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February 27, 2008

Guardian of Elderly Moves On

Edward George Parcella and Tocky Cipriano pose with Ireland in the lounge of the senior center. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Carol Ireland is an energetic, fidgety woman. She says she just can’t sit still, which she demonstrated quite well during a recent interview in her Miller Senior Center office. Plus, she’s got stuff on her mind.

On Friday, Ireland will bid farewell to her employer of 30 years as the 55-year-old diminutive woman hungrily -- but not without some sadness -- jumps into the next phase of her life. She is retiring as director of Elderly Services for the town of Hamden.

Ireland started working for Elderly Services right after the blizzard of ’78. Beforehand she had gotten a bachelor’s from Southern Connecticut State University. After being hired by the town, she got a master’s in gerontology from the University of New Haven.

Her successor will be chosen through the civil service process. Ireland said the job has been posted internally.

Here are excerpts from her very thoughtful and candid interview:

“Where did the years go? I’ve been reflecting a lot. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life here with the town. Elderly volunteers tell me don’t put things off too long because life goes by too quickly.

“Why am I retiring? The goal was after 30 years with the town. And Wednesday [today] is my 30th anniversary.

“And listening to my mind and body, I think it’s time. I’m in good health and I think I’m still young and I’m going to start a new journey. Take some thinking time to figure out the next step. I’ve been working since I was 12 as a babysitter. In high school, I worked in the kitchen of a convalescence home. I scraped dishes in the kitchen in Connecticut Hall at Southern.

“All my life I’ve been around elderly people. I lived with my grandmother and great grandfather when I was a kid. My father was a minister and elderly people were always around.

“I like to say I worked for and with the elderly people, listening to their stories and life experiences. People that impacted me most were the ones who lost spouses. You could see the devastation from them living alone and learning how to go on.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching so many have very successful retirements. Many people tell me about their retirements but not about the process. It is a loss. Not only cleaning my office and all the memories but the staff and volunteers.

“I don’t leave with regrets the decision I made.

“I didn’t think of it in terms of a loss. I thought about it as a chance for new opportunities. I want to spend more time with my mother who has Alzheimer’s. I have 14 states I haven’t seen. I have to do the Gulf Coast, Northwest and Hawaii. I have no desire to see overseas until I see my country.

“I also have a year’s worth of books to read. I like action and drama. Terrorist-type books. I also want to get to the Daytona 500. I got involved in Nascar in the mid ’90s. I have a favorite driver.

“I want to finish my genealogy.

“I have two aging pets. I want to spend more time with them. Ranger is a German shepherd. He’s 10. Tyler is a cat. She’s 14. Time goes by so quickly. One minute they’re kittens and pups. I’ll be doing more yard work and playing ball with Ranger.

“I know I will volunteer at Partnerships [an adult day care program on Industrial Circle that Ireland co-founded and serves on the board].

“What’s going through my head is if I will be OK financially. My pension and benefits are excellent.

“I think about losing the framework and structure in my life. I had school when I was a kid. I had family. I don’t know what I have now. The uncertainty will lead me to create a new environment, if that makes sense.

“I talk about it OK today. I can’t imagine Friday. But like many others, I will get through it and I’m sure I will enjoy it on the other side.

“I’ve done nothing in a vacuum. I’m very proud we took this building [Miller Library Complex] from nothing and built it into a thriving senior center. I’m very proud of our computer learning lab. Since 2000, 1,300 elderly have gone through classes.

“I’ve learned an awful lot. I think I learned how to be an administrator. The town has been a good employer. When I look at people who work for big companies, big companies … it’s a privilege to work for the town.

“Next Monday morning, after I play ball with the dog, I’ll be laying on the couch watching ‘Good America.’ Not watching the clock. And I’ll have to push down that urge to call [into her former office] to see if everything is OK.

“Everything is going to be OK.”

Teen Stabbing Victim's Condition Unknown; Man Busted for Coke, Pot

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Feb. 25 at approximately 8:15 p.m. a 17-year-old Hamden man was approached by two individuals on Morse Street near Newhall Street. The indivuals asked him for money. He subsequently gave them $1. The individuals then attempted to take the teen's bag that contained personal belongings. The 17-year-old was then stabbed in the back, at least two times, by one of the individuals. The stabbing victim walked a short distance and notified a n police officer.

The stabbing victim, was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital. He underwent surgery for his injuries. His condition is unknown at this time. (A Y-NHH operator said no information could be released about the teen.) The two individuals responsible for this incident are described as black males, both between 5 feet, 9 inches and 6 feet, and approximately 18 to 19 years old. One had hairbraids.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Hamden Police Department Detective Division at 230.4040.

On Feb. 22, the Street Interdiction Team executed a search and seizure warrant at 228 Gorham Ave. Upon arrival, Robert Rodrigues, the resident, allegedly interfered with officers. He was promptly arrested and searched. Police found cocaine and marijuana on him.

A further search of his residence led to the discovery of three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana, packaging material and $474. The marijuana has an estimated street value of $800.

Rodrigues, 20, of 228 Gorham Ave., was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics, possession of narcotics with the intent to sell, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell, possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school, possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school, possession of marijuana within 1,500 feet of a school, possession of drug paraphernalia and interfering with a police officer.

Rodrigues was detained at police headquarters on a $100,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on March 7.

Those wishing to report drug activity occurring in Hamden are encouraged to contact the Hamden Police Street Interdiction Team at 230.4061.

February 26, 2008

‘Somebody’s Not Telling the Truth’

Last night inside Council Chambers. Hamden animal control officers stand before the podium; Police Chief Wydra stands behind. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

“Dog” meeting mired in contradictions, ambiguities

By Sharon Bass

It didn’t make sense.

The explanations given last night to the public and Legislative Council about why four or five dead dogs were found at the bottom of a ditch at Hamden’s Transfer Station, unburied, instead of being cremated as had been the town’s policy for decades. It was due to a policy change, explained Police Chief Tom Wydra, made by Mayor Craig Henrici last September.

