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May 29, 2008

Red All Over

Town on hook to bail out schools; Betz finds $200,000 to bail out town; mayor's Ethics appointee gets committee nod

By Sharon Bass

The School Department’s $821,079 deficit was on the agenda at Tuesday’s committee meeting. But after hallway discussions outside Council Chambers between school and town officials, the item to approve funding and amending the budget was tabled. (Click here for background story.)

As the private talks were going on, Board of Ed Finance Chair Ed Sullivan told the HDN he had erred when said the state would pick up 100 percent of the deficit tab, as was reported. Turns out, Hartford is only contributing about $300,000, he said. The rest is expected to come from the town.

Sullivan and others say the deficit is due to unforeseen special ed costs. The 2007-08 school budget is $74.1 million.

Inside word is the Council is holding the money over the School Department’s head to get central office to move into Government Center. Mayor Craig Henrici has been trying for well over a year to make the move happen. But there’s been resistance on the school side because some don’t think there will be enough office and parking space for all of central office.

After discovering improper financial documents in the school department last year, the town auditors recommended the move to increase communication and oversight between the town and school. The Board’s Operations Committee has discussed the move several times but has not yet made a decision, which would go to the full Board.

Old money puts town in the black

Finance Director Mike Betz announced he expects a surplus this year -- once he throws some old dough into the operating budget.

“We’re short on the operating side but” there is some “unconventional revenue” of about $200,000 in the form of old, un-cashed checks just lying around, he said. The "unconventional" money will more than make up for the deficit, he said. Betz didn’t say how short the town is or whom the checks are from or why they were never deposited.

Asked by the Council how old the checks are, Betz said some are over five years old.

“Did the auditors know” about the checks? said Councilman Jim Pascarella.

“They found out and said they should be cashed,” said Betz.

“Why would the checks not be cashed?” said Councilman Gabe Lupo.

“There’s a story behind every one of them,” said Betz.

Lupo asked what the Town Charter says about holding onto checks for years. “I don’t know,” said Betz.

“Is there a 90-day limit on town checks?” said Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan.

“I don’t know,” said Betz.

The Council seemed equally concerned about an old, outstanding invoice from the Yale Child Study Center for $36,270. It was on Tuesday’s agenda to transfer $3,600 from the Finance Department and $32,670 from the legislative Emergency & Contingency account to pay the bill.

“It was sitting in a drawer,” said Betz when asked why it wasn’t paid. He didn’t say how many years of service are included in the invoice.

When asked if he’s sure the town still owes Yale the money, Betz said yes. “Yale has been invoicing the town every six months,” he said.

New Ethics guy

Henrici’s appointment of George Waldren to the Ethics Board was approved in committee Tuesday -- with some hesitation.

Councilman Craig Cesare questioned the timing of the appointment. Henrici has asked Ethics for an advisory opinion on whether taking $5,874 last fiscal year for business travel by skimming from three accounts constitutes a charter violation. The Town Charter (Section 18) mandates town council approval to transfer funds. The mayor never sought such approval.

Assistant Town Attorney Mike Kamp said since it’s an opinion and not a formal action, such as a complaint, it would be OK to elect someone new to the board. There has been one vacancy on the four-man panel since last year.

“But the process has already begun,” said Cesare of the advisory opinion

“Can the Ethics Board function with four members?” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo.

For an advisory opinion, yes, said Kamp.

“How about for a complaint?” asked Colaiacovo.

Yes, said Kamp.

“Like Mr. Cesare said it’s not the person, it’s the timing of the mayor’s appointment,” said Colaiacovo.

The full Council will vote on Waldren’s appointment June 2.

Cemetery Panel Begins Digging

Flanagan next to a “sad little bouquet of flowers” seemingly lost. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

One recent sunny afternoon, this reporter took a stroll around Hamden Plains Cemetery with former Councilman John Flanagan. He is now one of four members on a new cemetery committee the mayor recently handpicked to temporarily help the troubled burial grounds.

Flanagan remarked that some of his political enemies are buried there. But politics -- dead or alive -- has no business on the committee, he said.

“We want to know that everybody is in the right spot. What spot that is. Where it is so people can know where their relatives are buried,” he said. “Such as the sad little bouquet of flowers in the back where there’s no stone. So I assume somebody’s assuming that’s where their relative was buried, as they may have remembered it after the funeral.”

There was no headstone marking the spot.

Plagued with missing and vandalized headstones -- some folks can’t find where their loved ones are buried -- and general poor upkeep of the grounds, the town was called to help out.

“There was an elderly fellow who was taking care of the cemetery grounds and we don’t know for sure but we think he was having some memory problems,” Flanagan said in response to how the cemetery fell into such disrepair and confusion.

