Town Government
December 30, 2005

Secret Agent, Man

A new payment deal for the town's health agent of record is in the pike, and still no one can say exactly what the agent does or how much he gets paid

By Sharon Bass

Jack Horvath offered the new and former mayors a deal he thought they couldn't refuse.

But he was wrong.

For the last six years, Horvath was Hamden's health care agent of record, or the middleman between the town and the insurer. His job -- a political appointment -- was recently given to Lew Panzo of Associated Plan Administrators.

In October, Horvath said he told former Mayor Carl Amento he would do the job for $100 next year. "What I said to Amento was, this is the first time the town of Hamden will be able to negotiate what it wanted to pay the agent of record," said Horvath, an owner of Grasso Associates Financial Planning & Insurance Services on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden.

Starting July 2006, he said, Anthem is changing its commission practice to allow the client (municipality, private company) to come up with the dollar amount agents will be paid. It's currently unclear who in Hamden Town Hall would make that determination.

Also next July, Anthem will begin revealing how much its agents and brokers are being paid, Horvath said. Asked how much commission he made while Hamden's agent he said he didn't know because "I have a lot of accounts."

Messages left at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut's North Haven office were not returned.

Paid by the Hamden Taxpayers

"So prior to July of 2006 if a municipality was insured through Anthem -- whether or not they had a broker -- they paid the same thing," Horvath said.

While agents get paid by Anthem, "it is ultimately coming from the municipality, of course," he said. "Now it is coming directly out of the town's pocket because the town can get the net cost of insurance minus the commission for the agent of record."

And so he named his fee of $100 for the first year of the new deal, meaning Hamden would only have to throw in one hundred bucks on top of the amount it pays Anthem to process the town and school self-insured health plans.

"I met with (Mayor) Craig (Henrici) and said these are our accomplishments. We've done a great job and we'd like to continue in that role. We have some very proactive measures that would save money," said Horvath. "He didn't say anything. He basically listened."

"He might have said that (he'd do the job for $100) during our conversations, but anybody can say they'd do it for nothing," said Henrici. "I'm not going to get involved with Anthem cutting someone or not cutting someone a check. Sometimes it's not the fee, it's the fit. If you talk to people who say they're not happy with Mr. Horvath, who cares if he'll do it for $100?

"That is especially the case in this instance because we're not paying a fee," said Henrici. "I have never discussed with Anthem how they pay their agent of record, nor do I plan to."

Board of Education Chair Michael D'Agostino, who deals with the agent of record for the school side, basically agreed with the mayor.

"We've been seeing the same problems, the spiraling costs and no new solutions being offered," he said of Horvath's performance. D'Agostino said he recently spoke with Panzo and got a "good feeling" about his cost-savings ideas, such as going out to bid for the stop-loss portion of Hamden's health plan (when an employee's medical costs go over the maximum per-patient amount in the Anthem contract, another company takes over the bill), and maybe for prescription drug coverage.

"We're just excited to have a new perspective because I don't think we had that in past years," said D'Agostino. "Lew brings an advantage to the table as he knows a lot of players on the town side, on the Board side. You need someone who understands the grand scheme. I'm hoping that institutional knowledge he has will help us realize savings."

About Panzo's lawsuits ("Craig's Choice," "More Lawsuits Against Panzo"), the BOE chair who is also an attorney said, "I agree with the mayor that it's not surprising that a company that handles that many claims a year finds itself being sued once in a while." However, both Horvath and Councilman Jim Pascarella, prez of Orange Insurance Center, said they've never been sued.

Horvath said he understands he lost the job to "pure politics" and bears no resentment. Asked what exactly the agent of record does, he said, "He's the middleman, the intermediary. There is a lot of work that goes along with this kind of account. You can't just sit back and collect commission."

D'Agostino said the BOE has over $11 million in its self-insurance fund, which goes up 10 percent to 20 percent a year, primarily due to increased medical costs (hospital, doctor and drug fees).

The town has $7.9 million in its self-insurance fund, said Finance Director Michael Betz. He said he's unsure how much it increases annually, but believes it's less than the school side.

Leng Wants To Know

Upon hearing about the changes Anthem is making in July 2006, Councilman Curt Leng said he wants details.

"I want to understand the change and how it impacts the town financially. I would like to request that the Legislative Council get a full debriefing on how the agent of record is paid, how much he or she gets paid and what are the different things that the agent of record can do to save the town some money, because that's what it's all about at the end," he said.

Leng said the town's health insurance fund was in deficit under Amento, and was supposed to be pulled out of the red with proceeds from the roughly $10 million sale of Hamden's Water Pollution Control Authority. About half of that money went to pay off a sewer bond debt, he said.

December 29, 2005

The Mayor (Probably) Gets the Car

Despite stating during his campaign that he would not use a town vehicle, Henrici has strong Council support for a new SUV

By Sharon Bass

During the primary, the Henrici team mailed out a campaign piece entitled: "Craig Henrici: A plan to restore Town Finances." It included this sentence: "Craig will cut cars from the Town fleet in favor of more cost-effective car allowances, and he will lead by example, forgoing a Town car as mayor."

Tuesday evening, the Legislative Council's Planning and Development Committee was asked to consider a bid waiver for a $30,000 2006 Ford Explorer for the Democratic mayor.

While there appears to be a contradiction there, most councilors say Henrici needs a town car. Period. And the mayor told the HDN he never said he wasn't going to ask for one.

"I said I would use my own car if I was able to get a car allowance. And we're looking into that," Henrici said yesterday in a phone interview. "So hopefully this car that I'm going to drive for a short time will go to another department."

However, the Ford Explorer -- if that's what the Council votes for next Tuesday -- will be designated for the mayor "as long as I need it," Henrici said. "If you drive around town you see a lot of Ford Crown Victorias. They're 8-cylinder, gas-guzzling cars that used to be in the police fleet and become town cars. And I think we can do better."

Councilman Jim Pascarella said he remembered the mayor promising he wouldn't use a town car, but said it was an uninformed statement.

"At the time he made that promise was during the primary, and I thought that it was not a practical promise," he said. "When he got into office he became aware of that."

Pascarella was referring in part to former Mayor Carl Amento's Ford Crown Victoria sedan, which was stocked with communications equipment for police and fire. "I remember (Amento) telling me that the police and fire department liked him having that in his car so if something was going on he could communicate with them," he said.

The councilman also said that Henrici probably didn't consider that using his own car would have "jeopardized his own insurance." In other words, his rates would have gone up.

Councilman John Flanagan said he had no comment. "I'll see you next Tuesday," he said.

To the contrary, Councilman Willie Mewborn had quite a bit to say.

"In politics, you have to say things to look good and make the other person look bad," he said about the town car contradiction.

"Sometimes people say things and they find out it doesn't work exactly as it's planned. We say things a lot of times we have to take back. I don't see why the mayor shouldn't get a car. If somebody's going to represent me I want them to look good and drive something that looks good," Mewborn continued. "I'm trying not to be a troublemaker. I'm a community person. I don't like to play politics.

"I don't think it's an issue. You have to trust people in the profession and the lady (Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak) who's handling it. I think she's doing a good job getting the price down on the car."

Furthermore, Mewborn said, if the mayors before Henrici got cars, then so should he, regardless of the written statement in his campaign literature.

Councilman Bob Westervelt said it's best for the mayor to have a town car, and said he didn't recall Henrici saying he'd forgo one.

"The mayor is the chief executive and he's got to respond to certain emergencies and I just think it's a good idea that he have a vehicle so he can get there," he said. "That's why I think he's going for an SUV rather than a regular vehicle. We've had a tornado blow through town. We have ice.

"Having said that, if he said he wasn't going to take the town vehicle, that's something he has to explain to me. I don't pay attention to that sort of stuff," said Westervelt.

Councilman Ron Gambardella, one of two Republicans on the Democratic-controlled Council, maintained his opposition from Tuesday evening about the mayor's town car.

"The hypocrisy and mendacity is sickening to me," he said. "It didn't take long for the Council to coalesce around the political agenda of the mayor and to defend the mayor at all costs, whether it's best for the town or not. The car is a clear example of how something that should not have been passed was passed by a Council dominated by Democrats.

"You're beginning to see the wisdom of having two seats for the minority party so there's not a clean sweep. In my opinion there's no need for the mayor to have a 4-wheel drive $30,000 SUV," said Gambardella. "It's for emergency purposes? Let's dissect that for a moment. What kind of emergency are we talking about? If it's that much of an emergency, let the fire or police pick him up. It's a ridiculous assumption that that's why he's getting the car.

"It's extremely frustrating and you know, there's nothing you can do about it. All I can do is point it out to the citizens of Hamden. There's at least someone who can bring the truth to them," the at-large councilman said.

Another issue about the car that came up at Tuesday's Council meeting was whether it should be energy-efficient and environmentally sound.

"I'd like to see the mayor set an energy-efficient example (by getting) a hybrid," said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker. "I'd rather focus on that. If they're going to purchase a car it should be energy efficient."

