June 26, 2008
Ethics Board rests with no opinion
By Sharon Bass
Lots of stuff appeared inappropriate and inconsistent in the way Mayor Henrici and his Finance Director Mike Betz skimmed from three line items in the 2006-07 budget, to make the mayor’s monthly travel allowance. But last night the Ethics Board -- asked by Henrici for an advisory opinion on whether that constitutes a charter violation -- decided it couldn’t opine after all.
After two unsuccessful attempts to get Betz to sit down with them to explain, the four board members said they didn’t get enough info to offer that opinion. And the info could only come from Betz.
“We have dealt with this for three meetings and I don’t think we will get any further in three more meetings,” said Republican Chair Colin Odell.
Republican Walter Rochow agreed. “I don’t think there’s any chance [Betz] is going to show up,” he said.
“I think it should be noted that he didn’t comply with our request to appear,” said Odell.
A few hours before Wednesday’s 8 p.m. Ethics meeting, Odell said Betz dropped a letter at Odell’s home in response to a letter the board gave the finance director on June 20, asking him to attend the June 25 meeting and posing four questions. Betz had refused to attend the meeting the week before.
In his response, Betz wrote that he could not attend the June 25 meeting, and included short replies to the board’s questions. (Click here, here and here to read the two-page letter and a page from the town’s Policy and Procedures manual Betz included in his response to the board.)
Rochow and Democrat Wayne Spies disagreed with Betz’s response to the first question about charging depreciation to an account not identified for such use.
Betz states Henrici was paid depreciation ($293.75 of the $587 monthly allowance from September 2006 through June 2007) from Public Works’ “vehicle maintenance” account because it deals with the “wear and tear” of the mayor’s personal car.
“His answer is wholly inappropriate,” said Rochow. He said if you bought a new car, parked it in a garage and didn’t use it for a year the car would depreciate, but there would be no wear and tear.
Depreciation, said Spies, “is an accounting term.”
“What proof is there that this line account has been used for wear and tear?” asked Democrat Albert May. “Is there a precedent? I mean, if I can be told that … But I can’t ask [Betz] because he’s not here.”
Both Republicans called Betz’s explanation to question one “inadequate.”
Question two asked what expenses were allocated for Henrici’s town-issued SUV and from which line items.
In his written response, Betz says the SUV was part of the town fleet, and like all town vehicles was maintained by the fuel, vehicle maintenance and vehicle repairs accounts and insured under the town’s policy.
“To me, that begs one very large …,” began Odell.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but we only had a problem [at the last meeting] with the depreciation, not the gas or the insurance,” said May.
“That’s not my sense,” both Spies and Odell said.
“There are mileage accounts for other departments [in the ’06-’07 town budget], but not for the mayor,” said Odell.
“Therein lies the problem,” said Rochow.
“If an employee goes from a town car to reimbursement for a personal vehicle, is it appropriate to charge it to other accounts because it’s convenient?” Odell asked his board. “There were other departments that had mileage accounts. That’s what this comes down to. You need to go through the proper channels and they didn’t.”
May reiterated, “Should there have been an account created” for Henrici’s travel stipend?
But Betz wasn’t there to try to answer.
In the third question, asking how other employees who drove their own cars on town business got reimbursed in '06-'07, Betz mentions that 13 cars in the fleet could no longer be taken home.
“Who cares? It’s got nothing to do with this,” said May.
Betz writes that Chief Assessor Jim Clynes was also reimbursed under the same method as Henrici after the “Town administration recalled the Assessor’s town vehicle.”
(During the 2007-08 budget season, Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson and Betz tried to sell the legislative council on giving Henrici $570 a month [or about 1,200 miles] for business travel, and to give Clynes $280 a month. However, many councilmembers felt the allowance was too high and instead put both men on the IRS’ accountable per-mile plan for that fiscal year. Though the council rejected the administration’s request, neither Jackson nor Betz told the council that Henrici was already collecting $587 a month since September 2006 for undocumented business travel. Most of the council was unaware of that until the HDN uncovered the payments this past March.)
“There was a continuity between the way they treated the mayor and the assessor,” said May.