On May 27, the cemetery committee met for the first time. It plans to meet next week with the Hamden Plains Cemetery Board to try to “rectify the whole situation over there,” said Flanagan.

Three of the four committee members live in the 2nd District, where the cemetery is located -- Democrat Flanagan, Republican Councilman and police Lt. Gabe Lupo and former Republican Mayor Barbara DeNicola. Democrat Rev. E.J. Moss lives elsewhere in town.

After the stroll, Flanagan said the cemetery already looks better. Perhaps because of all the publicity.

“Some of the trash has been picked up. Not all of it. Some of the shrubs were trimmed. Not many. But it was better than when I walked through there two months ago. So it’s improved but needs a lot more work,” he said.

The town has only taken over the perpetual-care end of the biz -- upkeep of the plots and shrubs, keeping the grounds free of debris, making sure the roads are in good condition and control of funds, Flanagan said.

“We also need to know which plots are contracted for perpetual care. We have to get our hands on the maps. As far as I know, the maps are in the hands of the person who’s maintaining the place. We’re taking temporary control to get the place back up to snuff then we’ll be glad to turn it over back to the board,” he said.

‘This is very confusing. It’s an intensive legal situation. We have taken control of the funding and we’re going to try to and set up a program for the perpetual-care plots.” Flanagan said there’s about $700,000 total in the various cemetery accounts.

He said the neighborhood is not too upset about the problems.

“They want to know the cemetery is being maintained. They don’t want too many kids hanging around there after dark. They don’t want vandalism. But it’s not a big community issue because the neighborhood’s just not that way,” Flanagan said. “We’re friendly people. If somebody needs help, we give him a hand. But other than that, we stay out of our neighbors’ business.”
May 28, 2008

Riccitelli Closes in On Fatter Pension;
Kroop Saves the Revenue Day

Patti Riccitelli.                     Dale Kroop. File photos

By Sharon Bass

The year-plus battle between Finance Director Mike Betz and a majority of council members over a raise for his subordinate all but ended last night. The Finance Committee said yes to both Patti Riccitelli’s raise and job upgrade. Or new job. (Betz said he didn’t know if it’s new or an upgrade. The Town Charter mandates that new jobs be posted.)

“When the Civil Service creates a new job, shouldn’t it be posted?” Councilwoman Carol Noble said to Betz.

“I’m not aware of that,” he said.

If approved by the full Council on June 2, Riccitelli’s salary will go from $63,774 to $67,062. She’ll no longer be called “data control supervisor”; instead it will be “operations manager.” Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson said Riccitelli’s salary will bump to $70,000 on July 1, 2009. Although when questioned, Jackson said it will actually be higher than that because of the annual built-in pay hikes in her union contract.

The committee also approved an amendment to the 2008-09 budget to reflect the higher salary.

Betz had said at a previous meeting that paying Riccitelli more money would be good for the town and finishes the "restructuring" of his department, which actually consisted of one change -- eliminating an accountant position.

Other than that, he has offered no explanation for the raise/job title change. Several inside sources, however, said Riccitelli plans to retire early next year and the higher her salary, the higher her retirement checks.

Councilwoman Betty Wetmore was the only one on the Finance Committee to object last night. Voting yay were Curt Leng, Jim Pascarella, Noble, Jim Leddy and Matt Fitch. John DeRosa abstained.

“I’m voting against this not because of the person but the position,” Wetmore said, just as she said in 2007. “A lot of people deserve raises. And this one comes up every year.”

Councilman Jack Kennelly has been an energetic cheerleader for Riccitelli. At the April 30 budget deliberation meeting when Riccitelli’s new deal was discussed, he argued that since 60 days have passed since the council tabled the item last spring, she automatically had the job. But that didn’t wash; the 60-day rule only applies to commission and board appointments.

His continued insistence that Riccitelli be given the raise led to a fiery argument between Noble, who has voiced much opposition to it, and Kennelly at that meeting.

“I think this was the best package that came before us,” said Finance Chair Leng, who said he has been on the fence about the Riccitelli enhancement package.

In exchange for another $3,288 a year, Riccitelli gave up the $70 a week she’s been getting in a “standby” stipend. The stipend does not count toward her retirement as the raise does.

“That was one of my issues,” said Noble. “That the next person [in Riccitelli’s position] would have started at $70,000 plus a stipend.”

Good news for Hamden

Three iffy revenues were stuffed into the 2007-08 town budget. Two will not come close to being realized by the end of this fiscal year, June 30. But the third came in on time and nearly on budget. Just a few hairs short.

Economic Development Director Dale Kroop was the man to thank last night -- and thanked he got -- for selling three lots on the Dadio Farm. He just needs Council approval for the contracts to tie the knots with the buyers.

Kroop was budgeted to bring in $1.2 million for the land; he got $1,062,000. That translates to at least $165,200 in new property taxes a year for Hamden, he said, calling that a “conservative estimate.”