But it just didn’t make sense.

Animal Control Officer Chris Smith told the SRO-crowd of animal activists and lovers from Hamden and elsewhere -- sitting angrily and hungry for answers inside the Council Chambers -- that the mayor told him to dump deceased homeless dogs at the station, which Smith did by dropping them into a steep ditch. But he said it’s not his fault they were never buried as law requires.

Smith’s and other fingers pointed to Public Works as the culprit.

“This whole event has to do with people at the transfer station not doing their job,” said Wydra during a phone interview Monday afternoon. Smith and his partner, Steve Gimler, said station workers refused to bury the dogs.

Public Works Director Joe Velardi was asked if he knew anything about the new policy.

No, he said. Velardi came back to head the department last month to replace John Busca, whom Henrici fired.

But Councilman Mike Colaiacovo said he talked to the men down at the transfer station and they said nobody ever told them to bury dogs. “Somebody’s not telling the truth,” he said.

The question that kept resurfacing during the one-hour pow-wow was why the policy change was made when it seemed to make no sense to do so. What was the point? What was the point?

Wydra said it was to save money by ceasing the practice of cremation. The maximum annual savings, Councilman Jim Pascarella pointed out, would be $1,700.

In response to the deafening public outcry, Henrici yesterday amended the policy -- which has triggered at least two investigations -- reverting to cremation, not just for dogs and cats but also small wildlife.

7 p.m.

“Some people have taken advantage of this [dog-dumping revelation] and are spreading rumors,” President Al Gorman opened the meeting.

Wydra told the chambers that he wanted “to dispel some untruths” about the dogs. “What we saw last week was a breakdown of the policy and the law,” he said. “I was appalled like anyone else.”

The mayor’s policy amendment was “so that we would continue to be in line with Connecticut law and what we deemed as appropriate and decent,” said Wydra. “This was also done to save money. Make no mistake about it.” Again he said it was a breakdown of communication that led to the dogs lying unburied at the bottom of the cliff.

“I am certainly appalled,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “To save $1,700? We have all these animal people here -- to save $1,700? I’m really disappointed in you and the administration and your boss,” she said to Smith.

“We were appalled, too,” replied Smith, who stood at the podium with Gimler. “I believe it was a miscommunication.”

Smith said he dumped four or five dogs on Dec. 12 and hadn’t returned to the Wintergreen Avenue transfer station (the old landfill) until Feb. 21, the day the Hamden Daily News was there taking pictures of the dead dogs. Smith told the crowd he was dropping off a dead possum and rabbit last Thursday, when he first saw the dogs he had left there last December were still not buried. Smith said he was not aware the dogs were unburied until that day.

A very credible eyewitness at the scene told the HDN he saw Smith dump a dog, not a possum or rabbit, down the cliff last Thursday. And Gimler said he knew about the dead dogs a week and a half ago, and at that time told Smith.

The evening was peppered with such inconsistencies.

Defies biology

The Council -- except Matt Fitch, Gorman and Gretchen Callahan -- questioned and re-questioned Smith on how those dogs, which appeared “fresh” with fur intact, could have possibly been dumped two and a half months ago.

“I do have a hard time believing that after months of the weather we’ve been getting, they wouldn’t be so intact,” said Councilman Curt Leng.

“I really find it hard to believe that when you saw those animals [on Feb. 21] they weren’t decomposed or eaten by wild animals,” said Councilman John DeRosa.

But Smith insisted he dumped those dogs on Dec. 12 and not another one since.

“I concur with my colleagues,” said Councilman Jack Kennelly, “that the animals couldn’t have been there since Dec. 12 with the warm weather we’ve had. And why would you bring those [euthanized] dogs back to the transfer station and not have them cremated?” Prior to Henrici’s change in protocol for dead dogs, a Westbrook firm picked up such dogs from the North Haven shelter, where they were kept in a freezer, once or twice a week to be cremated.

“It was from the mayor’s office,” said Smith, “that we bring them to the landfill instead of the crematory.”

“How did you expect to bury the dogs down a steep cliff if you expected them to be buried? Why would you bother to throw anything?” said Councilman Craig Cesare. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Smith was about to answer when Fitch interrupted.

Cesare continued. “Who directed you to put them there?” he again asked Smith.

“Public Works,” the animal control officer replied.

Smith was then asked if he reported the unburied dogs. Gimler stepped in and said he saw the dogs at the bottom of the ditch about a week and a half ago. He said he asked a worker at the transfer station, whom he didn’t know by name but could identify, to bury the dogs but the man told him no. Gimler said he reported that to Smith, who said he relayed the message to Police Capt. Ron Smith.

Wetmore asked where it went next.

“It went nowhere,” said Wydra.

“You said there are only five domestic dogs at the landfill,” said Colaiacovo.

“Yes, that’s what I believe we had and they were brought to the landfill on Dec. 12,” said Smith.

“Have you ever shot a dog as an employee of Hamden?” asked Colaiacovo.

“No,” said Smith.

“Did you feel throwing the dogs down [the cliff] was the right thing to do?” said Colaiacovo.

“I was hoping to come to an agreement to find another” way to dispose of dogs, said Smith.


Wydra said the town is investigating why the dogs were put in the ditch and not buried. It was unclear which department will do the investigation.

Velardi said he would talk to the transfer station workers about Smith’s and Gimler’s claims and report back to the Council next Monday.

At least one state agency is starting an investigation. The Department of Environmental Protection is sending inspectors to the transfer station possibly later this week, said DEP spokesman Dennis Schain.

“We’ve received complaints so we’re aware of the concerns,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “The inspectors are going to study the scene and talk to local officials. It’s not inherently prohibitive to dispose of dead animals at a landfill but that has to be done according to certain requirements that would protect against health and safety issues. We need to determine if any activities there regarding the disposal of dead animals are in violation of permit requirements."

