City officials in Arnold were given an $8,491.36 question this week and thus far have only provided an implied answer based on their solicitor’s advice: No.
Retired treasurer Joseph Puet wants more than that.
“I deserve to receive an answer. There’s been nothing,” Puet, 61, a lifelong resident of Arnold, told the Tribune-Review.
Puet was Arnold’s treasurer for nearly 37 years before he retired in November. He has asked the city for a severance package like other longtime employees have received for unused sick time: one month’s pay and the ability to participate in a group life insurance program.
But unlike most municipal employees, Puet served as an elected official.
That makes him ineligible for any such benefits, the city’s solicitor, Dave Regoli, told the Tribune-Review.
Most city officials didn’t return messages seeking comment on the situation.
Councilman Phil McKinley said he didn’t want to comment too much because the matter could end up in court.
But Puet’s request deserves an answer from city officials, McKinley said.
“I thinking anyone who’s worked 37 years deserves an answer,” McKinley said. “I think council should take a vote.”
According to Puet, Regoli’s opinion differs from past practice in Arnold.
When Controller Elias “Lacey” Moses retired in 2008 — the controller also is an elected position — he was given a severance similar to the one Puet is seeking.
“He and I are the only two people that this situation has ever applied to,” Puet said.
Moses was Arnold’s controller for 40 years. He died in 2016.
“I am only asking for what everyone else before me has received. I delivered almost 37 years of solid public service to the City of Arnold,” Puet told city officials Tuesday during a council meeting. “I am deeply saddened and disappointed that my years of service seem to have meant nothing to the city now that I am retired.”
Puet has been seeking the severance since December. He met with council privately in April to make his case, but nothing was decided. He attended council’s meeting this week to bring the issue to a head.
“I deserve to receive an answer,” Puet said. “I consider the solicitor’s opinion to be an opinion.”
Council didn’t answer him except to defer to Regoli’s advisement.
“I gave the mayor and council an option that as an elected official he’s not entitled to reimbursement. I can’t find any legal authority to support that an elected official is entitled to reimbursement to those types of claims,” Regoli told the Trib. “Unfortunately, he was under the misconception that he would be treated like an employee and not like an elected official.”
It’s nothing personal, said Regoli, who has been solicitor for the city since 2016.
“He was an outstanding, dedicated public servant. I can certainly appreciate his devotion and dedication to the city,” Regoli said. “If council wants to take it up, they can take it up.”
Puet’s asking for $8,491.36. Because the treasurer is also the city’s tax collector, Puet’s salary of $45,372.20 was split three ways between the city, New Kensington-Arnold School District and Westmoreland County. As such, Puet said Arnold’s share of a severance would be $2,830.45.
But the school district and county haven’t been asked to consider whether they would pay the severance, Regoli said.
“It’s appearing as though their denial of Joe Puet’s retirement rights is purely and completely from the hands of Dave Regoli,” said Philip McCalister, the attorney representing Puet. “Had he known that out of the blue he would have been denied, he never would have retired.”
“That’s why I left Arnold when I did,” Puet said.
Denial of Puet’s request is “an exercise of discretion,” McCalister said.
Fighting any legal action regarding the request also could become more costly than the amount of money Puet is seeking, McCalister said.
McCalister said he wondered “if Joe just got caught in the bitter politics of Arnold right now.”