“There have been a lot of naysayers about this project,” said Leng at last night’s legislative Planning & Development Committee meeting. “I was one of the naysayers that said we wouldn’t get the money in time by the end of this year. Thank you.”

The lots abut the Hamden Business Park and enlarge it by 80,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet, said Kroop. International Group Inc., which already has property in the business park, is contracting for one of the three. International imports/exports food products such as pork rinds. The other lots are going to Specialty Wire & Cord Sets, which is now renting in town, and Career Training Specialists for administrative space.

In April, the Dadio subdivision got Planning & Zoning approval. That was needed, Kroop explained last night, before the parcels could be sold.

Councilman Jack Kennelly asked why the sale price is lower than the assessed value. Kroop explained that some land can’t be developed (for instance, wetlands) “which diminished the value to bring us to where we are now.”

Also, Kroop said the sales will lead to more jobs. International plans to hire 50 to 100 people “for quality jobs” when it expands, he said.

The committee tabled Kroop’s item to allow for a public hearing at the June 2 Legislative Council meeting.

May 23, 2008

Party Animals Convene

Democratic incumbent Sharkey versus Republican Corcoran for the 88th House District.

Democratic incumbent Villano versus Republican David Aron for the 91st House District.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Local Donkeys and Elephants nominated their state reps, registrars of voters and JPs last night under the same roof. Asses held their convention in Thornton Wilder Hall. Pachyderms just down the hall in the Miller Senior Activity Room.

No candidate was contested and all votes were unanimous on both sides of the aisle.

Democratic state Reps. Peter Villano (91st House District) and Brendan Sharkey (88th House D) were given the blessing to go for a ninth term and fifth term, respectively. Both seats are Hamden-only.

Republicans ushered in newcomers to fight for those Democratic strongholds. Attorney Matt Corcoran plans to take on Sharkey, and traffic analyst David Aron will face Villano.

“We oftentimes hear complaints about Hamden not getting its fair share of the state revenue pie from Democrats and Republicans alike,” said Austin Cesare, who was at the Republican Town Committee convention Thursday. “Matt and Dave represent the type of change we need in Hartford. I believe both of them will fight for Hamden to get our fair share.”

Squeezing more school dollars out of Hartford will be at the center of the State House campaigns.

Rose Mentone, Democratic Town Committee recording secretary, nominated Sharkey.

“I don’t know why Brendan asked me to endorse him tonight,” said Mentone. “We have little in common. But what we do have in common is a love for the Yankees and good government.”

She commended the state rep for his advocacy of Smart Growth planning and school funding reform.

“I really feel blessed to be part of the Democratic family in Hamden,” said Sharkey accepting the nomination. “Property taxes and education aid. These are issues we’ve got to address. It’s not just about money. It’s the way we do taxes in this state."

He said Connecticut’s new campaign finance laws, which he championed, enable more candidates to run for office because of the inclusion of public financing. “It’s not a coincidence that for the first time I have a Republican candidate,” Sharkey said.

“The only funding for towns is property taxes,” said Villano. “The state keeps taxes to itself. It’s time we change that. We’re going to increase the cost-sharing [dollars]. We’ve got a big job ahead of us.”

“Rose is one of the best Democrats”

Rose Mentone.

Repubs nominated their longtime Registrar of Voters Tony Esposito.

Dems had to go with someone new. Current Registrar Peggy Rae is retiring at the end of the year. Rose Mentone got all thumbs up to replace Rae, who’s held the post for 10 years.

Mentone is DTC recording secretary. She is also the only woman to have chaired the town committee.

Former Councilman (and former Registrar of Voters) John Flanagan nominated the retired educator.

“She will end up at the end of the first year with scar tissue at the end of her tongue from having to bite it so much,” Flanagan said of the difficulty in staying politically neutral as registrar. “People are afraid of smart women. Rose is one of the best Democrats I’ve known. Hamden will be a better town with Rose as registrar.”

“If I can do as well as Curly, John and Peggy, I’ll be all right,” said Mentone. She was referring to the last three Hamden registrars (all Democrats): Dominic “Curly” Formichella, Flanagan and Rae.

And then there was Baltimore

Ricky Baltimore at Thursday's convention.

The Democrats needed a new committee treasurer. Harry Gagliardi was given the post in March, but because of health problems had to resign, said DTC Chair Joe McDonagh.

Quinnipiac law student Ricky Baltimore was made the new money man. Baltimore sits on the Economic Development Commission.

Nominees will be on the Nov. 4 ballot along with the presidential candidates. Don’t forget to vote.

