Published September 30. 2013 4:00AM
Stonington - First Selectman Edward Haberek has announced on his personal Facebook page that he is canceling his economic development trip to eastern Canada next month because of what he called the "undermining" political climate in town.
"I feel with the undermining political climate, it is not an encouraging time to travel for economic development on behalf of the town," he posted on Friday.
His announcement came a few days after Board of Finance Chairman Glenn Frishman criticized Haberek for receiving per diem amounts of up to $71 a day when he travels to trade shows to promote the town while also having a $6,000-a-year expense account. Frishman said that Haberek should be using his expense account for the trips and that the finance board would look into the practice as well as Haberek's use of car leased by the town, a perk not received by previous first selectmen.
A review of Haberek's expense records shows that he received $1,779 in per diem expenses over the past four years while receiving more than $24,000 in expense account payments. Haberek, who earns a salary of $92,000 a year, gets to keep whatever portion of the expense account he does not spend on town business. Per diem money is typically used to pay for meals.
Haberek refused to answer any questions Sunday about his decision to cancel the trip. Haberek said last week that town policy calls for town employees to receive per diem payments per IRS guidelines when away on town business.
But Frishman said those employees receive a per diem stipend because they do not have a $6,000 expense account. Frishman reiterated Sunday that Haberek has an expense account that he can use on trips instead of being paid per diem.
"He's the first selectman. If he chooses not to go that's his decision," Frishman said about Haberek's decision to cancel the trip.
Frishman said his finance board would discuss the two issues when it meets next month.
In his Facebook post, Haberek said he was disappointed as he "declined a personal invitation" to join other fellow members of the New England/Canada Business Council, to visit the Canadian Atlantic Provinces on behalf of the town.
He wrote that he would have had the ability to meet with a variety of business and government leaders to develop relationships and economic endeavors.
He said he would have visited growing businesses involved in electronics, cancer research, maritime energy, and organic food distribution and pointed out that Connecticut's largest economic market is Canada, exporting $1.9 billion of merchandise there in 2012.
"I was looking forward to discussing opportunities and explore ways to forge partnerships and discuss cross-border potential," he said.