It was a terse statement, sent out late Thursday:
“Mayor Nancy R. Rossi has released a statement on the departure of Finance Director Frank Cieplinski. “Effective immediately, Finance Director Frank Cieplinski is no longer employed by the City of West Haven,” it read.
With that notice Cieplinski, who has worked for the last three years, appointed in February of 2019, was escorted out of City Hall by city police after getting his walking papers. It was expected by some in City Hall as Cieplinski was the city’s top finance person when word of fraud concerning the city’s federal COVID relief funds was announced in the fall.
However, it was a fall from grace that was quite different than the announcement of his appointment three years ago. At that time, Cieplinski was heralded as a master of the accounts and just the person needed to help the city get out of its fiscal malaise.
The Fairfield resident was seen as a top administrator and well versed in the skills needed to reform and replace the city’s longstanding operational problems. But those problems are what lost him his job, according to sources inside City Hall.
“The problems in City Hall are the culture of the place itself,” said one source wishing to stay anonymous. “There are ways the city does business, and the way people in charge do business that are difficult to control.”
Those cultural problems have come to the fore as the city has been under the eye of the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) since 2017. In recent meetings, longstanding ways of doing business have come under fire by members of the oversight panel, and pressure had been put on Cieplinski and Mrs. Rossi to make changes.
According to published reports, recent problems with the use of city credit cards was another longstanding problem that has not been corrected.
The source we talked to put the blame on personnel, who purchase items and submit invoices, rather than getting permission ahead of time.
“The process of purchasing things first has been a real problem and department heads don’t follow procedure,” our source said.
The federal and state fraud investigation, meanwhile put Cieplinski and city procedures under a spotlight. It seemed to be on his mind as he was escorted out of City Hall.
“I guess I’m the scapegoat,” he was heard saying according to our source.
In the same Rossi announcement, former Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson was named as the person to replace Cieplinski.
He was elected mayor of Hamden in 2009, then served as its finance director. He was appointed as undersecretary at the state’s office of Policy and Management and was part of the original MARB. More recently, he was a commissioner for the state’s Department of labor, and a commissioner of the Department of Revenue Services. His most recent job was as chief of staff for New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.
“Scott jacks is a perfect candidate for this position as we continue to improve our city’s financial position and regain the trust of our residents and stakeholders,” Rossi said in her statement.
He was introduced to the City Council Monday night.
During the meeting Rossi gave the council a review of improvements made in this city’s procedures, particularly those implemented since the arrest of former employee and State Rep. Michael A. DiMassa and others.
“Mr. Jackson will lead the continued evaluation of the city’s current system and implement any additional controls necessary to ensure that public funds are protected and the public trust in our Finance Department and city is restored,” Rossi said.
Meanwhile, DiMassa was arraigned in federal court last week, pleading not guilty to the charges leveled against him in the fraud investigation.