Pascarella said that's what Amento was looking at as a replacement for his Crown Victoria, which was getting on in years. "Carl was slated for a new car. He was thinking of getting a hybrid as a symbolic gesture for environmental issues. He was passionate about that," he said.

December 28, 2005

The Mayor's New Car

And his commissions

By Sharon Bass

The heat stole the show at yesterday's Legislative Council committee meeting. Make that the intolerable, suffocating heat. (The women's room was a literal sauna.) The kind where all the windows in the Council Chamber were wide open and even though it was pretty cold outside, it didn't seem to make a dent inside. "Drive by the high school," someone said, as the meeting was about to commence. "All the windows are open there, too."

People said the waste of energy was inexcusable, especially with the high cost of oil. It's eating up their tax dollars. Hopefully, the temperature situation will soon be remedied and the town can then use the savings to buy a "media" car (just joking).

Talking about cars, the one on last night's agenda for the new mayor brought about the most spirited conversation in the hot, sweltering room. Before the Planning and Development Committee voted on a bid waiver for a $30,000 2006 Ford Explorer for Mayor Craig Henrici, a couple of councilors had questions.

Councilman Ron Gambardella asked Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak why the car didn't go out to bid. She said the town has done well with Fords and dealing with Bob Thomas Ford.

"Why not a Chevy or a Chrysler?" asked Councilwoman Betty Wetmore.

Police Chief Jack Kennelly came to Kozak's aid. He said Ford is the best. "It holds up much better."

"How about a Jeep?" said Wetmore.

"They don't hold up," said Kozak.

Gambardella said the Council almost always engages in competitive bidding and hoped "this won't set a no-bid precedent."

His voice grew more emotional. "I just don't think the mayor needs an SUV to drive around Hamden!" For the second time (he withdrew the first) he proposed amending the item to $20,000. But it failed in committee, with only Gambardella and Wetmore supporting the reduced price tag.

The original agenda item, to waive a bid for a $30,000 town car for the mayor, then passed through committee, with just Gambardella voting against it and Wetmore and Councilman Jim Pascarella abstaining. (Pascarella recused himself saying he does business with the Ford dealership.)

In other business, all of the mayor's commission appointments made it through committee. The only one that didn't sail right through was Ann Altman, former councilwoman going for the Planning & Zoning Commission.

Gambardella said he would not vote for Altman because he felt she had tried to sabotage former Mayor Carl Amento by certain actions she took against him when she was on the Council. He also said Altman's Web site runs "disparaging" comments by her and others. Bottom line, Gambardella said, he thinks Altman might make "irrational" decisions on the P&Z.

"Comments should be aimed on the objective side rather than the subjective," said Councilwoman Carol Noble.

"I would like to remind my neighbors that we are voting on (ability), not personality," said Council Prez Al Gorman.

Councilman Matt Fitch said Altman "grasps issues well."

Gambardella and Councilwoman Kath Schomaker were the only votes against Altman.

Most of the other appointees received high praise. For Police Commission, Meg Nowacki, Joe Brandi, Janet Mills, Elliott Kerzner and incumbent Marty Ruff were easily ushered in by the Council's Public Safety Committee.

Likewise, the committee voted unanimously for Henry Candido, Duane Wetmore, Michael D'Andrea and incumbents Gordon Miller and Gerald Migliaro to be the Fire Commission.

And Edith Sokoloff got all five "yes" votes from the Human Services Committee to do another term on the Hamden Housing Authority. The full Council will take a final vote on all commission candidates and other items next year.

December 27, 2005

More Lawsuits Against Panzo

The mayor says getting sued is common for businesses like the one owned by the town's new agent of record

By Sharon Bass

With the discovery last week of two more civil suits -- waiting to be heard in New Haven Superior Court -- against Lew Panzo's Associated Plan Administrators (APA), town councilors say their concern is deepening about his appointment as the health care agent of record for the town and school.

Last week, the HDN reported that Panzo was sued by the U.S. Department of Labor ("Craig's Choice). The department claimed that APA "failed to sufficiently disclose all of its service fees to its clients." Panzo was ordered to pay $247,524 to "certain client companies" for infractions that occurred between Jan. 1, 1996, and July 31, 2001.

That disturbed some councilors, who said Panzo was not a prime choice and wished the mayor's selection process for agent of record had been broader. (The Legislative Council has no say over this appointment.) Upon hearing of the latest suits -- both filed this year -- their ambivalence has grown.

Mayor Craig Henrici said he was unaware of the new lawuists against Panzo, but said he is not at all concerned.

"Disputes happen when you're in business," the mayor said. "A company that handles thousands of claims, it's not unusual to have lawsuits against them. So until the time a judgment is rendered, it is premature" to comment.

Legislative councilors also said they didn't know about the lawsuits, but contrary to the mayor's reaction, they said they're quite concerned.

"I'm shocked to hear about current legal cases against Mr. Panzo's corporation. I'm sure the Henrici Administration wasn't aware of them either," said Councilman Curt Leng. "While everyone's innocent until proven guilty, I think it's very important for the town not to contract with companies that have legal issues."

Likewise, Councilwoman Carol Noble said, "I'm shocked. I will join those members of the Council who will initiate some sort of research process on this issue." She said the Council would need legal counsel to pursue any action.

The Suits

This year, two companies filed lawsuits in New Haven Superior Court against APA, citing Panzo as the CEO.

Lorensen Enterprises of Old Saybrook filed a complaint on July 21. APA entered into a contract with the company in April 2003, to act as a third party to administer its health plan, according to court documents.

The complaint reads: "Employee Glenn D'Amico incurred high medical bills submitted to APA for processing … APA negligently failed to process said medical bills … APA failed to notify D'Amico the outstanding bills were not processed … APA fraudulently misrepresented to the plaintiff that it was properly processing Glenn D'Amicos medical bills … As a result … the plaintiff (Lorensen) has been damaged in that it has been forced to pay for Glenn D'Amico's medical bills out of pocket …"

The complaint names another employee, Atlee Yarrow, with an identical story. " … the defendant (APA) knew that it was not properly processing Atlee Yarrow's medical bills in an accurate and timely fashion, and that Atlee Yarrow's medical bills were unpaid and further was aware that all of this was unknown to the plaintiff."

The amount Lorensen is suing for is unknown.

Pitney Bowes also slapped a suit on Panzo on Nov. 1. The Jacksonville, Fla., corporation claims APA has defaulted on three lease agreements for business equipment. In its court filing, Bowes states that on Sept. 14, 2000, APA signed a lease on which he has an outstanding balance of $57,552; on Feb. 15, 2004, lease with outstanding balance of $14,704; and on March 10, 2004, lease with outstanding balance of $24,816.

Reached at his home by phone yesterday, Panzo said the Bowes' claims are "lease disputes." He also said the lawsuits have "got absolutely nothing that's relevant to me as far as being Hamden's record of agent.

"Anyone can say anything they want in a lawsuit," said Panzo. Mayor Henrici, a lawyer, said the same thing pointing out how litigious society is.

Panzo refused to comment further, directing questions to his Hartford lawyers, Lloyd Peterson who's handling the Lorenson case, and Josh Winnick who's taking on Pitney Bowes.

"My initial feeling is I wish the mayor had made a larger selection process (for agent of record) and had a more objective panel doing the interviews," said Council President Al Gorman. "There are hundreds of these guys out there. All said and done, it is a political appointment. It's kind of interesting that Mr. Panzo (a former Democratic Town Committee chair) represented the town when we had a Republican mayor (Barbara DeNicola)."

Gorman said the town's previous agent, Jack Horvath, telephoned him the other day. "He wanted to make sure that I was aware that Mr. Panzo has been involved in some improprieties in the past. That he was unhappy that the mayor hired Mr. Panzo instead," said Gorman. "He realizes it's a political appointment but feels that it was a poor choice by the mayor."

Said Leng: "Perhaps if there was a more open process some of these issues would have been studied in depth."

Asked what the Council could do if it's unhappy with the mayor's choice of Panzo, Gorman said, "I'm not sure what could be done. The Council has no authority over the matter. Maybe we should."

Councilman Matt Fitch, the mayor's campaign manager, said he too knew nothing about the recent lawsuits against Panzo. But said he would need to see the documents before commenting.

Furthermore, Noble questioned the purpose of having an agent of record.

"If Anthem processes all of the bills, what is it exactly the agent of record does that benefits the town? Where does it benefit me to have that person there? Are we looking over the shoulder of Anthem Blue Shield?" she said.

Basically, yes, said Henrici. While he said he didn't know exactly what the health agent does, he said he or she "looks out for the best of Hamden and deals with insurers."

December 26, 2005

Picking Up Pieces of Amento's Legacy

Carl Amento (left) concedes to Craig Henrici minutes after the mayoral primary results came in Sept. 8.

30 unfinished building projects are on the new mayor's to-do list

By Sharon Bass

During this year's mayoral primary, two things were often heard: former Mayor Carl Amento said he started a lot projects and wanted another term to see them through. At the same time, Mayor Craig Henrici's campaign argued Amento took on too many building projects to handle. And if mayor, Henrici vowed not to start any new ones until the ongoing ones are done.