‘I’m trying to read this man’s mind’
In the letter he dropped at Odell’s house yesterday, Betz included a page from the town’s Policy & Procedures Manual. It is dated 1988. Under the category “Request for Direct Payment,” five items are hand marked, including “car allowance.”
But, as board members quickly pointed out, right next to the marked items is a paragraph that reads: “Supporting documentation must be attached to the DP. Original invoices-no statements. All invoices must be stamped and certified by the Department Head or designee.”
“No documentation was submitted by the mayor,” said Odell.
May said he couldn’t understand why Betz would include the page. “Why? Why? I’m trying to read this man’s mind,” said May. “This is a dinosaur bone from 1988.”
“Some of what I’m seeing now is bad bookkeeping,” said Spies.
“Yeah, it doesn’t rise to a charter violation,” said May.
Odell said it was impossible to decide if there was a violation. “It appears as if the car allowance may not have been charged to the appropriate accounts,” the chair said. “But we have not received significant information to say whether it’s a charter violation. So we can’t draw any definitive conclusions.”
Odell then cited Section 18-8E of the Town Charter:
“ … When any department, commission, board or officer (except the Board of Education) shall desire to secure a transfer of funds set apart for one specific purpose to funds set apart for another, before incurring any expenditure therefore, such department, commission, board or officer shall make application to the Council, through the Director of Finance whose duty it shall be to examine the matter, and upon approval of the Council, such transfer shall be made …”
The charter is “clear” that legislative council approval was needed, said Odell.
“They’re going to argue it wasn’t necessary,” said May.
“They’ve already made that argument,” said Rochow.
“Then that’s a charter violation,” said May.
“No it’s not,” said Spies. “We’re saying it’s not clear.”
The quartet unanimously voted to send Henrici a letter saying they were unable to make a decision based on the information supplied.
June 24, 2008
By Sharon Bass
Finding a construction manager for the new police digs is easy. Agreeing on one has not been. Last month Mayor Henrici’s handpicked selection committee chose Konover Construction from a pool of five. That's the same outfit that built the new middle school and hasn’t yet completed it, though the doors opened in ’06.
Then last week the Town Building Committee, overseer of the police project, resoundingly voted against Konover (8-2) and selected A.P. Construction of Stamford instead, and by the narrowest margin -- a vote. A.P. was the highest bidder; Konover the second highest.
Now this evening at 7, the police subcomittee of the TBC will meet in the main floor conference room at Government Center. The agenda is unclear.
Questioning why the two highest bidders were considered the best by the selection committee, TBC member Councilman John DeRosa voted against both at the June 9 nearly four-hour-long meeting.
“Don’t tell me they didn’t interview well,” said DeRosa, who's been in the construction business for 40 years. “Konover has to finish the middle school, but the bottom line is they were the second highest bidder. And A.P. was the highest bidder. I don’t know why we’re going with the high bidder when the others are qualified.”
DeRosa said he will vote against a contract with A.P. if it comes to the Council for needed approval.
He said the other contenders have a history of doing impressive work as well as being the lower bidders. New Haven-based Fusco was just awarded a $93 million contract for Yale-New Haven Hospital. O&G, headquartered in Torrington, is doing Quinnipiac’s York Hill campus. And Providence, R.I.-based Gilbane is the project manager for all New Haven school construction.
Fusco made the lowest bid. Based on a $20 million price tag for the police/Town Hall project (the last estimate given by the administration, however, was $25 million, and many expect it to swell to $30 million or more), A.P. asked for $1.92 million; Konover, $1.79 million; O&G, $1.77 million; Gilbane, $1.68; and Fusco, $1.61 million, DeRosa said.
According to the June 9 Town Building Committee minutes, Jack Kennelly made the recommendation for Konover; it failed 2-8 with just Kennelly and Gretchen Callahan in favor. Then Kath Schomaker made a motion to recommend A.P., which was seconded by Callahan. The vote was 5-4-1: Chris Daur, Schomaker, Carol Noble, Seth Rosenthal and Callahan voted yay; Craig Cesare, DeRosa, Mike Mendick and Jim Leddy said nay; and Kennelly abstained. Member Chris Nero was absent.
