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April 30, 2007

What a Dump

Hamden recycling coordinator Pam Roach and her daughter Natalie, 8, stand in a dumping ground on the Farmington Canal line behind Stop & Shop on lower Dixwell.

Volunteers pick up after others' thoughtlessness

Words and pictures by Betsy Driebeek

Hamden is a little cleaner thanks to 20 residents who responded to the call of the Clean & Green Commission Saturday morning.

The commission distributed bags for garbage and recyclables, gloves and pokers. It directed volunteers to two of the town's most heavily littered areas along Dixwell and Putnam avenues. For two hours, the crew picked up as many bottles, cans, papers, plastic bags, cigarettes and their boxes, food containers, fast-food wrappers and car parts as it could.

Quinnipiac University law students (left to right) Megan Mahoney, Laura Manteghian, Dan Robinson and Andrew Palmer worked along Dixwell Avenue. 

When one of the youngest volunteers, Natalie Roach, 8, daughter of Hamden's recycling coordinator Pam Roach, climbed up to the old Farmington Canal line -- behind the lower Dixwell Stop & Shop -- she discovered a hidden dumping ground. There were about 50 tires, 50 bags of leaves, bicycle parts, a dryer, bottles, bedding, auto benches and lots and lots of seemingly nice clothing, albeit soaking wet. Roach got on her cell phone to report the just-discovered dump to Public Works.

Tom Dicosimo and his children Brandon, 13, David, 14, and Alisha Acuna, 15, made the cleaning of this hill on Putnam Avenue a family effort.

Clean & Green has scheduled more cleanups for June 23, Sept. 15 and Nov. 10. Of course, litter can be picked up 365 days a year by passersby. And in a perfect world, there would be no need for any cleanup days. Wouldn't that be nice?

April 25, 2007
A Lab is Born

Sgt. Daniello and his forensic computer

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Hamden police Sgt. Robert Daniello has a new baby. It doesn't cry or wet its pants. It's the department's new computer crime lab that he's developing. He says he's mighty proud of his nascent lab and it's sorely needed.

Since the late '90s when the Internet entered many households and workplaces, online crimes have proliferated. “People feel there's a certain anonymity on the Internet, but that's not necessarily so,” he said.

Daniello should know. He has a bachelor's in electronic engineering technology from the University of Hartford. He's a certified IT technician. And last year he completed a year of training at the Connecticut State Police Computer Crimes and Electronic Evidence Laboratory in Meriden. Daniello returned to the Hamden force with a startup kit: a $1,500 forensic computer and equally priced software. He said he's working on his first five cases.

He asked that the location of the lab not be disclosed.

Daniello said 80 percent of all computer crimes involve child pornography. The typical perpetrator is a white male, 25-50, who targets girls 10-17, the sergeant said. The other 20 percent include harassment, ID theft, forgery, narcotics and homicides.

“Any crime has the potential to be linked to a computer,” said Chief Tom Wydra. “After I became chief this is something I felt we were behind in. This is not a luxury. This occurred out of what we consider need.” He said the FBI now has a computer crime division “and that suggests how prevalent computer crime is in our society.”

In the 2007-08 budget, Wydra is asking for $500 for the lab. He said a $10,000 donation from Fairfield Residential is designated to building up the lab and bringing in more staff.

“I think because of the way computers are used now, police departments are going to be forced to have at least part-time officers trained in [this kind of] investigation,” said Deputy Chief John Cappiello. He said few local departments have their own labs and depend on the state lab.

While Daniello couldn't talk much about his five cases, he did offer a glimpse into one. A Hamden drug dealer was arrested in his apartment. The man claims the confiscated drugs and computer -- and even the apartment itself -- are not his. Daniello said electronic forensic evidence he's uncovered indicates otherwise and is of significant help to the prosecutor. The case is still in court.

Kind of like slaughtered pigs where everything is used but the oink, every part of a computer and its components is combed through: hard drives, software, flash drives, CDs and DVDs.

Stops Crooks Faster

Daniello said it takes him 40 to 80 hours to complete a forensic examination on a computer. Once one is brought in, he said he gets to it right away. Whereas, the state lab typically takes 18 months just to begin probing the guts of a suspect's computer because there is so much demand, said Wydra. Unless it's a serious crime, such as homicide, and then it gets high priority.

Information can become stale waiting 18 or more months, said Cappiello, and sometimes the case is thrown out because of the delay. Doing computer investigations in house “gives the criminal less time to commit crimes on the street,” said Wydra, because an arrest can be made so much sooner.

The write protector.

An important piece of crime lab equipment is the “write protector,” which connects to the hard drive. It can read data but can't input any. This is integral when testifying in a trial so the defense cannot accuse the police of planting images or other info from the Internet that were not originally on the suspect's computer. Likewise, forensic computers are not hooked up to the 'net.

“The [computer lab] investigations we're doing now are reactive based on complaints,” said Wydra. “We are soon going to initiate investigations and be proactive.” He didn't want to elaborate on how proactive investigations would be conducted.

The limitation of Hamden's new computer crime facility is retrieving deleted information that has been overwritten, said Daniello.

“Let's say you've deleted 30 child pornographic images. Fortunately, that file is still out there on the hard drive. But after time, depending on how large the hard drive is, Windows can run out of space and it overwrites that information,” he said. Specialty labs can do the job, but just the most serious offenses, like terrorist activities, are sent to them.

April 25, 2007

Mourning Complaint(s) Still Alive

Personnel Director Kelley. File photo

But town says just one "President Ford grievance" remains, while union rep says there are three

By Sharon Bass

At the onset of 2007 all town locals, save fire, filed grievances claiming they should have gotten Jan. 2 off and since they didn't, they want to be "made whole" by getting extra pay. President Bush had designated that a mourning day for the death of President Gerald Ford.

According to Personnel Director Ken Kelley, all have now dropped their complaints except the library union, which is expected to go to mediation.

However Larry Dorman, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4, said that's not so. AFSCME represents the library, Parks & Rec and Town Hall bargaining units.

The three grievances are very much in play and we're awaiting formal response from Mr. Kelley. And once we receive that we'll determine what steps are appropriate,” said Dorman.

Kelley had denied the complaints (six in all, including police, supervisors and Public Works) shortly after receiving them, and said no one has filed for arbitration with the state, which would have cost the town in legal fees. He said mediation for the library local should occur in June, with the state, the town and union at the table.

Library union president Sandy Bartell said she didn't have enough information to comment.

“There's clearly a difference in interpretation and until we receive some kind of formal response from the town, I'm not going to comment,” said Dorman. “All three grievances are active and in play and we're hoping for a fair resolution.”

According to Hamden's labor contracts, if a “holiday” is declared by the president, governor or mayor, union workers are entitled to the day off. However, that was not the case for Jan. 2., which was called a “mourning day.” Random calls to Connecticut towns and cities revealed no municipal employees had the day off or were paid extra. Same with state workers.

Asked why the unions are pursuing their greivances when “mourning day” is not written into the agreements, Dorman said, “We're pursuing it because it's important to uphold the sanctity of the collective bargaining agreement. We do believe there is precedent in our case.”

Kelley said the town also has a precedent. When President Bush closed some federal offices on Dec. 26, 2003 (the Friday after Christmas), but did not declare it a holiday, the local unions grieved and lost.

Dorman pointed to June 11, 2004, which Bush also designated as a mourning day for President Reagan. However, Gov. John Rowland declared it a holiday and union employees got the day off as their contracts allow.

They feel there's precedent and we feel there's precedent,” said Dorman.

Federal Bucks Fill Hamden's Poor Pockets

Just-paved Webb Street, off lower State Street, hasn't looked so good in decades. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

On April 9, the Legislative Council approved the town's 33rd Community Development Block Grant to spruce up Hamden's poorer neighborhoods. Economic Development Director Dale Kroop, who's in charge of the grant, spent some time with the HDN yesterday explaining how the loot is spent.

Much of the half-million-dollar federal allotment goes to infrastructure and housing improvements in the so-called three targeted areas: Highwood, lower State Street and part of Hamden Plains. The remainder is fed to social service agencies and administrative costs, such as part of Kroop's and grants coordinator Chris Marchand's salaries.

Out of the current fiscal year's $519,000 grant, a graffiti-removal machine was purchased; $120,000 went to sidewalk and road reconstruction around State and Welton streets; 25 housing units got new furnaces, roof repairs, plumbing and electrical upgrades and/or window replacements; and five old fire hydrants in Highwood were replaced. The work is performed by contractors. Also, a $17,000 playground for little kiddos is being installed behind the Keefe Center.

A woman who has owned a house on Webb Street for over 30 years said she was “shocked” to see her street was just repaved. Her road was full of potholes and cracks and not much had been done since she moved in.

“It's for the taxpayer,” said Kroop. “It reduces the reliance on the general fund.” Next year's grant is $529,039.

Administered out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the grant also gives first-time, income-eligible homebuyers downpayment assistance in the three targeted areas. It's called a “soft mortgage,” said Kroop. If the purchaser remains in the house for five years, the matching grant is forgiven. Otherwise, a prorated amount must be repaid. So far in '06-'07, three people have gotten the assistance.

“The intent of the program is for communities to decide what they need -- not the government,” said Kroop. “We have taken full advantage of that over the last 32 years by assisting low- and moderate-households and all Hamden taxpayers.”