On his way out of Council Chambers, Hamden resident and business owner Lee Campo said Henrici’s idea to dump dogs in order to save money doesn’t make cents.

“Where is the savings in driving back and forth from North Haven?” he said. To North Haven to euthanize the dog and then back to Hamden to dump it. “There’s the gas and the animal control officer’s pay and the pay to Public Works to dig a hole.”

“I found it refreshing to see that hard questions were being asked,” said Mary White, a Republican who ran for town clerk last year.

Donna Pecoraro of Hamden said she filed a complaint about the dumped dogs with the Centers for Disease Control. “This is appalling,” she said.

“[The dogs] don’t look like they’ve been there since December,” said Dolores Giannini, board chair of Happy Tails Foundation, which is working with the town to build an animal shelter at Shepard Avenue and Rocky Top. Last night the Council authorized the mayor to apply for $55,000 in state funding for preconstruction work on the proposed animal facility.

“I have questions. I am really angry,” Giannini said after the meeting. “It makes no sense to me” to dump dogs at the transfer station.

“I don’t think it ends here,” said Councilman Cesare.

February 24, 2008

The Council Gets the Dogs

Patricia Smyth with Georgia and Bobby Dellavalle interacting with his Sadie at the Hamden Dog Park yesterday. They said they hope to attend the Town Council meeting tomorrow to protest the dog dumping.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

"A Concerned Pet Owner ” put up a notice at the Hamden Dog Park Saturday imploring folks to show up at tomorrow’s Town Council committee meetings in protest of the mayor's new practice of dumping dead dogs off a cliff at the transfer station. (Public comment is not allowed at committee meetings, however there are two public hearings on the agenda.)

About a half-dozen people and their pups were at the park at Waite and Ridge yesterday afternoon. Some said they were seriously considering tomorrow’s meeting.

“I’ll probably go,” said Bobby Dellavalle, who lives in the Mt. Carmel neighborhood.

Like Dellavalle, most had heard that Hamden Animal Control Officer Chris Smith had been throwing dead dogs into a ditch and leaving their bodies exposed. On Feb. 21, the HDN found four or five dead dogs in a ditch behind leaf piles at the station.

“I’m horrified. For the taxes we pay, they need to do the appropriate thing and cremate them,” Dellavalle said. “I think there are health issues [with dumping dogs]. You don’t just put your garbage out in your yard.”

Patricia Smyth of Hamden said if work doesn’t interfere, she’ll be at Memorial Town Hall at 7 p.m. “I was just thinking, watching the dogs running around, they provide their owners with so much love and affection,” she said. “And they deserve to be treated with the same respect.”

Council members were asked if the disturbing revelation would be addressed at Monday’s meetings.

Councilman John DeRosa said if it “comes under our [committee] umbrella” he will bring up the dog-dumping practice, which has shocked much of Hamden and beyond.

DeRosa said he wants to find out if there is an actual written policy for the new practice. “It’s inhumane and they don’t cost that much to cremate,” he said. “I have to see if there’s a written policy and what it says and who’s responsible for making up the policy.”

“I’ve been two years on the council and this is the most phone calls from constituents I’ve ever gotten on a single issue. They’re outraged,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. He said he received about a dozen calls between Friday and Saturday about the dog dumping.

“The Council should absolutely take it up,” he said. “We could find who changed the policy and have him disciplined.”

There are several animal control items on the Feb. 25 Council committee agenda, including a public hearing on an “ordinance to implement the statutory provisions concerning the regulation of certain cats.”

February 23, 2008

A Correction and Questions

By Sharon Bass

In yesterday’s story “Dog Dumping,” it was incorrectly reported that the town purchased freezers to store deceased dogs and cats. According to sources, no freezers were ever purchased, although Deputy Police Chief Bo Kicak had told the HDN that some had been and that’s where the bodies of homeless dead dogs and cats are now stored before being dumped at the Hamden Transfer Station.

Former Animal Control Officer Gina Cahill said eight or 10 years ago, a private citizen donated a used kitchen refrigerator to her department, which was approved by the town council as a gift and is kept in a garage behind the police station. She said the refrigerator has a small interior freezer that wouldn’t be large enough to fit even one medium-sized or large dog.

“It was used for preservation for small wildlife that had to be kept in the freezer until the health department picked it up and transported it to Hartford to test for rabies,” said Cahill. “Possums, raccoons and skunks, and crows and birds during the West Nile scare.”

Inside sources also say the dog dumping at the transfer station has been going on for "months," and as their bodies were witnessed Thursday, the deceased pets were never buried.

Questions still remain about how the dogs died that Animal Control Officer Chris Smith picked up -- euthanasia? dead when picked up? died after pickup? -- and where those bodies were stored -- if anywhere -- before Smith threw them down the ditch at the transfer station. Kicak told the HDN that dead domesticated animals no longer go to the North Haven shelter under the new policy “unless our freezers are at capacity."

February 22, 2008

Dog Dumping

Deceased dogs dumped at the transfer station.

The town now drops dead homeless cats and dogs at transfer station instead of cremating; saves money

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

At the Hamden Transfer Station on Wintergreen Avenue early yesterday afternoon, someone unloading bags of leaves said he had just seen the Hamden animal control officer get out of his truck and throw a dead dog down a cliff behind the leaf piles. The eyewitness asked for anonymity.

There were actually four or five dead dogs at the bottom of that cliff on Thursday, all with their fur intact. There were also skeletal remains, which may be from a pet or wild animal. This is the administration’s new cost-cutting method of disposing stray dead dogs and cats picked up by animal control. They used to be cremated at a Westbrook facility.

Dumping these deceased animals at the transfer station was not the protocol when the previous animal officers, Jean Murray and Gina Cahill, were on the beat. They were taken to the North Haven Animal Shelter, put in a freezer and if the owner didn’t show up the animals would be cremated, the women said.

