March 30, 2007
Union reps say Henrici is urging their support for pension bonds; Henrici begs to disagree
By Sharon Bass
Two unions claim Mayor Craig Henrici has asked them to publicly support bonding the town’s retirement fund. In return, they say, the mayor promised that their pension contracts -- which expire in ’08 but are likely to be renegotiated this year -- would not be reopened for two years, eliminating the possibility that current workers would be shifted to the less lucrative state retirement plan.
The United Public Service Employees Union has given Henrici the high five on the deal. While Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees is keeping its collective hand at bay until more information can be gathered on the state of the retirement fund and on pension obligation bonds.
However, Henrici disagreed. He said he did not ask the unions for their support when he met with them a few weeks ago.
“No, I explained to union members that there is absolutely no downside to the POBs if you are a pensioner or a pensioner-to-be,” he said. “I doubt that any union member would object to an influx of cash into their pension plan.”
Henrici has been pushing the Legislative Council for months to approve issuing (now) $55 million in pension obligation bonds to feed the retirement account, which has been chronically under-funded. His idea initially met with stiff resistance, but lately councilmembers seem to be singing the mayor’s tune.
“We went to each and every one of our bargaining units in town and all of them are in agreement that the POBs are a good thing,” said Wayne Gilbert of UPSEU. His union has five locals in Hamden -- Public Works, supervisors and three in the school department.
“It’s the right thing to do. We have to address this issue,” he said. “To be honest with you, I give tremendous praise to Mayor Henrici for making a tremendous effort to address this issue.”
Kevin Murphy of Council 4 withheld comment except to say, “We have asked Mayor Henrici for all relevant financial data concerning the state of Hamden’s pension fund. We are reviewing that data and actively discussing the situation among our membership unions. We fully intend to be part of any solution to stabilize Hamden’s finances now and in the future. Our goal is to protect the vital public services that town employees provide to the citizens and businesses of Hamden.”
AFSCME represents Town Hall and crossing guards, engineers, the library, Parks & Rec, school supervisors and school custodians.
Gilbert said when the POBs come before the Council (the mayor said it should be some time in April), his members will publicly speak in favor of them.
“In exchange, we get a two-year extension on the pension plan for current employees,” he said of the deal with Henrici. “Two more years of neither party being able to propose any changes to the current plan. Any time you open up any contract or pension everything can be negotiable. Theoretically a concern is current employees would be put into MERS [the state Municipal Employees Retirement System]. I don’t have that concern at this time.”
The administration is currently negotiating with the unions to put all new hires into MERS. The police, fire and five other unions have tentatively agreed, said Henrici. “I also explained to them that this new system for new hires would have zero impact on their current defined plan,” he said.
Most of the pension contracts expire in 2008, but Henrici said he wants to open them up this year to add the MERS plan for new workers.
While the mayor said he didn’t ask for organized labor’s support of the bonds, “I did, however, explain to them that for this to happen [bonding the pension fund] they would have to agree that all new hires go into the state municipal retirement system.”
“We’ve given our word we’d agree to that,” Gilbert said, “but we haven’t made it official. It has to be ratified by our members. We’re not a union that distorts facts and we tell our members exactly what the issues are and let them decide what’s in their best interest.”
Borrowing $55 million greatly curtails the town’s ability to bond capital improvements. “And that’s a bad thing,” the UPSEU rep said. “But I think Hamden has already done a lot,” such as build a new middle school.
Gilbert said he was on board with POBs before this month’s union-head meeting. In February, he said Henrici also made an argument to the unions for the bonding.
“We were already there lobbying for it because it was common sense,” Gilbert said. “In Hamden, the mayors proposed more [for pension fund contributions] and the council continually slashed [the amount] and they got behind and they got behind.” Contrary to Wallingford and Cheshire, he said, where the town councils have “fully funded” their pension accounts and don't need POBs.
“I hope the members of the Town Council have the same intestinal fortitude that Mayor Henrici is exhibiting on this issue,” said Gilbert. He said in February he had “one-on-one discussions with councilmembers” about pension bonding and “they were not for them.” He didn’t want to say with whom he spoke.
“Most of the ones I talked to didn’t see how it was a good thing to do,” said Gilbert. “And I think Mayor Henrici has done a lot of good instruction with them on this matter.”
According to a flier, Council 4 is holding a meeting on April 9 with local presidents to talk about Henrici's "modification to the present Pension Plan. You can be impacted by this modification, therefore come and voice your opinion, and ask questions -- so that you can make an informed decision."
By Sharon Bass
A total of roughly 47 pounds of marijuana and $10,000 in cash were confiscated this week from a Hamden car and a New Haven house during the same investigation. Yesterday, the police chiefs announced the busts at a press conference at the Hamden police training division at 1255 Shepard Ave.
During the March 28-29 investigation by the Street Interdiction Team, which began on Hamden's Cherry Ann Street, Chief Tom Wydra enlisted the help of New Haven Chief Francisco Ortiz when the trail led the cops into the Elm City
It started at around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. The interdiction team learned that a drug delivery was to take place at 123 Cherry Ann St., Hamden. (The other side of the street is in New Haven.) The team set up a surveillance of the area, and at 9:42 p.m. the vehicle and person that were described in the tip arrived.
“And the team moved in and arrested Ricardo Thompson,” a 52-year-old New Haven man, said Wydra. In Thompson’s vehicle cops found just over 3 pounds of pot.
After his arrest, the team’s continuing investigation led to 1599 Chapel St., New Haven, a so-called “stash house,” said Wydra.
“At that point we enlisted the help of the New Haven police,” Wydra said. At 1:30 a.m. a warrant was executed and Arlette Jackson and Collin Allen -- both 39 and of New Haven -- were found in the house along with 44 pounds of marijuana, packaging materials, digital scales, over $10,000 and a bank check issued to Jackson for just over $7,800.
“All of those items are indicative of a major drug trafficking operation,” said Wydra.
The chief said Hamden will continue to spearhead the ongoing investigation with help from New Haven police, federal authorities and the state.
Thompson was charged with possession of over 4 ounces of marijuana. Jackson and Allen were charged with operating a drug factory, possession of over 4 ounces of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and intent to sell.
March 29, 2007
Four town employees say no to cigs
By Sharon Bass
Carol Riccio-Greenberg kicked the habit Nov. 11, 2006. Jeanine Aceto followed suit two days later. Mimsie Coleman hopped on the no-smoking wagon Jan. 13. And Stacey Shellard crushed her last butt about seven weeks ago.
The women’s secret? Another drug.
Specifically a prescription medication called Chantix, made by Pfizer. After over three decades of puffing Riccio-Greenberg, an Elderly Services employee, now swears by the pill that was introduced in the United States last year.
“I can’t believe I’m a nonsmoker,” she said yesterday standing in “Kennelly Corner,” a spot outside Government Center Mayor Henrici dubbed after former Police Chief Jack Kennelly (a well-known heavy smoker) and designated in his 2005 inaugural address. At the same time, Henrici banned smoking in front of the town office building.
Riccio-Greenberg said she quit the habit partly in honor of her father. “I promised him on his deathbed I’d quit,” she said. That was on Nov. 11, 1996. She tried a couple of times before but was unsuccessful till her doctor prescribed the little"miracle" pill.
According to the women, it took no willpower to quit. The pill did it all. In fact, Riccio-Greenberg’s husband smokes at home and she said she wasn’t tempted, even during the early days of withdrawal.
Coleman, Hamden’s art director, was impressed. She said she gave up cigs for 13.5 years when she was pregnant and raising children. But that nasty addictive nicotine beckoned her back. So she got Chantix.
“On the 13th day on [the drug] I lit up a cigarette. I took a puff and it tasted bitter. I put it out and threw out my cigarettes,” Coleman said.
“I talked to Carol. She goes, ‘Jeanine, this is the weirdest thing. I quit smoking,’” said Aceto, a Fire Department secretary. Upon hearing Riccio-Greenberg’s testimony about the medicine, Aceto paid her doc a little visit.
She said she feels “awesome. Absolutely wonderful. I feel much more alive. I have a lot more time because I’m not going outside to smoke. I’m saving money.” She said she put her butt bucks into a Christmas fund, which to date has $325.
Riccio-Greenberg said she feels no different since kicking the habit. The addiction, unfortunately, cannot be won. Just managed day to day.
“I’ve tried the patch. I tried Wellbutrin,” said Shellard, a cashier in the Finance Department. “I figured if they (Riccio-Greenberg, Aceto and Coleman) could do it with their high-stress levels, I could do it.” And she did.
Pounds & Peace
In the mid-20th century, doctors promoted cigarettes as a diet aid. Magazines and newspapers ran full-page ads of friendly-looking docs with burning cigarette in hand or dangling from lip targeting mostly women to light up in order to lighten up. Though there was significant and reliable research concluding the dangers of smoking at least since the 1940s, the tobacco industry snuffed it. It was making enormous profits by making people very, very sick. Finally, warning labels were put on cigarette packs and TV commercials were banned. Still, it remains the only industry that the FDA will not force to disclose its ingredients. The cig companies cry it would hurt their competitiveness. They hire top-gun lobbyists and make huge campaign donations to keep in good favor in D.C.
The women say they have gained a few pounds, on their thin frames, since shunning the carcinogenic product: Shellard and Riccio-Greenberg about 10 each; Coleman 4; and Aceto 4.
However, that seems to be the only side effect of quitting. “The best thing about this is we’re all in good moods and my husband isn’t dead,” said Riccio-Greenberg.
“My teenagers are still alive,” said Shellard. “Mood wise, I have no swings.”
The usual course of Chantix is three months, although Coleman for example took it for a much shorter time. Patients are told to keep smoking while taking the medicine but soon find they no longer enjoy it and quit.
“All of a sudden you look and say, ‘Oh my God, I only smoked 10 cigarettes today,” Riccio-Greenberg said.
Still, if she could have her druthers she said she’d still be puffing. She started in fourth grade. “I love to smoke. Right now if they came up with a cigarette that was safe, I would smoke,” she said.
March 27, 2007
Legislative committee says no to extensive school audit
By Sharon Bass
“This is not a witch hunt. It’s to sort things out,” Councilman John Flanagan told his colleagues explaining why he was calling for a full-scale financial audit of the ’05-’06 school books. “It’s in depth, not forensic which implies criminal.”
Councilwoman Betty Wetmore seconded his motion at yesterday’s Administration Committee meeting. But that was all the support Flanagan would get. The others echoed there was no need.
“Based on the cost of the audit, which is money we don’t have, I can’t recommend it,” said Council President Al Gorman. The audit was estimated at $38,000. “I think they [Board of Education members] have been embarrassed enough about what’s going on. We had hoped they would clean up their act more. The Board of Education is responsible for this.”
Gorman said “a lot of the issues” auditors spotted in their recent review of the school department -- like spending procedures that violate the Town Charter and local purchasing ordinance (click here and here) -- would be solved with the move to Government Center, expected this summer.
“The questionable procedures are not to my liking,” Gorman added. “But as far as we know there was nothing illegal. So [an audit] is a waste of our time.”
“I do agree with Mr. Gorman on a lot of his points,” said Councilman Matt Fitch, who arrived in the nick of time for Flanagan’s Administration Committee meeting. “I’m not so worried about the $38,000 out of a $70 million budget. But I don’t think we have a problem here. The most questionable thing we saw was this June spending frenzy.”
At the end of the fiscal year, June 30, leftover school money must be returned to the town. Many purchases were made on June 15, 2006, and June 29, 2006, including a $6,111 50-inch TV for the superintendent’s conference room and a $7,999 “typhoon slide” for Ridge Hill School.
Fitch said he had confidence in Board Chair Michael D’Agostino, who attended last night's meeting.
Flanagan gave copies of the last six school audits to his peers behind the bench. Every year, the same recommendation was made -- and ignored, he said.
“We never acted on them. If we’re going to bring a new superintendent in, I think we should know what the financial situation is,” said Flanagan.