April 23, 2007
Honoring the Earth

C. J. May, recycling coordinator for Yale University and president of the Connecticut Recyclers Coalition, presents "Recycling Is Magic."

Story and photos by Betsy Driebeek

Why were Hamden residents inside the middle school on Saturday during the first long-awaited glorious spring weekend of the year? They came for the Earth Day Celebration, in droves, and nary a parking space could be found.

"So many people have come to learn more about the environment and to have fun," said Pam Roach, the town's recycling coordinator and Earth Day committee member.

Debbie Laffin with her handmade reusable shopping bags.

“This is the first time we have had an Earth Day celebration of this magnitude, past ones have been smaller and nobody came."

Exhibitors lining the main corridor in the new school included the town's Clean and Green, Natural Resources and Open Space, Historic Properties, Planning & Zoning, Inland Wetlands & Watercourses, Solid Waste and Recycling, Human Rights and Relations and Energy Use and Climate Change commissions.

Others included the Hamden Land Conservation Trust, Hamden Historical Society, Friends of Brooksvale Park, Hamden High School Conservation Project, Hamden Middle School, Spring Glen Garden Club and Take Flight with its birds of spring.

The Recycling Commission collected old sneakers on Saturday. They will be sent to Nike to be transformed into playground surfaces.

New Haven guitarist Robert Messore strummed background music as folks strolled from booth to booth. The Connecticut Audubon Society made a birds of prey presentation.

The Clean and Green Commission had previously solicited nominations from the community for a business and civic organization that provided points of beauty in town. At noon, Mayor Craig Henrici presented the biz winner, Skip's Gulf Service Station on Dixwell Avenue, with the commission's Orchid Award.

Joe Lesiak of the Common Ground High School watches as 12-year-old North Branford resident Michael Novella waits to take a good picture of the chickens. Novella's mom teaches at Hamden Middle School.

Diane Hoffman, a member of both Clean and Green and the Earth Day planning committee said, "We awarded this to Steve Marek at Skip's because of the beautiful job he does with the beautification of his property." She emphasized Marek's waterfall garden. "He spends a lot of time, effort and money," said Hoffman.

A sign at the Earth Day event.


From Leng to Looney

Councilman Leng and state Sen. and Majority Leader Looney.

Let's look at the reval phase-in -- again

Senator Martin M. Looney
Majority Leader
Connecticut State Senate
Legislative Office Building
Room 3300
Hartford, Connecticut 06106-1591

Re: Request for Attorney General Opinion on C.G.S. § 12-62c

Dear Senator Looney:

I’m writing to you in my capacity as Councilman and Chairman of the Hamden Legislative Council’s Finance Committee.

Earlier in the current fiscal year, but subsequent to the setting of the mill rate, my committee and the Council as a whole considered a “phase-in” of the Town’s October 2005 real estate Grand List revaluation. The proposed phase-in resolution was championed by the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation (“HART”) - a local taxpayer organization.

When the phase-in question eventually received a public hearing and vote in September 2006, a number of the Council members expressed theoretical support for the concept but concluded, consistent with the position of the Administration, that the effort was, as a practical matter, “too late” to be implemented effectively for a wide variety of reasons. There were concerns related to the Town’s computer system, the ability of the Tax Office to maintain its collection rate with mid-year change and questions regarding the State’s position on reimbursement grants formulated from revaluation numbers – as well as other issues.

Since September, members of HART have continued to work to craft alternative phase-in programs that might meet the stated concerns of the Administration. Those efforts have failed to produce an agreement due to the Administration’s belief that the law does not allow any phase-in program to be enacted after the fiscal year’s mill rate is set. It is my understanding that the Administration’s legal position is based on the opinion of the State’s Office of Policy & Management (“OPM”).

HART and its legal counsel strongly disagree with the OPM opinion on this matter. I am not an attorney, and am not clear which position is correct. However, at the least, I feel that there is a fair legal question that should be clarified as to which position is correct in light of the General Assembly’s 2006 enactment of substantial amendments to the phase-in provisions, and its retroactive application of those amendments to the Revaluation of 2005.

While I have not committed to support a phase-in resolution, I do think it is important that we consider all possible options for tax relief and to have the correct information for such proposals for the current budgetary process. We face another year of tax increase after a very difficult, and in my opinion flawed, revaluation process last year.

It is important for the Town to determine the legality of a retroactive, “budget season” implementation of a phase-in, so that we do not needlessly waste time on this proposal if it is not still a legal option.

It is in that spirit that I respectfully request that, in your capacity as Majority Leader, you seek the opinion of the Attorney General, pursuant to Section 3-125 of the Connecticut General Statutes, on the ability of a town to enact presently a “phase-in” of an October 2005 real estate Grand List revaluation.

As always, I very much appreciate any assistance you can provide the Town and its taxpayers in this regard. If you have any questions or would like to talk about this matter, please feel free to contact me at 203-288-6258.

Best Regards,

Councilman Curt Leng, 6the District

Chairman, Finance Committee

Cc: Mayor Craig Henrici
Al Gorman, Council President
Matt Fitch, Majority Leader
Legislative Council Members
Scott Jackson, CAO


April 19, 2007

Murder on Fourth Street

Priscilla Ashley lives one door away from the slain woman, who lived in the aqua-green house down the street.

Neighbor says victim's sons had disliked the man accused of killing their mother

Story and visuals by Sharon Bass

While two brothers were in school yesterday morning -- one at Hamden High, the other at the middle school -- their mother was stabbed to death, reportedly by her boyfriend in her Fourth Street home. Patricia Austin, 45, died from a single stab to the chest, said Capt. Ron Smith. She is Hamden's first homicide victim this year.

Austin also had two older sons who lived with her. One reportedly saw the crime as it happened.

Priscilla Ashley talks about the woman who was slain Wednesday morning. Click the arrow to hear her.

“I seen her son out there hollering. He said he saw his mother get stabbed,” said neighbor Priscilla Ashley, who lives at 42 Fourth St. Austin lived at No. 52. Gary Dillon, 44, the boyfriend and murder suspect, lived with her, although they may have just recently broken up, according to police.

“I saw her body laying there [front porch of 52 Fourth], and I was screaming so loud,” said Ashley. “Imagine you run out your house and see someone laying dead with blood all over the porch? I saw nothing but blood. It seemed like I was screaming for 10 minutes and nobody heard me.”

Capt. Smith said Dillon and Austin had been arguing inside their home yesterday. “The dispute escalated to the front porch where Dillon allegedly stabbed Austin in the chest. Dillon then ran eastbound on Fourth Street with the knife in his possession. He was pursued on foot by one of the victim's sons,” Smith wrote in a press release. “Upon arriving at the Hess Service Station, which is approximately 1/8 of a mile from 52 Fourth Street, Dillon allegedly ordered two people out their vehicle at knifepoint. Dillon then fled towards New Haven in the stolen vehicle.”

Elm City cops located Dillon in the stolen vehicle, a green Subaru, on Valley Street and held him until Hamden police arrived.

Meanwhile, officers were called to 52 Fourth where they found Austin lifeless on her front porch. She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where she died, said Smith. It was quickly determined that the stabbing and the car hijacking were related. Dillon was arrested for murder, kidnapping in the first degree, carjacking and criminal violation of a restraining order, and held in the Hamden lockup on $1 million bond. He is to be arraigned in Meriden Superior Court this morning.

Smith said the motive is unknown though this was not the first time police went to the residence on a domestic problem. On Feb. 14, 2007, Dillon called police to complain about a verbal argument he was having with Austin, the captain said. No arrests were made.

Then on April 7, Austin called police saying Dillon “was acting irrational, very depressed and threatened to kill himself,” Smith said. He was taken to YNHH for a psychiatric evaluation. On April 15, Austin again called the cops about Dillon. “She noticed personality changes and he had smashed a window and was standing on the roof and made threats to harm her and her family,” said Smith.

He was arrested and again taken for a psych eval at Yale. This Tuesday, Dillon was in Meriden court where he a protection order was issued against him. Smith said he doesn't know what the order said. He also said Dillon has no other criminal record in Connecticut, that he knows of, but believes he's from the South, possibly Georgia.

Back on Fourth

At 5 p.m. yesterday, the lower part of Fourth Street was still cordoned off. Police would only allow residents to get close to the aqua-green house where Austin and her four sons lived. Dillon, said neighbor Ashley, was new to the scene. The two had been “dating for a short time and Pat's sons didn't like him,” she said.

Ashley said she didn't know Dillon. Maybe saw him once or twice. She said the children's father lives in New Haven and is involved, though the boys are staying with an aunt for now.

“[Austin] was a beautiful person. All the kids loved her, 'Ms. Pat, Ms. Pat.' My daughter loves her,” said Ashley. She said Austin was from South Carolina and moved to Hamden about four years ago and worked two to three jobs, including being on the nursing staff at Arden House. The two women shared their love of gardening, each with a flower bed in front of their home, she said.

“It's going to take a while to heal,” said the neighbor. “She was a great mom. She was tough with her boys but she loved her boys and they loved her.”

Smith said the investigation will take weeks.

Public Park-ticipation

A map of Town Center Park. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Simsbury landscape designer Christopher Ferrero talked about his “park for all ages” for Meadowbrook. Hamden paid him $38,000 to come up with a look. A plan. Last night the artist painted a picture of what Town Center Park could look like, at a public meeting in the middle school auditorium.