(The mayor's selection panel included Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, DeRosa, a local contractor, Purchasing Agent Rich Cumpstone, Police Chief Tom Wydra and TBC member Councilman Jack Kennelly.)
By Sharon Bass
Shortly after the HDN broke the new this past February that dead dogs were being dumped over a cliff at the transfer station, councilmembers called for an investigation. Mayor Craig Henrici gave the job to attorney Andy Houlding of Hamden.
“I had lots of interruptions,” said Houlding, in response to why it’s taken so long. He is being paid $200 a day with a $7,500 cap. The loot is coming out of the legislative council’s budget.
Houlding said he’s basically done interviewing people and is working on the report.
“There will be some probable conclusions and some points on which the evidence is inconclusive,” he said. “One aspect of this case involves a question of when [the HDN] first learned about it and from whom.”
The HDN has refused to reveal its sources. Asked why they are so important in order to come to a conclusion on why the dogs were dumped over a cliff instead of cremated, as had been town policy and -- after the ensuing public outcry over the dumping -- is again, the former Channel 8 investigative reporter said: “I don’t think it really is, but wait until you read the report.”
Houlding said he will give his findings to the administration, but wasn't sure when.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On June 22 at approximately 8:15 p.m., Hamden police responded to 45 Taft St. on an assault report. The homeowner advised officers that four individuals rang the doorbell to his residence and asked to use the telephone. When the homeowner refused, one of the individuals forced the front door open, grabbed him and pulled him outside.
This individual allegedly punched the homeowner repeatedly in the chest area, while the others cheered on. The homeowner suffered injuries to his chest, legs and feet.
Officer Craig Appleby and his K-9 Hunter were able to track the individuals to the Church Street School area. There, Officers Appleby and Dennis Putnam observed the individuals responsible for the attack. Further investigation led to their arrests.
Three minors (two from Hamden, the other New Haven) and Erica Williams, 18, of 126 Church St., Hamden, were all charged with conspiracy to commit burglary in the 2nd degree and conspiracy to commit assault in the 3rd degree. They were each detained on a $25,000 bond and are scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on July 3.
June 19, 2008
By Sharon Bass
At last night’s Ethics Board meeting, one thing was sorely needed: Finance Director Mike Betz. The board had asked him to come to answer questions to the mayor’s request for an advisory opinion on whether skimming loot from three line items for his travel allowance was wrong. And nearly every inch the four men ventured into during the two-plus-hour meeting came back to: “This is why we need Betz.”
Betz was asked to come to the meeting held in the lower level of Government Center, but declined, said Republican Colin Odell.
Democrat Wayne Spies wanted to know if there is a precedent of using money from the three accounts to pay town employees who used a personal car for business travel.
“That’s why we need Mike Betz here,” said Democrat Albert May. He would say that at least 10 times last night.
“The person we need the most we have the least,” said Republican Walter Rochow of Betz.
“It was truly an invitation and we can’t hold any prejudice if he doesn’t come,” said Odell, adding that Betz can’t be forced to attend the meetings and rejected May’s suggestion that the board talk with Henrici to get Betz to show up.
Odell said though Betz refused to attend the meeting he agreed to supply written answers to written questions from the board. But the four men said that would take much more time than if the finance director was sitting before them answering questions.
“How much does he get paid? We’re sitting here as volunteers doing the town’s business,” said Rochow. (Betz earns $92,185 a year.)
The board looked at the three line items Betz dipped into to pay Henrici for 10 months of undocumented travel: two were from Public Works (“gasoline” and “vehicle maintenance”) the third from the Finance Department (“insurance”).
“Are these the appropriate accounts to charge the car allowance to?” said Odell. “I think no.” In the description of the three line items, it is stated they’re for town-car use only, not for an allowance for a personal car.
“What you’re saying is right,” said May to Odell. “The wrong accounts were used. Why? I’d like to hear why Mr. Betz thought it was the right accounts. This is why we need Mr. Betz here. Who determined that these accounts be used?”