May 22, 2008

Towne House Drug Bust

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On May 21 at approximately 6:30 a.m., members of the Street Interdiction Team executed a search and seizure warrant at 54 Towne House Road. Investigation revealed that the distribution of heroin was occurring there. A search of the residence led to the discovery of 220 bags of heroin packaged for sale, marijuana, suboxone tablets, drug paraphernalia and $2,472 in cash. The street value of the heroin is estimated at $2,200.

Fernando Suarez, 48, of 54 Towne House Road, Hamden, was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics, possession of narcotics with the intent to sell, possession of narcotics within 1,500 feet of a school, possession of narcotics with the intent to sell within 1,500 feet of a school, sale of narcotics, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Michelle Spivey, 25, of 29 Lakeview Ave., Hamden, was arrested and char

ged with the above charges except sale of narcotics. She was, however, charged with failure to keep narcotics in the original container. Spivey and Suarez are scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on June 4.

May 21, 2008

Taking on Villano

Political newcomer David Aron. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

David Aron doesn’t let the stats get in his way. Such as he’s one of about 4,000 registered Republicans in Hamden versus about 14,000 Democrats. Such as he just moved to town from New Haven about six months ago and is thus not very well known. Such as he’s just 24 and has never run for local or any office, before.

No, Aron, a home-schooled Jewish boy from West Hartford, said he intends to steal the 91st House District seat from eight-term Democratic state Rep. Peter Villano this November, regardless. Villano could not be reached for comment but is expected to run again this year.

“This is a campaign about ideas and what is the best representation for Hamden,” said Aron, a traffic analyst for Wilbur Smith Associates in downtown New Haven. “It’s not about Republican or Democrat. It’s about who has the best ideas.” He was elected to the Hamden Republican Town Committee in January.

Aron’s ideas

Reforming public-education funding is at the top of the hopeful’s to-do-in-Hartford list. He talked about finding alternative funding sources and creating more state charter schools, which are less costly to run than their mainstream counterparts.

The spiciest piece of Aron’s education funding reform plan is allowing high-achieving students to graduate a year early.

“That could save the town millions. What I would propose is giving them [early grads] a $5,000 scholarship to attend a Connecticut college,” he said. The town and state would split the bill.

The millions in savings for Hamden (and the other 168) are realized, he said, by graduating the top 15 percent of the class after their junior year. It costs roughly $11,000 a year to teach a Hamden student.

Like a good Republican, Aron said he’d also campaign on lowering taxes.

“One thing I’m going to do is go through the state budget and look at programs that can be funded with user fees,” said the candidate, who filed his registration papers with the State Election Enforcement Commission yesterday. “Or if [programs are] not working we can eliminate or merge them. It’s one thing to say lower taxes. We need to look at what we can cut.”

About Aron

He described an intellectually stimulating childhood with “opinionated” Republican parents always on the pulse of things.

“My family was always talking about what was going on,” said Aron. “We’re very opinionated. I’d almost say we’re Republican Libertarians. We believe in individual freedom and that government should be small. I have mixed feelings about Bush.”

His parents pulled him out of public school after seventh grade and brought him home to learn, straight through 12th grade. Aron said public school wasn't academically challenging and his parents couldn’t afford private school.

“There was a lot of time wasted in the class on discipline,” he said.

Actually, Aron said he taught himself. His parents gave him books and he read. When he reached high-school age, he said he took classes at the University of Hartford and Trinity College. During this time, he got his first real taste of politics as a legislative aide to former Republican state Rep. Bob Farr of West Hartford.

Aron went to Boston University where he scored a degree in political science. Fresh out of college, he was hired as a traffic analyst in Cape Cod. On Sundays, he moonlighted as a Hebrew school teacher at Cape Cod Synagogue.

About a year and a half ago, Aron moved to the Elm City and then into the Madison Manor on Hamden’s Dixwell Avenue. He’s single. He’s young. And he’s hungry.

“This election is going to be won on the ground, door to door and hand to hand,” he said. “I have a lot of energy. I have a lot of drive. I’m committed to this.”

Both the Republicans and Democrats hold their nominating conventions this Thursday for state Assembly seats and local registrar of voters. It’s likely the Republicans will re-nominate their registrar, Tony Esposito. The Democrats seem poised to choose Rose Mentone to replace departing Democratic Registrar Peggy Rae.

Republican newcomer David Aron explains how he'll try to unseat Democratic state Rep. Peter Villano this November. -- Sharon Bass

May 20, 2008

DeRosa Says No to Konover

Councilman DeRosa. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Councilman John DeRosa called the Hamden Daily News this morning saying he has gotten "numerous" calls about a story that ran today about the selection of Konover as construction manger for the new police facility. DeRosa is one of six people the mayor picked to sit on a special selection committee.

