Mayor Pedro Segarra said Wednesday that although he was at first "extremely angry" about the actions of Jared Kupiec, his former chief of staff, he won't let Kupiec's arrest sway the public's trust in city hall, something he's worked to rebuild.
"We have to play by certain rules. Initially, I was extremely angry and now I think I'm just a little disillusioned," Segarra said, referring to Kupiec's arrest Tuesday on misdemeanor charges related to his use of a city vehicle after leaving his job. "I always hope that people would exercise good judgment in making decisions. I found out that in public service you could do a lot of good and ultimately a couple of bad mistakes can be very defining."
Kupiec was charged with using a motor vehicle without the owner's permission and interfering with police. Authorities say that he used a city vehicle without permission after leaving his city hall job on June 21. Kupiec was released on a promise to appear in court Aug. 8.
"I think the way this matter was handled shows this administration is unwilling to sweep things under the rug," Segarra said during a telephone interview Wednesday while on vacation. "Whenever I see anything within my administration that merits the attention of law enforcement, I address it."
"Others have denied conduct or not really owned up to things. That's not what I'm doing."
Kupiec has been the target of criticism for charging a $700 New Year's Eve dinner at Max Downtown to his city-issued credit card. The meal was for eight people, who dined on caviar, rack of lamb and oysters, records show. Kupiec and Segarra later reimbursed the city for the meal.
He was also in the news last year after Segarra awarded him a $20,000 pay raise at a time when the city faced a budget deficit of more than $50 million. And last month, the city's chief auditor raised concerns about fairness after learning that Kupiec was given an access card to the public safety complex, where he used the gym for workouts. His access card was later revoked.
Segarra said that when he chooses a new chief of staff, he will seek someone with ample experience. Kupiec, 30, had worked on political campaigns prior to joining city staff in 2010, but didn't come into the role with strong local connections, observers have said.
"You need someone who's definitely energetic and hard-working, but you also need the wisdom required to make good decisions," Segarra said, "and that often comes from experience."
Asked if he regretted hiring Kupiec, the mayor replied: "You live and you learn. There is no manual for this job. You do the best you can, try to learn from things and move forward."
Kupiec used a city-owned Ford Explorer 12 times after leaving his job, including at least once to transport a baseball team that he coaches, according to the warrant for his arrest.
A city police officer investigating a rash of car break-ins along Capitol Avenue on July 8 noticed that one of the vehicles, a gray 2010 Ford Explorer, was registered to the city. The Explorer, which had "visible damage and a shattered front passenger window," was previously assigned to Kupiec, the warrant says.
When police contacted Kupiec, he initially said he did not know how the vehicle ended up outside his Capitol Avenue home, but later confessed to using it, court documents say.
"Mr. Kupiec stated he parked the Ford Explorer on Capitol Avenue on July 7, 2013, after transporting baseball players he coaches to and from playing," the warrant says. "When asked, Mr. Kupiec stated that he knew that he did not have permission to operate the Ford Explorer."
City officials and police have noted that the vehicle was driven more than 1,200 miles between June 13 — about a week before Kupiec left his city job — and July 8.
Police were seeking a charge of second-degree larceny against Kupiec, but that charge is crossed out on the arrest warrant application signed by Hartford State's Attorney Gail P. Hardy.
City hall insiders said the arrest could detract from some of the positive steps that the administration has taken.
"Obviously, when things like this happen, it erodes the confidence that people have in government," Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a Democrat, said. "The next steps are critical. We need to address the specific issue of take-home vehicles."
Kennedy said that although it is unclear how many employees have city vehicles, many department heads and members of the police department's command staff do.
"The only people that should have take-home cars are the mayor, police chief, fire chief and DPW director," Kennedy said. "We need to take a comprehensive look at all of the vehicles and restrain the use of [take-home] vehicles. Every city manager does not deserve a car, period."
Council President Shawn Wooden, another Democrat, has called on the city's internal audit commission to review the policies, procedures and assignments for city vehicles. An audit is underway.
"The important thing for the city at this point is to look at our current processes and procedures, understand how this failure occurred and make sure going forward that we have better procedures around departing employees and around the use of city vehicles in general," Wooden said Wednesday. "This issue is not on the scale of Eddie Perez's case, but fundamentally it's a bad day when you have a former chief of staff arrested under any circumstances."
In 2010, Perez, a three-term mayor, was convicted of five felony corruption charges and resigned his post. Since taking over for Perez, Segarra has made restoring public trust in city government a key goal of his administration.
Kupiec's arrest "certainly doesn't help build confidence in the city," Wooden said.