Finance Director Mike Betz said the yearly recommendation has been to “refine and incorporate a common chart of accounts between the town and the Board of Education.” He said he expects that to happen once central office administrators hunker down at Government Center and the two finance offices can work more closely together -- both in real and cyber time.
Flanagan said he was not satisfied with D’Agostino’s written explanations for nine questionable spending items unearthed during the recent audit.
In his March 26, 2007, response to Flanagan, D’Agostino wrote, “As we have previously advised the Council, the Board has implemented new, and more rigorous purchase order procedures (copy attached). Board personnel also continue to work closely with the Town purchasing agent and Town attorney in this area.”
Flanagan said some of D’Agostino’s explanations for the nine items “are clear. Some are as clear as mud.”
In response to why two purchase orders were discovered for $152,000 apiece for a wiring job, D’Agostino wrote, “We are unaware that the town issued two separate, identical purchase orders in the amount of $152,000 and believe this may simply be a duplicate copy. We are aware of a single purchase order (604418) issued by the Town to Woods Electric on March 21, 2005 in the amount of $152,000. This is the work and purchase order that the auditors reviewed and commented on in their findings.”
Other explanations were more detailed.
“I’m very pleased in the response the Board of Education gave and the money and time to collect the data,” said Councilman Ron Gambardella. “They made admissions that there were weaknesses. So all said and done, I think an audit is not justified at this time.”
Gorman called Betz to the podium.
Is it worth $38,000 for another audit, he asked the finance chief?
“No,” said Betz. “There was nothing that really popped up that was very, very serious like embezzlement. I think it would be time consuming, a distraction, frankly. There were no red flags” in the school’s audit.
Gorman turned to Flanagan. “We can move forward in good faith and I ask you to withdraw your motion,” the president said.
No, answered Flanagan although knowing his motion didn’t have a prayer. He and Wetmore were the only affirmative committee votes; Bob Westervelt, Fitch and Berita Rowe-Lewis voted no; and Carol Noble, just back from an extended stay out of state, abstained. Flanagan said he won’t try to send it to the full Council.
D’Agostino gave his usual, “No comment,” to the HDN.
“The Board of Education is circling the wagons. I wasn’t attacking them,” said Flanagan. “[Council members voting against the audit] don’t care about the taxpayers at all. We’re into don’t-make-waves early in the election season.
“People better come to the public budget hearings or not complain.”
The school budget hearing is April 16 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers. The next day, same time same place, will be the town budget hearing -- or all departments except the school.
Note: the full Council meeting will be held Monday, April 9, instead of next Monday because of Passover.
By Sharon Bass
Standing before the Council last night requesting $100,000 to cover escalating overtime hours, Fire Chief David Berardesca was asked how long the dough would last.
“A little over a month,” he said.
“So we can expect to see you next month,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella.
“Yes,” said the chief. He would need further transfers from the town’s emergency and contingency account to his department before this fiscal year closes. Berardesca is short 12 fighters and there’s been a quasi town hiring freeze since Jan. 1.
The next item on the Public Safety Committee’s agenda was an internal transfer of $50,000 for police overtime.
With the Police Department currently down 11 (three new cops are coming on April 1) and Fire a dozen, it was questioned whether the so-called hiring freeze is worth it. Are fewer tax dollars needed for lots of extra overtime versus footing the bill for new hires?
Kind of yes, said Finance Director Mike Betz. Yes, if the OT is straight pay, as is often the case with firefighters, but not so with cops who get time-and-a-half or double time. (Benefits add another 38 percent to what the town pays for each employee, Betz said.)
However, Berardesca and Police Chief Tom Wydra said the costs are not just in dollars and cents. Employees are stretched thin by putting in 20-30 overtime hours each week, they said. Monday evening wasn’t the first time the chiefs voiced their concern for the “health and safety” of their crews.
Berardesca said there is a $33,000 surplus in his budget but it won’t last long.
“Will [you] overrun the budget by the end of the year [June 30]?” said Councilman Ron Gambardella.
“Yes, by $200,000,” the chief said. (After the meeting, he said he’d be back in April and May to request more OT money, but was unsure how much he’d need. “You can’t project it because you don’t know what’s going to happen as far as sick time, vacation, a large-scale event,” he said.)
“What is the logic of not filling your positions?” Gambardella said.
Since it is the mayor’s decision to freeze public safety hiring, Berardesca could not directly respond. Instead, he said he “anticipates” hiring three firefighters in September, who would enter the state fire academy for 14 weeks of training. That’ll cost the town $5,200 per person come September. Currently the classes are $3,200.
“I’m hoping for maybe seven more [firefighters] next spring,” said Berardesca.
“So we save money by hiring?” said Gambardella.
“In my mind, yes. But it’s also the health and safety of the firefighters. I would like all the positions filled, but we are coping,” he said.
Berardesca said he was shortchanged $90,000 in his ’06-’07 budget. On top of that, $52,000 went to job upgrades and another $92,000 to union raises.
Wydra’s department is not as financially strapped.
“I don’t anticipate having to come back to the Council” for more transfers, Wydra said, adding there’s about a half-million left in the police salary account.
March 23, 2007
By Sharon Bass
In the mayor’s $173.6 million budget -- hiking taxes 1.6 mils -- he’s proposed giving a Finance Department worker a $6,338 raise attached to a new job description. With the town in reportedly poor fiscal shape and cuts being made elsewhere in his 2007-08 budget, Craig Henrici was asked why.
“I think she’s supervising more people,” he said of Pat Riccitelli, a 28-year finance employee.
“I’m doing the job now,” said Riccitelli, accounts payable/payroll supervisor. She said she currently supervises four employees, which wouldn’t change under the new position. Her responsibilities wouldn’t change much either. But, she said, over the years she’s taken on more and more duties and her post has evolved into what the new job description outlines. (Click here for the current and proposed job descriptions.) Riccitelli is No. 3 in the department now and would remain so if promoted.
“I come to work every day and I do my job,” she said. “Some days I don’t have time to take lunch.” She said she hasn’t taken a sick day in 20 years. Her husband, Carmen Riccitelli, was a Hamden deputy police chief who retired in 2002, she said.
Henrici pointed out that an accountant’s position was cut from the department. “So we’re doing more with less,” he said. “All I know is the department is doing more with less money and less personnel.”
The department is budgeted for $5,320,000 in the mayor’s proposal; in 2006-07, it rang in at $3,526,219 but increased to $3,756,569 in part to fill several positions. They were frozen by the previous legislative council during former Mayor Carl Amento’s last year in office, to be thawed in January ’06 for the new mayor.
The Civil Service Commission approved Riccitelli’s new job description on Jan. 17, 2007. (Her current post was approved Aug. 15, 2005.) But since the Council has to vote on it, the position technically doesn’t exist. The mayor said he and the supervisors union, of which Riccitelli is the president, agreed to the new contract. And it was Finance Director Mike Betz’s idea to promote Riccitelli, a union rep on the town Pension Board and mother-in-law of Police Chief Tom Wydra.
“She has a very good sense for operations,” Betz said. “We’re an essential service. We’re the 14th largest town in the state. There’s an enormous amount of money and we need a full staff. I can justify why everybody’s been hired or promoted. Pat’s a longtime town employee who’s been doing a marvelous job. I will be working with the Council to make this position happen.”
It was unclear after talking with several town officials if the proposed position of operations manager is a new job or a job upgrade. Under Civil Service rules, vacant positions and new jobs must be posted. “If a new position is created, I will post it,” said Finance Director Ken Kelley.
Councilman John Flanagan said, “If it’s negotiated in the contract I’ll have to go along with it. But if it’s not, we’ll have to take another look at it. You’re altering a union contract. That’s creating a new position no matter what anybody says. They can tap dance all they want.”
And Councilman Mike Germano, who said he lives next door to Riccitelli, said, “I will not make up my mind prior to listening to both sides regarding any line item. Everyone should go into the budget process with an open mind and only make up their mind after fair and balanced debate.”
Reorganization & a Suit
“Mike Betz did a little reorganization,” Riccitelli said in her office yesterday afternoon. She is paid $63,773 as accounts payable/payroll supervisor. She is classified as a Range 5. Operations manager is a Range 2 and pays $70,111.
“It was part of the reorganization of the Finance Department,” said Betz, who came on in November 2005, for the second time as Hamden's finance chief. “When I got there, there was no deputy. There was no chief accountant and no budget coordinator. Gradually, slowly, but surely I’ve been able to fill positions and in two cases a promotion from within. When I walked in there, there was an active lawsuit.”
That suit was filed by Amaechi Obi. He claimed he was overlooked for a promotion because he’s Nigerian. He dropped the suit last year and Betz made him the deputy director -- the position he claimed he was denied.
Riccitelli and another town worker also applied for the deputy post.
According to a Town Hall employee privy to the information who asked not to be named, “Obi got the job because the administration got scared about the lawsuit and [Obi’s] complaint to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.”
“The title Riccitelli had before doesn’t suit the job description,” said Obi, who is paid $71,552.
In the 2006-07 budget, Obi is listed as an accountant earning $53,381. And the deputy finance director post, which was vacant, paid $78,000. Riccitelli’s salary was $56,940 and later upped to $63,773.
General Statement of Duties:
The incumbent supervises and directs the operation and activities of all account payables of the Town, and is responsible for all applicable operations and the maintenance of the detailed subsidiary accounts for controlling accounts payable; encumbering; for the accuracy, validity documentation and certification of all expenditures; for all payroll activities, the maintenance of all payroll records, and for the preparation and accuracy of all payroll reports; for the preparation, reconciling and auditing accounts and financial reports, and accuracy of routine and special reports and statements, and for elated tasks as assigned.
Distinguishing Features of the Class:
This position involves the performance of high level technical accounting and cost accounting work and the application of prescribed policies, practices, procedures and methods to the matters of financial editing accruals, payables, payroll, data processing, and cost distributions within the framework of fund accounting and statutory budgetary control requirements. Work requires independent judgment and initiative on technical problems. Supervises exacting and highly responsible sub-professional work of Accounting Technicians and Account Clerks. Work is reviewed for overall standards of performance and compliance with existing policies, practices and procedures.
(Proposed Job Description)
The incumbent supervises and directs the operation and activities of all account payables of the Town, and is responsible for all applicable operations and the maintenance of the detailed subsidiary accounts for controlling accounts payable; encumbering; for the accuracy, validity documentation and certification of all expenditures; for all payroll activities, the maintenance of all payroll records, and for the preparation and accuracy of all payroll reports; for the preparation, reconciling and auditing accounts and financial reports, and accuracy of routine and special reports and statements, and for elated tasks as assigned. [NEW] Performs pre-auditing activities directed toward identification of problems and discrepancies in financial records. Responsible for overseeing the Town financial system. Consults with various department heads on needs and/or solutions to meet deadlines or goals on information handling in the Munis financial software system.
General Statement of Duties:
This position involves the performance of high level technical accounting and cost accounting work and the application of prescribed policies, practices, procedures and methods to the matters of financial editing accruals, payables, payroll, data processing, and cost distributions within the framework of fund accounting and statutory budgetary control requirements. Work requires independent judgment and initiative on technical problems. Supervises exacting and highly responsible sub-professional work of Accounting Technicians and Account Clerks. Work is reviewed for overall standards of performance and compliance with existing policies, practices and procedures. [New] Coordinates upgrades with the vendor of the financial software for the town computer system.
By Sharon Bass
Right before the public hearing on the municipal budget next month, a government-reform group plans to demonstrate against the town administration -- which they call irresponsible and oblivious -- in front of Memorial Town Hall.
“It’s going to be theatrical,” said Kelly McCarthy of the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation (nee Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief). “It’s not going to be just a group of us standing there holding up signs. It’s going to be different. We’re really trying to grab people’s attention. The purpose of this is not only to bring attention to the fact that there are budget hearings but there are people who are unhappy about the taxes.”