"People are concerned about Konover," he said of the callers. “But I had nothing to do with the selection process. The only thing I had to do with it is [Purchasing Agent Rich] Cumpstone called me for my choices and I told him Fusco, O&G Industries and Gilbane,” said DeRosa.

He made it clear he would not have selected Konover "because of all the trouble with the North Haven High School and the new middle school."

DeRosa said he was unable to make the two meetings of Mayor Henrici's handpicked selection committee. "I told them I couldn't make day meetings and both [meetings] were scheduled during the day," the councilman said.

Familiar Face Brought in for New Police Digs

The new middle school during its skeletal stage, 2006. File photo

By Sharon Bass

A select group of six town and elected officials recently chose a well-known construction manager for the new police facility. In fact, the chosen one -- Konover Construction Corporation -- is quite well known in Hamden. It’s still working on the last project it was hired to do around here. The new middle school.

A spokeswoman at Farmington based-Konover said the company has not yet gotten word that it was awarded the job so she had no comment. The Konover selection was announced at last week’s Town Building Committee meeting.

Five contenders, including Konover, were called in for a meeting last week to make presentations to Mayor Craig Henrici’s handpicked selection panel. Interviews began at 9 a.m. and went all day, said Jack Kennelly, a councilman who sits on the TBC and the panel.

Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, Councilman John DeRosa, a local contractor, Purchasing Agent Rich Cumpstone and Police Chief Tom Wydra are also on the mayor’s panel, said Kennelly.

Councilman Craig Cesare, a member of the TBC but not of the selection panel, questioned the construction manager choice.

“I’ve heard of all the unfinished work at the middle school and the ongoing issues. I’m just curious how we came to this selection,” said Cesare. “I have not spoken to anybody about it. I didn’t know why the Town Building Committee didn’t vote on the construction manager.”

Kennelly didn’t want to comment on why he favored Konover. Asked why the mayor’s group made the decision instead of the Town Building Committee, Kennelly said he didn’t know. The Legislative Council doesn’t have to approve Konover either, but will have to OK its contract with the town.

A message left for Jackson was not returned.

On May 4, the Council approved borrowing $1.02 million to hire a construction manager and get two professional project estimates, as well as finish the design work on the new headquarters. It’s unclear whether Konover will also get the construction gig.

According to school Facilities Director Mark Albanese, Konover has not yet finished the new middle school and the playing fields are problematic, as they are at the new North Haven High School, also Konover built. Albanese could not be reached for further comment.

But former Councilman John Flanagan could.

Before he left office last November, he said he gave Council President Al Gorman and Jackson pictures and a summary of the exterior problems of the Dixwell Avenue school building. “As I recall, Al Gorman said they’d be getting a response to me but I haven’t gotten any responses. It’s in limbo somewhere,” said Flanagan.

He cited problems with the masonry, some windows, site drainage, etc.

In his package of information, Flanagan estimated it would cost $2.5 million to make the repairs. He said he’s nationally certified as a rehabilitation construction specialist.

“Since Konover is not done yet, people on the Council who are telling me the end costs are not right,” he said. The price tag is now reported at $54 million. Flanagan said the school “was sold to the council” in 2003 for $43 million.

The police station plan has drawn a flurry of opposition from some residents and tax groups. They claim the project will well exceed the administration’s guestimate of $25 million (up $5 million from the original quote). That attaching the new building to Memorial Town Hall and using some of the historic building’s interior space for police offices will forever ruin the 1924 erection. As well as a host of other objections. (Click here to see petition against the plan.) The site was selected by the administration.

May 17, 2008

HMS Student Arrested for Carrying Knife; Man Robbed at Goodrich & Butler

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On May 15 at approximately 8:30 p.m., Hamden police responded to an assault that occurred in the area of Burke Street. As a result of this investigation, police, in collaboration with Hamden Public Schools, obtained information that a 14-year-old, eighth-grade Hamden Middle School student was going to bring a weapon to school on May 16.

On May 16 at approximately 8 a.m., middle school Resource Officer Nicholas D'Angelo located the student as he arrived at school on a bus. Investigation led to a search of the student. Officer D'Angelo located a knife with a cutting surface of 3.5 inches in the student's book bag.

The student, a Hamden resident, was subsequently arrested. He was charged with threatening and breach of peace and released to the custody of his parents. He is scheduled to appear in Juvenile Court in New Haven.

Also on May 15, at approximately 1:30 p.m. police responded to the report of a street robbery in the area of Goodrich and Butler streets. The victim advised officers that he was followed on foot by two individuals as he left the area of Dunkin' Donuts.

The victim said one of the individuals -- described as a black male in his 20s, 5 feet, 9 inches, thin build, dreadlocks, wearing black clothing -- pointed a firearm at him and stole $200 and a cell phone. The second individual is described as a black male in his 20s, 5 foot, 10 inches, thin build, short hair, wearing blue jeans.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Donald Remillard at 230.4052.