The procedure was apparently changed sometime between August and December of 2007, when Cahill was out on worker’s comp due to an injury. As soon as she returned to work on Dec. 5, she said she asked Deputy Police Chief Bo Kicak, who oversees animal control, if there was anything new since she had been away. She said he told her about the new policy.

Ten minutes later, Cahill said she was fired. Mayor Craig Henrici axed her after she spent months training Chris Smith, a friend of Henrici’s who was appointed to replace Murray. Murray retired in January 2007; the next month, during a hiring freeze, Smith took over her job with no experience and was Cahill’s boss.

“I was shocked when Bo told me about it. I said, ‘No, Bo. Not domestic animals,’” said Cahill. “We never, ever put a domestic animal in the landfill. We never even put a cat there. But he said that’s the way we’re going to do it now to save money.” Only deceased wild animals were dumped behind the leaf piles, she said.

A backbone on the ground at the transfer station. Unclear if it's from a wild or domesticated animal.

“I’m shocked. I never heard of such a thing. I think it’s terrible,” said Murray, who was on the animal beat from 1979-2006. “Wild animals go there [behind the leaves] and could be eating the dead pets. I’m going to look into it. I’ll tell you that.”

A message left for Chris Smith was not returned.

Kicak confirmed the policy change but said he didn’t know when it went into effect. He said dead dogs found by the warden are now kept in freezers on the police station property “for a period of time” and if not claimed by their owners, “they’re disposed of at the landfill.” He wouldn’t say where the freezers are located or when they were purchased.

Asked if it’s OK that Smith was seen throwing a dog over the cliff, Kicak said, “It’s OK that he brought them there. This is the procedure now in place.” When told the dogs were not buried, as they are supposed to be, he said that’s the responsibility of the transfer station employees.

On her last day of work, Cahill said Kicak told her about the new freezers that were allegedly bought last year. Both Cahill and Murray said there were no freezers at the police station when they were on duty. The carcasses were taken to North Haven.

If an owner of a dead pet could not be tracked down, Murray said “every week or every other week the men from Trail’s End would come [to the North Haven shelter] and pick up the bodies to cremate them." Trail’s End Crematory is located in Westbrook. She said a mass cremation costs about $30.

“They decided it was cheaper to buy our own freezers, give the owner a couple of days to claim the body and then take the bodies to the dump and dispose of them -- which is horrendous. It’s like Neanderthal,” said Cahill, who was a Hamden animal warden for six years.

“I still have my mouth hanging open on this one,” said Meriden Humane Society director Marlena DiBianco, when called for comment. “I’ve heard of some pretty disturbing things before, but for all honesty if the dog warden is doing this, it’s just wrong.”

In Meriden, she said, “they use a crematorium and not just throw them in a ditch. They have a lot more respect for their animals. Why would you do that?” DiBianco said she was unsure if the new Hamden policy for disposing dead dogs and cats is lawful.

A woman at the state Department of Agriculture’s Animal Control Division was asked if dumping dead domestic animals violates state law. She said she’d look into it but did not get back to the HDN before deadline.

February 20, 2008

No Telling

Finance Director Betz. File photo

Status of 11th-hour budget revenues kept quiet

By Sharon Bass

Three first-time revenues were put in the town budget last spring at the last minute: $1.3 million from out-of-town license-plate hunters; $850,000 from undeclared personal business property; and $1.2 million from selling some of the Dadio Farm.

That was after a budget hole of over $2 million was discovered and it needed plugging. (The Finance Department failed to include the fixed medical costs for the town's self-insured health fund when preparing the 2007 budget.)

Now, seven months into the budget cycle it’s unclear how much of that new revenue dough has rolled in. On top of the above dollar figures, roughly another 30 percent has to be raised to pay the contractors’ commission.

Finance Director Mike Betz, the keeper of such records, did not return a message seeking the status of the three revenues. He was also approached in his department by this reporter asking for the same information. Betz walked away and said no. A Freedom of Information request has been sent to him.

However, Economic Development Director Dale Kroop knows about the Dadio Farm. He said so far nothing’s been sold, but there are some serious potential buyers. Three lots, approximately 2.5 acres each, are for sale. Those lots abut the Hamden Business Park. The rest of the farm is dedicated to the new fire headquarters and for infrastructure.

Problem is, said Kroop, he can’t seal a deal until the new business subdivision gets approval from the land-use commissions. Last Friday, he sent the subdivision plan to the Planning Department.

Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops said the item should hit the Inland Wetland & Watercourses Commission’s March agenda. But he predicted it will be tabled so a site visit could first be done, and the commission would take it up in April. Kops said public hearings aren’t required for subdivisions.

If approved, it would go to the Planning Section of P&Z.

Kroop said he has sent draft contracts to two interested buyers. “They can only be draft at this point until the subdivision is approved,” he said. He wouldn’t disclose the price tags in the contracts, but said if the buyers pay what the town is asking the $1.2 million goal would be met.

Asked if he thinks the money will come in by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, Kroop said he wasn’t sure.

“There has to be an adequate amount of time between the approval of the subdivision and June 30 for the buyers to get their money in place,” he said. “We have gotten everything to the point where we can get it. Everyone knows what they have to do.”

He wouldn’t name the two businesses that have draft contracts, but said they are already located in Hamden. One, a manufacturer, is expanding; the other, a distributor, is currently renting and wants to own. Kroop said the likelihood of them closing a deal on Dadio is “north of 75 percent.”

And there’s another interested buyer for the third lot, he said, but negotiations haven’t progressed as far. Plus, he said he has a backup list should any of the tentative deals fall through.

The farm nearly became 272 apartments. Dallas developer JPI got IWW approval for the apartments but was denied by P&Z. The town bought the property about a year ago.