“‘Who’ isn’t important in the advisory opinion process,” said Odell. “It’s whether these were the appropriate accounts.” If not appropriate, he said it would constitute a charter violation. The board could then launch a complaint and broaden its investigation of the mayor’s travel reimbursement, he said.
Meanwhile, some councilmen say they're planning to file a formal complaint with Ethics about the mayor's unauthorized travel money.
But Rochow, looking at a document in the administration’s packet, said Betz authorized the payments. “It’s written here,” he said. “Can we make a motion to include intent?”
No answer was given.
Odell pointed to town account 310, which is for business mileage reimbursement. That line item was found in some departments in the 2006-07 town budget -- the fiscal year Henrici was paid the travel allowance -- but not in the mayor’s.
“It’s an intent to circumvent the budget,” said Odell. “You know it’s in other departments and it did not exist in the mayor’s budget. That would indicate to me that the legislative council had no intention to compensate the mayor for a personal vehicle in the 2006-2007 budget year.”
Again the board had veered off the narrow path Henrici laid out.
“How can we make that judgment when we’re limited to just three accounts?” said May.
The Town Attorney’s Office assigned Hamden attorney Francis Lamboley to be the legal advisor to the board. He is a former town councilman.
“The mayor’s office decided to save the town money by driving his own car. He should have gotten council approval,” said Lamboley. “They didn’t do that. Now is it a charter violation? Is it a major violation?”
“Everything we’re saying here needs to be put in the form of questions [to Betz],” said May.
In the letter to Betz, the board is asking:
In the letter to Henrici, the board is asking that he urge Betz to come to the June 25 meeting.
“The mayor asked for this opinion and we need Mr. Betz,” said Odell.
At the tail end of the meeting, the board unanimously gave Odell another two years as chair and made Spies vice chair. Spies had fought Odell at the May meeting for chair.
June 18, 2008
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On June 17, Hamden police investigated a domestic violence complaint at a Newhall Street residence. The complainant advised police that she became involved in a verbal altercation with her husband, Lenford Lewis.
As she attempted to call police, Lewis allegedly tore the telephone from the wall. He then allegedly struck the complainant several times in the shoulder area and then attempted to choke her. As she tried to escape from their residence, Lewis allegedly pulled her back inside.
The complainant was treated for her injuries by Hamden Fire Rescue.
A short time later, officers located Lewis running on Remington Street. He was subsequently arrested and transported to police headquarters.
Lewis, 41, of 606 Newhall St., Hamden, was charged with strangulation in the 3rd degree, interfering with an emergency call and disorderly conduct. He was detained on a $500 bond and is due in court on June 17.
Also on June 17, the Street Interdiction Team conducted an investigation into the sales of narcotics in the Park Road area. Investigation led to a motor vehicle stop. Upon being stopped, the three occupants of the vehicle fled on foot. They were apprehended after a short foot pursuit.
The investigation led to the seizure of 20 aluminum foil folds containing 8.7 grams of PCP, a loaded .45 caliber handgun and $1,007 in U.S. currency.
Quinton White, 35, of 295 Park Road, 2nd floor, Hamden, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to possess a hallucinogenic with the intent to sell and interfering with a police officer. He was detained at police headquarters on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on July 1.
Steven Priestley, 28, of 714 Newhall St., Hamden, was also charged with conspiracy to possess a hallucinogenic with the intent to sell. He was detained at police headquarters on a $25,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on July 1. A New Haven man was also arrested and charged.
By Sharon Bass
At the May 27 Legislative Council meeting, Finance Director Mike Betz said: “We’re short on the operating side but” there is some “unconventional revenue” of about $200,000 in the form of old, un-cashed checks. That money, he said, would put the town in the black at the end of this fiscal year.
The Hamden Daily News requested and received a list of "all" the un-cashed checks, under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. The checks total just $64,154; not $200,000. But that might be a moot point since the state treasurer’s office said that money doesn’t belong to Hamden. It belongs to Hartford. (Click here, here and here to see the unclaimed-check documents.)