The decision was made during HART’s meeting Wednesday evening, where 19 people showed up. They talked about the upcoming budget hearings and started planning the protest. Both public hearings start at 7 p.m.; the education department’s budget is on April 17, the town’s on April 16. The demonstration is planned for April 17 at 5:30 p.m.
“We’re being led irresponsibly by a town government who really isn’t listening to us. That kind of sums up the whole reason all of us are putting time into an additional community group,” said McCarthy. “Escalating property taxes, negligence and recklessness of our elected officials. We’re not just protesting taxes in general. We know we need property taxes to run the town. The last tax increase was historic and not in a good way. There are taxpayers who are suffering. And this administration seems to be completely oblivious to that fact. And it really is disheartening.”
HART meets again on April 24 at 6 p.m. at the Miller Senior Center. Potluck dinner and a presentation on pension obligation bonds.
March 21, 2007
By Sharon Bass
When Don Werner showed up at the Democratic Town Committee meeting to ask permission to announce his desire to run for an at-large seat this November, he was told no.
“The appropriate time for speaking to the town committee is at the [July] convention,” said DTC Chair Joe McDonagh.
So Werner left letters and résumés on the nine tables (one per Council district) at Monday’s meeting at the Miller Senior Center. And with that, the Elderly Services bus driver said his campaign is in gear.
“I’m going to talk to as many people as I can,” said Werner, 59, a regular at Town Council meetings.
McDonagh said he plans to endorse the at-large incumbents -- Kath Schomaker, Al Gorman, Carol Noble and Jim Pascarella -- if they choose to seek reelection.
“Don’s a lovely guy and I agree with him on a lot of issues,” McDonagh said. “But I have no idea who’s running [at-large].”
The Democrats and Republicans put up four at-large candidates apiece. Six are chosen. The Town Charter ensures two of those seats to the minority party if those candidates are not among the top six vote getters.
In other HDTC biz, Pauline Brown is the new 3rd District committee member. She replaces Sandra Cloud who left last year, McDonagh said. Brown is married to Ozzie Brown, also on the town committee. Pauline said she likes to work behind the political scene.
March 20, 2007
Councilman Gambardella inches closer to an official mayoral bid
By Sharon Bass
After playing around with the idea of challenging Democratic Mayor Craig Henrici this November, Republican Ron Gambardella has made a decision. He’s forming an exploratory committee.
“After I heard the budget presentation last week, I went home and thought about the hopelessness of the situation and I decided to form the committee,” the at-large councilman said. “I’ve seen houses for sale all over the place. Senior citizens can’t make ends meet. We had the largest tax increase last year and an increase this year. Where does it end?”
Gambardella, 51, hopes it ends with him sitting on the third floor of Government Center. Escalating taxes, lofty union deals, cronyism, jobs to unqualified friends and no-bid contracts have driven him to explore the possibility of being the next mayor, he said. He plans to file papers with the town for his exploratory group by next week.
His committee so far includes former Councilman Dave Bouvier, Board of Education member Austin Cesare, Planning & Zoning Commissioner Craig Cesare, secretary of the Republican Town Committee Jen Cutrali and vice chair Sarah Morrill.
In January, Henrici established a reelection committee and last Thursday had a $250-a-head fundraiser. He said he would make an official declaration in June about whether he'll seek another term, which would be his second.
RTC Chair Mike Iezzi had earlier told the HDN there were four Republicans interested in the top town seat: Gambardella, Austin Cesare, Councilwoman Betty Wetmore and BOE’s Ed Sullivan. Iezzi said all but Cesare are still potential candidates.
“I’m elated that Ron has taken this next step. Our primary concern is the out-of-control taxes,” Iezzi said. “I think he would be a tremendous asset to the town as mayor. He expresses his views very clearly from the Legislative Council. And I think debates are something we are going to pursue because it’s a very good way to get points across from Ron’s campaign. We’re going to push for as many debates as possible. This is a way the voters can hear the positions of each candidate.”
Cesare said he also looks forward to “some serious debates over the conditions in this town.” And he is “excited” that Gambardella is seriously considering challenging Henrici. Cesare announced last Friday he would not run for mayor.
Taxes Top All
Gambardella, an often lone outspoken critic on the Council of the Henrici Administration, said he is quite unhappy with the mayor’s proposed $173.6 million budget for the next fiscal year, which calls for a 1.5 mil-rate hike and is $10 million higher than the current tab. Last year, taxes rose to an historic high, in most part due to the 2005 revaluation that upped home assessments an average of 89 percent.
“It has to stop somewhere,” Gambardella said. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to stop with the current administration. It has to be replaced.”
He said he’s talked with his wife, Kathleen, about the amount of time he would have to put in as mayor, and she is supportive. “We understand the commitment it’s going to take. We have been talking about it for several months,” said Gambardella, a self-employed tax accountant and financial adviser.
Gambardella grew up in West Haven and moved to Hamden in 1984, when he married. He has a bachelor’s in accounting from Southern Connecticut State University and an MBA in finance from the University of New Haven. He served in the Navy from 1974 to 1975.
He was elected to the Town Council in 2003 and serves on the RTC. Before starting up his own practice, he spent 19 years at SNET (now AT&T) in finance.
Hamden Republicans number about 4,500 compared to Democrats at roughly 14,000 and independents around 15,000. In 2005, Republican mayoral candidate Dick Reilly received just under 20 percent of the vote against Henrici. Nonetheless, Gambardella said he’s inspired by the feedback he gets.
“I get encouraged by the e-mails I get, the telephone calls. When I go to restaurants, people will stop and shake my hand and give me encouragement to do the good work,” he said. “What I hope to do is level the playing field in that the Democrats are not better than Republicans and the Republicans are not better than the Democrats. It’s who’s doing the best for the interests of this town.”
HDN: In order to lower taxes, you’d have to cut spending. What would you cut?
HDN: You’ve voted against all the labor agreements.
HDN: What more than anything would you like to see changed in the Town Charter?
March 19, 2007
The Council fixture eyes a seat
By Sharon Bass
His face may be more familiar than his name. Especially to those who stop in on Town Council meetings. Don Werner, who rarely misses a legislative powwow, now wants to be on the other side of that bench of 15. He plans to ask the Hamden Democratic Town Committee tonight if he can announce his desire to run for an at-large seat and ask for its endorsement at the July convention.
“I’m doing this because I feel the need. I’ve paid attention and I’m going to throw my hat in the ring. If they throw it back at me, I’ll try again,” he said. Werner was elected to the DTC 9th District in 2005, but moved to the 4th last year and had to resign. He’s a member of the new Council subcommittee FIRST, the West Woods Civic Association, Concerned Citizens for Hamden Neighbors and the advisory council for the Mary Wade Home, an elderly residence in Fair Haven
“I think I have perspective that is missing in our elected officials, being a union employee, a soon-to-be senior citizen,” he said. “The focus that I perceived from the Council is there is real concern about bottom-line economics without getting into the fundamental causes that effect the bottom line -- and that is productivity and accountability in management and town workers. I think management is not doing its job in seeing town workers do their job. Management has to be held accountable for the productivity of their staff.”
“Good luck to him,” said 2nd District Councilman and DTC member John Flanagan. “I think he’d made an excellent councilperson. He’s intelligent, he does his homework on issues. He works well with people and in the community,” he said. “What a concept for the Council. A guy who actually does his job right.”
Both Flanagan and Werner said they don’t feel there’d be a conflict of interest with the latter being a town employee running for a seat to rule the town. Werner said he’d recuse himself on votes pertaining to his department and union contract.
In fact, the at-large wannabe said his employment would be an asset for a councilman.
“I think my experience working for the town brings a dimension to my service on the Council and to the town that isn’t there now,” Werner said of his familiarity with town systems and personnel.
“I’d probably vote for him at the [July] convention,” said Flanagan.
Support is also trickling in from the other side of the aisle. Republican Councilwoman Betty Wetmore said she’d very much like to serve with Werner.
“I think he’s a great person. He comes to all the Council meetings. He’s very well informed. I think he’d make a great candidate,” she said. “He does work for the town and he is part of the union but he won’t be the first who worked for the town who was on the Council. I had no problem working with Jack [Kennelly] on the Council.” Retired Police Chief Kennelly left his seat in 2005 in anticipation of being named chief later in the year.
A message left yesterday evening for DTC Chair Joe McDonagh was not returned.
Born in New Haven on July 20, 1947, he grew up in Wallingford and graduated Lyman Hall in 1965. A year later, he enlisted in the Marines. This was during the Vietnam War. Werner did boot camp in Parris Island, S. C., then trained in New Jersey to be a weatherman.
In 1968, the young Werner was sent to the Danang airbase to monitor the weather for flight observations.
“It was a big part of my life,” he said. Even though he wasn’t engaged in active combat, “I was there for 12 months and 29 days and we got hit 30-something times, rocket and mortar attacks. It was such a big base any place they hit caused damage. It was like terrorist attacks. The barracks right next to me got blown up in rocket attacks.”
When Werner returned home, he moved to East Haven and got involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He said he organized a chapter at Southern Connecticut State University, where he was a student. In 1970, he said he took part in a Chicago Seven rally on the New Haven Green, where Werner said he was arrested for disturbing the peace.
He transferred to South Central Community College, now Gateway, and got an associate’s degree. In 1973, he moved to Hamden. In 1992, he opened a used sporting good store, the Mulligan Shop at 3500 Whitney Ave. Last year he closed it. In 1997, he joined Town Hall as a bus driver.
Werner’s only foray into elected politics (save the HDTC) was in 2003 when he primaried 9th District Councilman Bob Westervelt.
“I was killed,” said Werner. “It was like 400-80. I was completely unknown. Bob was a fire marshal. He went around the schools. Everyone knew Bob.” Werner said he ran because former Mayor Carl Amento threatened to cut the elderly bus service, and Werner opposed the new middle school being built on Meadowbrook.
“I wanted to be involved at making things different,” he said. He said he got “more than enough signatures” for the 2003 race but during the campaign he was diagnosed with melanoma. “So I was out of action during the whole campaign,” said Don.
An idea Werner has promoted at Council meetings is to consolidate building and lawn-care services, which are currently carried out by three departments.
“There are duplications of efforts. There are town buildings -- schools, Town Hall, Police and Fire department buildings -- that are maintained by separate groups. There should be one building department. I’ve been pushing this forever,” said Werner.
Same with his so-called greens department that would take care of lawn mowing, tree work, etc. “Public works has lawn mowers. Parks & Rec has lawnmowers and the Board of Ed has lawnmowers,” he said. Instead, have all lawn equipment in one place.
His scheme is to create three new departments -- buildings, greens and roads -- with each having its own superintendent and a few assistants. Current workers would be reassigned. “Nobody loses a job and you don’t need any more people,” Werner said.
He maintained the reorganization would create efficiencies and save money in equipment and fuel because trucks would come from the same department and fewer would be needed to go to the same location. And employee productivity would increase because there would be closer management by the superintendents.
“But it will be a big problem with the unions,” said Werner, since different unions represent the targeted workers.
“None of those unions are going to want to lose members. It’s going to take some kind of a miracle to get that done. But there has to be some way to work with the unions to accomplish that,” he said. “The unions have to be enlightened and the town has to be enlightened in their approach to making changes. We have to give the taxpayers their money worth. The perception taxpayers have of town workers is that they’re just showing up and getting paid. We want to show the town we’re getting things done.”
Longtime Emergency Management volunteer likened it to a slap in the face
By Sharon Bass
It wasn’t the money, said Neil Gorfrain, volunteer deputy director of the town’s Emergency Management Office, located in the basement of Memorial Town Hall. It was the fact that the mayor has proposed to strip his $2,500 yearly stipend from the 2007-08 $173.6 million budget and no one told him about it.
Gorfrain said he wasn’t informed of Henrici’s recommended cut until last Thursday -- the day after the mayor presented his budget to the Council. “[Deputy Fire Chief] Clark [Hurlburt] gave me a call and let me know,” he said.
“It’s not the money that makes the difference. It was the recognition of the people who implemented the stipend,” Gorfrain continued. Two years ago, the town council put $2,500 into the budget for him, after he spent nearly 30 years as a volunteer.