May 14, 2008

Little Leaders

(From left): Tracey Rumley, Deandre Handley, Robert Brock, Tehran Tripp and Antwan Luckey. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Five young Hamden boys told a medley of town and school officials and parents what the community needs and doesn’t need. And all the while touched every person's heart.

Their neighborhoods don’t need drugs and violence, the boys said yesterday inside Council Chambers. And the town needs to provide more activities for kids, especially those from families that can’t pay for summer camp or after-school programs.

Children and grownups sat in a circle of folding chairs for about two hours talking about the issues of the day. The boys are enrolled with Youth Services and were recently appointed to a new all-kid advisory panel. Since Jan. 29, they’ve spent every Tuesday evening with mentor-types to discuss the problems on the streets where they live. The Youth Development Training and Resource Center in New Haven is behind the initiative. The boys are considered “youth leaders.”

“I couldn’t be happier today because young people don’t normally talk to adults about issues facing the town,” said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson.

Hamden’s Youth Leaders Group has about a dozen members who are 9 to 14 years old. Almost all are boys. The five who came to talk yesterday were Tracey Rumley of Shepherd Glen School; Deandre Handley of St. Martin Depore in New Haven; Robert Brock of Ridge Hill School; Tehran Tripp of Ridge Hill; and Antwan Luckey of Dunbar Hill School.

The boys know each other well. They meet regularly in the old middle school gym to play basketball and to box, under the tutelage of Youth Services program director Tom Harris and assistant director John Alston. Both men said it’s been a joy watching the children discuss community issues seriously and intelligently. In fact, at one point yesterday afternoon Alston teared up. He said the children mean a lot to him.

“They see what’s going on in their communities,” said Sakasha Taylor, who meets with the boys every Tuesday. She’s a facilitator for the youth development center. “They’re very outspoken. Start by listening to them, first.”

And the discussion began.

Taylor asked the boys what they want to see more and less of in their community.

More summer camps. “We have to go to New Haven and other places for activities,” said one boy. (Editor’s note: We apologize for not being able to attribute quotes to the specific child; we didn’t know their names until after the speak-out.)

“Less drugs, less gangs on the street,” said another.

“More community activities. Give kids more help with math. Arrest people who are selling drugs,” said another.

Next question: What would you like to see change?

“Less graffiti on the walls and have a community cleanup.”

“I have to go to New Haven for summer camp.”

Frank Cooper of Parks & Rec asked the child why he goes to the Elm City for camp.

“I like the New Haven basketball camp,” the young boy said.

“Did you know camps are available for you in Hamden, but you opt to go to New Haven?” said Cooper. “All those programs you guys mentioned are available in town.”

“Fees, that’s the problem,” said one of the mothers. “My son goes to camp at Yale for free. He gets breakfast and lunch for free.”

“We can’t afford that,” Cooper said. The town runs fee-based summer camps and offers some financial aid.

“The town is divided and finances keeps it that way,” the mother said. “I donate my time [with children]. I don’t want to see these kids on television in handcuffs. And don’t think kids don’t pick up on what’s going on.”

Hamden mom Janet McCray agreed. “The economic lockout is very real, especially in this economy,” she said. “The town camps cost $200 a week. Who can pay that?”

Community Liaison Officer Ron Glifort said he couldn’t afford that.

“We’ve got some divisions here in Hamden, no doubt about it,” said Debbie Stewart of The Consultation Center of which the youth resource center is a part. “The divisions are getting stronger, not weaker.”

Next question: What else do you want?

“More summer field trips to New York and stuff. Going to the museums.”

“Furniture-making” classes.

“Neighborhood cleanups.”

“More school gyms open to young people.”


(Jackson later said he made himself a note to look into a town golf program.)

“Helping people with cancer and who are having surgery.”

“Donating and reading books to children and playing games with younger kids.”

“Tutor kindergarten.”

“One thing we know is it’s important for [children] not to feel anonymous,” said School Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz. “To keep students out of handcuffs and into college, someone has to listen to them and be advocates and friends and someone to look up to.”

Boys' turn to ask

“What are you doing to decrease drugs and violence?” one of the little leaders asked Jackson.

“The front line is the Police Department,” said the mayor’s chief aide. “You’ve got bad people doing bad things. But you have to look at the other side to see what they don’t have at home” that might be causing kids to act out.

“We need to create a police force that understands the realities,” said Jackson. “It’s a work in progress to gain trust.”

Another kid concern: “Some parents abuse their kids and that makes their kids want to run away.”

“What’s available?” asked Stewart.

Youth Services Director Susan Rabino said suspected child abuse is reported to the state.

A boy said he wants the police “to come around [his neighborhood] more often. You should come to talk to us.”