Right now it's 78.5 acres of what's left of Meadowbrook. It has grass and a gazebo and a stump dump. Ferrero suggested a few additions: walking trails, a farmers market, one or two parking lots, chess tables, concessions, kiosks, community gardens, a playground, a skating rink, bike racks, fitness stations, lighting and landscaping. “It's a multi-season park,” he said.

“The park needs trees. A lot of trees, so we hope there will be a plan for that,” Ferrero told a total of roughly 40 town employees, councilmembers and a group of Meadowbrook residents. It's an evolving park, he and Councilman Matt Fitch explained more than once. It won't be transformed overnight. Fitch is chair of the town park committee, which hired Ferrero.

“Some people say what's it going to cost?” said Fitch. “I hope nothing.” He said state money is being sought for the project. “We already have the land. That's the most expensive thing.”

“We haven't made the final designs yet because we haven't heard from you,” the designer told the room, inviting questions.

But the Meadowbrook folks had more criticism than curiosity.

“It started off as a town green and now it's a park,” said a man who didn't want his name used.

Stephanie Muzyka, a 30-year Meadowbrook resident, came with a prepared speech. “Please take one minute and pretend you are a resident of Meadowbrook. With the recent addition of a middle school and now a town park, consider how your privacy, your quality of life and your air have been infringed upon. Every day you deal with flooding issues and hope that it doesn't rain too much.

“Now it is being proposed to have even more privacy taken away, have even more day-to-day disruptions and have more pollution added to the air. How much more should the residents of Meadowbrook endure?” Muzyka said.

Joseph Mangler said he doesn't want the extra noise and traffic the park would bring. He said he's suffering enough already with the new middle school.

“Every morning, if we leave our windows open, we can hear the principal on the [PA system],” said Mangler.

Another Meadowbrook man criticized the plans for parking lots. “You're continuing to celebrate the automobile,” he said. “Putting such a strong emphasis on the automobile is not a good idea. Obesity is a growing problem in this country.”

Ferrero had shown diagrams of three different parking layouts. In one, a parking lot is put in the middle of the park, which the man called a bad idea. Ferrero said there needs to be a balance between philosophical ideas and reality. Many people, especially parents with small children and older folks, aren't going to want or be able to walk from one end of the park to the other.

“The last thing you want to do is mix kids with traffic,” the Meadowbrook man countered.

Another gentleman who resides in Meadowbrook said, “I don't see why we have to put in active recreation to draw people. I'm looking at the green side."

“When we're talking active, I don't think it's going to be anything like a carousel,” said Fitch. He said there was talk of a carousel when the town park was discussed during former Mayor Carl Amento's time in office.

“Will there be a lot of music?” asked a Meadowbrook woman.

Just the five summer concerts the Arts Commission puts on, said Fitch. No different than what it's like now.

“I come from a family of hockey players. We have a big rink in Hamden,” said another Meadowbrook woman. She said there should be tennis courts instead of a rink.

Fitch said the middle school has tennis courts and the park rink would not be for hockey, only skating.

Another Meadowbrook man asked why build a playground when every school has one. And he said there are other places to make a town park.

Someone asked if the town would have to hire more groundskeepers for the park's upkeep. Fitch said probably just one.

“The town will have to maintain it,” said Council President Al Gorman. “It will be a shame if it doesn't. This will be a jewel.”

Fitch said he's unsure when the park design would be finalized.

April 18, 2007


West Woods sixth-grader Scott Redmond asks the Council not to cut the budget.

Kids and grownups beg the Council to "save our schools" by leaving the proposed 2007-08 funding alone

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Of the 48 parents, children and school employees who spoke at the education budget hearing last night before the Legislative Council, 42 begged not to have a dime cut from the mayor's $74.6 million education tab. The other six asked for the ax..

It was standing room only. Most who voiced an opinion were white suburban parents with children in the talented and gifted program. A few were tax activists, divided in their mission. The night before, when the municipal budget was open for public input, they uniformly criticized town spending and said people would move from Hamden because of the steep taxes and spending must be cut.

But Tuesday evening some of those same folks advocated for the full school budget as handed to the Council by Mayor Craig Henrici, while the others either made no comment or asked for the ax.

Like Monday evening, emotions were right on the surface.

Seen inside Council Chambers last night.

“This is the one thing I am in favor of funding,” said Kelly McCarthy, of Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation and an at-home tutor. “I am appalled to hear programs like TAG could be cut. In general, [there should be] less bureaucracy. Perhaps, there are some changes politically that need to occur.”

Monday evening, McCarthy had called on the Council to find creative revenue sources to lessen the tax burden on homeowners.

When her husband, Aaron Gustafson, followed her at the podium, Councilman Matt Fitch started to walk away from his seat, which became a sort of deja vu moment from last night. But before he could get to his destination -- the restroom -- Gustafson asked Fitch what was on the laptop in front of him on the bench.

“Share it with the class,” Gustafson challenged.

Fitch said OK, marched back to his seat, turned his laptop around to the packed room and said he was entering the correct spellings of the speakers' names.


Although the Council is only permitted, by state law, to make the bottom-line decision on the school budget (the total amount), speakers of all ages begged not to eliminate popular programs such as TAG. The school board holds the scissors on line items but encourages the school community to air their fears to the legislative body.

The Board of Education and PTA Council distributed a flier urging folks to show up at yesterday's public hearing. In part it said:

This is your chance to speak before the Council on funding for education in Hamden. What is at stake? Here are some items that are at risk if the Council does not fully fund Mayor's proposed school budget:

Talented and Gifted program
Student support staff, aides
Educational Center for the Arts
Media specialists
Teachers and aides

What if the Council offers even less? Cuts in sports, reinstatement of the student activity fee and even all-day kindergarten is at risk.

“I'd like to congratulate the Council for the middle school. But the buildings are meaningless without the teachers and programs,” said Jonathan Dole of Walden Street. His two children attend Spring Glen. “Even though it may be a burden to people, it's an investment to our children. So I urge you to fully fund the mayor's request.”

“I watched them [BOE members] make the cuts,” said Jacqueline Church of Exeter Road whose two children are at Hamden High. Church is a media specialist in the school department. “In my opinion, any more cuts to the Board of Ed budget is a step backwards. I have faith in the system.”

Both of Diane Moran's children are in TAG. “Tonight I'd like to talk about what's fair. This is a 2.88 percent increase [click here for clarification on the increase],” the lowest the Board has recommended in 13 years. Since the state only mandates identifying children who are TAG material but not actually implementing such a program, parents like Moran said they are worried.

“Is that fair?” she said. “Fairness is not about everybody getting the same thing. It's about giving each child what he needs.”

Rebecca Muolo said she's read the budget and doesn't see much wiggle room.

Sixth-grader Rebecca Muolo mustered up the courage to confront her elected officials.

“I stand before you to say that the Board of Education is threatening to cut many helpful items for the 2007-2008 school year if the budget is not fully funded,” she said. “Such items include TAG, student support staff and aides. I have personally looked over the budget as I'm sure many of you have. Please remember that I am a child and my views may be idealistic, but cutting these items that help everyone learn just is not right.”

Outside the chambers, Rebecca was asked why she read the school budget. “I wanted to understand it. I wanted to see what the big deal was,” she said. “I found there was not much money to spare.”

The Dunbar Hill student said she wants to be a forensic anthropologist, politician or astronaut. “The only problem is I'm afraid of height. I'd be the only astronaut with my eyes closed,” Rebecca said.

Ben Redmond, a Hamden High freshman, talked about his love for the Educational Center for the Arts, a school in New Haven regional students attend in the afternoon after their regular coursework.

“It's by far my favorite place to be,” Ben said. 'The sad part is some kids don't look forward to coming to school. [At ECA], we're almost a family. I love ECA so much that when I've been sick I haven't gone to high school but I went to ECA. If ECA were cut I'd be extremely upset.”

TAG is hot, kids said. “Even in second- and third-grade, students and teachers are talking about TAG,” said eighth-grade TAG student Stephan Okar. “Students work hard to get in.”

Some parents said they moved to Hamden because of its “excellent school system” and accelerated programs such as TAG, which serves fifth- through eighth-graders. In high school, kids who want to be challenged can take advanced placement courses and/or go to ECA.

“I want you to imagine the town of Hamden without the TAG program. Without strong schools,” said Jill Maller-Kessleman, who said she chose Hamden 22 years ago because of the ethnic and racial diversity.

“What will our CMT scores look like [if families with high-achieving children move away]?” she said. “What would happen to our property values?”

Tony Papale said his fifth-grade daughter called him at work to ask him to go to the budget hearing to speak in defense of TAG.

“I'm conflicted,” he said. “High mil rate versus good schools. You have some hard decisions to make. But you have one good thing -- the schools. My children are getting a good education. Please fund the TAG program.”

Susan Martinez-Sendroff, wife of newly appointed BOE member Adam Sendroff, asked for more money. “I'm asking you to increase on top of what the mayor has suggested,” she said. “Hamden has great schools and ones that are all right.” She said there hasn't been enough money to get the computer lab fully functional at her daughter's school, Ridge Hill.