So the HDN paid Henrici's No. 1 aide, Scott Jackson, a little visit last week to see what was happening.

"That's one of the things Craig was talking about during the campaign -- to close projects," he began, from his office next to the mayor's.

There are 30. Twenty-eight are existing municipal and school buildings that need repair. The other two are new: the middle school and Hamden's first animal shelter, neither of which is completed.

Jackson offered a rundown on what needs what:

1) Ernest Borgnine Park, at Putnam and Dixwell, more benches, landscaping.
2) (2-4) The town's three libraries, Americans With Disabilities Act improvements to bathrooms, electric front door. "We are really trying to be proactive," said Scott, "not just doing the minimum required for disabled individuals."
5) Memorial Town Hall, interior rehab, exterior mortar work.
6) Keefe Community Center, lower Dixwell Avenue, water-entry repair. "It's really troublesome. Water entry will kill your building," said Jackson, who thinks water is getting in via windows.
7) Lockkeeper House, upper Whitney Avenue, rehab into a police substation and museum. "It's used for nothing right now because it's in very bad shape," said Jackson.
8) (8-12) Firehouses, electrical repair.

13) (13-17) Schools: Hamden High, $1.4 million air-conditioning job; Louis Astorino Ice Arena, roof and flooring repairs; Bear Path, fix "cold rooms"; Wintergreen, general upgrades; Shepherd Glen, insulating windows.*

Jackson said he's been surprised at how many bureaucratic layers each project has to squeeze through. "There really are a lot more people at the table than I had thought, to make sure the work gets done," he said.

A House for Fido

The animal shelter is the only project that hasn't broken ground. Jackson said in the long run it would "absolutely" save the town money although in the short run it will cost. How much is not known.

Currently Hamden uses North Haven's shelter. The contract was to expire Dec. 31, 2005, but was extended six months while Hamden decides what to do, and how. Amento and the previous legislative council approved building a shelter.

But it has yet to go out to bid, Jackson said. No location has been identified. Whether it will be a no-kill shelter hasn't been determined. However, Jackson said he's fairly confident that Hamden will build its own shelter in a timely manner.

State law requires towns to take care of abandoned animals, and also dead animals found on public property. If an animal takes its final breath on private property, however, it's the landowner's responsibility to have the body cremated and incur the costs. Of course, many don't follow the law and instead put dead animals in the trash or bury them.

Jackson said he was put to the test about a couple of years ago. It was a hot July afternoon when he pulled into his driveway and spotted a dead cat in rigor mortis. He figured someone dumped it there.

He put the poor kitty in an empty VCR box and left it in front of his house overnight. Jackson said the box weighed about the same as when the VCR was in it, so maybe someone would take it.

Didn't happen. The mayor's aide said he put the boxed dead cat in a plastic garbage bag because the stench was horrendous. He put the bagged, boxed cat in his trunk and headed for East Hartford to get the body cremated. "I'm a stickler for rules," he said.

Jackson said en route he lowered all the windows because even in the box, the bag and inside the trunk the smell was overwhelming.

A little interesting side note to this story.

The next day "someone" left a box at Jackson's front door. "I was very hesitant to open that box," said Jackson, laughing.

He lifted the box, which said, "Cat's Meow," some kind of child's game, and peered inside. No dead anything. Just the pieces to "Cat's Meow." And a rather strong message.

* The two new structures and various smaller projects are not mentioned in the list.

December 24, 2005


on camera: the mayor, department heads and other public servants our tax dollars feed skipping work to party over some holiday Friday afternoon

(Photos/Sharon Bass) Apparently, Mayor Craig Henrici deemed it more important to party with Soul Tempo, a Hamden/New Haven R&B vocal group, than do stuff like make commission appointments.

There's the new Town Planner Leslie Creane with Parks & Rec's Frank Cooper.

Councilwoman Kath Schomaker can party whenever she wants. She gets paid squat.

Daughter-and-dad Town Hall employees at the elegant holiday-Christmas-Hanukkah-Atheist's Day--Agnostic's Day--TheSunRisethDay party: mayoral-aide-in-waiting, Holly Masi, and Traffic's Bob Masi.

Beloved block-watch queen Connie Vereen poses with the mayor's righthand man, Scott Jackson.

Oops, there's the mayor again. This time hanging with Brooksvale Park Ranger Vin Lavorgna.

Merry Christmas from Debbie Gaiolini, Parks & Rec character

And Happy Hanukkah from the Hamden Daily News.

December 22, 2005

Craig's Choice

Lew Panzo with former Mayor Lillian Clayman during this year's mayoral primary win for Craig Henrici.

To some town councilors' chagrin, the mayor appoints Panzo to handle the municipal health account

By Sharon Bass

The new mayor is in the midst of making Town Hall appointments -- the ink not dry on most -- and already there's some rattling on his cage.

On Dec. 12, Craig Henrici named Lew Panzo Hamden's health care agent of record. That means Panzo, the CEO of Associated Plan Administrators on Whitney Avenue, will manage the town's and Board of Education's accounts with Anthem. And Anthem, the world's largest health insurer, will pay Panzo.

This is a repeat performance for Panzo. He did the job during the Barbara DeNicola Administration.

While Henrici's appointment requires no OK from the Legislative Council or competitive bid, some councilors say they're unhappy with how Panzo was chosen and wished they could have had some input. They also pointed out that Panzo was one of the mayor's biggest campaign contributors, suggesting he "bought" his job. (According to the Nov. 1, 2005, campaign finance records for Henrici -- the latest filed -- Panzo donated $1,500 to the Democratic mayoral effort, one of the highest contributions.) He replaces Jack Horvath, who was chosen agent of record in 2000 by former Mayor Carl Amento.

"I have concern about the process mostly," said Councilwoman Carol Noble, "that a mayor can just pick someone for that particular position without any input from the Council. It's also the mayor's prerogative, but to just get a broader base of who's out there and who can give us the best service.

"I don't really have much of a problem with Mr. Panzo," she continued. "He's from the past. That's the only thing I can say. He's a name from the past and they're bringing him back. I can't judge anything he's done because I've never seen any paperwork he's done."

Yesterday, Councilman Curt Leng sent Henrici a letter stating his disappointment.

He wrote: "I would like to express my sincere discomfort with the process. In the previous Administration, an RFP (request for proposal) was advertised; a panel of experienced people from the health insurance field was assembled and interviews were conducted."

Leng told the HDN, "I look forward to Mayor Henrici's response to the questions that I posed in today's correspondence. The administration has been very cooperative with information and I'm sure that either the mayor or (his aide) Scott Jackson will be on the case. I hope that we can fix this problem cooperatively."

The councilman went on to say that he wanted a "more public, inclusive process that would have allowed the town to get the best proposals possible. The handling of our health insurance is a key component to improving our financial problems and I'm not sure if the administration truly got to see the best options available."

Henrici solidly defended his decision. He said after talking with newly elected BOE Chair Michael D'Agostino and School Super Alida Begina he was convinced he made the right choice with Panzo.

"(D'Agostino) wrote me a letter Dec. 1 saying hands down he could work better with Lew than the other. And so can I," the mayor said. He said Begina also expressed disappointment with Horvath.

Henrici said he looked at three candidates before selecting Panzo: Horvath, Jack Abrams, an independent broker from Newtown, and Panzo.

"No matter what you do, some people are not going to like it. And if the Board of Education and the town can work well with somebody … I've been there (he said of his 14 years on the Council), and I've criticized mayors. So it's not uncommon and I respect them for it. I don't want a rubberstamp, but I hope the items I send to the Council are looked at favorably on their merits," the mayor said.

Panzo emphasized that he won't get a dime from the town coffers and feels he is well suited for the post.

"I would hope that I was chosen for my ability to do my job the right way and not because of my involvement with (Henrici's) campaign," he said. "I know what to look for. I know what's going to make a difference in their rates. I have some ideas on how to save them (the town) money. I think they're being a little premature on my appointment."

In reaction to the criticism, Panzo said he was a councilman for six years so he understands, but the Council's job "is to legislate not to administer. You can't take the power away from (the mayor). The mayor has to live and die with his appointments, not the Legislative Council," said Panzo.

Noble agreed. "People have to understand there's a separation of powers here. We can't tell the administration what to do. We can express our displeasure, but the Council has to accept it and work with it if we're going to be stuck with it," she said.

Different Strokes for Different Mayors

Town Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak said Amento asked her to get various companies' qualifications for the record of agent position because he didn't know whom to choose. But that was his choice.

"The mayor picks someone," said Kozak. "He can take anyone he wants because it's not a competitive bid." Of Panzo's performance last time around, she said, "He did a fantastic job. He had fantastic numbers."

Former Mayor Lillian Clayman said she also put the job out to bid.

"My style was to put everything out to bid," she said during a phone interview from her new Long Island home. She said a committee reviewed the proposals and gave her a recommendation. She chose the Guerra Agency in Shelton.

But, she acknowledged, she didn't have to take that route. The mayor makes the appointment. Period.