Along with Gorfrain’s small stipend, Craig Henrici is proposing to take all but $1,000 from the EM account. This fiscal year it was budgeted at $15,350. The money goes to equipment, volunteer training and food and temporary lodging for residents displaced due to a fire or other disaster.
Gorfrain said he doesn’t know if he’ll stay on after July 1, when the new budget goes into effect.
“Something I’ve never predicted is something I will do in the future. But it seems the mayor doesn’t need Neil Gorfrain or his position or his department anymore,” Gorfrain said. “The mayor has not spoken to me at all. And he has not asked me if I would stay on. But stay on as what? There’s no department.”
Henrici said it was Fire Chief David Berardesca’s idea to reduce the Emergency Management budget to $1,000 and put it in the fire budget (it is now under a new line item, “civil preparedness”). EM also gets a yearly grant from FEMA (federal emergency management agency). Next year’s is anticipated to be $15,000. The grant has always been in addition to local funding.
“I let Chief Berardesca take care of that budget,” said Henrici. “I took the chief’s recommendation on every line item on that budget. [Gorfrain] was a volunteer for many years and I’m sure his volunteerism will continue.”
“There was a misunderstanding in Finance [Department] that it could run on $1,000. We couldn’t run it on $1,000. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s Emergency Management,” said Berardesca. “I’ll be discussing this with the mayor as soon as possible.”
The chief said he plans to ask the Legislative Council for about $12,000 during budget deliberations next month to restore funding to EM.
Berardesca said he didn’t tell Gorfrain that he was going to lose his stipend. “I wanted Clark to handle that,” he said. “And you can’t tell someone something prior to knowing the mayor’s decision.” Berardesca said he didn’t see the budget until it came out last Wednesday, March 14. However, he said it was his decision to end the $2,500 stipend and has no plans to reinstate it.
“It was my decision, but sometimes you have to wait until it’s written in stone,” the chief said of the mayor officially axing the line item on paper. “My plan is to get the police involved with Emergency Management.”
Berardesca said he hopes to have Hurlburt, the EM director, work with a police officer/deputy EM director and has spoken with Police Chief Tom Wydra about it. But said that doesn’t preclude Gorfrain.
“You can have as many deputy directors as you want,” said Berardesca. “I think [Gorfrain] does a wonderful job, but also we’re facing financial difficulties in town. It’s just $2,500 but it can hopefully be used somewhere else.”
Gorfrain said he typically puts in five to 10 hours a week in the Emergency Operation Center at the bottom of the old town hall. Along with Hurlburt, he helps train the CERT (citizens emergency response team) comprised of 60 volunteers. Gorfrain said he also assists during natural disasters and fires, bringing beverages and food to victims and firefighters.
“Whether it’s day or night, I’m responding to any working fire,” he said. Gorfrain said he spent five to six hours at last month’s fatal fire at Four Rod Road.
And he is credited with outfitting the emergency center.
“I was the thief who took all the trash that was left there” when town workers moved to Government Center, said Gorfrain, who owns Cruise Outlet, a Whitney Avenue travel agency. He said he rescued and refurbished furniture and equipment that were headed for the Dumpster.
The work that has gone into Hamden’s Emergency Management program has apparently not gone unnoticed. The region two coordinator for the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security recently commended Hurlburt and Gorfrain for having one of the best in the state, said Gorfrain.
Berardesca said he has also heard that. “The system will not change,” he said.
March 15, 2007
By Sharon Bass
About 10 residents and a handful of town employees came to hear the mayor give his budget spiel to the Town Council Wednesday. As is his wont, Craig Henrici was to the point and as brief as possible. This was his second budget address as municipal CEO.
The bottom line of the mayor’s proposed 2007-08 tab for the taxpayers of Hamden is a 6.1 percent increase -- from $163,643,438 to $173,633,570 -- which translates into a 1.5 mil rate hike.
However, the mayor and his financial team factored in $55 million in pension obligation bonds, which the Council has yet to vote on. If the bonds are rejected, another $528,000 would be needed, Henrici said. He allocated a total of $25.1 million for the pension fund and debt service. Debt service would decrease if the POBs are not approved. Though the Council, once firmly against borrowing money to feed the retirement account, now seems agreeable.
“To make POBs more palatable to Legislative Council members, we are working closely with our unions to change the retirement benefit for new employees,” he said. “Instead of receiving a town pension, we can begin to transition some of our newly hired employees to the state of Connecticut’s Municipal Employee Retirement System. This assures that over time, Hamden’s unsustainable pension plan will simply go away.”
At first glance it appears he gave the education department nearly $2 million more than it asked for -- $72,733,548 to $74,631,163. But, Henrici said, “I must clarify that this is not an increase.” Instead of the school department receiving reimbursements from various sources, they will instead go into the town’s general fund except for state education dollars, which are budgeted at $26,529,753, up from $23,535,962 this year.
The mayor said $2.2 million in school reimbursements is expected in the next fiscal year. The impetus for the change is to “increase transparency” in school finances, he said.
Many department heads’ salaries went up under the mayor’s proposal. “These positions have not seen raises in a number of years,” he said.
Director of Engineering: $96,520 to $99,115
Henrici also proposed giving another group property tax relief. Veterans and senior citizens already get a discount.
“The third is a new group that I believe deserves designation by the town as a special class. These are the residents living within the Newhall consent order boundary,” he said. “For seven years they have been the subject of a battery of tests, seen their neighborhood unfairly characterized and subject to widespread speculation that has impacted their ability to fully enjoy their properties.” Henrici is asking for a10 percent abatement for homes within the consent order.
He's suggesting cutting a technical librarian position and adding an assistant for the information technology manager. The IT positions are now under the mayor’s office.
“In 2007, the town cannot afford to have a lone IT administrator managing every aspect of the system from network architecture to user support,” said Henrici. “This would be unacceptable in the private sector and it is time we took a page from that book.”
And he’s stripped 13 town cars from the take-home list to save a few bucks. They come from police, fire, engineering, building, Public Works, the Assessor’s and Mayor’s offices.
“Across the board we have made every effort to provide to you a budget that is fair, reasonable and, above all, fiscally responsible,” Henrici concluded.
Asked for comment, Councilman John Flanagan said he needed to first review the budget. But Curt Leng offered some preliminary statements.
“It’s a good budget proposal,” the 6th District Councilman said. “However, I do believe we can reduce the mil rate increase to under a mil. And if we can’t, I can’t vote for the budget.”
Early next month there will be two public hearings on the operating budget, one for the town and the other for the school department. Then the Council will meet with department heads followed by nights of deliberations. The 15 men and women must vote on the final budget by May 15.
March 14, 2007
By Sharon Bass
Police Chief Tom Wydra was just granted a few of his wishes. Last night, the Police Commission hired three new cops. Eight more are needed, but those positions will have to wait.
The chief said he talks to Mayor Craig Henrici “every week” about staffing his department. But with the hiring freeze, which began Jan. 1, his wishes had been put on hold.
“I’m hopeful every week that we get as many filled as possible,” said Wydra. “I’m hoping by July, with the new budget, that we’ll be able to fill the vacancies.”
“We always said hiring is going to be on a case-by-case basis and it’s mid-March and we have a better understanding of our financial situation,” Henrici said of why he gave the green light for the three officers.
Also, Wydra said, the new police contract approved by the Legislative Council last month stipulates an increase of patrol officers from 36 to 40 by April 1.
Commissioners interviewed five certified cops Tuesday and by 10 p.m. chose Bryan Kelly, 35, from the East Haven Police Department; Joe Peterson, 39, also of the EHPD; and Bill Iannone, 36, of the Wallingford PD. They will join the Hamden force as patrol officers on April 2.
The men said they wanted to come to Hamden because it’s a larger department than where they are now and would offer more career opportunities.
Kelly and Peterson are retiring from East Haven because a new contract is about to be sealed -- after being without one for two years -- and the health benefits will be scaled back. Kelly said they wanted to get out before they lost their excellent, nearly free coverage. Neither man will enter Hamden’s medical plan, Kelly said. He has been a cop for eight years, Peterson for 18 years and Iannone for three.
With the new hires, the Hamden PD has 99 cops, said Wydra. It is budgeted for 107. “But our department should be 130 for what we’re expected in delivering service,” he said.
The town’s population is just under 60,000, but Wydra said he didn’t think that included Quinnipiac University’s 7,500 students. Another argument for a bigger force is the increased crime that comes from bordering New Haven, the chief said.
Meanwhile, the Fire Department will have to hold out until at least September to fill some of its 12 vacancies, Henrici said.
March 13, 2007
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On March 12 at 9:46 a.m., Hamden police responded to a two-car head-on collision on Dixwell Avenue, south of Sanford Street, in the vicinity of Citizen's Bank.
The operator of the northbound vehicle, which crossed into the southbound lane, was found inside the vehicle without signs of life. Hamden police and fire personnel rendered medical assistance at the accident site. The operator, Marilyn Mirakian, 76, of 49 Pleasant Drive, Hamden, was transported by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
The operator of the second vehicle, identified as Cheryl McGovern, 36, of Hamden, was transported to the Hospital of Saint Raphael with serious injuries.
The accident is being investigated by officer Michael Romanelli of the Traffic Division.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On March 9 at 6:30 p.m., Hamden police responded to a report of a street robbery that occurred on First Street. A Pianca Pizza deliveryman was assaulted by three subjects, who took $20 from him. No weapons were displayed. The suspects are believed to be in their teens. They were all wearing dark clothing and their faces were concealed. A search of the immediate area produced negative results.
Also on March 9, police responded to a report of an armed robbery at the PM Market at 192 Butler St. Two subjects, described as black males wearing dark-colored jackets, entered the store. One of the subjects, wearing an orange shirt and work boots, displayed a handgun to the clerks. The second subject proceeded to remove a quantity of cash and cigarettes from the counter area. A search and K9 track of the area met with negative results.
In the past month there have been seven reported street robberies in the southern section of Hamden. In at least three, fast-food delivery people were the victims.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On March 12, the Stratford Police Department detained Michael Whitaker for the Hamden police, which was in possession of four outstanding warrants for his arrest.
Whitaker is accused of committing four burglaries in Quinnipiac University dormitory rooms during the first week of February. Several computers and electronic equipment were taken in the burglaries.
Whitaker, 31, of 290 Henry Ave., Stratford, was charged with four counts of burglary in the second degree, four counts of larceny in the third degree, four counts of conspiracy to commit burglary in the second degree and four counts of conspiracy to commit larceny in the third degree. Whitaker was detained on a total bond of $97,500 and is scheduled to appear in Meriden court on March 26.
Hamden police expect to make more arrests concerning these burglaries.
March 12, 2007
By Sharon Bass
Five Council members met with about 40 residents -- nearly all senior citizens -- Sunday afternoon to discuss taxes.
“I’m a Republican and I’m as disgusted as you are,” said at-large Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “I don’t know what the answer is.”
The “tax budget reform,” as it was billed, was held at Thornton Wilder Hall and lasted an unexpected near three hours. Everyone had a gripe but few, as Wetmore admitted, had answers.
The elected fivesome kicked off the meeting, which was organized by husband-and-wife tax activists and real estate agents Mariana and Richard D’Albis.
Wetmore criticized Mayor Craig Henrici for his recent, improper hiring of a longtime acquaintance as the new dog warden, especially during a supposed Town Hall hiring freeze.
“I am against any new positions. The mayor has a hiring freeze when he wants to have it,” she said, noting the hiring of the dog warden and a campaign contributor’s brother-in-law. She also said Henrici’s campaign promise to start a municipal ambulance is basically a pipedream. “Hamden can’t afford it. The staffing, the union negotiations. I think we have to look at things more thoroughly. Cut down on the school budget,” said Wetmore, adding that the mayor has too many assistants and the new help desk position he created is a waste of money.
The other Republican on the 15-person council went next.