Town Economic Development Director Dale Kroop, who has two children in Hamden schools, said the fighting between the school department and town has to stop.

“Each year we hear from parents. They're tired of the bickering between the school and town. Some parents take their kids out [of the public schools] or think about it because they fear programs will be cut. I know we can't improve test scores overnight. But most people are willing to pay more in taxes if they get good services.”

PTA Council President Tim Nottoli took the podium. “What do we need to educate our students? We need parents to be involved. Teachers to figure out what will get kids to learn,. And the community,” he said. “I would implore you to lean on our state Legislature and make sure they give us what we need.

“Our schools in this town are pretty good. We have kids going to Harvard and Brown and MIT,” Nottoli continued. “But a lot of our kids are not going there. We need more teachers to reduce student class size. The mayor's budget is OK but not enough to meet our needs.”

The Critics

A half-dozen folks asked the Council to chop, chop, chop.

“I have no children but I have been paying for everybody else's for 26 years and I hope that's appreciated,” said George Levinson of Sherman Avenue. “Tonight I've been very impressed. That makes me feel a whole lot better. On the other hand, it's a lot of money. Teachers get paid very well and get extraordinary benefits. I could kick myself for not going into teaching.”

Tax activist Mariana D'Albis uttered the harshest words. She talked about the auditors' revelations of improper spending practices at central office and asked why the department should be rewarded with a bigger budget than last year's.

“We heard about the TAG all night. This is a program for 60 students,” she said.

Actually, according to special ed director Bill McGraw, 160-180 children are in the talented program and 5 percent of the roughly 7,000 students are identified as being TAG eligible. But some go without because there isn't enough money.

“The BOE should work closely with Public Works and Parks & Rec to merge functions,” D'Albis said.

Bill Burns, of Dunbar Hill Road who has no children, was the first to point out that the Council does not make program cuts.

“I've heard a lot tonight. All very impressive. But they're preaching to the wrong choir,” he said. He mentioned the “disastrous audit. $100,000 should go immediately to a forensic audit [a move made by Councilman John Flanagan and soundly defeated by the Council]. You're going to give them more money? It's not logical to give money to a Board that isn't competent. Sixty-four cents of my [tax] dollar is going into education and according to the audit, it's being spent incorrectly.”

Though people talked about retaining the 2.88 percent hike the Board suggested, Henrici's increase is actually 2.69 percent. According to BOE member Ed Sullivan, chair of the Finance Committee, in the mayor's budget about $2 million of non-state revenue was stripped from the school budget and put into the general budget. Sullivan said Henrici also cut $131,000 from the Board's $72.7 million request. Since some revenue was transferred, Henrici's $74.6 million tab comes to a slightly lower percentage.

The Council will deliberate the entire $173.6 million taxpayers' bill over the next few weeks. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers. Dates are April 23, 24 and 25; and May 1, 2, 8 and 9.

“I am for education but I'm also for responsible spending,” said Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis. She said she will “carefully examine” the school budget. Her opinion is somewhat influenced by the auditor's report, she said.

“When you look at someone who comes in from the outside and tells you things are not correct, then you take a second look,” Rowe-Lewis said.

Gorman said the BOE did a good job in presenting a “realistic” budget. But TAG students are a tiny minority and he feels all students should get an education that is “equal in quality.”

Councilmembers Betty Wetmore and John Flanagan have vowed since last spring not to give the school department one cent more than last year.

April 17, 2007

Much to Do on Budget Night

HART's big picture.

Mayor's budget solicits healthy if not critical response

Story and visuals by Sharon Bass

Yesterday's public budget hearing spurred an action-packed evening of entertainment and somber pleas. It opened with an inventive and colorful protest in front of Memorial Town Hall. And ended with one councilman getting into a screaming match with a taxpayer during the public meeting.

 Tax activist Carol Christmas, as "Henrici the Clown," says the mayor's budget is a joke. Click arrow to listen in.

First Stop

After last year's historically high tax increase, the mayor is asking for a hike of over 6 percent in his proposed $173.6 million budget. To show their opposition, about a dozen members of the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation dressed up as hobos, clowns and as Mayor Craig Henrici and stood on the corner of Whitney and Dixwell from 5:30 till the public hearing started at 7 p.m., holding up signs that said stuff like, “Governance Not Games.”

Behind them, propped up on the grass, was a large poster with doctored photos of Democratic Town Committee Chair Joe McDonagh, councilmembers Matt Fitch, Al Gorman, Carol Noble, Mike Germano and Gretchen Callahan, and Mayor Henrici depicted as circus people. McDonagh was The Ringmaster. Henrici the Top Clown. The Council political clowns.

“These are the rubber stamps,” a HART member said. Excluded from the rubber-stamp pictorial lineup were councilmembers Bob Westervelt, Betty Wetmore, Mike Colaiacovo, Curt Leng, John Flanagan, Willie Mewborn, Berita Rowe-Lewis, Kath Schomaker, Jim Pascarella and Ron Gambardella.

Carol Christmas, who planted the seeds for HART last year, wore a big green Hamden hockey shirt. “It's for Craig,” she said.

“I'm here because our taxes are too high,” Cathy Mosher said from behind her Henrici mask. “Our 18-year-old son paid our taxes in July.” She said he contributed $800 from his savings account to the family's $4,000 annual tax bill.

Carmen Siniscalchi, also a HART member, said it's time the Council and mayor show some concern to the taxpayers and pass a budget that won't drive people out of town.

Carmen Siniscalchi wants the mayor and Legislative Council to think of the taxpayers.

Town worker Don Werner dropped by. He wore his Henrici for Mayor button.

“I support Craig,” said Werner, an ardent union advocate. “I support the budget. I think he's making strides in getting us back on track. But I do have concerns. I'm very concerned with the library cuts.”

Mark Sanders said he has a solution or two.

Stop Two

So were the folks standing outside Miller Library at 6:30 p.m. -- 30 minutes before the public showdown inside Council Chambers. They held a 60-second press conference about the two technical librarians Henrici cut from his budget, while adding another tech position to his office.

Librarian Bartell, center, backed by library folk. Patron Bardakian stands to her left.

Sandy Bartell, librarian at the Brundage Community branch and co-president of the library union, Local 1303-115 of AFSCME Council 4, delivered a short statement as fellow workers and devoted patron Thomas Bardakian stood close.

“The mayor's proposed budget would do great damage to the library system,” Bartell said. “It's incumbent upon our elected leaders to provide our library workers with support. Save our library services. No more cuts.”

Final Destination

At 7 p.m., the public hearing on the mayor's 2007-08 budget (excluding the school department's, to be heard tonight at 7 o'clock) commenced in Council Chambers. The circus people joined the librarians and other disgruntled taxpayers to tell their elected officials what hurts most.

“Do away with any applause so we can hear as many people as possible,” said Council President Al Gorman. “We want to hear your advice. We're here to listen and learn.”

Tax crusader Mariana D'Albis brought a petition with her to the podium. She said she collected 751 signatures in support of a non-binding resolution for lower taxes. Henrici has proposed slicing 10 percent off the property tax bills of people who live within the Newhall consent order boundaries, where contaminated soil was found.

“When will the Council think of the taxpayers?” D'Albis said. She criticized the mayor for hiring a new, inexperienced animal control officer when he could have promoted the assistant and saved money.

Emergency Management's Neil Gorfain argues to keep EM an independent department rather than blending it in with the fire budget, as the mayor has suggested. Henrici has also proposed ending Gorfain's $2,500 yearly stipend for the volunteer hours he puts in.

Delores Tetreault said she was angry that the administration didn't seem to see the lights that burned 24/7 at the new middle school and spoke of other ways the town wastes money.

“We must wonder what our first mayor, John DeNicola [Sr.], would have thought of this,” she said.

Michelle Mast approached the Town Council with a machine gun of questions and suggestions.

  1. Why is there a new IT position budgeted for the mayor's office?

  2. Keep the Board of Education budget flat.

  3. All employees should be required to work 40 hours.

  4. Make age requirements for retirees.

  5. Decrease sick-time payouts.

  6. Combine departments that perform similar functions, eg.: Parks & Rec and Public Works; and Community and Elderly services.

  7. Close the two community library branches and sell the properties.

  8. It's not right to give Newhall residents a 10 percent tax abatement. Mast said that comes to $96,000 less in the town coffers. “You cannot single out one area of town for tax abatements,” she said. “Would this happen if this wasn't an election year?”

A parade of librarians and their friends pleaded to restore the two cuts Henrici made. “The importance of a public library goes beyond providing books,” said Judy Naden, a children's librarian. Hamden libraries offer computers for the public with instruction, if needed, and a wide scope of children's cultural and literary programming all for free.

“What you're doing to the library is depriving the children and it's the only intergenerational unit in town,” said library volunteer Carolyn Opper. “I think it's absolutely criminal the town doesn't support a unit like this. Is this what you want for your children and grandchildren?”

Bill Palter, chair of the town's Technology Commission, spoke in favor of the library cuts. As he talked about the benefits of having a “professional” tech support person in the mayor's office in lieu of a technical librarian, two rows of library people moaned. More than twice.

“I've been assured the support will be there for the library two days a week” said Palter. “A certified technician instead of a librarian technician.”

Library Board Chair Peggy O'Brien countered Palter's remarks. “The library needs someone on site,” not just two days a week, she told the 15 local legislators. Plus tech librarians do other things besides IT. They order books, train staff, help the public and work some Saturdays.

