Former Parking Services Director Sues Greenwich; Cites Harassment, Blocked Attempts to Implement Audit Recommendations

Rita Azrelyant at her desk in the Parking Service Dept in June 2014, shortly after being hired

Rita Azrelyant at her desk in the Parking Services Dept in June 2014, shortly after being hired. Photo: Leslie Yager

Rita Azrelyant, who served as Greenwich’s Director of Parking Services from July 2014 until First Selectman Peter Tesei eliminated her position in November, 2017, is suing the Town.

Azrelyant alleges there was retaliation for her speaking out about unethical practices and mismanagement and that she was unfairly fired.

She seeks monetary damages and wants her job reinstated.

Azrelyant replaced Allen Corey who retired. She was selected after an extensive search from 18 applicants and had an annual salary of $105,000.

The Dept of Parking Services was established as an independent department under the direction of the First Selectman in 2004. Previously, parking services were provided out of the Police Dept.

According to her complaint filed at Stamford Superior Court, recommendations in a 2014 internal audit that she tried to implement included controls over voiding parking tickets, controls over parking tickets and controls over coins collected from the town’s 2,531 parking meters.

Also, according to the complaint, Azrelyant wanted to implement an audit recommendation to eliminate the Business Operations Supervisor and ‘hire a higher level personnel.’

“The theft and malfeasance at the Parking Service Dept occurred over a ten year period under the Business Operations Supervisor,” the complaint states.

Azrelyant said her attempts to implement recommendations from the 2014 internal audit were “frustrated and blocked” by First Selectman Peter Tesei and the Town Administrator, Ben Branyan, and that when she expressed her concerns to individuals employed by the Town, she was “punished.”

She also says that in 2016 she met with Tesei, Branyan and Human Resources director Mary Pepe and was “verbally attacked by Branyan for ‘accusing her staff of stealing.'”

Asked for comment on the law suit on Friday, April 13, Peter Tesei replied that, “The characterization made in the unsubstantiated allegations by the former Parking Services Director Rita Azrelyant are patently false. Those who know First Selectman Tesei and Town Administrator Branyan easily recognize the claims are defamatory. The town looks forward to proceeding through the legal process to a successful resolution of the lawsuit. Given the pending legal case, no further comments will be made.”

Azrelyant’s complaint says that in 2016 she was forced to undergo bi-weekly “executive coaching,” by a person hired by Branyan from July to October 2016.

In a meeting Ms. Azrelyant requested with Tesei and Human Resources to talk about alleged ‘harassment’ from Mr. Branyan, the complaint says, “Instead of taking action to appropriately investigate the Plaintiff’s concerns, the First Selectman verbally attacked Plaintiff and asked, ‘How dare [Plaintiff] accuse his right hand man of harassment?'”

The complaint says that in December 2016 Azrelyant showed Tesei photos of parking meters with cardboard strategically placed that exposed the Town to malfeasance due to missing equipment parts purposefully removed by staff from the meters.

Other allegations outlined in the complaint say that in September 2017 Azrelyant continued to complain about Branyan’s alleged harassment, including degrading her in front of her subordinates. That same month Ms. Azrelyant’s complaint said she met with Tesei to share concerns regarding scrap metal theft and “severe concern over the Business Operations Supervisor’s inability to perform job duties.”

On March 24, 2017, in a meeting with Tesei, Branyan, Mary Pepe, the Police Chief, Police Captain, Ms. Azrelyant and the internal Auditor, plans to arrest Parking Services clerk Mr. Gordon were discussed.

In April 2017 Mr. Gordon was arrested for a scheme involving violations paid in cash. Through an elaborate series of fraudulent transactions, Mr. Gordon allegedly misapplied credits for non-cash transactions to satisfy parking violation tickets paid in cash. Mr. Gordon, who is no longer employed by the department, was charged with Larceny 2, Forgery 2, and False Entry by Officer or Agent.

According to the complaint, prior to the November 7, 2017 election which resulted in Mr. Tesei earning an unprecedented 6th term as First Selectman, Tesei said to Azrelyant, “If I lose, it is your fault because of the public outcry and long-term mismanagement of funds in the Parking Services Department.”

Indeed, after Mr. Gordon’s arrest, issues at the Parking Services Dept were fodder during the October 17 Selectmen candidates debate. Tesei’s challenger Sandy Litvack said a 2016 audit of the department had been ignored.

“I’m quoting from the report: ‘The existing control on the environment is so weak that we were unable to identify a single auditable record to adequately support and document any of the revenue activities within the scope of this review.’ That department reports directly to the First Selectman,” Litvack said.

In response Tesei seemed to defend Ms. Azrelyant.

“…the new director met some adversity from some of these employees who were obviously  not looking at the best interest of the Town. She overcame that. She brought in an internal audit. She brought in the police. Through very tedious and thorough investigation and documentation, they were able to levy the charges against Mr. Gordon. …I  give great kudos to Ms. Azrelyant for overcoming the adversity,” Tesei said.

A week after the election, Tesei announced the formation of a “cash handling” task force. Under the leadership of First Selectman Tesei, the Task Force including Town Administrator Ben Branyan, Comptroller Peter Mynarski and Director of Human Resources Mary Pepe was tasked with assessing the cash-handling practices throughout Town departments and institutions and recommending modifications that will increase efficiency and security, and insure consistency across all departments.

On Tuesday, November 28, 2017 Mr. Tesei released a statement saying the Parking Services Director position would be eliminated effective Dec 1, 2017.

The day Azrelyant’s position was eliminated, Greenwich Police Captain Kordick was assigned by Tesei to temporarily oversee the daily operation of the department.

In January 2018, the Town issued an RFP for an outside vendor to provide parking management services for the operation, maintenance, planning and administration of the town’s parking assets and personnel.

Specifically, the RFP says, “the selected vendor would provide a parking administration Supervisor or equivalent management structure to oversee current parking operations.” The Supervisor would report directly to Mr. Branyan.

Currently the town’s parking services department has 15.14 full time equivalent positions, several who are union members.

The RFP went out on Jan 26. According to the timeline in the RFP, which Captain Kordick described as aggressive, the new vendor was tentatively due to start on April 2.

That has not happened. The town’s purchasing department links the RFP to this tabulation:

The Parking Service department’s operating budget for the financial year 17-18 is $2,680,498. In financial year 16-17, revenue was $3,712,378.

See also:

Tesei Creates Cash Handling Practices Task Force for Greenwich November 14, 2017

Town Issues RFP for Outside Vendor to Supervise Greenwich Parking Services

Parking Services Director Position Eliminated in Reorganization November 28, 2017

Selectmen Debate: Tesei and Litvack Scuffle over Greenwich’s Economic Development

Additional Charges Include Computer Crime for Former Greenwich Parking Services Employee June 12, 2017

Parking Services Employee Charged by GPD for Scheme Involving Violations April 17, 2017

Appointment of Rita Azrelyant as New Greenwich Director of Parking Services  June 21, 2014