“I’ve been pretty much an outspoken critic on the [union] contracts,” said Ron Gambardella, at large. One of his peeves is the contractual 35-hour workweek. “There have been 51 bid waivers since Henrici took office. The Democrats rubberstamp everything. There just doesn’t seem to be awareness of another party in town,” he said. “Being a Republican making a suggestion means nothing.”
First District Councilman Matt Fitch said the town has little control over the budget. “Why are taxes going up?” he said to the group. The educational cost sharing money from the state has decreased over the years, while state and federal school mandates have increased. And Hamden doesn’t have a large enough commercial tax base so much falls onto homeowners’ shoulders.
But, he said, on the town side “the budget is actually going down.” The mayor will present his proposed 2007-08 budget this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall. Still, Fitch said, while he hasn’t yet seen Henrici’s budget he anticipates a tax increase.
The 29-percent-funded pension account has also been a much-discussed dilemma among town officials, as it was yesterday afternoon.
“We’ve gotten into a hole,” said Fitch. Henrici wants to borrow $55 million in the way of pension bonds. Until recently, only Gambardella spoke in favor of the bonds, which are a risk like any other investment. In fact, Gambardella pitched the idea to deaf ears last year. However, the same people, sans Wetmore, who said they were fiercely opposed to “rolling the dice,” seemed to have changed their minds.
“The mayor is not pressuring the Council about the pension obligation bonds,” said Fitch. “We know the pension fund has to be funded. We don’t want to go back to six or seven years ago [when the fund was far from adequately fed]. The pension fund doesn’t work anymore because there are more retirees than employees. It’s not sustainable.” Henrici is trying to get all new hires into the state retirement plan. So far the police and fire unions have agreed. Negotiations are underway with the Town Hall locals, said Fitch. Eventually, maybe 60 or more years from now, the municipal retirement account could become extinct.
“In my opinion, there is no choice,” Gambardella said of the POBs.
Wetmore countered: “I am not for the POBs. Yes, we do have to bite the bullet to fund the pension more.” But it’s taking a 30-year risk with taxpayers’ loot and “I’m just not ready to do that,” she said.
Mike Germano, 8th District, voiced for the bonds. “It forces the Legislative Council to make a tough decision,” he said. Once a town issues POBs, the state requires it to follow the actuary’s recommended contribution every year.
“The BOE budget is a huge problem,” said 4th District Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan. She focused on the price of special ed. It costs $40,000 a year for each child who is placed outside the district. “We all need to lobby and lobby heavily to bring more of the children back to save money,” she said.
As for what many feel are lofty labor agreements, she said, “We’re paying for the sins of our forefathers. [Reform] is not going to happen overnight.”
“It’s important that we have citizen participation in the budget,” Germano said. “It’s not that our hand is tied by the administration. We are bound by unions. Let’s be proactive and take a look at the budget, now, before we’re shell shocked” when the new tax rate is set.
On My Mind
Don Colvin from the audience spoke first. “I see a policeman at every construction site. Is that a law? Who’s paying for it?” he asked.
Fitch said that is actually a moneymaker for the town because the cops are paid by private construction firms, of which 15 percent goes into the municipal coffers.
“Why do you need a policeman on the job?” Colvin pursued. “Why don’t firms hire flaggers? It’s a big waste of time.” He said his home taxes have jumped $1,100 in the last two years.
“How much do employees pay for health?” he asked. He was told town workers pay 8 percent to 12 percent of their health insurance.
“What can you cut this year? And I want to know how much more our taxes are going up. This is absolutely ridiculous,” Colvin said.
Fitch said if both neighborhood library branches were shuttered, new library materials axed, all arts functions and the fireworks put to sleep and the $50,000-a-year help desk position cut it would amount to a 10th of a mil saving. One mil in Hamden is about $4 million.
Kelly McCarthy, a member of the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation and a 2005 council candidate from the Green Party, came down hard on big businesses getting tax breaks to locate to Hamden.
“It’s a travesty that Home Depot got a tax break,” she said.
“That was a contaminated lot,” said Gambardella. “I believe it was an excellent strategy. I’m a capitalist. I believe we should commercialize everything.” For example, getting free cop cars from corporations that emblazon their logos on the vehicles and leave some room for the words “Hamden Police Department.”
Some seniors complained about having to pay to educate the town’s children, likely echoing their predecessors who had to pay for the seniors’ children when they were in school.
“It seems like there are a lot of minority children who probably are the ones who receive state aid,” said Angie Lupoli. “Does the state make up for that?”
On Behalf of the Have-nots
“There are people not here who couldn’t afford the gas to get here. You have to get creative,” said Mark Sanders, a HART member. He crafted a plan last year to phase in the new property taxes, which had dramatically risen after 2005’s revaluation. He maintained it would have benefited middle- and lower-income homeowners. But there was apparently no political will for a phase-in from either the majority of the Council or the administration.
Like the phase-in, Sanders is now doing research on POBs. “We’re enduring the tyranny of the actuaries, and you guys are buying into it,” he told the fivesome, or rather foursome. Wetmore is opposed.
Sanders said the pension account has about $90 million. Some $15 million is paid out yearly. The return on the investments made from the retirement money is about $7 million annually, he said. And employees put in another $1 million. “So you start off with $8 million. We don’t have to put in $12 or $14 million” on top of the $8 million, as the actuary recommends.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” Wetmore said again. “We are trying hard to keep the town afloat so we don’t follow the examples of other towns that sunk.”
“I’m being provocative intentionally,” said Sanders. “I want people to think outside of the box.”
From Capt. Ron Smith:
The Hamden Street Interdiction Team received information regarding narcotic sales being conducted at 125 Kaye Vue Drive. A subsequent investigation led to several undercover buys from said address. A search-and-seizure warrant was then executed at the Kaye Vue Drive home, where officers seized 156.3 grams of high-grade marijuana, pills, drug paraphernalia, several edged weapons and $2,468. The street value of the marijuana is estimated at $1,600.
The following Hamden individuals were arrested:
Jordan Elian, 21, of 125 Kaye Vue Drive was charged with possession of more than 4 ounces of marijuana, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell, operating a drug factory, conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia. Elian was released on a written promise to appear and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on March 16.
Justin Shulman, 21, of 125 Kaye Vue Drive was charged with possession of marijuana and conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell. Shulman was detained on a $10,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on March 16.
Michael Sciarrotto, 21, of 125 Kaye Vue Drive was charged with possession of marijuana, conspiracy to possess marijuana and conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell. Sciarrotto was detained on a $10,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on March 16.
Eric Altena, 20, of 150 Twin Brook Road was charged with conspiracy to possess marijuana and conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell. Altena was detained on a $10,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on March 16.As part of the investigation, the Street Interdiction Team received additional information concerning a marijuana delivery that was going to transpire at 125 Kaye Vue Drive. Surveillance was subsequently conducted. Officers recovered approximately a half-pound of high-grade marijuana with a street value of $3,500. They also seized $428 and a 1999 Mitsubishi. A Terryville man was arrested.
March 9, 2007
By Sharon Bass
When a private heliport for the top of Hamden Center One parking lot was approved last year, one point of contention was how many flights would be allowed per day. Five? Or five roundtrips?
Apparently, it was a moot point. Not one flight has taken off or landed and the heliport is not even constructed. The special permit given by the Planning & Zoning Commission was for 12 months. Since it would be the town’s first helipad and neighbors soundly objected to it, the commission wanted to review the operation, which it is scheduled to do next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall.
“If it hasn’t been used, what does he [Michael Belfonti, owner of Center One at 2319 Whitney Ave.] need it for?” said Mark Guarino, one of the most outspoken critics of the pad. “I think it adds value to his property but decreases value to my property.” He and his brother run a sound business, Guymark Studios, next door and fear that noisy helicopters landing so close will hurt his business.
P&Z Chair Joe McDonagh said his “inclination” is to give Belfonti another 12-month permit instead of a permanent one, but it will be up to the commission to decide.
“If there is no heliport it would be impossible to gauge the impact,” said McDonagh. “I’d like to have one year of operations to gauge it. If we were to approve it on Tuesday, my inclination is to approve it for one year.”
When the project was OK'd last year, the town talked about using the pad for emergencies. Former Police Chief Jack Kennelly and former Fire Chief Jim Leddy publicly endorsed the idea. But Guarino said he thinks emergency vehicles are too big to make it to the top of the parking lot, and said it was an excuse given to help get the heliport passed.
“The thing of it is apparently anyone who has money enough to spend will be able to go through this process,” he said. “Basically the zoning was changed for one person’s personal needs at the expense of everybody around him. That doesn’t make any sense.”
In September 2005, the zoning board OK’d a zoning regulation to allow helicopters. It was written by Belfonti’s lawyer Carl Porto, who practices out of Center One.
A message left yesterday for Porto was not returned.
Asked why the port hasn’t been used, McDonagh said, “Maybe they didn’t need to use it yet.”
“How important is it for the town to have a heliport for all the things they said they’d need it for, national emergencies and such,” said Guarino. “That’s a bunch of crap because they wouldn’t land it on top of this parking lot because there’s not an egress for any emergency vehicle to get up there. The whole thing last year was a farce. How important was it for [Belfonti] to have it if he didn’t use it?”
"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor to deliver to you my second State of the Town address and I thank the Hamden Chamber of Commerce and its members for affording me this opportunity.
Since I took office in November of 2005, I have done my best to tackle problems head-on, to put in place a team capable of inspiring the very best work from Town employees, and to ensure that above all, Hamden's government is responsive to the needs of its residents and business leaders. I am proud to say that these principles have resulted in a leaner yet more efficient local government.
Make no mistake about it: Hamden's fiscal position is improving. Our commitment to tackling problems responsibly, including a fair and gimmick-free implementation of a painful property revaluation, earned the Town a Positive Outlook from rating agency Standard and Poor's after only seven months in office. The recently-completed audit of the 2005-2006 Fiscal Year, in which nearly all findings from previous audits of the Town's practices had been corrected, verifies the Town's commitment to the bedrock principles of good government and sound finance.
In their review, Standard and Poor's did express two lingering concerns: first, the status of many Town labor contracts, which had been expired for up to three years, and second, the chronic underfunding of the Town pension fund. I am happy to report that Standard and Poor's will have no concerns about the labor contracts this year, as the Town has negotiated in good faith to sign seven of seven expired contracts. Even more remarkable is that only one of these contracts was decided in arbitration instead of at the bargaining table. As it is with residents, my administration has been up-front and honest with Town's labor unions. The long-expired contracts were having a negative effect on morale and productivity, which can be particularly harmful in a government doing more with less. Fair negotiation and fair treatment of workers saves money in the long run. It fosters an environment where we can truly focus on what matters most: providing world-class service to the citizens of Hamden.
The other concern expressed by both our auditors and Standard and Poor's is the status of our Pension fund. For years, the Town shortchanged the fund as a way to artificially lower Town expenditures. I spoke at length about this issue last year and the threat it poses to the Town. This year, I'm pleased to report real progress on the path to resolving this underfunding issue.
In reality, the problem has three components, each of which must be addressed. The first is ensuring that the Town appropriately fund its annual pension contribution. The second is to address the spiraling costs of employees who, due to increased life spans, may collect a Town pension for thirty or forty years. And the third is to ensure that there is enough money in the fund to generate significant gains in capital.
To address the first issue, the Legislative Council approved increasing the amount of the Town's contribution in the current year's budget. We are still below the levels recommended by our actuary, but we are coming closer to meeting that threshold.
Second, we have worked with some of our unions to change the retirement benefit for new employees. Instead of receiving a Town pension, we can begin to transition some of our new employees to the State of Connecticut's Municipal Employee Retirement System. This assures that, over time, Hamden's unsustainable pension positionwill simply go away. The level of mutual trust engendered during the contract negotiation period is directly responsible for this key development, and stands as another example of the benefits of a straightforward approach.