May 13, 2008

Goodwill Planning

Creane talks to Dunbar Hill. Photos/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Town Planner Leslie Creane dropped by the Dunbar Hill Fire Station Monday evening to talk about stuff from her neck of the woods.

She started with zoning regs and why her audience -- members of the Dunbar Hill Civic Association -- should care about them.

“This sounds really, really boring and it is boring but the truth is if you don’t know how your land is used, it can affect your taxes,” said Creane. The town is nine months into a complete overhaul of its zoning regulations, she said, going from a user-based to a form-based model.

Creane gave an example. “If you’re trying to cross Dixwell Avenue [by the high school] by foot, you’re taking your life in your hands” she said. Form-based zoning would try to level out the playing field between motorist and pedestrian by, perhaps, creating a wide medium with trees in the middle of the street to give walkers a halfway rest area while crossing.

“No one’s paying attention to the center, they’re just going through,” said the town planner.

Another face of form-use zoning is mixed-use occupancy in buildings. For instance, one floor could be retail; the second a lawyer’s office; the third an apartment. “The idea is to develop pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods to bring vibrancy to town,” said Creane.

Much of what she was talking about was presented at the town’s so-called planning charrette last fall. Diane Hoffman, a civic association member, asked Creane if the new police headquarters plan is consistent with the “ideas” of that charrette.

“It’s going basically where the existing police station is now. I’ve been here five years and have never heard anyone complain about where it is now,” said Creane. “No one’s said, ‘Why on earth did they put the police station there?’ It’s the heart of downtown.”

Many of the roughly two dozen at the firehouse last night are critics of the mayor’s plan to attach a new police station to Memorial Town Hall. Creane made many mentions of their common arguments against the plan.

“The traffic won’t be any different than it is now,” she said to objections that police cars will be whizzing in and out of the new headquarters creating traffic woes.

Besides, Creane said she will feel a lot safer leaving Council Chambers after an evening meeting knowing the cops are sharing a common wall with the chambers.

“I know a lot of you come to meetings. I frankly am going to feel more comfortable leaving a late meeting with police in the same building,” she said.

Next Hoffman asked about blight enforcement and if the town is collecting fines.

Creane said notices are sent to violators (residential and commercial).

“We get lots of sob stories,” she said. “And sometimes people will make improvements.” But she said it’s “virtually impossible” to collect blight fines so a lien is put on the property and when it is sold, the town gets paid.

Sometimes the violator is elderly or ill or disabled or institutionalized, said Creane. “Sometimes the best thing is to just knock on your neighbor’s door [if there’s blight on her property]. The friendly approach,” she said.

“Is the litter law enforced?” asked civic association prez Bill Burns. He said people regularly dump on his and his neighbors’ properties.

“There is a litter law,” said Creane, “but good luck getting it enforced. It’s nearly impossible. That’s the price of living with people. You can’t regulate all human behavior.”

“But if police see people throwing stuff out of the car, do they stop them?” asked Hoffman.

“You’ll have to ask the police,” said Creane and then pointed to Councilman and retired Police Chief Jack Kennelly, who was at the meeting.

“It’s your night, Leslie,” Kennelly said with a smirk.

“It’s like driving through a red light,” said Creane. If you don’t get caught, you get away with it.

May 11, 2008

Another Down on Inland

By Sharon Bass

On May 8, Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commissioner Lorraine DeNicola went on a site walk for a Quinnipiac University project. That night, she decided to resign from the commission.

“It’s become too political. Steve was so good at what he did,” Republican DeNicola said of former Democratic IWW Chair Steve Sosensky, recently denied reappointment by the mayor. To demonstrate their vehement disagreement, DeNicola and other commissioners boycotted the land-use commission’s May 7 monthly meeting. Only five of the 11 showed up which didn’t make a quorum and the meeting was cancelled.

The next morning, DeNicola said she e-mailed Mayor Henrici her resignation.

“It basically said that I regretted having to make this decision but based on first the fact they had not reappointed Mike Conklin, who was a fully qualified commissioner, I was very upset by that. But when they decided not to reappoint Steve Sosensky, that’s what really pushed me over the edge,” said DeNicola, who’s served on IWW for 10 years.

Alternate Raquel Santiago-Martinez also quit the commission recently, after she said Henrici would not respond to her written query about whether he’d appoint her to a third term.

Town officials and those commission members apparently not opposed to Sosensky’s removal will not go on the record to explain why the chair was canned. DeNicola said if Sosensky was problematic in his role as chair, someone should have talked with him instead of ending his eight years of service with no explanation.

“I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a way if they feel a commissioner is a problem or whatever that they don’t sit down with the commissioner to try to resolve,” she said. “But there’s no explanation. So rumors fly around. Who knows what the real facts are. People on the commission are dedicated people. They have a true interest in the town. People can get replaced for God knows what reason that’s not specified. Something’s not right.”