Clayman also said, "An agent of record doesn't want an RFP (request for proposal) because they have to tell you how much they're charging and how much they're going to be paid. There's no full disclosure. There's absolutely no full disclosure. And there doesn't have to be because they're not using public funds. Lew Panzo doesn't work for the town. He works for Anthem."

She echoed Noble's words saying the Council will have to live with Henrici's selection. "While they may disagree on a theoretical perspective, they can raise their issues but they don't have a choice. It's Craig's choice," she said.

Panzo said it's unclear how much Anthem will pay him. Last time he held the account, he said his compensation was probably between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. He said he doesn't clearly remember. He said he won't know what his commission will be until he gets a check from Anthem in January.

The Fine

Leng said he's also disturbed by a 2003 U.S. Department of Labor fine on Panzo's Associated Plan Administrators (APA). According to a labor department document, "the company failed to sufficiently disclose all of its service fees to its clients." Panzo was ordered to pay $247,524 to "certain client companies" for infractions that occurred between Jan. 1, 1996, and July 31, 2001.

The document further states: "The judgment requires future administrative services contracts entered into between APA and employee benefit plans to clearly disclose all fee arrangements for services provided by APA, and requires APA to adopt billing and reporting procedures that are consistent with these agreements and that disclose when amounts billed include fees. The defendants agreed to the entry of the consent judgment while neither admitting nor denying the allegations contained in the Labor Department's lawsuit."

However, Panzo said those were private accounts he was cited for, not municipal. "It's like comparing apples to oranges. It has absolutely nothing to do with being agent of record for the town of Hamden because Anthem is the one who initiates all contracts and disclosures," he said.

Asked for comment, Councilman John Flanagan said Panzo's assignment is none of the Council's business. "(The appointments for agent of record) had come to us as a Council before from previous mayors but they didn't have to. I'm not going to argue with the mayor. It's not a Council responsibility. We've got enough problems to deal with as a Council," he said.

December 20, 2005

Either Turn It Off or Keep Moving

Hamden's Energy Use and Climate Change Commission (back row, l-r): Giovanni Zinn, Chris Vargas, Mary Snyder, Chris Marchand (in front) Azalea Mitch, Michele Helou

Energy commission yearns to cut down on idling vehicles

By Sharon Bass

An idling vehicle is bad. It's bad for the pocketbook. It's bad for the environment. It's bad for human health.

A nascent town commission met last night in Government Center to brainstorm ways to make certain idling in town a no-no. Its first targets are school buses and cars on school property. While the Energy Use and Climate Change Commission would like to put a ban on all idling town vehicles (particularly police and Public Works), it decided to tackle one doable piece at a time. It also discussed having the town switch to bio-diesel fuel and construct "green buildings."

Formed last August, the nine-member commission exemplifies the importance of local efforts -- especially since the Bush Administration has made gargantuan funding cuts to programs that strive to improve the quality of this country's air, water and land, and has given carte blanche to its polluting corporate cronies.

The Energy Use commission evolved from a task force former Mayor Carl Amento started last year. Its job is to educate the town on why energy-efficient measures are not only healthful but also money-wise, as well as to come up with ways to accomplish its mission.

Commissioner Chris Vargas said he recently witnessed six Public Works trucks and six PW employees picking up leaves at the same spot on Daniel Road, where Vargas lives.

Six workers and six vehicles from Public Works came to the rescue of fallen leaves on Ralston Avenue earlier this season. Photo/Azalea Mitch

"There were three vehicles idling," he told the group. He said there were three pickups, two dump trucks and a front-end loader, half of which seemed to be just idling around.

"Please tell me they were taking these leaves to compost," said Michele Helou, a "green building" consultant. So-called green buildings are designed to be energy efficient, conserve water and have good indoor air quality.

Then Vargas brought up idling school buses. Not only is it a waste of money, he said, but it also pollutes the air around children. He said state law forbids buses from idling at schools for more than one minute. Idling emits sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, particulates and carbon dioxide, he said, which further deplete the Earth's ozone.

"What's the best way to bring this to the attention of the people who need to hear it?" said Helou. (For a child's point of view, read "How Colorado Changed Me.")

Fellow commissioners tossed around the idea of creating a flier to spread the word about a municipal anti-idling policy. "It's a good sound policy," said Azalea Mitch, an environmental engineer. "It saves the town money and it's good for the environment."

Helou asked what would make people read it.

Mary Snyder said it comes down to the almighty buck. "Highlight the cost savings. That's what will get them to read the next paragraph" of the flier, she said.

Vargas said he'd gather data on how much the town would save in fuel costs by reducing idling, as well as how it will protect the environment.

Chris Marchand, not yet an official member of the commission (he's awaiting approval from Mayor Craig Henrici and the Legislative Council), said he'd talk with mayoral aide Scott Jackson about how to get a town-wide policy on the books. The group also wants to communicate with Laidlaw, the company that owns the school buses.

Commissioners said buses start idling at 3 a.m. to heat up for the morning run. They said that seemed excessive.

"Even if we can get them to bump it up one hour, that'd be a savings," said Vargas.

December 17, 2005

Mayor Makes Police,
Fire Commish Appointments

By Sharon Bass

Late yesterday afternoon, Mayor Craig Henrici released his selections for the Police and Fire commissions, and for two Planning & Zoning slots. His picks are expected to go before the Legislative Council for a vote on Jan. 3.

Town commissions have staggered terms, save police and fire where all terms are up every two years when a new (or re-elected) mayor comes on.

Here's the lineup so far:

Police Commission
Joe Brandi, Democrat, former police commissioner, used to own Brandi's Market
Elliot Kerzner, Henrici's campaign treasurer, Democratic Town Committee member
Janet Mills, Democrat, 7th District neighborhood activist
Meg Nowacki, Republican, temporarily switched teams to vote for Henrici in the primary
Martin Ruff, Unaffiliated, incumbent

Fire Commission
Henry Candido, Democrat, former councilman, political activist
Mike D'Andrea, Democrat, attorney, served a brief appointed stint on the Legislative Council, DTC member
Gerald Migliaro, Democrat, incumbent, DTC member
Gordon Miller, Republican, incumbent
Duane Wetmore, Republican, volunteer firefighter

P&Z Commission
Ann Altman, Democrat, former 5th District councilwoman
Joe McDonagh, Democrat, incumbent, DTC chair

More P&Z and other commission appointments coming very soon.

December 16, 2005

Town Hall Update

John Busca returns. Courtesy photo

More appointments, with more to come

By Sharon Bass

Former short-lived Public Works Director John Busca is coming back.

Democratic activist Gloria Sandillo will join Mayor Craig Henrici's staff.

The mayor's former legal secretary will also work in his new Government Center digs.

A new assistant town planner should soon be named. (Leslie Creane was recently promoted from that post to be the full-fledged town planner.)

A zoning enforcement officer and an assistant are being sought. (Currently those spots are vacant.)

And some key positions in the Finance Department should be filled before too long.

The Henrici Town Hall is coming to be.

"It's gonna be a nicely run ship," the mayor said.

On Jan. 3, Sandillo, Marybeth Perry, Henrici's paralegal from his private practice, and Planning Clerk Holly Masi will officially take their roles in the mayor's office. Sandillo and Perry will each serve as part-time "confidential secretary" (combined, his third aide). Masi will run the new help desk, and more.

"She's going to be doing everything, like constituent service," said Henrici. Gerry Tobin, who has a classified position, will continue as the mayor's administrative secretary. And as earlier reported, Community Development head Scott Jackson has been appointed the mayor's No. 1 man. (Oh, yeah, a new CD director is being sought.)

The Bus(ca) Man

Next Monday John Busca will sit in Public Works Director Joe Velardi's seat as an interim, until the Legislative Council either approves or nixes him in early January. For two months in 1985, Buska held that position until then-Mayor Peter Villano gave him the ax.

"I think he's up to the task, and that department's ready for some change," said Henrici. "Actually, I was on the Legislative Council when he was there in 1985 and thought he was very capable."

Apparently not everyone agreed about Busca's competence.

"I guess I was too aggressive," Busca, a lifelong Hamdenite, said about his two-month stint in the mid '80s. "I was monitoring the dump and it seemed like we had a lot more trash coming into this town than we were supposed to have." And Villano, now a state rep, fired him. "He never gave me a reason."

Some refer to Busca as the "Bus Man." That's because when he campaigned for mayor as an Independent against Democrat Lillian Clayman, he drove around town in a white and blue bus with loudspeakers. It drew a lot of attention, but did little good. Clayman won.

Until 1997, he owned Parkview Paving Company on State Street. After that, he said, he stopped working to care for his ailing parents, both of whom have since died.

Busca will be paid $72,340 a year to return to Public Works. He said Velardi will stick around for a couple of weeks to teach him the ropes.

"I can't wait. I'm ready to serve the mayor and the taxpayers 110 percent, 365 days a year," Busca said.

"We talked in earnest for the last four or five months," Henrici said of his decision to appoint Busca. "I knew he was interested."

"I think there's a lot to be desired in Public Works," the interim director said. "There's a lot of things I see wrong. I think the town could be spruced up a lot more. I'm going to be responsive and respectful to the public and the taxpayers."

