Allingtown FD pension deposits go out late in West Haven

Danielle Hackett, daughter of the late Joseph Harvey Jr. - a onetime Allingtown firefighter and councilman who died a few years ago - told the City Council on Monday, July 23, about the look she saw on her mother's face

Danielle Hackett, daughter of the late Joseph Harvey Jr. — a onetime Allingtown firefighter and councilman who died a few years ago — told the City Council on Monday, July 23, about the look she saw on her mother's face "of fear, because my father's pension was not in the bank account."

Pension direct deposits for more than 30 retired Allingtown firefighters or their widows went out late Friday, July 20, because of issues related to a change of investment accounts, officials confirmed.

While the deposits ultimately went through the same day they were supposed to, the delay caused fear and stress among some recipients who depend on the pensions to pay bills — and in some cases had already written checks under the assumption that the money would be in place.

Danielle Hackett, daughter of the late Joseph Harvey Jr. — a onetime Allingtown firefighter and later a councilman who died a few years ago — told the City Council Monday night, July 23, about the look she saw on her mother’s face “of fear, because my father’s pension was not in the bank account.

“So after my daughter and I calmed her down, we reassured her that my siblings and I would take care of that — and that’s what brings me here this evening,” Hackett said. “This act is disgusting.”

“The politics in this town right now are sickening,” Hackett said.

“It’s unexcusable that the fire commissioners John Panza and Mr. (Bob) Lathrop can make such a decision,” she said. “These two ... people decided that ... they didn’t want the firemen to get paid — the men who have fought for this city, who have saved lives.

“How dare them!” she said. “Something needs to be done.”

But, reached by phone on Tuesday, both Lathrop and Panza said there were not playing politics, were given short notice of a change that would require five pension trust board signatures in order to approve a needed transfer from a city account to an investment account and simply needed more information before they could sign it.

Once they got that, they signed, and the deposits, which normally take place in the early morning, went through late the same afternoon, they said.

“It was the last minute. ... Whoever it was waited until the last minute,” said Panza, who said that “pure politics” were at play to paint him and Lathrop as villains. “We had two pension meetings in June and July. We could have discussed it then.

“When I find out the day of — and I’m given one hour’s notice” to sign something, “I don’t think you can blame John Panza or Bob Lathrop or any other commissioner,” said Panza.

He said that Fire Department of the City of West Haven — Allingtown bookkeeper Deborah Brooks told him at 1 p.m. that he needed to sign something by 2 p.m.

“None of the commissioners had knowledge of this,” he said.

“I never said I would not sign it,’ said Lathrop. “The lady from the office called me about 1 p.m. and said, ‘I need you to come down and sign it.’ ... I said, ‘You call me at 1 and you want me to come down by 2?’”

But soon afterward, the city’s new investment account adviser arrived, brought the paperwork to Lathrop, explained what was needed and Lathrop signed, he said.

Lathrop, who is a retiree, said, “I would be upset, too” if a pension deposit wasn’t in place when it was supposed to be.

“Being a senior, I would not want any senior to go without anything,” Lathrop said. “I was glad to sign the papers because I was very concerned. I would never do anything to hurt any senior.”

According to Brooks, the Allingtown department — formerly part of an independent fire district but now part of the city of West Haven — recently changed investment accounts. It also moved from previously transferring money from a city account to that investment account on a monthly basis to doing so on a quarterly basis.

From the investment account, money then is transferred to a payroll company that deposits the money or cuts checks.

Officials previously were led to believe that they only needed one signature — “which we got, last Tuesday,” Brooks said.

But as it turned out, the department needed five signatures because it was a new account, she said.

So Brooks started contacting members of the pension trust board, which includes fire commissioners, the acting chief and two firefighters union members.

She said she quickly got three signatures, but when she called Lathrop, “he ... told me he wasn’t going to do it because it was last-minute and he didn’t feel comfortable signing it.”

Meanwhile, she called Panza and he didn’t answer immediately and “didn’t call me back,” Brooks said.

She said she felt that part of the problem was “that they didn’t trust me.”

But Brooks said “it’s very important that (the pensioners) get paid.” For many of them — and especially some of the widows — “that’s what they live on, and they live month-to-month,” she said. “They’re due their money. They should get it.”

One of the pensioners was retired Chief Peter Massaro.

Massaro was out of town on vacation, but said he started getting phone calls from other retirees “wanting to know why their money did not go into their checking accounts.”

Massaro — now a City Council member — said there are 34 retirees or spouses receiving pensions, all but two of which are direct deposited. Some of the recipients “don’t live in the state of Connecticut. Some of them live in Florida and other areas,” he said.

As for Massaro, “I paid bills ahead of time because I knew I was going to get paid.” Had the deposit, which usually goes through no later than 6:30 a.m., not gone through, he might have been hit with fees for insufficient funds, Massaro said.

As it turned out, the money was transferred late Friday afternoon, he said.

Firefighters union President Bill Wilson said that under the old investment account, “it was OK for the chairman of the board and one other member to do signatures,” but with the new account, “they need the whole board’s signatures.”

Initially, some officials had simply said, “they’ll get paid on Monday,” but others asked them, “Are they going to reimburse all the fees that would have to be paid?” Wilson said.

“It really would have been bad if they didn’t get paid,” he said.