Arson on Malcolm

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Feb. 18 at approximately 11:30 p.m., Hamden police were dispatched to 27 Malcolm St. on a report of flames coming from the basement area. The property has been vacant for an extended period of time.

The Fire Department gained entry and found two separate fires inside the structure. Several walls and windows had been spray painted with graffiti. A further search of the residence led to the arrests of two individuals who were hiding under several mattresses.

The Hamden fire marshal ruled the cause of the fire was arson.

Police arrested an 18-year-old Branford teen and a 17-year-old Hamden resident. They were charged with arson in the 2nd degree, burglary in the 2nd degree and criminal mischief in the 1st degree. The teens were detained at police headquarters on $25,000 bonds and are scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on Feb. 29.

February 14, 2008

Nowhere, Man

Henrici. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Mayor Craig Henrici’s official town appointment book doesn’t come close to supporting the controversial mileage claims he submitted to the town from July 1, 2007, to Nov. 30, 2007. In fact, only one or two out-of-town business trips were noted during the five-month period, for which he was reimbursed $2,446.50 for mileage.

The HDN obtained copies of each page of Henrici’s appointment book for that period through a Freedom of Information request, and then complaint. The original request was submitted to the town on Dec. 18, 2007, and the documents were handed over yesterday (Feb. 13). (View Henrici's town appointment book by clicking the following months: July 2007, August 2007, September 2007, October 2007, November 2007. Note, pen marks were made on some pages in July and August -- such as circles and a question mark -- after the copies were received and before the decision to publish them was made.)

A detailed phone message was left for Henrici about the nature of this story and asking for comment. He did not return the call.

The appointment book was requested because of the highly questionable mileage logs Henrici submitted to the Finance Department for reimbursement. Some, including council members, said the mayor’s claims seemed too high and wanted to know where he traveled on business to rack up so many miles. For instance, in July 2007 Henrici was paid $643.02 for 1,445 miles. In August, he claimed 1,613 miles and got $717.78. To compare, it’s 1,371 miles from Hamden, Conn., to Miami, Fla.

Henrici’s mileage claims dropped significantly for September through November. The HDN’s initial FOI request for his logs was in September. But even with the decrease -- 941 miles in October; 605 miles in November -- based on his official appointment book he couldn’t have driven one-10th of even 605 miles on town business.

The July to November period (up to Nov. 6) was campaign season and Henrici was running for re-election. Here's a synopsis of appointments during those five months:

  1. “matt”: 22 visits. It is presumed “matt” is Councilman Matt Fitch, Henrici’s campaign adviser. “matt’s” last appointment is on Nov. 5, the day before the municipal elections. On Nov. 5, the mayor met twice with “matt” and once with “al.” The mayor had no other noted appointments that day.
  2. “accu” or acupuncture appointments: 18
  3. Doctor appointments: 13
  4. Out-of-town business trips: 1 or 2

On Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. it reads: “Sharkey ‘Wallingford PC.’ It is unclear if Henrici met with the state representative and local lawyer in Wallingford or if they talked on the phone about “Wallingford PC.”

The only other out-of-town trip, which was verified, was to the state Department of Environmental Protection in Hartford on Aug. 24. It's noted that Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson accompanied the mayor, and it's unknown if a private or town car was used for the trip.

Nearly all the mayor’s meetings occurred in Government Center, according to his appointment book.

On July 19 at 2 p.m. it reads: “Call Wydra re comments” It is presumed Wydra is Police Chief Tom Wydra.

The evening before there was a town council meeting. The new fire headquarters slated for the Dadio Farm was being discussed. But then-Councilman Ron Gambardella, Henrici’s Republican challenger last year, said the need for a new police headquarters was more of a “concern” for him.

At the July 18, 2007, meeting, Gambardella asked if the new police station could also be built on Dadio Farm. Council President Al Gorman said there was talk during former Fire Chief Jim Leddy’s tenure about putting the two departments together but it was deemed not a good idea.

Gambardella, who strongly advocated using the Putnam Avenue farm for police, replied that he had recently talked with Wydra and “he has no objection to the Dadio Farm.” The administration, however, wanted to build an extension onto Memorial Town Hall for the police digs. An architect was hired last month to do the design.

February 9, 2008

Butler to Lead Community Services

Darlene Butler. File photo

Sources say the selection process was biased and flawed

By Sharon Bass

A new Community Services coordinator was chosen Friday, according to reliable sources close to the scene. They called the selection process “very subjective."

Darlene Butler, who was a mayoral aide and very recently appointed Planning Department clerk, was given the job. She will reportedly assume the top department post on Monday. Vanna Francia retired as the coordinator last year.

Butler could not be reached for comment. And Mayor Craig Henrici does not return calls from the HDN.

Sources, who asked for anonymity, said there were six applicants for Francia’s union job: Butler; Sue Hutchinson and Siraj Muhammed from Community Services; Dave DeMartino and Sallie Lowry from Parks & Rec; and Carol Riccio from Elderly Outreach.

All took an oral civil service exam on Jan. 31, 2008, sources said. Finance Director Mike Betz and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson were reportedly the only panel members, and gave Butler's name to the Civil Service Commission. There was no written test.

“There was no civil service person to oversee that everybody was asked the same questions,” a source said about the two-man panel. “I’m pissed. The test was very subjective.”

“Look at the panel,” said another. “What does Betz know about community services? What does he know about that population of people? There should have been a community service professional from another town, at least.”

The job was posted internally and externally, with a deadline of Jan. 11, 2008. But sources say Butler knew she had the job way before the deadline and taking the test.

“Last November we heard Darlene was going to get this job. She went around saying she had the job,” said one of the sources. “Why even advertise [the job]? Why even go through the motion when you know you’re going to hire that person?”

“Everybody knew it was going to be Darlene,” said another source. “It was promised to Darlene by the mayor.”

And yet another said, “Why are we working here? What about the morale of the people working here?”