Busca said he's going to do stuff like expedite the waiting process for residents calliing for service. Whether it's a sidewalk repair, tree removal or snowplow job, "I'm going to get service to the people. They won't have to wait four to seven years to get things done," he promised.

Asked how he will do that, Busca, now a Democrat, said, "I really can't talk until I get in there."

In 1984, he was a police commissioner, resigning the next year when chosen to lead Public Works. He's also a past president of the Hamden Father's Football Association and Hamden Soccer Association.

And …

Civil Service Commissioner Cathryn Reynolds. Courtesy photo

Also previously reported in the HDN, Republican Hartford business attorney Cathyrn Reynolds has been named and Council approved to serve on the Civil Service Commission, a six-year appointment. She will join John Iacobucci and Carlton O'Neal. Reynolds is Henrici's first commission appointment.

Dear Local 2863, Dear Local 2863

The Town Hall bargaining unit gets contrasting letters

By Sharon Bass

This week members of AFSCME's Local 2863 got a letter from their president Carol Riccio telling them to beware. Another union wants them, and has been sending letters to their homes trying to garner support to stage an election ("Uncivil Union").

"People were concerned why they were getting solicited by another union when we all believe a window (for an election) is not open," said Riccio, a counselor for the town's Elderly Outreach Office.

But Wayne Gilbert of UPSEU (United Public Service Employees Union) said Local 2863 wants him to come on board. At least some do.

"We've got some real enthusiastic people from Local 2863," said Gilbert. "They're telling us they're unhappy with AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), that grievances are not being addressed. About three or four people told me that AFSCME refused to pursue their grievances up to arbitration."

Riccio's letter to her members says: "In recent days, Hamden Town Hall Employees, Local 2863 of Council 4, have received some bizarre communications from the United Professional Service Employees Union … UPSEU is an independent organization that makes its living by trying to prey on already organized workers or otherwise interfering with legitimate organizing and contract campaigns. What is good for us as Hamden town employees is not their concern.

"Council 4 (of AFSCME) is not like that at all. They help us empower ourselves while providing the highest quality representation possible." The letter is signed, "In solidarity, Carol Riccio, president, Joe Cirillo, vice president, Joanne Cifarelli, recording secretary, Ed Parczyk, treasurer."

Gilbert sent a letter to the same members a couple of weeks ago, with authorization cards attached.

"Basically the people who call us and signed the cards believe if something's not done in the near future the jobs will go nonunion because AFSCME has not been protecting the bargaining unit," said Gilbert. "A lot of people are concerned about job security. The town has been bringing in part-time positions under AFSCME's watch. There are less people in the bargaining unit now than when AFSCME was elected. That's a real concern. Has the population gone down? Have services gone down? No. The town is filling vacancies with two part-time people to avoid paying benefits. And AFSCME is not doing a thing about it."

Gilbert needs at least 30 percent of Local 2863's Town Hall clerks and school crossing guards to agree in writing to switch unions before petitioning the state Labor Board for an election. It is unclear whether there's an open window for an election.

"They're still coming and we still have people calling us. We need a few more and we'll be filing a petition," he said.

Riccio said UPSEU's action is an annoyance.

"We have bigger fish to fry. There are other things that need to be dealt with. We don't need to have someone stirring up a pot that doesn't need to be stirred," she said.

December 15, 2005

Longobardi Challenges Henrici

The outgoing Police Commission (left to right): Allen Page, RaeAnne Curtis, Neil Longobardi, Bill Raccio, Marty Ruff.

By Sharon Bass

Yesterday was to be the final meeting of the current Police Commission.

But it may not be.

Chair Neil Longobardi had planned to make three lieutenants at the meeting, but he made none. Mayor Craig Henrici decided to withhold the list of the five cops vying for the lieutenant spots until the new commission takes over next month. And Longobardi wasn't exactly happy about it.

"The candidates were expected to be interviewed and three expected to be promoted," he told his fellow commissioners last night. "In my opinion and in the opinion of a lawyer, the mayor does not have the authority (to pull the list)." Longobardi said he'd decide in a day or two whether to call a special meeting for the promotions.

Earlier in the week, Henrici told the HDN he had asked Personnel Director Ken Kelley not to send the list down. The mayor said he made that decision a couple of weeks ago.

"I think it's appropriate for the old commission to defer to the new commission," he said. "I think it's inappropriate for an old commission to be making so many new promotions. It only has two weeks left." Over the last month, a new deputy chief and captain were made.

Longobardi contended that the mayor's move might run counter to the Town Charter. He said in his six years on the police board this has never happened. "No one has the power or authority to stop the commission from hiring people," he said.

According to Hamden's Charter, "The Police Commission shall have the power to appoint or promote personnel by majority vote, from the top three (3) candidates on any applicable Civil Service eligibility list. The Chief of Police shall provide a recommendation for such appointment or promotion."

"The Charter is silent on the issue," said newly appointed Assistant Town Attorney Michael Kamp, who is assigned to the Police Commission. Kamp was one of Henrici's law partners. Since elected mayor, Henrici has taken a leave from his practice.

Longobardi said he consulted with an attorney on Tuesday. "We're checking into the legality of whether the mayor has the authority to order the personnel director to send the list or not," he said.

The outgoing chair said promotions are based on a number of factors, such as the officer's personnel file, education, Civil Service test score and interview with the commission. "It's not fair to expect a new commission to make the decisions after one or two meetings," he said.

Sinking Ship?

A proposed hotel for West Woods Road stays stuck in committee

By Sharon Bass

Water was, at the surface, the topic of a three-hour meeting Wednesday about a hotel for northern Hamden. Beneath the squabbling between the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and the hotel property owner are folks who don't want to see their quiet neighborhood disturbed by a 101-room structure. About 15 showed up to listen and to speak their minds.

"It just doesn't fit into the surrounding landscape," said Andy Brand of Brooksvale Avenue, about a mile from the proposed hotel site. "I think there's a better location, maybe in the center of town."

"It encroaches into the private neighborhoods and would ruin the rural character," said Gail Traester, also of Brooksvale Avenue and a member of the West Woods Neighborhood Association. "That is something our organization is very concerned about."

However, neither Brand nor Traester made their remarks publicly. As during prior hotel/commission meetings, time ran out before the public got a chance to speak.

For the sixth time since June, Mark Romano of Westwoods Properties said he and his consultants have come before the commission for approval. And for the sixth time, the commission has said, "Whoa. Not so fast."

Romano and company presented a second site proposal last night for a hotel at 55 West Woods Road. Changes, per order of the commission, were made to the storm-water discharge plan. Commissioners grilled Romano's project engineers -- Juliano Associates of Wallingford -- a soil scientist and an environmental consultant on how they would protect the nearby Mill River from rainwater, which would travel from the hotel's pavement to a tributary that flows into the river, potentially carrying pollutants, causing soil erosion and killing stocked trout.

Christopher Juliano, a partner of the Wallingford firm, explained his intricate plan to slow down, purify and cool off the storm water before it empties into the tributary. It includes crushed rock, pipes and a huge retaining wall.

Commissioners asked:

"How many gallons per minute will come out of that pipe during a 2-inch rainfall?"

"What kind of soil will that go through?"

At one point Commissioner James Doherty raised his voice while conversing with Juliano. "Don't interrupt!" he said, while posing a question about water volume pressure and erosion. Futhermore, he told Juliano, he would not necessarily accept his "testimony."

During a 10-minute break, Juliano was asked to comment on the approval process.

"It's definitely dragging. I believe the town, for whatever reason, doesn't want this hotel even though (the site is) zoned for a hotel," he said. "It's unfair." In order for the project to proceed to the next level -- the Planning and Zoning Commission -- it has to get Inland's stamp of approval.

Juliano said in 2003 IWW Ok'd the regrading of the site, which is just off Whitney Avenue. Last March, Juliano and Romano submitted their proposal. Hearings began in June.

"I think it's an asset for the town," said Romano, a developer who launched Westwoods Properties expressly for the hotel project. "It will bring tax revenue. Another thing is, none of the neighbors here could see it from their homes."

If IWW gives him the green light, Romano said he can start pitching his idea to four major hotel chains: Sheraton, Marriott, Weston and Hilton. He said he's confident he'd fill the rooms in his "upper-end hotel/conference center" with people visiting the nearby colleges, including Yale, and groups holding conferences.

"I don't even think we'd compete with the clientele of the Day's Inn (on Whitney Avenue). Our rooms would be two to three times the price," Romano said.

Chair Steven Sosensky ended the meeting right before the clock struck 11, to be continued Jan. 12 at 7 p.m.

"We were able to get a gravel pit on Brooksvale denied two years ago," said Traester. "We try to get things stopped here." At the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.

December 13, 2005

Home Reval Hearings Nearly Done

By Sharon Bass

Hearings on the new residential property assessments are expected to end this Saturday, nearly a week ahead of schedule.

According to Stephen Ferreira, a district manager for Vision Appraisal -- the Northboro, Mass., firm hired to do the recent town-wide revaluation -- of Hamden's 19,000 homes, 1,194 owners, or 6.3 percent, appealed their new assessments.