The third and final component of resolving the pension funding problem is the issuance of Pension Obligation Bonds, otherwise known as POBs. We are preparing a bonding package for the Legislative Council that would offer an immediate infusion of $55 million into the fund. This is a step that demands much consideration and analysis, and one of the critical steps was a good faith response by the labor unions that they would accept a wholesale change in the way the Town offers benefits to new employees.
Another benefit of the POB package is that, by law, municipalities that issue POBs must fully fund their actuary's recommendation for pension fund contributions. POBs do not only solve the problem today, but guarantee that the Town will meet its pension obligations for the next thirty years.
It is my sincere hope that, by addressing Wall Street's two concerns in these practical, realistic, and tangible ways, the Town will receive an upgrade in its bond rating in the upcoming year.
We are hard at work now finalizing a budget for presentation to the Legislative Council. Increases in that budget are generally line items over which we have little control: the increased cost of electricity that is affecting all budgets; the increasing cost of health care; a previously-determined increase in debt service based on our bonding schedule; the insurance of new property like the new Hamden Middle School; and new salaries settled in the recent round of contract negotiations. On the other side of the ledger, the Town has seen a growth of 1.14% in the Grand List, promises of increased state funding, and has the potential to achieve up to $2.1 million in savings based upon current vacancies. Clearly, achieving greater organizational efficiencies—or doing more with less—will continue to be the order of the day in the next fiscal year. The old ways of doing business no longer apply. From hiring, to the size of our automobile fleet, to rejecting Purchase Orders for non-essential items, the Town is no longer doing things today simply because we did them yesterday.
In order to successfully do more with less, we must continue to prioritize Town needs based on a combination of experience, expert advice, and citizen requests. For years, both the auditors and citizens have expressed that moving Board of Education offices into Government Center would offer the opportunity for greater transparency and better lines of communications between the Town and its biggest department. With the support of the elected members of the Board of Education and the administration at Central Office, my office has spearheaded this move. We have hired a planning consultant to transform vacant space in Government Center into the new Board of Education office. While a project of this scope cannot happen overnight, I am pleased with the progress we have made that will allow the Board of Education to move seamlessly into the building that is our home. The Board of Education will maintain its independence, but we will all benefit greatly from sharing critical resources.
Like the move of the Board of Education, my administration's focus on issues relating to Quinnipiac University also stems from citizen concerns that had reached a critical mass. I give credit to those citizens as well as to the administration at Quinnipiac for their willingness to participate in an open and public dialogue that lead to realistic solutions. From the simple roadway changes that protect our neighborhoods, to university assistance in pursuing student housing issues, we have seen a dramatic improvement in Town-Gown relations. We must all recognize that Quinnipiac University is a tremendous asset to the Town, just as the university must accept its role as a good neighbor to residents and businesses alike. While we may not always agree, I am deeply encouraged by Quinnipiac's availability and responsiveness to Town-Gown issues over the past year.
Quinnipiac University became such a hot topic in town because its development was impacting the quality of life for local residents. One of the great things about this Town is that so many citizens are lifetime residents and can remember a time when there was less development. While we cannot and we should not go backward, we should recognize that there are strategic pieces to Hamden's past that we must preserve. The purchase of Johnson's Pond as Open Space, my administration's early opposition to the proposed gravel pit in Northern Hamden, and preservation projects beginning at Memorial Town Hall, the Rectory Barn, and the historic Lockkeeper's House are examples of efforts to maintain links to Hamden as it was. My administration has issued requests to our delegation in Washington to assist us in procuring funds for a wholesale renovation of Memorial Town Hall as well as a fund to speed up the purchase of open space.
But even old Hamden had its problems, and I am pleased to report this afternoon that we are very close to finalizing a global settlement to a thorny issue that has plagued both Hamden and North Haven for more than 20 years: the State Street tire pond. Where legal action failed, a negotiated settlement is about to bring an end to this longstanding and acrimonious dispute. As part of this global settlement, the parcel will change ownership, a closure plan for the tire pond will be filed with the State, and the parcel's new owners will remove, at no cost, the stockpile of soil near the new Hamden Middle School for use as fill at the tire pond. Again, straightforward talk and honest dialogue are the hallmarks of good government and the backbone of realistic solutions.
The same holds true for the remediation project in the Newhall neighborhood. My administration inherited a history of rancor and mistrust between the Town and neighborhood residents. Our response was not to cloak ourselves within the legal language of state law, but rather to discuss the issue frankly and openly with both residents and the State of Connecticut. We are looking forward to a final remediation decision from the Department of Environmental Protection this year, as well as a citizen-directed redevelopment plan for the entire neighborhood. Again, we have asked our representatives in Washington for federal funds to implement the redevelopment plan endorsed by Newhall residents.
As the tire pond and Newhall remediation effort play out toward their conclusion, much like other longstanding projects including the construction of the new Hamden Middle School, the completion of Phase I of the Whitneyville Streetscape, and improvements to Borgnine Park, we are also at the beginning stages of several new, exciting projects. The Town's purchase of D'adio Farm offers us the opportunity to construct a new fire facility to replace the outdated fire station on Circular Avenue as well as serve as “home base” to the ambulance service we are proposing to the State of Connecticut. The purchase also allows the Town to generate additional revenue through an expansion of our industrial park. The business community has expressed concerns about the relative lack of industrial and manufacturing lots in Town, and we have responded.
The Town Center Park Committee has selected an architect and can look forward to a farmer's market and other exciting features. The Legislative Council has given my office the authority to proceed in soliciting a vendor to provide wireless internet access first in the Town Center, then across Hamden. Like well-maintained roads and recreational opportunities, municipal wifi will be a signal to the business community that Hamden is a town ready to meet their infrastructure needs.
Another less tangible piece of infrastructure involves the very machinery of government. As you may know, I consolidated the coordination citizen questions and complaints within my office's Help Desk. As Mayor, I am ultimately responsible for making sure the Town works for the people who make it strong. Through constant monitoring of Help Desk logs, I am better able to gauge what is working, what is not working, and the priorities of Hamden residents. Policy decisions like spending more money on road and sidewalk repairs, and targeted action like resolving a flooding problem on Franklin Road, all had their genesis in complaints issued to the Help Desk. The Help Desk also works proactively by issuing items like the Citizen's Guide to the Budget and the Town's Annual Report to give residents the tools they need to be more active and engaged consumers of government services.
Since taking office, I have spoken frequently about Hamden's need to turn the corner. We have so many assets, including a strong business and commercial base, active citizen groups, dedicated Town employees and a world-class university, that really only organization and the will to change stand between this Town and the Hamden we know that it can be.
I based my administration on three principles: financial responsibility, straightforward dialogue, and stakeholder input. Both Standard and Poor's and the Town's auditors have confirmed the rebirth of financial responsibility in Hamden. Straightforward dialogue has resulted in significant progress in issues as diverse as Quinnipiac expansion, labor contract negotiation, and an end to a generation of battles over the tire pond. The value of the Help Desk in parsing the needs, desires, and wishes of Town stakeholders versus the limited funds available, is immeasurable.
I am proud to report that this three-fold approach to good government has worked. The state of the Town is strong. Hamden has, my friends, turned the corner. Thank you."
March 8, 2007
By Sharon Bass
The guys who want to build a 90-room hotel on narrow, wooded West Woods Road were back last night, possibly for the last time. Possibly.It was the last time the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission would hear their defense of building a hotel and conference center at No. 55. If the commission, which wound up voting not to vote on the hotel until April, says no, the project dies. But there’s another door for the guys to get in through: They've appealed in court the town's decision to turn down their first hotel plan and litigation is pending. The court could rule in their favor. The original proposal is for a slightly larger project than the second.
After many commission meetings on plan No. 1 and then on plan 2, Wednesday’s hearing was sparsely attended. Maybe a half-dozen residents showed up, down from the dozens who had bothered last year.
Ditto, said Marilyn D’Ambrose of Post Falls Lane, about a mile from 55 West Woods.
“We’re opposed to the hotel because we think it’s going to be an environmental hazard, so close to the Mill River,” said D’Ambrose’s husband, Fred D’Ambrose.
And that’s what the meeting was about. It was Westwoods Properties LLC’s, the developer, turn to respond to last month’s criticisms from the public and queries from the commission about how the large project won’t hurt the water and the plant life and the amphibians. Trees would be clearcutted and rocks blasted on half of the 5.8-acre parcel.
“We still believe the design we have is appropriate,” said John Milone of Milone & MacBroom in Cheshire, a consultant on the job.
As far as flooding, he said the hotel would actually reduce water runoff, which eventually finds itself in the Mill River and down the pike in Lake Whitney. “If anything we believe this would have a positive impact,” Milone said.
To concerns about amphibians being unable to cross the developed site because their legs are too short to make it over parking lot curbs, he said no worry. No amphibians have been observed on the property, Milone said. “I don’t think lowering the curb is necessary.”
Just one retaining wall would be 19 feet high and the others “dramatically lower,” he said. Folks have complained about the unsightliness of that kind of wall.
Some 45,000 cubic yards of rock would be blasted and removed over a four-month period. Milone said 30 trucks would go in and out of the site 22 days a month, the only egress being off West Woods Road. The rock-filled trucks would head either north or south on Whitney Avenue depending on where the depository is.
“The site operation of this is probably going to mirror the quarrying operation,” IWW Chair Steve Sosensky said of Sunwood Development’s proposed gravel mining operation for northern Whitney Avenue. After witnessing heavily packed public hearings in opposition of the mining, Sunwood withdrew its application last fall.
“So can you give us a comfortable feeling about what’s going to happen out there?” Sosensky asked the guys.
Milone said before rocks are removed natural resources would be protected. Retaining walls would be built first, to act as a physical barrier “for anything leaving the site,” he said. “It becomes an impervious barrier.” Then the trees in the upland portion of the site would be chopped down. Storm-water catch basins would go in place. “There should be no runoff from the site,” promised Milone.
“Once those things are in place, we believe we have maximum protection,” he said. “Earth-moving activities would occur in this controlled environment.”
“Will there be any crushing of rocks?” said Sosensky.
“No,” said Milone.
“What’s your willingness to come back to the commission if you need to do blasting?” Sosensky asked.
“We anticipate blasting,” said Milone. Just no rock crushing.
The primary rock found on the site is red rock, a “fairly porous rock that has no impact on the wetlands,” he said.
“What’s going to capture the runoff so it won’t go onto West Woods Road?” said Commissioner Lorraine DeNicola.
The consultant told her no runoff is expected during construction. If stuff drips off trucks, he said, “we would have an aggressive sweeping program” for West Woods Road.
DeNicola asked how well the storm-water management system would work in the winter when everything freezes.
“Ice won’t affect the system,” said Milone, “because of the nature of the design.” Though the site is steep, the hotel property would be flat paved. He said he doesn’t foresee the need for extensive sanding and salting.
In answer to whether blasting would hurt the water quality, Milone said, “This type of red rock in Hamden I don’t believe has acid.”
“I’m not a geologist but I am familiar with red rock dust. And infiltration into the water course does concern me,” said Commissioner Kirk Shadle, “since it is such a fragile water flow. Has it truly been studied?”
The developer’s soil scientist, Ed Pawlak of Connecticut Ecosystems, took the stand. “I do believe with all the controls in place -- sediment basins, retaining walls -- that will be protective of that resource,” he said.
Commissioner Nancy Rosenbaum wanted to know why environmental studies were done in the summer, when water flow is low so there are higher concentrations of sediment and some animal species aren’t around.
“Don’t you do things in April and May when you have higher water flow?” she said.
“It’s been my contention from the beginning that the Mill River is an important resource,” said Pawlak. As far as why he took many of the samplings in the summer, he said, “I have responded to the requests that have come to me from my client.”
Pawlak said the state Department of Environmental Protection actually recommends doing environmental testing in the fall, when groundwater levels are rising but not as high as in the summer or as low as in the spring, to achieve a more accurate assessment.
He said he’s seen no amphibians on the site but conceded, “I recognize the seasonal limitation.”
“I think we’re done here,” said Sosensky.