The coordinator position falls under the Supervisor’s Union. In the ’07-’08 budget, the position is listed at $30,000. The mayor had asked for the full salary of $59,786, but the council decided to wait a half-year to fill it.

February 8, 2008

Another Henrici Moment

Craig Henrici. File photo

The mayor creates new job, quietly

By Sharon Bass

This is not the first, second or even third time Mayor Craig Henrici has appointed or created jobs for specific people without following the Town Charter’s dictates. There was Brian Badamo, Chris Smith and John Busca. Now there’s Rose Lyon. (Click here, here and here for related stories.)

With each appointment, the mayor has violated the charter by not posting the jobs and not asking for Legislative Council approval beforehand. And each time, there’s been no ramification.

Henrici hired Lyon to be his afternoon secretary to replace Gloria Sandillo, who suddenly passed away on Nov 2. His morning sec was Marybeth Perry. Lyon told the HDN earlier this week that she became the mayor’s fulltime confidential secretary in early January. And Perry was made a fulltime mayoral aide.

The mayor made two jobs into one, unilaterally creating a new job. In the ’07-’08 town budget, two part-time secs are listed at a salary of $19,400 apiece. Perry was given 20 hours in order to qualify for benefits. Sandillo’s position was for 19 hours -- same pay but no benes.

Since Henrici does not return messages from the HDN, his predecessor Carl Amento was asked if there’s any justification to a mayor creating a job in the way Henrici did.

“I can’t comment on the current situation,” he said. “But when I was mayor, any time a position was created or abolished, we went to the council and posted all positions, even mayoral office appointments.”

Council Finance Chair Curt Leng agreed what Henrici did was wrong. He said he e-mailed Majority Leader Matt Fitch and Council President Al Gorman yesterday to ask for a budget amendment to be put on the Feb. 25 committee meetings for Lyon’s new post -- something that should have been done before she assumed it.

“Procedurally, the proper way to combine the positions is to come to the Council and do a budget amendment. I think that’s what we should do. I think that’s what should happen,” said Leng.

How come it wasn’t? “I can’t tell you,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with the mayor making that change on a short-term basis in between Council cycles. But it should have been on the Jan. 28 Council committee meetings.”

Asked what can be done to stop the mayor from violating the charter, Leng said Council members and the public can file a complaint with the Ethics Board. As with all commissions and boards, the mayor appoints the members. Ethics Board members serve five-year terms, so Henrici has not appointed or reappointed all of them, but will have before his second term is up.

“My understanding is any positions eliminated or created should be approved by the Council, but I’m not sure what they did here,” said Councilman Jack Kennelly.

Stay tuned.

February 6, 2008

Obama Takes All of Hamden

Democratic Registrar of Voters Peggy Rae yells out district results to head election moderator Peter Vining (not in pic) last night. At left is Republican Registrar Tony Esposito. Photo/Sharon Bass

McCain also triumphs across town

By Sharon Bass

Joe McDonagh couldn’t have been happier about Hamden’s Super Tuesday. Possibly a record number of local Democrats voted in the presidential preference primary. And McDonagh’s candidate of choice, Barack Obama, kicked butt in every district.

“Here’s what’s really impressive, that the most Democrats we ever had was about 14,000 and now we’re at that, or above it, and nearly two out of every three of those Democrats came out in February,” said McDonagh, chair of the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

Of the 8,909 Dems who voted yesterday -- or 62 percent of the 14,108 locally registered -- 57 percent chose Illinois Sen. Obama while 42 percent chose New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, according to the Registrar of Voter’s Office.

In comparison, the fiery ’06 Democratic Senate primary between Lamont and Lieberman brought 57 percent of Hamden Dems to the polls -- or 7,461 of the 13,187 then registered.

Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain also took every Hamden district, with about 40 percent of the vote. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in a distant second with about half the votes McCain garnered. Of Hamden’s 4,420 registered Repubs, 1,731 cast their ballot Feb. 5. (Click here to see complete district results.)

Statewide, Obama beat Clinton 51 percent to 47 percent. And McCain did Romney in 52 percent to 33 percent.

“This was a wonderful moment for democracy,” said McDonagh. “This is the first time in 56 years that no incumbent president or vice president is on the ballot. Sixty-two percent of Democrats showed up and 37 percent of Republicans. Don’t they care?”

Yes they do, said Mike Iezzi.

“Of course Republicans care. They care very much about who they want to elect in the primary as well as they care about our country,” the Hamden Republican Town Committee chair said.

“As far as the turnout, I think it was pretty well known that McCain had a pretty healthy lead in the polls coming into Super Tuesday,” Iezzi said. “On the other hand, it appears that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are battling it out, and I believe the outpour of Democrats is a result of the tight race and the uncertainty of who they want for president, while Republicans have a strong sense of who they want.”

For the town’s two registrars of voters, the huge turnout coupled with some glitches proved more than taxing. Some districts ran out of ballots so 1,500 to 2,000 had to be printed and delivered to the polls, said Democratic Registrar Peggy Rae. She and Republican Registrar Tony Esposito said they received roughly 1,400 calls yesterday from poll workers about unaffiliated voters who swore they were registered with one of the major parties. In Connecticut, only registered D’s and R’s can vote in primaries. Of the 1,400, Rae said maybe two were actually registered.

“All things considered, everything went well,” said Esposito, who started Super Tuesday with laryngitis and ended it with double laryngitis. “Even with the heavy voting and running out of ballots.”

“It was exhausting. It was barely manageable,” said Rae, whose eyes were red and tired last night as she finished up.

Super Tuesday’s District Breakdown
(There are 11 districts for national races; nine for local.)