Since Nov. 30, four VA officers have been meeting on the ground floor of Government Center with residents who either disagree or don't understand their new valuations. Each session lasts 15 minutes. That comes to 16 hearings accomplished per hour.

"I just made sure we had enough allotted spaces in case we had more calls than anticipated. I had to fit everyone in. I wasn't going to turn anyone away," said Hamden Chief Assessor James Clynes.

On Nov. 28, a few days after notices went out, 258 property owners called for an appeal, said Ferreira. The next day, the number dropped to 69. Last week, as the deadline drew near, calls spiked to a high of 130 a day.

Clynes said in many cases people come in to understand how the process is done, if the information on their house is correct and to see the previous year's sales for comparison. Others come in disputing their new price tag and may have had a recent appraisal to back up their contention.

"Some people come out of it understanding it. Other people come out of it very unhappy," said Clynes. "After all these hearings are done we will review each case and some of these assessments will be lower. The biggest concern is where is the mil rate going. To any individual it comes down to how is this going to affect my pocket. They're very anxious."

But neither the chief assessor nor VA sets the mil rate. The Legislative Council does that by May 15. It takes the value of the town and other revenue and matches the total against the new budget, in order to figure out the property tax rate.

"Obviously the rate would have to come down," said Clynes. The average single-family home went up 89 percent, condos doubled in value and multi-family dwellings more than doubled.

Another Gripe

"A lot of people come in and say no one came to my house. That's correct," the chief assessor said. "This was a revaluation update." Meaning assessors looked at existing data and only drove by the properties to come up with a new dollar amount. In five years, they will perform a full revaluation by inspecting the interiors of all properties, as mandated by state law.

Commercial property appeals were finished on Nov. 30. Of the 1,200 such buildings in town, 170 owners, or 14 percent, asked for a review.

Some time next month, letters will be sent stating the outcome of the appeals. But that won't necessarily be the final word.

"They still have the right to appeal in February to the local Board of Assessment Appeals," said Ferreira, who added that roughly 25 percent will get a reduction by doing so.

December 9, 2005

Civitello Signs Contract

By Sharon Bass

Fired by ex-Mayor Carl Amento for allegedly not showing up for work, Tony Civitello is back on the job. On Monday, the Legislative Council voted in his new contract for part-time construction manager, and Civitello signed on the dotted line yesterday.

"I want him to be visible," said Mayor Craig Henrici, when asked if Civitello will be allowed to work from home. Civitello had claimed that's what he was doing when Amento fired him. His new workspace will be in the Finance Department.

"I never talked to Carl about it. It's water under the bridge," said Henrici. "There's no concern. He's back."

Efforts to reach Civitello for comment were unsuccessful.

Under his new contract, which went into effect Dec. 6 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on June 30, 2006, he is to work a minimum of 10 hours a week at $41.21 an hour. He may resign at any time with 14 days notice. Likewise, the town can fire him under the same conditions.

"It is expressly agreed that Civitello shall be an exempt employee and therefore shall not be eligible for overtime payment," the contract reads. "Salary increases during the Term, if any, and whether Civitello's salary is paid from the Operating Budget or other funding sources, shall be at the discretion of the Town."

It further states, " … Civitello shall be eligible for vacation, sick leave, holidays and personal leave as provided in this Agreement." He will accrue one sick day per month, receive the same paid holidays as non-unionized town employees and get 10 paid vacation days a year. The dollar amount will be based on the average number of hours he worked per day during the previous 60-day period. Additionally, Civitello will be reimbursed for travel outside Hamden.

There's also a death clause.

"If Civitello dies during the Term, this Agreement shall terminate, except that Civitello's legal representatives, successors, heirs or assigns shall be entitled to receive Civitello's salary and other accrued benefits earned up to the last day of the month of Civitello's death."

Fines for Farricielli

The notorious State Street landlord may soon become history

By Sharon Bass

The clock officially began ticking Wednesday -- at $300 a day -- for the illegal State Five Industrial Park. The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission voted to levy fines on the property owner after giving her months to meet certain conditions of its June 2005 cease and desist order.

She has met none.

Jean Farricielli, who is listed as the landlord for the site at 2895 State St., is ordered to pay $100 a day per infraction. There are three.

The commission had ordered Farricielli to present a plan by Nov. 4 for removing the pumice from the wetlands on her site. No plan was submitted, said Town Planner Leslie Creane, but "she told us they removed it anyway." Creane said the removal claim has not been checked out and it is unknown where the pumice was dumped.

Also by that date, an erosion and sediment control plan for all business activity on the industrial park was to be handed in. Nothing has come in to date, the town planner said.

And Farricielli missed another deadline. By Dec. 4, she was to submit a report on the results of environmental soil testing of her property. Her attorney Hugh Manke, who attended the Dec. 7 commission meeting, said borings were done on Dec. 6 but he had no results.

While the vote to impose the fines just passed, Farricielli is responsible for back fines of about $7,000 in addition to the $300 per day, until the three conditions are met.

Though Creane and Assistant Town Attorney Tim Lee, who has been working on the case, said they're happy the commission made the move, it's unlikely the town will ever see a penny of what is owed. Farricielli's husband, Joe Farricielli, already owes millions to the state and town for flagrant environmental infractions. He has also spent time in the slammer for them.

In 1996, he signed the property, which also includes a defunct landfill and toxic tire pond, to an investment agency. Two years ago, the agency turned ownership over to Jean Farricielli.

"Even if the town is not able to collect any money, the fines let the property owners know that the commission will assert their jurisdiction over the property and enforce their regulations," said Lee. He also predicted IWW's decision will be challenged in court.

"I would guess they would appeal it on the grounds that the fines are not warranted and that what they're doing does not affect the wetlands," he said. The property is within 200 feet of wetlands and has been operating illegally for decades in a cat-and-mouse game between the Farriciellis and the government.

Lee said a lien could be put on State Five Industrial Park to collect the fines, but the state and town already have liens on it for millions of dollars.

Though the Farriciellis may never pay up, Lee said he's hopeful the three-decade-old saga is coming to an end. At the Dec. 7 IWW meeting, attorney Manke said within a couple of months there may be a new owner and development team.

"He intimated that it would be a different group of people not affiliated to the Farriciellis," said Lee, who added that the parcel is in a prime location for a prosperous and proper industrial park, being close to the highway, water and train line.

Said Creane, "I'm pleased the commission is following through on their enforcement and I look forward to the day when this is resolved."

Another Holdup on the Bridge

A recent shot of the Hillfield Road bridge.

As West Woods residents continue to fight for historically correct bridges, IWW throws them for a loop

By Betsy Driebeek

A band of neighbors battling five proposed West Woods bridge reconstructions met once again with the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission (IWW) Wednesday evening. It marked hours nine and 10 of the ongoing discussion about how the bridges should be rehabbed.

Hillfield Road resident Curtis Packer told the commission he had left the previous meeting with two tasks: to find out if IWW had any say over the historic value of the proposed projects, and to come up with alternative bridge reconstruction plans.

Packer said according to state statute, one purpose of establishing IWW commissions is to preserve "historic value of wetlands." Commission Chair Steven Sosensky asked Packer if he had found the words "historic structures" in either the state or local laws, questioning the strength of his argument.

"No," said Packer.

But, he said, fellow resident Ted Fletcher had done a lot of research on the five bridges and has worked with the state, which has prepared an application to designate the bridges and the culverts under them as national historic sites.

Packer also said he talked with engineers from other towns who agreed that double-box culverts, as proposed by the town of Hamden, should not be used because they clog. Engineers had provided Packer with alternatives. But Hamden Engineer Al Savarese later stood firm on his designs.

Packer invited Fletcher to approach the podium to present some of his historic findings. However, Fletcher never got a word in. After almost nine hours of discussions about the bridges -- most of that time spent on the Hillfield Road project -- Sosensky conferred with Assistant Town Attorney Tim Lee and announced there was a new problem.

According to IWW regulations, project proposals that would compromise another person's land must have written consent from that person.

Sosensky asked Savarese, "Do any of the proposed bridge projects involve land beyond the town right-of-way?"

Savarese said they all do. Sosensky asked the engineer if he had gotten the necessary consents, to which Savarese replied he had not. Sosensky then told him there were two things he could do: either redesign the bridges so they do not use land adjacent to the town right-of-way, or take a month to obtain the written consents needed to validate the proposals.

Savarese said he would try to get the necessary consents before the next IWW meeting on Jan. 4, but said he would understand if the commission "denies the projects without prejudice" should he not be able to complete that task.

As the commission proposed a short break, Sosensky was asked: "How, after eight-plus hours of discussion about the bridges, did this new problem arise?" The chair said his staff is shorthanded and the problem was discovered in a recent review of the project.

December 7, 2005

Not Yet Ceased & Desisted

Farricielli's tenants remain in violation of town orders

By Sharon Bass

This past June, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission told Jean Farricielli's State Five "industrial park" tenants to stop doing business until they have the proper permits. They were given six months to comply.

Then in October, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously to also issue cease and desist orders to the businesses at 2895 State St. The difference being, no six-month window this time. All were mailed orders to cease and desist. But none have done so.