“This is not all about taxes,” said George Levinson of Shepard Avenue. “It's all about spending. I've been perusing the mayor's budget and I'm just astounded. I'm a single man. I have no kids. My taxes are going up every year. Our tax dollars are not being very well spent. Hamden is not a rich community.”

Levinson said neither the town nor school department budgets should go up at all next fiscal year.

“We're still bitter about what happened last year,” said Mark Sanders, a lawyer who lives in Whitneyville and who crafted last year's property reval phase-in, which the Council shot down. “Enough is enough. We have ways we can provide 4 mils of tax relieve” without cutting services.

One is to try for a phase-in again. Sanders, also a HART member, said it's not too late. Last summer, the state Legislature upped maximum phase-in periods from three to five years. And a phase-in passed this year would be retroactive from 2005. “We could give Hamden $20 million in tax relief,” he said.

When the Council last year nixed the phase-in -- which the administration was consistently dead-set against -- some members cited a loss of state PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) dollars Hamden would get as a reason. (Nonprofits like Quinnipiac University and churches are tax-exempt so the town gets PILOT money instead, which only partly compensates for the loss of taxes.) But Sanders said just the opposite occurred. There was no phase-in and PILOT reimbursement decreased.

He said he would send the Council information on enacting a reval phase-in, which he claimed would chop off 2 mils in 2007-08.

The Altercation

Mike Moriarty of Haverford Street delivered an etiquette message. Particularly for Councilman Fitch. Moriarty said it is rude when councilmembers leave the bench while the public is speaking to them. While he said that, Fitch was engaged in a side conversation. He criticized the 1st District legislator for speaking while he was speaking. Fitch stopped talking but Flanagan threw a gasket.

When Moriarty said again it was rude to get up while someone's addressing the body, Flanagan jumped out of his seat and yelled, “Really?” and left the chambers.

“The budget is terrible,” said Moriarty. “It's too high.”

While talking to this reporter just outside the chambers, Flanagan strolled by and Moriarty sarcastically thanked him for walking out while he was talking. What ensued between the two large men was not easily comprehensible but it was loud and faces got red.

Police Commissioner and town- and school-meeting guru Meg Nowacki was one of the last to speak. She said she's been attending Council meetings for 30 years. “People before me and behind me have changed,” she said of the councilmembers and the taxpayers in the audience.

“I hope you were impressed as I was” by the quality of their statements, Nowacki said. “I attended the first department-head budget meeting last week. Most of the department heads asked for more money.”

Respected for her often intelligent and balanced views, Nowacki implored the Council to come up with non-tax revenues as allowed in town ordinances “but not followed through.” Local law allows the town to raise fines, limit leaf pickup, for instance. She also said department heads should be like Police Chief Tom Wydra, who spelled out exactly why his department needs more money. “Instead of just asking for it” without much orany explanation, Nowacki said.

She questioned POBs, something the mayor is pushing hard for to pump up the retirement account which actuaries say is just 29 percent funded. POBs are longterm loans with interest and are a gamble because the money is invested in the stock market. After researching pension bonds, Sanders wrote about his opposition in a recent HDN “Guest Column."

Eleven-year-old Rebecca Muolo was the only minor to brave the podium. “With recent tragedies occurring in our country and world it would be very shortsighted to not fully fund the mayor's proposed increases to the police and fire departments,” she said. They're not exactly increases but filling vacancies left open because of the quasi hiring freeze imposed Jan 1.

“Next November is an election year,” warned Joe LeGrand, HART member. “I strongly suggest you come back with no increases.”

Initial Council Reactions

Germano said he liked the idea of paying town employees every other week instead of weekly, as a speaker had advised . Germano said the money could be floated and earn interest, and some employees who do the payroll could be cut from the Finance Department.

“I thought there were a lot of good comments but we can't go back and renege on [union] contracts we've negotiated on,” said Westervelt. “This year I think we're looking at cutting more than pleasing the department heads.”

Wetmore said she felt good about what the public voiced. “I really think people have been heard,” she said. “We cannot give the raises [Mayor Henrici] wants.”

A few hours earlier at the Miller Library press conference, patron extraordinaire Bardakian spoke passionately and nostalgically about what libraries mean to him and what a timeless institution it is, drawing the toddler who cannot yet read to the wise, well-read octogenarian.

“It gives me an opportunity to read all the newspapers and magazines of interest to me to be current with what's going on in the world around me,” he said. “The library and the educational system are the two crown jewels in the community -- any community. It's an investment for youngsters to senior citizens.

'We're Still Pumping'

The Mill River at Ives Street, looking north. Photo/Franz Douskey

By Sharon Bass

Big weather events are best described in numbers.

So Clark Hurlburt took off his deputy fire chief's hat for his Emergency Management chapeau and spat out the stats about the two-day water rampage that stormed into the little town of Hamden.

Click arrow to experience a minute of the Mill River's flood-heightened force. -- Franz Douskey

As of 10:30 a.m. Monday, when the furious downfall turned into a trickle, Hamden had gotten about 6.5 inches of rain.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, emergency workers and volunteers had pumped out 78 flooded Hamden basements with 10 to go. Calls from the Meadowbrook condos started coming in at 2 p.m. The town's three volunteer fire companies went to the scene and were expected to be pumping through the night.

The Fire Department has seven gas pumps and 15 electric pumps, which are used to suck up smaller amounts of water. “Say a cellar starts at 4 feet of water, we'll bring it down to about 4 inches [with gas]. Then the small electric pump will take it down to about a half an inch,” said Hurlburt.

He said he opened the Emergency Operation Center at noon Sunday, where the volunteer workers gathered, and kept it open till 2 a.m. Despite a few incidents, there were no serious injuries from the flooding. Just a lot of H2O everywhere.

“Considering the amount of incidents in town, everything has run very smooth,” said Hurlburt. “We're still pumping. We'll be pumping all night. We had every [fire] company today out pumping. All three volunteer companies have been out since midnight.”

Intersection of Waite and Mather. Photo/Brian F. Slattery

Most of the flooding was around the Mill River corridor, he said. Part of Knoll Drive collapsed. The Waite Street causeway is “totally under water,” said Hurlburt. Both roads were closed along with Willow Crest, Willow Street, Paradise Avenue and Howard Drive.

When will the streets reopen? “Depends on when the water goes down,” said Hurlburt. “The Mill River was very high. This is the worst I've seen since June of '82,” when residents were rescued from their homes by boat.

No boats were needed this year but cold-water suits were called into action.

Around noontime Monday, a mother with her child aboard drove around the barricades on Paradise and into 4 feet of water. Her car was submerged up to the windows. Firefighters put on the suits and retrieved both occupants.

“We've had problems today with people ignoring the barricades and driving around them,” Hurlburt said. There were two other rescue incidents, but neither warranted the suits.

Man Uses Hammer in Robbery

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On April 14 at approximately 7:45 p.m. a robbery occurred at Bianca Pizzaat at 1072 Dixwell Ave. Three people, described as a black males wearing dark-colored clothing, entered the restaurant, one was armed with a hammer. Described as being over 6 feet, he struck a male clerk twice on top of the head with the hammer. The three individuals, who stole an undetermined amount of money, fled on foot towards Third Street.

The clerk suffered two wounds on the front area of his head.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Raymond Quinn of the Hamden Police Department at 230.4040.

And on April 16 at approximately 9:45 a.m., police were sent to the parking lot of Mak Shell, 144 Arch St., on a robbery report. Officers were told that the person responsible for the robbery fled the area in a blue Cadillac.

Officer Robert Villano observed the person and vehicle in front of Mak Shell. The person, identified as Davon Mcduffie, refused to exit his vehicle. As Villano opened the door to the vehicle, Mcduffie drove off with Villano still holding onto the door. Villano, who was nearly struck by the Cadillac, was dragged roughly 4 feet.

The Cadillac proceeded through a stop sign at the intersection of Lilac and Bassett streets in New Haven. The vehicle then struck another vehicle, which was traveling on Bassett. And the Cadillac struck a house located at the intersection.

Mcduffie subsequently fled on foot, however he was apprehended a short distance away by Villano and Officer Montijo.

Villano suffered minor injuries during the incident.

Mcduffie, 33, of 185 Park Road was charged with robbery in the third degree, reckless endangerment in the first degree, attempted assault on a police officer, larceny in the second degree, disobeying an officer's signal, reckless driving and operating under suspension. He was detained at police headquarters on a $100,000 bond, and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on April 27.

Mcduffie allegedly took an undetermined amount of money from a customer who was purchasing gasoline at Mak Shell.

April 20, 2007

'I Just Want to Get that Seat'

Mr. Jacques. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Democrat Paul Jacques handed in his papers yesterday to form an exploratory committee for either an at-large or 2nd District Council seat. He said he needs to get an early campaign start because he might be looking at a primary. The town committee's at-large endorsements are supposedly sealed, he said, and his name isn't in the envelope.

“I was told by party leaders that they already picked the four [at-large] they want to run. I think that's unfair. That's what the convention [on July 23] is about,” said Jacques. Democrats and Republicans each endorse four at-large candidates; the voters choose six in November, ensuring the two charter-mandated seats for the minority party.

