team opted to set­tle the suit right be­fore the case was set to go to trial.

Now, East Haven will pay Car­bone a $ 175,000 set­tle­ment plus med­i­cal ben­e­fits, for her and her hus­band un­til age 65, said Joseph Zullo, the town at­tor­ney.

Maturo’s back­ers cast doubt on the truth of the ac­cu­sa­tions against him and at­tribute it all to po­lit­i­cally- mo­ti­vated mud­sling­ing. They also ques­tion what they be­lieve may be the mo­tives of the women.

Ken McKay, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the Town Coun­cil who grew up with Maturo, cited the phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance of one ac­cuser when asked if he be­lieved the women.

“I don’t be­lieve Joe would be turned on by this girl in any way or sex­u­ally aroused,” he said over the phone on Fri­day.

McKay also said he did not be­lieve the mayor sex­u­ally ha­rassed Car­bone. McKay said he “can un­der­stand peo­ple be­ing up­set ( about the town pay­ing the set­tle­ment), but they have to re­al­ize the cir­cum­stances in­volved.”

“We have to pro­tect the mayor,” he said.

“He’s an em­ployee of East Haven, just like a fire­fighter or a po­lice of­fi­cer, or any other town em­ployee,” McKay said.

“If he says things that are out of or­der, we have to pro­tect him. He's an em­ployee of the town of East Haven,” he said.

When asked for com­ment on Fri­day, Maturo cut off a Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia Group re­porter dur­ing the ques­tion and hung up abruptly.

But in the wake of the set­tle­ment, crit­i­cism of the mayor — from res­i­dents and lo­cal po­lit­i­cal lead­ers — is bub­bling up and a wider rift is form­ing be­tween those who con­tinue to sup­port Maturo and those who want him out of of­fice.

Res­i­dents up­set with the out­come of the set­tle­ment have asked dur­ing pub­lic hear­ings that the long­time mayor step down and pay for the cost of the set­tle­ment . An on­line pe­ti­tion with 430 sig­na­tures as of Fri­day morn­ing de­mands the same.

One woman who spoke at a pub­lic hear­ing in Octo- ber said Maturo’s al­leged be­hav­ior is highly of­fen­sive to her as a sur­vivor of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment. She asked the coun­cil mem­bers to con­sider their fe­male con­stituents and how it must feel for them to live with a leader who is al­leged to ha­rass and de­mean women.

Fur­ther, Demo­cratic Town Com­mit­tee Chair­man Marc Conte pub­licly asked the mayor to re­sign in Septem­ber and most Democrats who work along­side Maturo on the coun­cil say they want him to step down.

“I’m to­tally em­bar­rassed by his an­tics,” said Ni­cholas Pal­ladino, a Demo­crat rep­re­sent­ing Dis­trict 2 on the coun­cil.

“The money he’s cost the town in le­gal fees for his mis­be­hav­ior is un­ac­cept­able,” said the re­tired po­lice of­fi­cer. “I truly be­lieve he should re­sign. My per­sonal be­lieve is she wouldn’t say some­thing like that if it didn't hap­pen.”

Many op­po­nents of Maturo say they be­lieve the women who have ac­cused him of ha­rass­ment. They be­lieve the al­leged be­hav­ior is in­tol­er­a­ble in any work­place, and es­pe­cially in the of­fice of the mayor.

“I have no rea­son not to be­lieve them,” Coun­cil­man Joseph Badamo, D- 4, said of the ac­cusers.

Repub­li­cans and de­fend­ers of the mayor, how­ever, ar­gue the set­tle­ment in the Car­bone suit is equiv­a­lent to what the cost of the for­mer em­ployee’s re­tire­ment agree­ment would have been. They also say the town em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing the mayor, should be pro- tected with le­gal re­sources pro­vided from their em­ployer.

“If peo­ple un­der­stood the com­plete facts, they would un­der­stand the town did very well as far as what it would have been li­able for,” said Robert Par­ente, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Town Com­mit­tee and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Dis­trict 1 on the coun­cil. “The town saved hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in this sit­u­a­tion.”

Judy Es­pos­ito, a Repub­li­can coun­cil­woman rep­re­sent­ing Dis­trict 3, com­pared the back­lash against Maturo to that against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has also been ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by mul­ti­ple women.

“I mean, come on,” she said. “These are the same peo­ple who want to im­peach Trump. And what do they want to im­peach for him for? Look at our econ­omy. He comes across like a con­struc­tion worker some­times, but he says things like they are.”

Maturo’s fer­vent sup­port­ers on the coun­cil cite the town’s low taxes and its fi­nan­cial po­si­tion as suc­cesses of the mayor and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. They say the good they be­lieve he’s done for the town is rea­son enough for him to fin­ish his term and run again in 2019.

“I would as­sume the mayor’s con­stituents would want him to stay be­cause our taxes have not gone up in a few years,” said Coun­cil­woman Judy Sit­tnick, R- 1.

The coun­cil mem­bers who con­tinue to sup­port Maturo say they’ve known him so­cially for years. Some say they owe their in­volve­ment in the town to the mayor.

“I got in­volved be­cause the mayor asked me to get in­volved,” Es­pos­ito said. “My al­le­giance is to the mayor.”

While much of the crit­i­cism of the Repub­li­can mayor from Town Coun­cil mem­bers is split along party lines, one rep­re­sen­ta­tive within his own party be­lieves Maturo should re­sign.

“I get a lot of calls ( from con­stituents) about it,” said Coun­cil­man Steve Tracey, R- 4 . “They don’t think it’s right they should have to pay for ( the set­tle­ment). I don’t think it’s right what hap­pened with the law­suit.”

Two Repub­li­cans on the coun­cil de­clined to com­ment on whether they sup­port Maturo or not when asked by Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia : Linda Hennessy, vice chair­woman of the coun­cil, and Richard Ana­nia, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Dis­trict 5.

When called on by Conte to re­sign, Maturo said he would not do so.

Even if all coun­cil mem­bers want the mayor to re­sign, there isn’t a pro­ce­dural way to oust him. There is no pro­vi­sion for forc­ing a mayor to step down un­der any cir­cum­stance in the town’s char­ter.

“We have no ju­ris­dic­tion as a coun­cil to un­seat him, other than pub­licly pres­sur­ing him to make him re­sign,” said Coun­cil­man Joseph Deko, D- 2 .

The char­ter also al­lows for a mayor — or any town em­ployee — to use East Haven’s re­sources to de­fend them­selves in le­gal mat­ters.

Some Democrats on the coun­cil want to change the char­ter to add may­oral term lim­its, checks and bal­ances on the of­fice and more reg­u­la­tion of em­ployee’s use of the town’s le­gal re­sources.

McKay said Maturo did not want to reach a set­tle­ment in the Car­bone case, but did so on the ad­vice of his at­tor­neys, and “It would end up cost­ing more court fees to con­tinue to fight it.”

Fur­ther, McKay said, he be­lieves “it’s un­fair for peo­ple to feel that mayor should pay for it.”

“Ev­ery­body gets mad at me be­cause I sup­port him, but I do,” McKay said.

“He's a no- non­sense guy and some peo­ple get up­set with him.”

Both Maturo’s sup­port­ers and his ri­vals agree on one thing: the need for the town to re­build its rep­u­ta­tion and move for­ward.

“The town gets a lot of neg­a­tive bash­ing,” said Coun­cil­man Louis Pa­celli, D- 3.

“This is a good town. We need to move for­ward in a pos­i­tive way and re­al­ize through learn­ing and ed­u­ca­tion how to get there.”

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