The 10 or so small companies located at the polluted, illegal park -- including Farricielli's State Five office -- are still operating and are still without permits, said Leslie Creane, who officially became Hamden's town planner two days ago.

Milo Fabrications, Modern Materials, Cardinal Freight Carriers and the State Five office have appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Creane said their cases will be heard in January. Those that didn't ask for an appeal "will either be expected to cease and desist or we're talking to legal counsel now to see what our options are," she said.

Milo, Sanweiss Tree Service, Cardinal and Borrelli Equipment Sales have filed for zoning permits.

While the heat is on the businesses, the ultimate responsibility falls on landlord Jean Farricielli. Her husband, Joe Farricielli, signed the property over to an investment agency in 1996 which then turned it over to Jean Farricielli two years ago -- while her husband dodges millions of dollars in environmental fines to the state and town. Besides the business park on the State Street property, there is a huge tire pond and a shuttered illegal landfill. A lawsuit against State Five is in motion for the money Joe Farricielli owes.

Creane said the town is still waiting for State Five to submit a written plan for pumice removal, pesticide storage, environmental soil testing, storm-water management, erosion and sedimentation control and a site plan of its business tenants' activities.

December 6, 2005

Uncivil Union

Voted out nearly two years ago, a union organizer is trying to win back a Town Hall bargaining unit

By Sharon Bass

It's David versus Goliath, but this time it's not clear that Goliath is the bad guy. The big guy, yes, but not necessarily the bully.

David, aka the United Public Service Employees Union (UPSEU), represents Hamden Public Works and the Board of Education's clerical workers. It has about 14,000 members in the three states it serves, including Connecticut.

Goliath, aka the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), represents Parks & Rec, public library workers and 85 Town Hall clerks and school crossing guards. It has over 1,000,000 members nationwide.

It's those 300 clerks and guards UPSEU wants to get its hands on. And AFSCME is crying foul play.

Last week Wayne Gilbert, UPSEU's regional director, said he sent letters to 80 AFSCME members in Local 2863 (the town clerks' and crossing guards' unit) asking them to switch teams. He also sent a Freedom of Information request to Town Attorney Sue Gruen for the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone in 2863.

Gilbert said he spoke to the state Department of Labor and was told there is a "window," in which he could hold an election.

Larry Dorman of AFSCME (or Council 4) disagreed. "It's clear there is no window."

Nancy Steffens, spokeswoman for the Labor Department, said she doesn't know. "We have to find out if there's an open window. First we have to make sure there's interest," she said.

According to state law, in order to gauge interest in having an election at least 30 percent of a local bargaining unit must fill out authorization cards saying they want new union representation. Gilbert sent such cards with the letters. If he gets the required number back, he will submit them to the Labor Board, which would review them. If they are validated, Gilbert would then file a petition with the state board, which determines if there is indeed a window. If all checks out, Steffens said an election would be held within two months.

Windows for elections occur when a contract is nearing its end or if there is inactivity in getting a contract finalized. Local 2863 organized in the spring of 2004 and its contract expired that June. There hasn't been a new one, so Gilbert says Council 4 has been dormant.

In addition, he said, some of its members have called him saying they're unhappy with their current representation and want UPSEU. Before Council 4 was elected last year, the Connecticut Independent Labor Union (CILU), which Gilbert worked for at the time, represented the workers in Local 2863.

"We're feeling good that AFSCME is not doing its job. Some people have come to us saying they're very unhappy with AFSCME and have asked us to put our foot in," said Gilbert.

Dorman called UPSEU a raider union. "What you have is a labor organization that's so desperate," he said. About 84 percent of Connecticut workers are not unionized, he said. "Why not organize them?" instead of going after his people.

Countering Gilbert's assertion that Council 4 is dragging its feet in getting a new contract, Dorman said the union is in "active negotiations and they're going fine."

"We've had at least 15 meetings with (town Personnel Director) Ken Kelley and George O'Brien (the town's labor attorney)," said Carol Riccio, president of Local 2863. Riccio is a counselor for Hamden's Elderly Outreach.

She said contract negotiations began last November but were slowed down this year due to the mayoral campaign. And when former Mayor Carl Amento lost the primary in September, the process was further halted. With a new administration in place, Riccio and Dorman said they're confident there will soon be a new contract.

Riccio and others in her local said they had bad experiences with Gilbert when he was with CILU, and they don't want him back. They say they're happy with Council 4.

"It's been wonderful right from the beginning," said Riccio. "I had no experience in this. They (Council 4 employees) held my hand."

"As a union member and a member of the negotiating committee, I'm very pleased with the way things are going," said Local 2863 member Don Werner, a bus driver for Elderly Outreach. "Wayne Gilbert is trying to pirate us."

While still under Gilbert's CILU thumb, Werner and Riccio said they reached out to Dorman as soon as there was a window to elect a new union. "Two years ago I contacted Kevin (Murphy, director of collective bargaining and organizing for Council 4) because I was fed up with CILU," said Werner.

"Their (CILU's) idea of a union was collecting dues" and little else, Werner said. He said there were few meetings because there was rarely a quorum. "I don't believe there were more than a handful of meetings in six years," he said. With Council 4, he said, it's been just the opposite.

At least one of Gilbert's people expresses a very different view.

"Personally, I think they'd be smart to join our union. Again that's my opinion," said Jack Shea, president of Local 424 Unit 2 of UPSEU -- Hamden Public Works' bargaining unit. "We've won the majority of all our grievances. I can't say enough positive about them.

"As far as I'm concerned, with Wayne Gilbert -- and I've known him for seven years -- I've never known a better union," the Public Works truck driver said. Shea called Gilbert a loyal person. "He'll go all the way to the end to fight for people. He's a good home man with his wife and son. He treats us the same way."

Shea said people who say negative things about Gilbert "leave a bad taste in my mouth. I have the utmost regard for Wayne Gilbert."

Riccio said she already has a bad taste in her mouth. Since Gilbert's mailings went out, she said about 40 Local 2863 members have called her -- confused and upset.

"They say, 'Why am I getting mailings from Wayne Gilbert?' 'Didn't he learn the last time?' Nobody wants him," she said. The calls are taking on toll on her.

Said Werner, who's also been asked the same questions, "It's something I don't need to deal with. It's a nuisance and it sucks."

"If this was done in the proper way at the proper time and there was a window open, we'd listen to him," said Riccio.

"It's uncommon," Dorman said. "Nobody else in the field does this but UPSEU. It's a raider union."

As the Honeymoon Turns

Town Planner Leslie Creane gets sworn in by Town Clerk Vera Morrison.

The new Legislative Council is playing nice

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

President Al Gorman opened last night's meeting with these words to his new Council: "You are not here to compete but to represent the citizens."

With that said, the meeting went relatively smoothly. Nearly all items passed with little fanfare.

Gorman began with the new mayor's appointees. Republican Cathryn Reynolds was the first appointed commissioner of the Henrici administration to go before the Council. Sitting in the back of the room next to newly hired Assistant Town Attorney Michael Kamp (one of Craig Henrici's former law partners), Reynolds was voted in unanimously to serve on the Civil Service Commission.

Next up was Michael Betz, a former Hamden Finance director whom the mayor just brought back to the post.

He received many rounds of praise.

"I know Michael Betz going on 35 years and he's one of the finest finance directors," said Councilman John Flanagan. "He's very good at making departments tow the line. This is one of the best catches ever made."

Flanagan's sentiments were echoed by Councilmen Matt Fitch and Curt Leng.

Betz was swept in with all 15 votes.

Morrison swears in Betz.

Then it was Leslie Creane's turn. Henrici upped her a notch from assistant town planner to full-fledged planner.

Again, Flanagan was the first to speak.

"I have some misgivings (about her lack of) experience in management. But I trust the mayor's decision," he said.

"I had the privilege of working with Leslie on the Rotary project," said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore, who added that Creane was a huge asset.

"I am very impressed with her attention to detail," said Councilwoman Carol Noble. "I also have to say she has the ability to work with all kinds of people. And, lastly, she's a tree hugger and I love her for that."

Leng said he had consulted with Creane more than he had with former Town Planner Rich Stoecker.

"I certainly agree with my colleagues," said Gorman. And Creane too retrieved a unanimous vote.

After the warm and swift approvals, business got just a tad stickier. Retirement benefits for eight former employees were next on the agenda. Before they were voted on, the Republican contingency had questions.

Wetmore asked Personnel Director Ken Kelley how many additional pensions would be coming down the pike. He said he expected more in June. "But I can't say how many more."

Councilman Ron Gambardella asked Betz if he could get him the monthly pension distribution and total assets of the fund. "Sure, I can do that," the new finance director said.

The following pensions were then approved by all councilors:

Lee Davies (traffic), $34,810
Former Police Chief Bob Nolan, $75,759
Richard Dunham (police), $35,009
Gustav Gertz (police), $47,669
James Kalkowski (police), $14,878
Frank Critchett (fire), $20,970
William Coppola (fire), $44,632
Robert Anthony (fire), $38,142

There was enough opposition to the next motion to table it. It called for transferring $65,184 from the emergency account to special projects.