“As a general rule, any property that has remained inactive for a period of three years has to be turned over to the state of Connecticut as unclaimed property,” said Chris of the Office of the State Treasurer Unclaimed Property Division. (He said he’s not allowed to give his last name over the phone. Click here to read a summary of the state law.)
Chris said unclaimed town checks are considered unclaimed property. He was told about the $64,154 the town of Hamden plans to use to plug up its operating budget deficit. The checks date from May 22, 2003, to March 29, 2007. Chris said checks over three years need to be sent to the state and those under three “you have to hold onto.”
Meanwhile, he said, the “town is supposed to try to contact the parties” to whom the checks were given. It's unknown whether the town has made any such attempts.
Asked for comment Monday, Council Finance Chair Curt Leng said he would contact Betz “to find out if the number he gave at the last Finance Committee meeting of $200,000 is valid.” Leng said he e-mailed Betz Tuesday and also spoke to the town administration.
"I think that the town is following a recommendation made by the town auditors, but I do think that they need to double check the procedure for unclaimed checks to make sure the town complies with all state guidelines,” said Leng.
He said he didn’t know if this recommendation was included in the auditors’ current report, and he also didn’t know why the auditors hadn’t recommended this before, especially since some checks are five years old. (A message left late yesterday for the auditors, Levitsky & Berney of Woodbridge, has been been returned.)
As far as the dollar difference between Betz’s $200,000 and the $64,154 found on the documents, Leng said the checks are “just one component in a whole scope of financial transactions recommended by the auditors to ‘sweep’ accounts that are inactive. This should result in an end-of-the-year audit that shows an increase to the town's fund balance (savings account).”
Leng reported no feedback from the administration regarding the state unclaimed-property law.
No one in the Henrici administration returns messages from the HDN.
“The institution or organization that possesses the property presumed abandoned must attempt to notify rightful owners before transferring it to the state. If these efforts fail, the institution or organization must turn the property over to the state treasurer, who is responsible for any ownership or other types of claims in the property. The treasurer places most of the property into a trust account where owners or their heirs may claim it.” From the Office of the State Treasurer's website.
June 16, 2008
Local Republican House candidates miss filing deadline by a day
By Sharon Bass
They thought they were all set for their first-ever political bids. Republicans David Aron and Matt Corcoran filed their intention papers for Hamden-only House Seats 88 and 91 right on deadline, June 5. But, unfortunately for them, not in the right place.
Instead of to the Secretary of the State’s Office in Hartford, the papers were delivered to the Town Clerk’s Office in Hamden. The candidates said the next day they filed with the state but were too late.
They called the error a bummer but said it will “definitely” not stop them from running for office.
As independents. Possibly cross-endorsed by the local GOP.
“It’s certainly a setback but we’re going to continue to move forward. I’m still going to be out there knocking on doors and just working hard to win,” said Corcoran, an attorney who’s challenging five-term Democratic state Rep. Brendan Sharkey for the 88th District. Aron is opposing eight-term Democratic Rep. Peter Sharkey for the 91st.
“It’s a minor detail and not really a big deal, as far as I’m concerned,” said Aron, a traffic analyst. “My name will be on the ballot. The really important thing is the campaign and the message. The rules are the rules and we’re going to do what we can to give the voters a choice.”
Republican Town Committee Chair Sarah Morrill said it was a “clerical” error.
“It’s my understanding that in previous years, single-town district candidates would file with the Town Clerk’s Office,” she said. “And it’s two new young candidates who had never run before.”
Corcoran must get 48 signatures and Aron 49 from registered voters in their districts (party unimportant) to qualify as petitioning candidates, said Morrill. Those numbers are based on 1 percent of the votes from those districts in the last state election, in 2006. The John Hancocks are due in the sec of state’s office by Aug. 6.
Then Aron’s and Corcoran’s names would appear on the third line of the Nov. 4 ballot as independents.
“One thing we’ve been kicking around is getting on as an independent candidate and have the Republican Party endorse me after the fact,” said Corcoran.
Morrill said she’s looking into cross-endorsing both candidates. If she succeeds, the men’s names would be on the ballot twice -- as an independent and a Republican.“We live and learn,” she said. “Bottom line, our candidates will be on the ballot in November in some fashion.”