Assistant Town Attorney Tim Lee asked the developer’s attorney Dana Friedman what would happen to the first application that’s in litigation, if the IWW approves this second one. Friedman said he would withdraw his appeal.
Lee told the commission it has 35 days to take a vote.“We thank the commission for its time,” said Friedman.
March 7, 2007
Rev. Sanderson’s request for another term on Ethics Board is stalled; and the latest on Flanagan’s ethics amendment
By Sharon Bass
It’s unclear whether the Town Council’s hesitation to give Rev. Owen Sanderson another five-year term on the Ethics Board is a big deal, a medium deal or a tiny one. Ten of the 12 local reps at the meeting Monday night voted to table the item.
After former town recycling coordinator Steve Marsh spoke to them.
Marsh said in 2001 or 2002, he went head to head with Sanderson over trash. The garbage at Christ Lutheran Church at 600 Shepard Ave. -- where the reverend presides -- is picked up by the town. According to Hamden’s contracts with Trash Master, only residential waste is to be picked up. So Marsh said he sent a letter to Sanderson telling him he could no longer have the town service, and the reverend complained to Mayor Carl Amento.
“As I understand it, the mayor called me and told me to back off,” said Marsh.
Outside Council Chambers, Marsh said, “Now, the mayor was not aware I sent him [Sanderson] the letter. Next thing I knew the mayor called me into his office and said, ‘What are you doing? Owen is on a commission. Back off. If you’re going to go after one church, you should go after them all.’”
Amento, reached at his office yesterday, said he remembers the situation between Marsh and Sanderson, who does volunteer counseling for the police and fire departments..
“Somebody looked into it and I’m not sure why it was pursued,” Amento said. “Steve used to drive around town and troubleshoot piles of bulky trash that were left out or anything he spotted that was irregular and worth reporting. And he had a confrontation with Rev. Sanderson, either about the trash pickup or recycling. My first concern was that this be handled in a civil matter. So we looked into it, Public Works and the town attorney. It consumed some hours of people looking into this. The bottom line was there had always been a pickup there. Rev. Sanderson did not ask for any special preference. He complained about the manner in which he was addressed. I didn’t want to take sides but I reiterated to Steve the importance of being courteous to citizens. Steve can be abrasive. Rev. Sanderson is a man of great integrity.”
Sanderson said the town’s been hauling away the church trash since 1965. He lives on Sherman Avenue behind Christ Lutheran.
“I put it [church garbage] out on the curb every Wednesday and they pick it up every Thursday,” he said. “I’ve served under every mayor since John DeNicola Jr.” Lillian Clayman was the first to appoint him to the Ethics Board, the reverend said.
Sanderson said he doesn’t remember getting a letter from Marsh. “I don’t remember anything. All I know, they’ve been very good picking it up every week. This is the first time I’ve heard of it. There’s been no problem,” he said. “I don’t know what the big issue is.”
Councilman Mike Germano made the motion Monday to table Sanderson’s reappointment.
“Mr. Sanderson is one of my constituents and when a claim like that [Marsh’s] is made I’d want to research it and vote with a clear conscience on this,” he said. “Especially as we’re making the ethics ordinance stricter.”
Germano said he plans to talk with Sanderson and town officials.
Council members John Flanagan and Betty Wetmore were the two who voted against tabling the item. “It’s hearsay,” Flanagan said of Marsh’s statements. “The kind of accusation that was made was totally spurious. I was on the Council then, when this allegedly occurred. This guy [Sanderson] has been the only consistent member of the Ethics Board and has done an excellent job, and because someone thinks their toes were stepped on and presents no proof … I was shocked when Mr. Germano jumped in and wanted to table this.”
Another thing troubling some is Sanderson’s statements to the HDN about a firefighter whom he counseled after a traumatic incident. The reverend had been criticized for revealing personal information about someone in his confidence.
From the April 18, 2006, story:
About four or five years ago late at night inside Fire Station #2 on Circular Avenue, Hamden firefighter Henry Puciato was abducted from his bed as he slept. He was put in the back of a pickup and driven away. He was then dumped on the street and left -- in his underwear only -- to walk back to the station. On his way, a cop saw Puciato and gave him a lift.
"He was traumatized. It would traumatize anybody. It would traumatize me," said Rev. Owen Sanderson, the Hamden police and fire chaplain and leader of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on Shepard Avenue. He said the above description is exactly what happened that night. He was called in to counsel Puciato.
"I never saw anything like this at the [police or fire departments]. You're bound to have some fun when you get a group of five or six people living together but I think this started out as a prank and got out of hand," said Sanderson.
Flanagan said his peers who are concerned about the above incident should speak out about it. No one would.
“It would have been nice if [someone on the Council] had said something about it,” Flanagan said. “They didn’t have the nerve to say what they wanted to say and I don’t like Council people without guts. Now they’ve proceeded to embarrass Owen with no corroboration.” He said has known Sanderson for 30 years.
Councilman Matt Fitch had voted against the item in committee Feb. 26, and voted for tabling it Monday.
“Because when people have allegations raised against them, it just seems fair they have the opportunity to answer them,” he said. “I didn’t make a comment one way or another in committee. I voted against him to keep it off the consent calendar and the gentleman who wanted to speak on it [at the March 5 meeting] ended not speaking on it. Steve Marsh did.”
Sanderson’s reappointment is slated for the April 2 Council agenda.
Mayor Craig Henrici said he has no qualms about reappointing Sanderson to the Ethics Board.
At the same time, Flanagan is proposing two changes to the local Code of Ethics.
One is to strike 30.15, “Board May Prevent Disclosure of Person Involved”: The Board may make public its findings and opinions with those deletions as it may deem necessary or desirable to prevent disclosure of the identity of the official or employee involved.
“We had too many situations in the last administration where things just disappeared when they went to the ethics committee,” the councilman said. “The ethics committee was notorious for not publishing findings. What this [his amendment] will eliminate is if there’s ethics complaints against an elected or appointed official they have to comply with Freedom of Information. I have no problems if there’s an ethics complaint against an employee, if they don’t publish that. But if there’s a finding against or for an official it should be published.”
Flanagan’s other tweak is to take away the board’s ability to investigate complaints “on its own initiative” (30.13).
“That could be used for witch hunts,” he said. He thinks the ethics committee should be confined to the complaints it receives.
He and Fitch got into a little spat right before Monday’s meeting. Flanagan thought the Administration Committee, of which he chairs, was scheduled for a special meeting about his ethics amendment. But Fitch put it on the agenda instead.
“He had no business putting it on the agenda. It was assigned to my committee and it’s still in committee,” said Flanagan. “Under our rules, once something is assigned to our committee, that’s where it is.” The Council pulled the amendment item and Flanagan said it will be on his committee agenda March 26.
There was another matter the Administration Committee would have taken up Monday evening had it met -- a report about the questionable school spending.
“Someone didn’t want the two items to be discussed in committee, as far as I’m concerned,” said Flanagan, who’s been reading school purchasing documents. He said he didn’t find out until last weekend, when going through the Council package, that his committee wasn’t scheduled to meet. Since notice has to be posted at least 48 hours prior to the meeting (and can’t be done over the weekend), there wasn’t enough time.Flanagan said he is now reviewing the school’s audits from 2001 and on, and has found “same or similar problems with record-keeping and oversight” as was cited by the auditors.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On March 3 at approximately 1:30 a.m., Hamden officer Robert O'Neil observed a motor vehicle weaving toward the center lane on Mount Carmel Avenue. A motor vehicle stop was subsequently conducted in front of Quinnipiac University. Upon speaking with the operator of the vehicle, police smelled marijuana coming from inside.
Investigation led to a subsequent search of the vehicle. Police located nine Baggies of marijuana, a jar containing marijuana and an electronic scale. The total weight of the marijuana was 10.7 grams with an estimated street value of $250.Passenger Michael Bevilacqua, 19, of 73 Renshaw Road, Hamden, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell within 1,500 feet of a school. Bevilacqua was detained at police headquarters on a $2,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court in Meriden on March 16.
March 6, 2007
By Sharon Bass
Even though he didn’t post the job opening for the animal control officer he just hired -- as Town Charter mandates -- Mayor Craig Henrici said it’s a done deal. He will not unhire Chris Smith in order to post the position.
“The result will come out the same whether I post it or not,” Henrici said from his office yesterday, “because [Smith] is already an employee of the town.”
Smith was quietly hired Feb. 26 to replace Jean Murray, who retired last month after about three decades on the job. Because the mayor didn’t post the job, because there’s a hiring freeze and because Smith is a longtime acquaintance of his, Henrici has been criticized for the move. Smith had been unemployed since last October.
Asked why he didn’t post the position, Henrici said, “I didn’t think it had to be posted.”
Reminded that the same thing happened last spring, when he announced acting Fire Marshal Brian Badamo as his choice for chief but failed to post the opening -- and then posted it and accepted résumés -- Henrici said the situations are not comparable. (The charter mandates that all mayoral appointments -- fire chief, animal control officer, etc. -- be posted.)
“I think it’s two completely different set of circumstances,” he said. “One needed Council approval [fire chief] and the other didn’t. And you’re talking about a fire chief and a dogcatcher.”
With a hiring freeze in place, Henrici was asked why he brought on a new, inexperienced dog warden when the town is short roughly two-dozen cops and firefighters. He said the freeze has some wiggle room.
“The hiring freeze came out of this office and we always said we’d take any request from any department head on a case-by-case basis,” he said. However, Police Chief Tom Wydra (Smith’s department head) had said he didn’t expect the animal control position to be filled until July.
And why wasn’t assistant animal officer Gina Cahill, with five years under her belt, given the job? “Because it’s my decision,” Henrici said.
(A truncated version.)
Municipal Animal Control Officer
This is a sworn position responsible for the enforcement of statutes and ordinances pertaining to animals. This position also has the responsibility for making decisions within detailed written or oral instructions dealing with the enforcement of animal control statutes.
Essential Job Functions:
Responds to animal related complaints and investigates cases of stray, lost, stolen, injured, mistreated or vicious animals.
Takes appropriate action to enforce State and local animal control laws. Captures, impounds stray and uncontrolled animals, examines injured and mistreated animals and obtains proper veterinary care. Issues warnings and summonses.
Considerable knowledge of animal care and handling, especially dogs.
Good working knowledge of State and local animal control laws.
Minimum Training and Experience:A High School Diploma or the equivalent plus one year of experience working with animals, or an equivalent combination on a year-for-year basis.
But mum's the word
By Sharon Bass
The hottest item on the Legislative Council’s agenda last night was also the most hushed-hushed. After roughly 30 grueling years of uphill legal battles, the end of the Joseph Farricielli era seems to be near. Gateway Terminal in New Haven is reportedly poised to buy the infamous environmental abuser’s property at 2895 State St., which is part illegal industrial park (State Five), part tire pond and part illegal landfill.
The Council was asked to approve a settlement agreement on the property. It did so unanimously after a rather lengthy executive session.
But details about the proposed agreement could not be unveiled to the public because “there’s pending litigation,” said Town Attorney Sue Gruen. Though details were spared, sighs of relief that the contaminated property might become legit were not.
“For 27 years, this man has tormented the town of Hamden,” Former Mayor John Carusone told the Council. “For the first time this town is going to have peace. The people in my district are going to have peace.” Carusone lives in the same district as the Farricielli property, and has helped in the fight to rid the town of the Branford man, who owes millions in environmental fines to the town and state.
“I urge you to approve this,” said Joe McDonagh, chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, who has also had to deal with Farricielli’s shenanigans for years.
“We are at a point now where the long nightmare has a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Councilman Curt Leng, whose 6th District includes the Farricielli land.
“I’d love the public to know the details,” said Councilman Ron Gambardella, “but at the same time, I don’t want to jeopardize the deal.”A number of people were credited for the success, particularly Economic Development Director Dale Kroop, Town Planner Leslie Creane and New Haven attorney Beth Gilson.