Hamden Democrats

District   Obama      Clinton        Other       Total Votes
1              346                293              4                643
2              405                275             12               692
3              747                240             13             1,000
4              406                379             17                802
5              578                389             11                978
6              415                327             14                756
7              386                236             15                637
8              435                408             15                858
9              393                328             15                736
10            513                327             17                857
11            296                273              20               589

Total Democratic votes: 8,909

Hamden Republicans

District   McCain      Romney   Huckabee   Other  Total Votes
1                 102                58               10             14           184
2                  58                 36               11             12           117
3                  37                 15               11             14             77
4                  75                  48              12            11            146
5                  48                  28                 8            10             94
6                  75                  42               12            21           150
7                  51                  37               13            19           120
8                105                  61               17              8           191
9                150                103               13            20           286
10                92                  54               10            20           176
11                70                  32                 4            14           120

Total Republican votes: 1,731

February 5, 2008

What's Happening with Busca

Busca. File photo

By Sharon Bass

At the end of the workday on Friday, Jan. 11, Public Works Director John Busca was reportedly told by Mayor Craig Henrici that he was being replaced by Joe Velardi. Starting the next Monday. Busca would instead work on contract as the town’s new construction manager for his same salary of $74,525.

But that didn’t happen.

Then reportedly Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson told Busca he could only be paid $50,000, and asked if he still wanted the job.

He did. (Under the Town Charter, the mayor only needs Legislative Council approval for contracts exceeding 50 grand.)

But apparently that didn't happen either.

An inside source said Busca has so far been given one check for “over $1,000” for the last three weeks, since Henrici fired him as PW director. And there is no contract.

Yesterday, Jackson was asked how Busca is being paid and for what. Jackson said Busca is a now vendor (his new title is “special project consultant”) and paid out of the mayor’s Professional and Technical Account. Busca is working on a trial basis, said Jackson, and didn’t know how long it would last.

But according to Councilwoman Betty Wetmore, Jackson told her yesterday that Busca’s employment will end “the first week of March, at the most.”

She said she was “shocked” to learn of Busca’s firing from Public Works. “I had no idea they were unhappy with John Busca’s performance,” the councilwoman said. “That shocked me as much as the other appointments and firings that have taken place in the last few months.” (Click here, here here and here for related stories.)

Reached at home, Busca didn’t want to comment.

All along, some on the Council have questioned Henrici’s quiet and seemingly sudden decision to remove Busca from Public Works and create a new job for him. Councilman Craig Cesare has been one of the most outspoken. When told Busca is now called a vendor, Cesare said, “I would like the opportunity to evaluate the need for this vendor, if that’s what he’s being called.”

Ditto said Councilman Jack Kennelly, but said he’d withhold further comment until “we all have an opportunity to see exactly what [Busca’s] doing” as a vendor.

Jackson said Busca will oversee small projects. Asked which ones, he said, “There are many.” Asked if the Lockkeeper’s House renovation is one, Jackson said yes but refused to list any others.

Overheard in Council Chambers

By Sharon Bass

Here are highlights-in-brief of Monday’s Legislative Council meeting.

  • President Al Gorman announced the police investigation that was launched last week of the Parks & Rec Department due to audit findings that documents were altered. Councilman Curt Leng asked Gorman what controls have been put in place since the audit. Gorman replied, “I take exception to ‘after the audits.’ In the last six months a dozen recommendations and policies have come from the Finance Department.” Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson said he would give the Council a list of the department recommendations.
  • The Council unanimously approved issuing a request for proposal for a marketing agent/facility manager for the old middle school and Newhall Community Center. “The money, where is it coming from?” asked Councilman Jim Leddy. Jackson said the town has some funds set aside for the middle school property but the funding will “depend on the RFP.” The hope is private companies will want a piece of the 200,000-square-foot building on Newhall Street, and not only generate revenue for the town but also pay for some of the renovation work. Jackson said a firm, not an individual, would be sought, which would market the property and “determine how the school will be redeveloped.” He said the old middle school still needs air-quality testing.
  • The Council also unanimously agreed to spend 30,000 bucks on a consultant to find out if CIRMA (Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency) is Hamden’s best deal for auto, property and liability insurance. It calls itself "the largest and most experienced municipal insurer in Connecticut." Although most agreed last night that CIRMA has served the town well over the years and covers about two-thirds of Connecticut’s municipalities, the decision to hire a consultant is more for strategic purposes than switching carriers. Thought is if CIRMA thinks the town is pursuing another carrier, it might come down on its price. Another stated reason is to get another opinion on Hamden’s current insurance plans. Councilman Gabe Lupo asked if the town has ever looked at anyone besides CIRMA. “I think we have gotten good service from CIRMA,” said Risk Manager Art Giulietti, “but there are other players out there.” Commented Councilwoman Kath Schomaker, “As I understand, it is to [compare] the deductibles and coverage. So one of the outcomes of this is we stay with CIRMA but make some adjustments” based on the consultant’s advice. Finance Director Mike Betz said he “could go either way,” with or without a consultant. But Giulietti told inquiring Councilman Matt Fitch that he is in favor of hiring a consultant.

February 4, 2008

Hamdenites are Registering

Now all they have to do is get out and vote tomorrow

By Sharon Bass

Over the last two weeks, every time Democratic Registrar of Voters Peggy Rae was asked for the number of new Hamden voters, she’d say it was a fast-moving one. Constantly growing and changing.

It's Super Tuesday mania here, like everywhere.

From Dec. 3, 2007, to Jan. 31, 2008, the local Dems picked up 477 new members. During the same period, 51 registered as Republican while 226 left the unaffiliated category. That works out to be 13,786 Dems, 4,360 Repubs and 13,529 independents in Hamden. Typically independents outnumber Democrats.

Furthermore, Rae said those totals don’t include the 150 applications from Quinnipiac University students that came in right at the deadline Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Rae said the Feb. 5 presidential primaries will outdo the ’06 Senate primary, which drew 57 percent of registered Hamden Dems to the polls. The nationally watched race was between Democrats Ned Lamont and Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT-I). Lamont triumphed but Lieberman said “later for that race,” and ran in the general election as an independent. He is currently stumping for Republican presidential frontrunner, war hawk John McCain.