“If I don't get town committee endorsement I won't rule out a primary only for one reason,” he said. “I'm not going to allow 63 people to dictate my fate in Hamden politics. I mean that respectfully. I'll leave it in the hands of the voters.” The DTC has 63 members.

Jacques, who lives on Helen Street with his wife and children, represented his district on the Legislative Council from 2001-03. In '05, he won the party endorsement but lost in a three-way primary by three votes to John Flanagan.

“I'm still in the feeling-out process,” the 49-year-old said. “I was thinking of semi-retiring in politics in Hamden. But the more I see what's going on and what's not going on -- and should be -- I feel compelled that I have to step back into the game and give it a shot. Political leaders today are so out of touch with the people it's really sad.

“I'm not afraid to announce in advance. Bring it on,” he said. Prefer district or at-large? “It really doesn't matter. I just want to get that seat.”

April 16, 2007

Child Arrested for Rape

From Capt. Ron Smith:

A Hamden girl has accused a Hamden teen of sexually assaulting her at gunpoint inside her home.

On April 12 around 8 a.m., police responded to the complaint. The victim reported she was approached outside her residence at about 6:45 a.m. She said she was subsequently forced inside at gunpoint and was sexually assaulted. The person responsible for the assault then stole items from her home, she said.

At approximately 5:45 p.m., officers Brian Stewart and Dennis Ryan observed a person who matched the physical description given by the assault victim. Upon observing the police, the person fled on foot through several yards in the Fourth Street area. The officers recovered a sawed-off shotgun that was allegedly dropped by the teenage assailant, who was eventually arrested.

The 15-year-old Hamden resident was charged with aggravated sexual assault in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, burglary in the first degree, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, criminal use of a firearm, unlawful restraint and interfering with a police officer. The boy was turned over to the Juvenile Detention Center in New Haven.

April 13, 2007
Henrici's New Stash

The mayor-to-be with wife, Lauren Henrici, during the 2005 election season. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Though he hasn't officially announced a bid for re-election, Mayor Craig Henrici has so far raised $24,225 for a second term, according to his first filing. Most of the loot came from a $250-a-plate March 15 fundraiser at Cascade.

While 86 donor names are listed in the April 10 filing, Henrici said 100-120 people actually attended the Cascade dinner. Some, such as Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, were given comp tickets, the mayor said. And some listed contributors paid for more than one ticket.

Here's a partial list of donors and what they gave:

Elliott Kerzner, Police Commissioner and Democratic Town Committee member, $50

Councilman Matt Fitch, $250

Bob Aceto, state marshal, $500

Planning & Zoning Commissioner Ann Altman, $250

Hamden attorney Ned Burt, $500

Former Mayor John Carusone, $75

Former Police Chief Jack Kennelly, $250

Deputy Finance Director Amaechi Obi, $50

Councilman Jim Pascarella, $250

Hamden lawyer Carl Porto, $250

Howard Raccio, $500

Francis Sandillo, $500

North Haven developer Louis Tagliatela Sr., $250

Ozzie Brown, DTC member, $250

Personnel Director Ken Kelley, $250

Police Commissioner Meg Nowacki, $250

The late Robert Vignola, $250

Fire Chief David Berardesca, $250

Finance Director Mike Betz, $250

Bob Callahan, Hamden Public School technology director, $100

Deputy Police Chief John Cappiello, $250

Emily Coassin, $1,000

Town Planner Leslie Creane, $250

Michael D'Andrea, DTC member, $250

Harry Gagliardi, DTC member, $250

Town Risk Manager Art Giulietti, $250

Ari Gorfain, $500

Elizabeth Gorman, $100

Chris Hodgson, town's labor attorney, $1,000

State Sen. Martin Looney (D-Hamden, New Haven), $250

John Milone, of Milone & MacBroom, a consultant on West Woods hotel project, $500

Lewis Panzo, Hamden's agent of record, $500

Pat Riccitelli, Finance Department, $250

Parks & Rec Director Frank Rizzuti, $250

Joseph Rubertone of Quinnipiac University, $250

State Rep. Peter Villano (D-Hamden), $250

Police Chief Tom Wydra, $250

Abner Oakes, Veterans Commission, $50

Board of Ed Chair Michael D'Agostino, $250

Ed Grant, P&Z commissioner and DTC member, $100

Susan Grant, $100

Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak, $250

Public Works Director John Busca, $500

Elise Kamp, $100

Margaret Kamp, $50

Michael Kamp, assistant town attorney, $100

April 12, 2007

Cuddle Time

Council and BOE have an amicable little budget chat

By Sharon Bass

Cramped inside a stuffy conference room in Government Center, Board of Ed members sat at the same table with the Legislative Council. In more ways than one.

“The last thing we're going to ask you for is more money. I'm here to appeal to you not to give us less,” Chair Michael D'Agostino said last night at a school budget discussion. He said teachers could be cut if the Council takes the carving knife to the proposed $74.6 million budget.

He and BOE Finance Chair Ed Sullivan made their case to a seemingly agreeable Council (save one or two members). “We've taken steps this year to bring you a budget that is reasonable and responsible,” D'Agostino said, pointing out that the 2.88 percent increase is the lowest the Board has requested in 13 years.

The 2007-08 school tab originated with Superintendent Alida Begina, who asked for a 4.5 percent increase. The BOE got it next and chiseled it down to 2.88 percent. Mayor Craig Henrici then moved some school revenue to the town side -- and upped the proposed budget about $2 million -- and came in with a reported 2.69 percent increase.

D'Agostino said the increase amounts to over $2 million, most already spoken for. About $1 million goes to fulfill contractual raises and promotions for teachers. Another $700,000 is earmarked for utility cost spikes. And textbooks are needed, he said.

“This year there is actual elimination of staff and there's reorganization,” said D'Agostino. Sullivan itemized. He said three central office and three elementary-school teaching positions were axed. (Three teachers retired.) And a proposed nursing supervisor post was nixed, as it was last year.

“We as a Board and as a town cannot afford to add bodies,” said Sullivan.

Council President Al Gorman asked if any programs were cut out of the budget. D'Agostino said 98 percent of programming is intact.

“Will it affect test scores?” asked Gorman.

Hard to say, said D'Agostino.

Sullivan said ineffective programs were slashed.

“You're not giving yourselves any room in teacher-staffing levels,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella.

Current staffing levels are right on target, Board member Myron Hul said after the meeting. According to the Hamden teachers' contract, for grades K-3 there is a max of 20 kids per classroom; for grades 4-12, 25. But the 2007-08 enrollment is unknown and could create a need for more teachers in order to stay within the confines of the labor agreement.

Councilwoman Kath Schomaker asked if the school system has an energy monitoring and conservation plan.

Sullivan said he sent memos to the schools reminding them to keep the thermostat at 68 degrees.

“I would like to point out that a memo is not a conservation method,” Schomaker said.

“I'll look at the thermostats,” said Sullivan.

“We're not going to see a whole spending spree this year?” asked Councilman Mike Germano. Typically every June, central office purchases soar. The fiscal year ends June 30 and whatever is left in the school coffers must be returned to the town. Use it or lose it. Until last year, the school maintained its own health insurance fund and would put off some spending until the end of the fiscal year, in case there were higher than anticipated medical claims, which could deplete the insurance account requiring others to be tapped. The health fund was stripped from the school budget and merged with the town's in 2006, thus taking away the need for June “spending sprees.”

Both Board men promised there would be no more sprees and that unspent money would be given back to the town, from where it came, at the end of the fiscal year.

Afterwards, Councilwoman Carol Noble said she felt pretty good about what she heard. “I think that this Board of Education has made a sincere effort to bring in a budget that addresses the needs of the students and keeps the personnel in place,” she said.

“I thought it was one of the more collegial discussions,” said Councilman Matt Fitch, adding that the BOE budget is more “realistic” than some Town Hall department heads' requests.

“They seem to have done their homework,” said Gorman. “They're presenting what they feel is the best budget to fit the needs of the school system. It's honest and realistic. It's more from a taxpayer's point of view than an educator's or administrator's.”

Councilman John Flanagan didn't exactly share his colleagues' sentiments.

“I'm not disposed to give them penny one [over the current budget of $70.8 million],” he said. For the last two decades, on and off the Council, Flanagan said he's heard the same song and dance. “If we cut the budget the first thing they're going to cut is teachers,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, CMT scores are not improving. “I've seen a consistent downward spiral as the dollars increase,” said Flanagan.

April 10, 2007

The Mayor's Allowance

CAO Scott Jackson, Mayor Craig Henrici, personal secretary Gloria Sandillo and Jackson's aide Darlene Butler. File photo

Administration creates Hamden's first car-reimbursement plan -- for two

By Sharon Bass

When Craig Henrici campaigned for mayor in '05, he promised in writing not to drive a town car. Shortly after taking office that November, he asked for and received a brand new red SUV. He said he'd relinquish the vehicle once a car allowance was put in place. Since Hamden mayors have traditionally driven town cars, typically those big Crown Victorias, no such allowance existed.

Until now. In the mayor's '07-'08 budget, $10,650 has been alloted for personal vehicle reimbursement.

Henrici will get, pending Legislative Council approval, $570 a month, taxable income, said Finance Director Mike Betz. That figure covers car taxes, insurance, depreciation, repairs and gas. Fire Chief David Berardesca is driving the SUV.