June 15, 2008
By Sharon Bass
School Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz called the HDN today to say the racist epithet carved into the sidewalk outside the Bear Path School playground was taken care of last Friday night.
She said she had just learned about the graffiti that day (June 13) after a local legislator, who asked not to be identified, called the school and town to let them know “SPiCKS” and a Mexican sombrero were etched into a new piece of sidewalk on Hume Drive -- and no one was doing anything about it.
At the May 27 Legislative Council meeting, the HDN informed Public Works Director Joe Velardi about the graffiti but he apparently ignored the report as well as follow-up phone messages.
“The first I heard about it was [June 13],” said Rabinowitz. She said she notified Bear Path principal Susan Smey who, with a custodian, looked around the school grounds for the graffiti but neither could find it. They didn’t check Hume Drive.
Then Rabinowitz said she received an HDN photo of it via e-mail and decided to check it out.
“I went up myself [to Hume Drive] and found it and I called [school Facilities Director] Mark [Albanese] and asked him to get it removed,” she said. In addition to the racist graffiti, she said she saw other inappropriate words etched in the cement but would not say what they were.
Albanese purchased something at Home Depot to cover it all up, said Rabinowitz.
“It’s not acceptable. It’s certainly not something we want students to view,” she said.
Having learned Parks & Rec was actually responsible for the work -- but had not been notified by Velardi -- Rabinowitz said, “It’s probably town property but what difference does it make? We just wanted it removed.”
June 14, 2008
By Sharon Bass
On May 27, the HDN ran a similar photo of the above racist graffiti after spotting it on a freshly paved patch of sidewalk outside the Bear Path School playground. That evening, it was reported to Public Works Director Joe Velardi at the Council meeting.
Velardi said he would look into it. However, subsequent phone messages left for him were not returned and the disturbing rendering has not been removed.
Since notifying an unnamed public official about the matter yesterday, the town and school administrations have been informed. Reportedly, no one knew anything about it, while one elected school official expressed doubt the graffiti exists. (A quick stop by the playground on Hume Drive would erase any doubts about the veracity of the graffiti, if the HDN photos are somehow not believable.)
Denial and apathy have apparently held up the removal process. Children frequently use that elementary school playground. There is no excuse for racism to linger on Hamden's sidewalks.
From Capt. Ron Smith:On June 12, members of the Hamden Street Interdiction Team conducted an investigation into the sale of marijuana at 40 Adla Drive. Officers executed a search and seizure warrant at the residence and seized the following items:
-- 335 grams of high-grade marijuana (estimated street value, $6,700)
John Cappella, 25, of 40 Adla Drive, Hamden, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of marijuana with intent to sell within 1,500 feet of a school and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cappella was detained at police headquarters on a $25,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on June 25.
June 5, 2008
By Sharon Bass
Hamden Republicans held their first fundraiser of the year this evening at the Miller Senior Center. Along with loads of pasta, chicken, sausage and peppers -- topped with a red, white and blue cake -- was a huge helping of warmth and support. No one left without a genuine smile.
This year's three state candidates spoke briefly. Rep. Al Adinolfi (R-103rd Assembly District) will be challenged by Cheshire Democratic Councilwoman Elizabeth Esty.
"I have been targeted by the Democrats," he said. "I welcome the competition. It gives us the incentive to work harder." Adinolfi said his campaign will be fueled with public financing -- available for the first time under the new state law.
David Aron will try to oust eight-term Rep. Peter Villano (D-91st Assembly District) this November.
Aron is forgoing public financing. "I'm running on a platform of cutting taxes," he said, "and don't think it's right to take public money."
Property taxes are the "biggest issue of my campaign," said Matt Corcoran, who is going after the seat of five-term Rep. Brendan Sharkey (D-88th Assembly District).
On Aug. 4 from 5 p.m.-8 p.m., there will be a cash-raising affair for Corcoran at the Side Street Grille at 15 Dickerman St. Tickets are $35/person.
Talk To Us
Letters to the Editor
Copyright© 2005 Hamden Daily News
Site designed by Joanne Kittredge