“It has been even busier than the Lamont/Lieberman primary and that was extremely busy,” said Rae. “Not only are a lot of people registering and switching parties, but they’ll be voting.”

In a Feb. 1 press release, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said the primary will produce a record turnout for Connecticut. She said “more than 34,000 new voters registered to vote” in the Feb. 5 presidential showdown between Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney and (God love him) Mike Huckabee. (Read the secretary's release for the breakdown of new voters and parties.)

Leng Responds to Parks & Rec Findings

Councilman Leng. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Curt Leng said the auditors misled him twice about the seriousness of their black marks on Parks & Rec in their 2007 town audit. Among other irregularities, they discovered altered financial documents.

In an e-mail interview, Leng -- chair of both the legislative Finance and Audit committees -- was asked for his reaction to the findings, which have now become a criminal investigation. Why it was brushed off as no big deal at the Jan. 4 Legislative Council meeting. And if he'd advocate for it to be put on the Council agenda.

Here's what Leng wrote:

"As Finance Committee and Audit Committee Chairman, I am concerned about the situation and am looking forward to hearing the full Police Investigation results.

"I'm disappointed that after meeting with the Auditor's twice, once with the Audit Review Committee and once with the entire Council, they didn't outline the problem as being a very significant one. It's their role as the Town's independent auditor's to keep us informed as to any serious problems found in Town's finances.  If the problems in the Parks and Recreation Department end up being proceedural, then the auditor's handled it correctly ... if they are more serious than proceedural issues, based on the Police report, then I think the Auditor's did the Town a disservice by not informing us of the problems more clearly.

"I think the responsible thing to do is to wait and see what the full Police report discovers, fully review that report and take appropriate action from there."

Envision Offices

55 West Woods. File photo

By Sharon Bass

The mightily fought hotel proposal for 55 West Woods Road is now fixing to be an office building.

After numerous land-use commission hearings on the hotel, which drew plenty of angry neighbors who didn’t want their pretty little patch of woods developed. A few plan revisions. And then a new zoning rule put in place last year -- just because of this project -- requiring motels and hotels to have access to one of Hamden’s four main roads, effectively killing the project, the developer has submitted a new plan. The Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission will take it up this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall.

“The current application proposes no significant changes to the previous site plan other than the change of use,” said Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops. It also asks for more interior parking. The new office plan calls for 50 interior and 90 exterior parking spaces, but Kops said he couldn’t find the parking stats on the hotel proposal in order to compare.

As an office building, it doesn’t need access to one of the main roads -- Whitney, Dixwell and Sherman avenues and State Street. “Planning & Zoning could not approve it as a hotel but it is zoned for an office building,” Kops said.

Messages left last Friday with the developer, Mark Romano of Westwoods Properties in Stratford, and his attorney Carl Proto were not returned.

On April 4, 2007, IW&W approved the hotel application with 15 conditions. It was then to go to P&Z, where it was likely doomed on arrival because of the new main-road-access rule. Though Kops said the office plan presents “no significant changes,” it still needs to revisit IW&W to make sure there’s no additional impact on the wetlands. If approved, it goes to P&Z.

February 1, 2008

From Council Gloss to Criminal Probe

Craig Cesare. File photo

Councilman Cesare wants full disclosure of the financial irregularities auditors discovered in Parks & Rec

By Sharon Bass

When the 2007 town audit was presented to the Legislative Council Monday evening, there was barely a peep about questionable findings in the Parks & Rec Department, such as altered financial documents. During the following Council discussion, there was even less of a peep.

And when asked if the findings were serious, Woodbridge accountant David Cappelletti, who helped prepare the town audit, told the HDN, “We have to comment on anything we find no matter how small it is."

However, also on that same Monday evening, certain council members quietly approached Police Chief Tom Wydra about the Parks & Rec documents in question, and an investigation was launched the next morning, said the chief.

“I anticipate a lengthy investigation,” he said. “This is going to be a methodical investigation.”

Councilman Craig Cesare said he agrees an investigation is in order -- which makes it even more puzzling that the audit findings were kept pretty much closeted during the Jan. 28 meeting. Cesare is on the legislative Audit Committee.

“When I spotted it in the audit, I thought it would have automatically been discussed [at the meeting]. I was shocked that it was hardly mentioned,” he said. “I’m disappointed that the administration wasn’t forthcoming with the findings. I thought they were going to come to us instead of us going to them.”

Cesare said he was going to make “an official request to the administration” for the Parks & Rec documents and ask that the matter be put on the Council agenda.

The HDN sent a Freedom of Information request to Town Attorney Sue Gruen for the same documents.

A message left for Parks & Rec Director Frank Rizzuti was not returned.

These are the auditor’s discoveries:

  1. Payments made to employees for reimbursements of expenditures without proper documentation;
  2. Receiving documents were not maintained on several items prior to payment, making it difficult to determine if correct items were delivered to the correct location;
  3. Invoices submitted for payment were altered. Found one item that appeared to be altered so that the original contracts were submitted for payment below the procurement level.

Councilman Ozzie Brown said he didn’t know much about the audit finding so he could not comment. “It was mentioned [at the Council meeting] but I didn’t give much thought to it because it wasn’t discussed a lot. I just heard it vaguely,” he said.

Asked why he didn’t call for an investigation before Tuesday, Wydra said, “I wasn’t even aware the audit was being presented that night. [But] when I read a document that uses the word ‘altered’ as it relates to public documents, that suggests that law enforcement should look into it.”

The chief said “at this point” only local cops will investigate but “the possibility is that we use assets of other agencies, if we need to. If we feel we need help in the investigation, we’re going to seek it.”

Reportedly, in the early 1990s, town hall was broken into and $10,000 was stolen from Parks & Rec and cash was also taken from the Town Clerk’s Office. Apparently, no arrests were made.


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