Chief Tax Assessor Jim Clynes is also tapped for a car allowance. He gets $270 a month.

The monthly payments are based on the value of the town car the men would have gotten, said Betz. Henrici's would have been a 2007 Crown Victoria; Clynes, a 2000 Malibu.

After driving a town car since the 1980s, Clynes returned it and has been driving his own, said Betz.

“This is part of the overall revamping of our fleet policy,” Henrici said.

The mayor has taken 13 cars off the take-home list: two from Fire, two from Public Works, five from Police, Engineer Al Savarese's, Building Department's Bob Labulis' -- and the mayor's and assessor's. All but the last two still drive town cars and do not get any kind of allowance.

Now & Whenever

Former school may soon get a tummy tuck, but drastic surgery remains pretty much out of sight

By Sharon Bass

The Legislative Council gave the mayor the green light last night to go hunting for $100,000 in state funding to spruce up the old middle school, renamed the Michael J. Whalen Activity Center. Since the school was vacated last year, the town has been trying to figure out how to reuse it.

“Where are we in the planning stages?” asked Councilman Mike Colaiacovo.

“We're in two different stages,” answered Economic Development Director Dale Kroop. The town hired Regional Growth Partnership last year to work with residents in the Newhall neighborhood on longterm reuse ideas. That's Phase 2. RGP, a New Haven nonprofit, is expected to report its suggestions to the Council this June.

Meanwhile, Hamden Youth Services is using space at the activity center and cops conducted a dog training there. Sports teams use the fields. And by July 1, Kroop said a police subdivision will be housed inside. He said he's talking to nonprofit agencies about leasing space, so the town can make a few bucks, and hopes renters will pitch in for repairs and renovation. But first the old school sorely needs a cosmetic and operational upgrade. That's Phase 1.

“This is a building that was passed onto us by the Board of Education and it came with a lot of problems,” said Council Prez Al Gorman. “Hopefully, if we maintain it, it will be more attractive.”

The roof has a leak or two, numerous windows are broken, graffiti is all over and the heating system needs a major overhaul, said Kroop. A healthy portion of the $100,000 would go to fixing the antiquated system. Funding will be sought from the state's Local Capital Improvement Program (LOCIP).

“It's an old building from the '50s with ancient bathrooms,” he said. Last October, New Haven’s Artspace challenged artists to transform the ramshackle school into a multi-media art museum capturing the essence of the building. Their brilliant and widely varied work was displayed for a weekend, drawing thousands and bringing back a splash of life to the school some fear will ultimately rot away.

More art is scheduled for the Newhall Street building, said Kroop. An indie movie company is renting the school for a one-day shooting for $600, he said, but would not supply further details, such as which company is coming and when and what kind of movie it's making.

“This building will be town property for at least a couple of years,” he said, until the neighborhood situation is worked out. That's Phase 2. Much of that area is under a 2003 consent order mandating the town, the state, the Regional Water Authority and Olin Corporation to fund a soil remediation project. The homes, schools and two parks were built on an old industrial/residential landfill and the state Department of Environmental Protection claims a certain amount of contaminated soil needs to be shipped out and replaced with clean topsoil. The department offered a cleanup proposal last August, but nary a soul in Newhall agreed with it. Many said it wasn't extensive enough. A few said it was far too extensive. After more public meetings and nearly another year gone by, the DEP still hasn't disclosed its final plan.

Meanwhile, RGP has met with residents a few times to find out what they'd like the old school to eventually become. Kroop said RGP has about wrapped up the job but now the project has broadened to include the redesign of the neighborhood in conjunction with the school, and RGP is looking to get its contract extended. The Council should get a proposal about that in May.

Still, much is on hold. The state plan has not been unveiled. It's unknown how the Newhall community will react to it. It's unknown what would happen if the people again shot down the proposal. And it's also unknown where the millions and millions of dollars would come from that the state is on the hook for. Connecticut is responsible for the residential cleanup, which includes about 300 homes.

Dixwell Robbery

From Capt. Ron Smith:

Hamden police are investigating an April 9 robbery that occurred in the parking lot of Brook's Pharmacy, 2175 Dixwell Ave. The person responsible for the 1 p.m. robbery strong-armed a Bank of America deposit bag from a New Haven Register "collections employee" who was walking to her vehicle.

An undetermined amount of cash was taken.

The offender is described as a white male, early 20s, wearing blue jeans, blue baseball hat and a gray thermal shirt. Anyone with information, please contact Detective Raymond Quinn at 230.4040.

Also on April 9, at about 2 p.m., three males entered Bianca Pizza, 1072 Dixwell Ave., and attempted to commit a robbery. The men handed the clerk a note that indicated they were intending to rob the restaurant. The clerk refused to relinquish any money. One of the subjects then grabbed a hammer and threatened to use it. The males subsequently fled on foot towards the First Street area. No money was taken.

The subjects are described as follows:

1) Black male, 6 feet, 2 inches, black clothing and black ski mask.
2) Black male, 6 feet, black clothing, black ski mask and possible yellow T-shirt.
3) Black male, 6 feet, black jacket, khaki colored pants and black ski mask.

April 6, 2007

Cut, Cut

Photo/Betsy Driebeek

Library says ouch

By Sharon Bass

The Library Board is restless. Mayor Craig Henrici has proposed slashing two full-time librarians in his 2007-08 budget, and the board and staff say no can do without cutting hours and service as well. The library has been short the two librarians since last year and desperately needs those positions filled.

“Although mindful of the town's budget problems [the board] finds the mayor's proposed library budget unacceptable,” wrote board secretary Joan Zurolo in an e-mail to the HDN. She and the four other members are imploring the public to speak up for the library at the public hearing on the municipal budget, April 16 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall.

The future of our library depends on public response!” Zurolo wrote.

Evelyn Hatkin, board vice chair, said the libraries are losing staff nearly every year. In 2003-04, there were 28 full-time and 16 part-time positions; in 2006-07, 27 and 14; and in 2007-08, 25 and 14.

“The population of the town has not decreased and library usage has increased, but the staff is being decreased,” said Hatkin.

Henrici cut two technology librarians out of his suggested tab to the Council. One is currently funded at $61,201, the other at $47,839, although they've been vacant since last year.

At the same time, Henrici created a new job in his '07-'08 budget for an assistant IT person for $38,476, to work with network technician Dave Richards. The mayor is requesting $60,000 for Richards and is re-titling him "IT manager." Richards currently earns $50,500 and is part of the Finance Department. Henrici is putting both technology positions in his office next fiscal year. The administration is actively working on the Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) project, expecting to have a very limited, trial run this summer.

As far as the technology component is concerned we've been taking care of that in a centralized manner,” said Henrici. Asked why he cut the librarians, he said, “It's my understanding they've both been vacant for a long time.” He said Richards and his assistant would cover the library.

I'm confident the library will operate as well or better. And the [library] director has been and will be reminded of the same,” the mayor said.

Director Bob Gualtieri and Hatkin offered a somewhat different version about the vacancies. One librarian retired last June; the other left for a job in Darien last November, they said. A search was conducted last summer for a replacement, but Gualtieri said it produced no suitable candidates. In November '06, he said he wanted to do another search but was told he couldn't “because the town was considering moving the technology librarian position” to the mayor's office. And then came the quasi town-wide hiring freeze at the beginning of the year.

“I have no additional comments to make until after I have a chance to speak to the Council on April 10 [department head meeting],” Gualtieri said.

Sending Smoke Signals

Hatkin said she's been sending press releases to the media and letters to councilmembers asking them to restore the two positions.

The impact is quite considerable. No. 1, there's a backlog in cataloging,” she said. And the town IT person will only service Miller and/or the two branches twice a week, Hatkin said.

The problem is we're open 50 hours a week or whatever and if something breaks down it's going to take a while for someone to come over and help,” she said. “And our IT person [librarian] used to give lessons on how to use computers.” And also ordered the science, technology and computer books.

The board is considering alternatives. We might cut out some hours. There's a possibility of cutting out Sunday hours or at the branches. Nothing has been decided yet,” said Hatkin. “But if we're going to be short-staffed, we have to do something.

The public comes into the library and they check out their books and they're not aware of the problems because the problems are behind the scenes. So we want to ask the public for help,” she said. “For them to talk to their council people and explain that Hamden deserves a very good library. We have one now and we want to keep it that way. A library is the center of a community. There's so much that goes on."

Riccitelli Wins 'Retirement' Race, Again

Pat Riccitelli. File photo

By Sharon Bass

What is typically a ho-hummish Town Hall election turned out to be a pretty steamy one Wednesday when seven unions voted for their Pension Board rep. This year, the six-term incumbent had her most serious challenge.

It was a pretty hotly contested race,” said Personnel Director Ken Kelley. “Mr. Cirillo really gave her a run for her money.”

Her is Pat Riccitelli of the Finance Department, who won the April 4 contest for the seventh consecutive time. Joe Cirillo of the Building Department and Nancy DeCristofaro, a police secretary, challenged. Riccitelli got 102 votes, Cirillo 68, and DeCristofaro 6. Cirillo could not be reached for comment yesterday.

For Joe to get 68 votes that's the most votes a challenger has gotten in the time I've been here,” said Kelley, who came to work for Hamden in 2000. He also said the turnout was much higher this year.

