HARTFORD — — Saundra Kee Borges wasn't looking to return to city government.
The former city manager bowed out of the municipal workforce in early 2002 during a tumultuous time in the city's history.
Eddie Perez had just taken office as mayor, and the city was preparing to switch to a "strong mayor" form of government. The city manager's post would soon be eliminated and Kee Borges found herself heading for the door.
On her way out, she became the focus of criticism over her generous severance package, though she had worked for the city for nearly 20 years as city manager and as a lawyer in the corporation counsel's office.
After closing that chapter of her life, she opened a law practice in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood and began teaching public policy at her alma mater, Trinity College.
Then, in July, she got an unexpected phone call.
Pedro Segarra, her former colleague and law-school classmate, had just been sworn in as mayor and he wanted her to consider taking up the role of corporation counsel.
"We've always called upon each other, if for no other reason than to be supportive," she said. "I wasn't looking for a job. I didn't ask to come back."
A Familiar Face
Kee Borges decided to step away from her law firm to help Segarra and others restore public trust in city leadership. Segarra, who had been city council president, replaced Perez after he was convicted of five felony corruption charges and sentenced to three years in prison.
With a background in city government and ample experience as an attorney, Kee Borges was a natural fit for corporation counsel, Segarra said.
"She has a mental history of how things have grown and developed here that is crucial to this job," he said. "She knows who all the players are."
Kee Borges first met Segarra when the two were students at the University of Connecticut Law School. Kee Borges was a year ahead, but they had some classes together and participated in the same study groups.
"We spent a lot of time together just trying to help each other get through the program," she recalled.
Several years later, Segarra was Hartford's corporation counsel and Kee Borges was deputy corporation counsel. They continued to work closely when she was named city manager in 1993.
Segarra left his city post in 1996 to devote more time to his private law practice, but he and Kee Borges stayed in touch.
"He's one of those people you can go years without seeing, and then see each other and recollect all the things you did and said," Kee Borges said.
Kee Borges retired from the city nearly six years later. She walked away with an estimated $72,000 annual pension and $41,667 in severance at the age of 42.
The package, generous but meager by corporate standards, was roundly criticized. Kee Borges said she didn't get anything she wasn't entitled to. City law allowed nonunion employees to collect a pension after 20 years of service, regardless of their age.
"I think people forget I was working toward a retirement like anyone else," said Kee Borges, now 51. "They didn't give me any special incentives."
Michael McGarry, a Republican who served on the city council while Kee Borges was city manager, said although he didn't always agree with her, "she did a good job."
"A lot of people blamed her for things, but the city council had the power," he said, referring to a time when the city operated under a council-manager form of government. "If the council had five votes, she had to answer to that. To be city manager was a no-win proposition."
He described Kee Borges as a "good pick" for corporation counsel.
"She understands the detail of the corporation counsel's office and she understands the detail of the city," he said. "We couldn't train anybody that way these days."
Kee Borges now makes $157,000 annually while drawing her city pension. City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine said the arrangement doesn't violate the city's anti-double dipping ordinance, and Kee Borges won't receive a second pension for her new round of service.
"She can receive both her pension check and whatever her current paycheck is, and it's perfectly legal," Palm Devine said. "There's only one pension she'll ever get from the city, and there's no bolstering of that pension.
"She's getting what she earned from her prior service, nothing more, nothing less," she said.
Kee Borges' term will run through January 2012, when Segarra's term ends.
Although she started work in July, the city council formerly accepted her appointment in September. Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a Democrat, said he had no reservations about bringing her back to work.
"When you look at her overall record, you can see how fortunate we are to have someone with her unique experiences willing to do the job," he said. "I don't think this corporation counsel would be afraid to tell the mayor 'no,' and that's important."
Kee Borges said she wants the corporation counsel's office to handle more cases rather than hire outside attorneys, as was done under former Corporation Counsel John Rose. And she said she envisions serving more as an administrator than a litigator, making sure things run smoothly in the office.
Segarra said the corporation counsel's office will be moved from the third to the second floor of city hall, closer to the mayor's office and city council chambers. The move will make the office more visible and accessible to other departments, he said.
In her short time as corporation counsel, Kennedy said, Kee Borges already has begun to change public perception of the office. "She's restored credibility to the office, without question," he said.
When she leaves the city workforce for a second time, Kee Borges said she hopes to be remembered as someone who cared deeply for the city.
"Hartford has done a lot for me," she said. "If I can in any way make the city a better place, I'm happy to do that."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at