March 5, 2007
By Sharon Bass
In 2005, when Councilman Jack Kennelly was to become Police Chief Jack Kennelly he relinquished his seat and Mike Colaiacovo, the Hamden Democratic Town Committee pick, was approved by the Council to replace Kennelly.On March 13, the Board of Education will practice the same exercise. The eight members will choose between Adam Sendroff, the HDTC pick, and longtime educator Rose Mentone to replace Jennifer McGrady-Heath. (The replacement must be from the same party as the departed.) In Hamden’s history, nearly all Council and BOE fill-ins have been the party-endorsed, as with Colaiacovo.
But not quite all. The HDN took a brief trip down memory lane -- via documented council meeting minutes -- to December 1998, when Republican Councilwoman Cindy DeMatteis moved to Guilford during her term. The Republican Town Committee nominated Michael Boardman to take her 4th District seat. However, the sitting Democrats and two Republicans had another idea -- Beth Wolak. That council had eight Dems and seven Repubs.
According to voter registration records, Wolak enrolled as a Republican in 1979. In 1995, she switched to the Democratic Party. The next January she became an unaffiliated and two months later re-enrolled as a Republican. Her last switch was on May 2, 2000, when she again joined the Democrats.
So in 1998, Wolak was a registered Republican and eligible for DeMatteis’ seat. Barbara DeNicola was mayor. And Democrat Pat Corso was council president.
A special legislative council meeting was called on Dec. 28, 1998, to vote on DeMatteis’ successor. Here’s what happened:
Eric Kuselias nominated Boardman, the party chosen. Floyd Atchley nominated Wolak, the party hopper.
“I am proud to support the nomination of Michael Boardman,” Kuselias was recorded as saying. “We have heard from the Hamden Town Committee. We have heard from the Hamden Town Chairmen, present and past. We have also had a preference expressed by the person who used to sit here, Cindy DeMatteis, who is in the back. All of these groups have unanimously endorsed Mr. Boardman.”
“Mr. President, when I decided on Mrs. Wolak, it was for that reason,” said Atchley. “I was elected by the people to sit here and represent their best interests, not Floyd Atchley’s … I studied all of the resumes and the people involved … Based on Mrs. Wolak’s experience and her involvement in the Fourth District now, it is my belief she would be the best candidate, but I have to say something … There were four members of the Republican party [sic] that called an emergency meeting for the purpose of this last week and I want you to know Mr. President, that I construed the attempt of four of my Republican colleagues to force an emergency vote and the criticism of the President and the Clerk of this Council [Evelyn Parise] as a rather flagrant and immature attempt to degrade and fragment the other ten members of this Council as well as to circumvent the normal process of open government and the Town Charter. I am ashamed that four members of my party would stoop to such degenerate levels of indiscretion.”
And the Democrats agreed.
Roll Call Vote For Wolak:
Carl Amento, Dem – yes
March 2 , 2007
Also, Chief Wydra talks about the impact of being short-staffed
By Sharon Bass
Chris Smith takes his brand-new position as animal control officer under harsh criticism -- of the process, not him. Still, it can’t be easy.
The 48-year-old lifelong Hamden man said he had been unemployed since last October and when he heard animal officer Jean Murray had retired (on Feb. 16), he asked Mayor Craig Henrici for the job. He said the two have known each other for years.
Henrici hired Smith, who began Monday, even though there’s a hiring freeze, and nearly two-dozen cops and firefighters are needed in town. The animal opening was never posted, as required by Town Charter (the same thing occurred last spring when Henrici recommended Brian Badamo for fire chief), so assistant animal officer Gina Cahill never got a chance to apply.
The mayor said he had to fill the opening per state statute. At the same time, Hamden has not had an official fire marshal since last year. Brian Badamo is acting marshal, and just reached 10 years on the force -- a must for the post. Cahill has been on the dog beat for five years, three part time, and said she wanted the job and could have run the office solo, without an assistant. She said she is very disappointed and hurt she was passed over.
And there’s Smith. Sort of smack in the middle of a custody battle.
At his last job, he did insurance restoration for a construction company. Before that, he worked in the family business, FK Smith Company, a manufacturer’s rep on Whitney Avenue. His brother still runs the biz.
No qualifications are needed to be a Hamden animal control officer. According to the state Department of Agriculture, each town adopts its own. But Hamden never did. Neither Murray nor Cahill had any experience before taking their jobs. And neither does Smith. But he said he wanted the position to do something for the town.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Hamden. I love Hamden and wanted to give back,” he said yesterday from Police Chief Tom Wydra’s office. Wydra and Capt. Ron Smith sat in on the interview. “I thought it was an ideal opportunity to work for the town. And I approached the mayor and he thought my enthusiasm was such that I would be a good fit for the job.”
Chris Smith said he had a “vague” idea of what the job entails, and Cahill is showing him the ropes.
“Just going around catching animals doesn’t sound very glamorous,” he said, adding there’s much more to the job. “I have good people skills.” He said he doesn’t have a pet “but I have the neighbors’ cats who adore me.”
On the day he was hired, the police checked his criminal and motor vehicle records. “We’re satisfied with the results,” said Wydra.
Smith will earn $41,000 a year, same as Murray, said Wydra (which was incorrectly reported yesterday). Smith was on the 1976 Hamden High ice hockey team, the year they were the national champs. He has a bachelor’s in communications and journalism from New England College in Henniker, N. H., and later attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Stratford, where he studied radio broadcasting. But he never used his education professionally.
Wydra said he recommended to Henrici that Murray’s post be filled, but thought that wouldn’t happen until the hiring freeze was lifted. He said that’s what he told Cahill, so she didn’t apply. Meanwhile, the chief said he’s scrambling to fill some of the 11 openings in his department and cops are working a lot of overtime and feeling it.
“The answer that overtime is cheaper is only fiscal,” said Wydra. “[The officers] are more irritable. They’re overtired. We have a need for bicycle and walking beats.” None of the department’s 10 bikes are being used due to the staff shortage and also the winter weather, he said.
“I talk to the mayor literally every week about the vacancies,” he said. “I feel that some of the entry-level positions need to be filled and I’ve conveyed that to the mayor.”
Of the vacancies, 10 are entry level and one a detective. The chief said he thinks the mayor will allow him to hire “some” new cops within a month. There are seven certified officers on the Civil Service list ready to be plucked off, he said. And he doesn’t predict any retirements this year.
Back to Smith.
“The No. 1 thing you look for [in an animal officer] is if the person has a passion for animals,” said Wydra.
This job, Smith said, is different from his previous ones, which were just about making money. “The satisfaction of helping injured animals and wildlife,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle. As I said, I’ve been a lifelong resident of Hamden.”
On Wednesday, the new dog warden got his first on-the-job peek at the rough side of the job. He said Cahill had brought a very badly injured cat to the Police Department and he accompanied her to the North Haven Animal Shelter, where the cat was put to sleep. Smith didn’t want to describe the injured cat’s condition.
“I’ve had seagulls hitting my windshield,” he said, explaining that he’s been exposed to injured beings and can tolerate it. “You don’t like it, but …”
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On Feb. 26 at approximately noontime, Hamden police responded to Pine Rock Park on the report of a physical confrontation. Officers spoke with a 14-year-old resident who said he was snowboarding down a hill at the park and accidentally struck a small child with his snowboard. The child's father, Danny Brown, who witnessed the incident, proceeded to push the 14-year-old off his son. As the 14-year-old attempted to gain his balance, Brown allegedly punched him in the jaw.
Brown and his son were in the process of leaving the park, when the 14-year-old allegedly hit him with the snowboard. The small child was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital. It is uncertain at this time what injuries he suffered.
Danny Brown, 43, of 141 Fallon Drive, Hamden, was charged with breach of peace. He was released at the scene on a written promise to appear. He is scheduled to appear in court on March 13.The 14-year-old was charged with breach of peace. He is scheduled to appear in New Haven Juvenile Court on March 13.
March 1 , 2007
By Sharon Bass
Hamden has a new animal control officer. Chris Smith came onboard Monday to replace Jean Murray, who after 27 years, suddenly retired Feb. 16. Mayor Craig Henrici hired Smith, an old friend, even though the mayor instituted a hiring freeze Jan. 1. The job opening was not posted, in violation of the Town Charter (click here for the provision). And the assistant animal officer, Gina Cahill, said she was told the position couldn’t be filled till July so she didn’t apply.Smith reportedly has no experience in the field and Cahill said she is training him.
“I was disappointed that I wasn’t given the opportunity to be interviewed. It was a shock to me that the position was filled,” said Cahill. “[Police Chief] Tommy [Wydra] told me that the mayor told him they were not going to fill the position until July to save money. I was told [by Wydra] to hang tight. Do a good job and they would see me in July.
“A couple of weeks ago, the chief had asked me if I was interested in the position when Jean retired, and I said, ‘Absolutely. I wouldn’t have stayed here this long if I wasn’t.’ Wydra asked me to write a letter of interest,” Cahill said.
Henrici said Smith was the only applicant and will do a great job.
“He was the only one who expressed interest,” said Henrici. “He’s a great guy. He’s a super guy. And he’ll be a super animal control officer.” Asked what Smith’s qualifications are or if he has a background in animal control, Henrici said he didn’t know, except to say, “Is he a professional dogcatcher, no?”
The town is short 11 cops and 12 firefighters, but the mayor said he had to hire Smith.
“Because we need a full-time animal control officer. We get calls all the time to come get dogs. You need somebody full time who gets along with people and with animals,” said Henrici.
The mayor said he met Smith after graduating from Middlebury College, and they played hockey together in Hamden High alumni games. “We have to have an animal control officer pursuant to statute. It’s something we had to do,” he said. The position is a mayoral appointment and doesn’t require Council approval.
Besides hiring someone without posting the job and during a hiring freeze -- with both public safety chiefs saying they need to fill some of their vacancies because of the strain on their forces -- Smith’s appointment was apparently a surprise to many. Including his immediate supervisor, Capt. Ron Smith, who said he only learned of it Monday, Smith’s first day on the job.
“I really don’t have any information. When he was hired here on Monday, the chief [Wydra] just told me to introduce him to the assistant animal officer,” said Smith. A message left for Wydra late yesterday afternoon was not returned.
Murray said she was also surprised, and upset that Cahill, who’s been on the Hamden animal beat for five years, was not given the job or even notified that it would be filled during the hiring freeze.
“I was shocked that Gina didn’t get my position because she’s been working with me full time for a couple of years. I just couldn’t believe it. I was literally shocked. Literally shocked,” said Murray, who officially retired Feb. 16.
“Gina’s a hard worker. She puts her heart and soul into it,” Murray continued. “I understand this man [Smith] has no experience in animal control whatsoever. Who knows? He may not like the job once he has to pick up a dead cat with its guts hanging out and put it in a bag to be disposed properly. You’ve gotta go into a house and get bats that are flying around. It’s more than just picking up a stray dog. It’s a lot more than that. If people followed us around they wouldn’t believe what we do.”
Cahill said Wydra had asked her if she could handle the job alone believing it would remain open due to the hiring freeze.
“He wanted to know if I was going to be OK. I told him I’d be fine. I have supporters in other local animal control divisions. I feel very comfortable being on my own. I wasn’t that worried about it,” she said.
In fact, Murray said she did the job solo for 25 years and then Cahill was brought on part time. Three years later, Cahill was made a full-time employee. Her job is not unionized.
Cahill said she makes around $30,000 a year. Murray said she made $43,000.
“Was I expected to run up to the mayor’s office the day I found out [Murray] was relieved of her duties unexpectedly?” Cahill said. “I honestly felt very proud of the fact that they had confidence in me that I could work alone until July. I also looked at it as an opportunity to put my best foot forward and show Hamden that I could do as very near to a good job as Jean did.”
Murray said she retired after learning she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. “It was sudden. I wasn’t feeling well,” she said.
Messages left for Personnel Director Ken Kelley were not returned. On Tuesday, he told the HDN that no one’s been hired since the Jan. 1 freeze.
“Public notice shall be given for all openings in Town positions, including Mayoral appointments, prior to the filling of such positions.”
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