"If someone could tell me what this money is for," asked Wetmore.

Henrici's new aide Scott Jackson said the funds were dedicated for Center One improvements.

"Would it be possible to get an accounting for Center One?" said Wetmore.

"Absolutely," said Jackson, adding he too was not satisfied "with the clarity of the expenses."

Flanagan suggested tabling the item until more information was obtained. "It's pretty early to side with Republicans," he said with a chuckle. "It comes down to who was watching the store." The Council agreed with Flanagan, 10-5.

The biggest discussion of the evening was over an employment contract for Anthony Civitello, whom ex-Mayor Carl Amento had fired as construction manager for allegedly not showing up for work.

While councilors agreed that Civitello did a good job, some felt uneasy about granting him the deal, which was for a minimum of 10 hours a week at over 40 bucks an hour.

"Mr. Civitello is good at what he does but he went AWOL. I don't appreciate that and I'm voting no on this," said Flanagan.

Jackson came to Civitello's defense. "Apparently what happened was communication difficulties," he said. Civitello, Jackson maintained, was working from home because he had expensive software there that wasn't available in his town office. It only appeared that he wasn't doing his job, he said.

But Flanagan wasn't convinced.

"I don't like people who go AWOL. He didn't get hired to work at home. Nobody approved him to work from home," he said.

The contract, which would expire next June, includes holiday and vacation pay. Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan asked if it's the norm for part-timers to get such benefits. Kelley said yes, on a prorated basis.

Wetmore said she felt "uncomfortable" with the accusations of Civitello cheating the town.

"I can't support this to tell the truth," said Gambardella. He said Civitello seems to be dictating the tenets of his contract. "It doesn't sound right. It doesn't smell right," the councilman said.

Gorman told Gambardella the terms were written by the town attorney and the administration. "We have an opportunity to create a bridge (until a full-time permanent construction manager is hired). I think this is a good thing," he said. "I would like the Council to give the administration the benefit of the doubt."

And that it did with a 12-3 vote (Flanagan, Gambardella and Councilman Mike Germano voted against the measure). However it's not a done deal. Civitello has to decide whether he'll accept the new deal.

December 3, 2005

Words and pictures by Sharon Bass

They exchanged parting gifts.

Former Mayor Carl Amento gave Mayor Craig Henrici "Chase's Calendar of Events." Henrici gave Amento a blown-up photo of Amento standing before Government Center right after the deal for the new town digs was closed.

That thoughtful exchange marked the mood yesterday afternoon at Amento's farewell party, held just down the hall from the mayor's office. Both supporters and detractors, both town employees and elected officials filled the conference room to bid adieu to the man who adored being mayor.

"Carl's been nothing but a gentleman," Henrici told the crowd. And the same could be said for the new mayor, who so graciously helped his predecessor make the transition from public to private life.

"I wish him the best of luck," said at-large Councilwoman Carol Noble. "He's a man who does a great deal of research and lends a lot to a project. He brought a lot of people into the process from across town."

Economic Development Director Dale Kroop couldn't have agreed more.

"Carl should be remembered not so much for the usual things people do, but much more for making major strides in bringing minority representation on boards and commissions," he said. "This not only includes African-American people but Asian and many other cultural/ethnic/religious folks, too. He really recognized all of the ethnic and racial diversity in the town and tried to encourage their great contributions to the diverse town that it is. Also he should be remembered for his attempt to put environmental issues in the same sentence with governmental goals. That is progressive as far I am concerned."

"We have this building," at-large Councilman Ron Gambardella said referring to Government Center. "He had a lot of opposition to (getting) this space and I like it. I think Carl did the best he could given the situation he was faced with. He was at odds with the Legislative Council, which is part of the reason he's no longer mayor. I think he's going to do fine."

Don Werner with Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan.

"Even though we often found ourselves on opposite sides of the issues," said Don Werner, a bus driver for Elderly Services, "he was always a gentleman and gave me an ear, a smile and a handshake."

Amento talks to Town Attorney Gruen.

"I wish him all the best," said Town Attorney Sue Gruen. "It was a pleasure working with him."

December 2, 2005

Back to Committee Biz

By Sharon Bass

The Democratic and Republican town committees met for the first time last night since Election Day. The Dems filled Thornton Wilder Hall while at the same time the Repubs congregated down the hall in the Miller Senior Center.

Hamden saw a resounding Democratic victory Nov. 8, with Craig Henrici winning the mayor's office with 80 percent of the vote. And every seat on the Legislative Council and Board of Education went to the Dems, except for the two on each that are reserved for the minority party.

"We all worked hard, Congratulations are in order for Democratic Mayor Craig Henrici," said RTC Chair Mike Iezzi. "He ran a clean campaign.

"So did Dick Reilly," he added.

Not since 1981 has there been such a Democratic sweep, said DTC Chair Joe McDonagh. He qualified that by saying 24 years ago there were 13 Council seats. Now there are 15. So this year's election was even a bigger deal.

"Craig doesn't want an inaugural ball," McDonagh said. Committee members moaned.

But, he said, "we'll call it something else" and have the "ball" at Cascade.

McDonagh said the DTC has a balance of $1,600.

Iezzi told his people not to be discouraged by the outcome of the election. "I am very, very proud of this party. I don't want anyone to have their heads down. We're a very united party. We are the loyal opposition," he said. "We are here to make sure the Democrats do the right thing for Hamden.

"This was an incredible election. We're good sports. Republicans are good sports," the RTC chair said.

Iezzi said the RTC has a balance of over $6,000.

The Dems will hold their caucuses on Jan 10 to elect new members. The Repubs are looking at mid-January for their elections.

December 1, 2005

Three Days Down
727 to go

By Sharon Bass

The mayor is predicting smooth sailing for his first term.

"I'm hoping we're going to have as few issues as possible. I'm hoping this administration is going to be dull for you," Craig Henrici said to the HDN, which reminded him there's always the Legislative Council for spicy headlines.

While it's hard to know what will shake down after only three days in office, the initial optimism seems to be spreading through at least some of Government Center.

"I think it's very comfortable. Their management style is to have the department handle what they're responsible for," said Judi Kozak, the town's purchasing agent. "They believe you were given this job to handle all your work. It was not the case with the former administration. It's just a difference in management style."

Kozak said there's even some levity in Town Hall now. For example. During Henrici's first two days on the job, she said she made him coffee. But yesterday she didn't have time, which spurred a little visit from the top gun.

The mayor came to her office and said, "'What? Two days and you're done?' Fortunately I had coffee made," said Kozak. "It's a nice, relaxed atmosphere."

Coffee and optimism aside, Henrici is knee deep in staffing issues.

Hamden has no zoning enforcers. It needs one enforcer and an assistant. "We're working on that. I believe we're going to advertise and there are some people who have expressed interest," he said.

As reported earlier, Henrici has promoted some town employees, hired new ones and fired others. Assistant Town Planner Leslie Creane is slated to be the planner and Michael Betz, who used to be Finance director, has been brought back to resume that role. Both need Legislative Council approval. That vote is expected to be taken Dec. 5.

Some have questioned whether Creane has the proper credentials to be Town Planner, but the mayor said she's good to go. "I believe she has everything she needs to have. I reviewed her resume and it's much more than adequate," he said.

Planning clerk Holly Masi has been named Henrici's second aide (Scott Jackson, still technically director of Community Development, is the mayor's No. 1 right arm). Masi will run the mayor's new help desk if she gets the Council OK and when the funding for that post becomes available in January. Meanwhile, Henrici said, she is on "special assignment," splitting her time between his office and Planning.

There's also the task of finding a construction manager. Tony Civitello was former Mayor Carl Amento's construction head, but was terminated for reportedly not showing up for work. Henrici said he may reopen the door to Civitello.

"It depends on the terms of Civitello's contract. It's going to be a matter of negotiation. He'd have to be rehired," the mayor said. "The town needs someone right now."

And as far as Amento?

"He can't be paid as mayor. But he'll be paid through Friday. And then we'll move on. And he'll move on," said Henrici.

"Everything's going beautifully," he concluded the interview. "But I really have to take my car for emissions or I'll be arrested. It's the last day."

Reached at Government Center yesterday afternoon, Amento said he's been writing memos to Henrici and Jackson since Tuesday. He is working out of Deputy Finance Director Steve Hoff's office. Hoff is on an unpaid leave of absence until mid-December, however it's unlikely he'll return.

"(The memos are) mostly historical perspectives on issues to enable them to make well-informed decisions," said Amento, whose last day is tomorrow. He is being paid roughly $960 for this week, plus his health insurance for December will be taken care of.

"I just quietly come in here and type all day and bring memos to Scott," said Amento. "There's a lot of hairy issues going on now. There's the Newhall contamination and the (Memorial Town) garage. I'm just bringing them up to what the present is. We had a good transition but we didn't have that much time.

"I really feel good about doing this. It will save (Henrici) time in hunting around for stuff," said Amento. "It's a very big town with a lot of issues and problems. He's got his hands full."

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