Riccitelli's two-year term had expired June 30, 2006, and Kelley said it went unnoticed. “No one brought it to my attention until January,” he said. He then sent letters to the seven represented unions and got the three responses.

Kelley said Mayor Craig Henrici watched him count the ballots in Government Center's main floor conference room. Terry Gamberdella, Kelley's secretary, and Renee Morgan, a benefits technician, also counted. The candidates were pretty anxious Wednesday, Kelley said, sporadically popping in for the results.

I'm going to work hard for the union employees,” said Riccitelli. She represents seven town locals on the board, which deals with financial investments and retirements and chooses the town's advisors. The Police, Fire and school departments have their own representatives and there's also one for non-union employees. The mayor, finance director and Economic Development director are board members as well.

If I was an employee it would be an interesting board to sit on,” said Kelley. “It gives you a better understanding of the pension fund, how retirements work and how the money is invested. You have a vested interest.”

April 5, 2007

Yes to West Woods Hotel

55 West Woods. File photo

IWW approves project with 15 conditions; next stop P&Z

By Sharon Bass

Just a child's handful of angry neighbors showed up last night for the wetlands commission vote on a highly controversial hotel plan for northern Hamden. Many neighbors had apparently grown weary after attending months of long, drawn-out public hearings on the matter.

To at least a couple of folks' surprise who said before the vote they thought it wouldn't fly, the motion passed unanimously with 15 conditions attached. If Westwoods Properties agrees to the conditions, the hotel proceeds to Planning & Zoning where it will meet a more formidable challenge.

Last year, Planning & Zoning passed an amendment requiring a special permit for hotels and motels with these stipulations: minimum lot size of 80,000 square feet, no more than 20 bedrooms per acre and vehicular access to one of Hamden’s four main roads -- Whitney, Dixwell or Sherman avenues or State Street.

That last requirement might be the hurdle the hotel planned for 55 West Woods Road won't be able to clear.

The application approved Wednesday was the second. The first, which the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission turned down last March, is on appeal in New Haven Superior Court. Meanwhile, the developer drew up a slightly scaled-down version of the contentious hotel project. It has fewer rooms (90 down from 101) and a smaller parking area. Commissioners' main concerns have centered on how the construction would affect a nearby tributary which feeds into the Mill River and winds up in Lake Whitney, the town's drinking water supply.

So the commission placed 15 conditions on Westwoods Properties. They include allowing the Southern Connecticut Regional Water Authority to make periodic inspections; entering into a memorandum of understanding about water runoff; detailing how the public drinking water would be protected; identifying to the commission the person who would be responsible for overseeing drainage; conducting inspections after a 1-inch or more rainfall; installing curbing that wouldn't impede wildlife movement; and keeping water on the site for dust control.

It seems like there are a lot of areas that could go wrong,” said Commissioner Deb Sharkey.

Sosensky said bonding (amount to be determined) would be required and if need be, a cease and desist order would be issued during construction until corrections are made.

Assistant Town Attorney Tim Lee said the applicant would drop the appeal if the commission gave the second application the green light.

Sosensky asked him to elaborate.

We're just taking the applicant at his word,” said Lee.

To his commission Sosensky said, “If the New Haven court overturns our decision we'll have a larger project with greater impact” on the environment.

Has the applicant agreed to the conditions?” asked Sharkey.

No,” said Sosensky. “But we don't need to know before the vote.”

Commissioner Ralph Riccio said he was concerned that in 10 or 20 years the developers might come back wanting to install a swimming pool or picnic area and they would be dealing with a different IWW.

Lee said the applicant would have to return to the commission for further development.

I know,” said Riccio. “I was wondering if there was something we could do now.”

Afterwards, Westwoods' attorney Dana Friedman said he was “gratified” by the approval. “We need time to review the conditions,” he said.

Asked if he's going to drop the court appeal on the first application, he said, “It is our intention at this time to withdraw,” pending feedback from his engineers on the 15 conditions.

April 3, 2007
The Christmas Gift

Remember when?

By Sharon Bass

Though giving gifts to the town has been probably going on since the advent of Town Hall, there’s still some buzz and uncertainty when an outside interest offers up cash or product. Gifts are often perceived as a conflict of interest. When last December Fairfield Residential donated $20,000 to the Fire Department and 10 grand to the Police, the Legislative Council struggled, especially since Fairfield had ongoing fire-code problems in its Mix Avenue apartments. That led Fire Chief David Berardesca to strengthen his department’s ethics policy on accepting gifts.

The Council has to approve most gifts to the town. Until recently, it even had to OK something as benign as a Christmas tree. According to longtime Council Clerk Evelyn Parise, in 2002 a blanket resolution was passed to drop the approval and just accept the tree.

Three years earlier, there had been a Christmas tree incident.

Councilmembers hashed it out during their Dec. 13, 1999, meeting. Mayor Carl Amento had just taken office for the first time. Curt Leng resigned from the legislative body to become Amento’s aide. Council president was Carol Noble. There were 11 Democrats, three Republicans and Leng’s vacant seat. And, of course, Parise was the clerk.

From the Dec. 13, 1999, meeting minutes:

“Resolution to Accept a Donation for a Christmas Tree. Resolution to Accept a Donation for a Christmas Tree. It needs a two-thirds vote,” said Parise.

“I didn’t get that,” said Councilman David Bouvier (R).

“I don’t have it either,” said Noble (D).

“Does it say who donated it?” said Bouvier.

“Curt, can you answer that, who donated the tree?” said Parise.

“Mr. Joseph Nister of Forest Street of Hamden. We have sent him an appropriate thank you letter on behalf of the town,” said Leng.

“The Christmas tree is a gift from Mr. Nister and also it is already standing out with the town fountain. I think now we need to just vote on it and say thank you very much. So can we put this on the agenda? Everyone agrees, yes? Motion?” said Noble.

“So moved,” said Councilman Eric Kuselias (R).

“So moved by Ms. Ramsey and seconded by Mr. Candido. Any discussion?” said Noble.

“Is this a gift waiver?” said Kuselias.

“You should get a gift waiver,” said Councilman Ed Beaudette (D).

“I would like to point out that this tree is coming from the First District, Forest Street, and Mr. Nister, I know him very well and I am glad to hear that he’s donating the tree,” said Councilwoman Anne Ramsey (D).

“And a beautiful one, too,” said Beaudette.

“Madame Chairman, the tree is beautiful and it’s out there. May I ask why are we just getting this item on the agenda? Did we not know we needed a Christmas tree or somebody not …” said Councilwoman Mattie Mims (D).

“Mr. Leng, can you answer that?” said Noble.

“We almost didn’t give it to you either until someone reminded us that the tree was up and we should probably recommend for Council approval. I imagine it should have come earlier. Next year you can certainly expect to get it at an earlier date,” said Leng.

“July?” said Councilman John Flanagan (D).

“Do you know when exactly was the tree given to us?” said Noble.

“I do not know that. I just looked out the window and saw them putting it up. If you would like us to remove it, if the Council would like to vote in that fashion, we can go for it that way,” said Leng.

“You ought to look out the window more often,” said Councilman Henry Candido (D).

“At least you have a window to look out of,” said Noble.

“Madame Chairman, even though we are making light of this, of course we don’t want the tree removed, but this goes into a bad habit that the town is sitting in that we are accepting things, putting them up, using them and then coming by afterwards going through protocol to get it approved … this should not be a habit that we want to continue,” said Mims.

“ … it always happens but this is the first month of the Administration … As far as I’m concerned, if something hasn’t come into the Town Council Office by Wednesday before committee meeting’s schedule, I’m pulling it from the agenda … Well, counting this one that’s five mayors that I have seen do it and it’s time that this stuff has got to plan better than that and don’t have stuff show up on Thursday for Monday,” said Flanagan.

“This is a new Administration and a lot of the stuff has been coming before us has been from the previous Administration. I think we have to cut a little slack and let Mayor Amento catch up with everything and I believe this is an Administration that is going to be ahead of things and planning a lot better than the other Administrations.”

There was no record of a vote.

Home at Last

Town Hall's Peggy Craft claims the prize named Harvey.

Words and pictures by Betsy Driebeek

At noon yesterday, Town Clerk Vera Morrison was stirring a pot of approximately 365 colorful raffle tickets in the lower level of Government Center. Each ticket bore the name of a person who hoped to adopt a 24-pound Belgian chocolate bunny named Harvey. He was raffled at Saturday’s Parks & Rec pancake breakfast.

Well, his new home is with raffle-winning sisters Brianna and Ellie Craft of Hamden. Their grandmother Peggy Craft, a clerk typist in the town's Engineering and Traffic Department, was notified immediately and sped over to claim the prize.

Town Clerk Vera Morrison also picks the winner of the bicycle that had been raffled at the pancake breakfast. Parks & Rec's Frank Cooper reads the winner's name: Christiana Colello of Hamden.

"How do you eat this?" Craft asked Morrison and Assistant Parks & Rec Director Frank Cooper.

"Leave a little hammer nearby, people can take chips out of it," Morrison suggested about attacking Harvey.

Cooper, who brought Harvey to Hamden and had been his keeper over the last few weeks, was asked if he was sad to see the little chocolate guy go. "I'm just happy I don't have to carry him around anymore.  He's starting to [crumble at the base]," he said.


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