DeNicola said she’s torn about whether she’ll reapply for an IWW seat in the future.

“It’s a natural extension of what I do,” she said. “Having been on so long it goes into the rhythm of your life. This is going to leave a void, obviously.” She is the director of environmental health for the Chesprocott Health District.

DeNicola was first appointed by her sister-in-law, former Mayor Barbara DeNicola. She was last reappointed by Henrici in 2007.

Lorraine DeNicola has a master’s degree in environmental health from the Yale School of Epidemiology and Public Health.

A special IWW meeting is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, to take up last week’s agenda.

May 8, 2008

The Inland Flu

IWW commissioners boycott last night’s meeting in protest of losing Sosensky

By Sharon Bass

When words didn’t work, they took action.

Upset that Mayor Craig Henrici recently refused to reappoint their chair, Steve Sosensky, the majority of Inland Wetlands & Watercourses commissioners decided to send the mayor a message Wednesday evening by boycotting their monthly meeting. They had earlier sent e-mails to Henrici imploring him to rethink his decision, but said their pleas went unanswered.

Enough stayed home to prevent a quorum, which was their goal. Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops cancelled the 7 p.m. meeting at 7:45 p.m.

“We apologize but we don’t have a quorum and we’re going to have to stop now,” Kops said to roughly two dozen members of the public and a small smattering of lawyers and Quinnipiac University officials who had items on the short agenda.

Kops said it wasn't unusual to lack a quorum. "It happens to P&Z," he said.

Only one more body was needed last night. The 11-member commission (seven Democrats, three unaffiliateds and one Republican) must have at least six in attendance to conduct a meeting.

Sosensky’s stay-at-home allies said they’re not only steaming because Henrici didn’t reappoint the chair. Their steam started in March when their soil scientist, Mike Conklin, was similarly not reappointed.

They also complained the commission had gotten political and that's not how it was when they joined up -- and may be a reason they will leave or not seek reappointment.

The five who showed last night were Andrew Brand, appointed earlier this year, Joan Lakin and Michael Montgomery, both of whom got Council-approved May 5 and yesterday was to be their first meeting, Debra Sharkey and Michael Milazzo.

Upon leaving the cancelled meeting at Thornton Wilder Hall, Al Dobie said it was a “shame” the mayor canned Sosensky. Dobie is president of the West Woods Neighborhood Association and quite regularly attends IWW meetings.

“My suspicion is [the commissioners] didn’t show up because Steve wasn’t reappointed,” said Dobie. “I think it was a mistake. He’s a dedicated civil servant. He knows the details. When he comes into a meeting, he’s very prepared. It’s a shame. It’s a shame.”

Henrici does not return calls from the HDN.

Words behind the action

“We’re very upset about Steve and we just decided we’d make a stand by not being there tonight,” said Republican IWW Commissioner Lorraine DeNicola, one of the six who stayed home. “The mayor should know we’re serious about wanting Steve back.

“My first devastation was Mike [Conklin],” she continued. “I assume it’s political what happened to Mike and Steve. I assume somebody’s toes were stepped on. Why else would they not reappoint Steve? Not because he hasn’t done a good job. I think he runs an efficient meeting and seriously cares about the environment. So politics had to step in.”

DeNicola said she e-mailed Henrici a letter Tuesday morning and hasn’t heard back from him. “One thing I wrote to the mayor was that I stayed on because it wasn’t political. Now I have to rethink it. What will the commission be made of? Commissioners who will dance to what the politicians want?” she said. “I’m going to wait to see what happens with this little action we pulled tonight.” She said she might resign.

“I think it’s just really showing our dissatisfaction of not reappointing Steve Sosensky,” Democratic Commissioner Nancy Rosenbaum said of the boycott. “I find it disheartening when you see someone who’s put in so much effort and work. I just thought he was an excellent chair. What it seems to me now is politics seems to be coming in. This commission was never political. I didn’t even know what parties people belonged to. I didn’t care because we were interested in the same thing.”

Raquel Santiago-Martinez said she resigned last week as an IWW alternate -- a position she held for six years.

As Conklin and Sosensky had done, she said she sent Henrici a letter asking to be reappointed but “waited four or five weeks and heard nothing.”

Santiago-Martinez could see the writing on the wall and decided to pull out before the mayor could reject her.

“I wanted to do it my way. I didn’t want them to say to me that I was not being reappointed. There had been other [IWW] commissioners who got reappointed right away,” she said. Yesterday she got a letter from the mayor thanking her for her service, she said.

“That commission was always apolitical; it was all about following the regulations. All of a sudden, the staff are making decisions for the mayor. People are not being reappointed because of staff recommendations,” said Santiago-Martinez.

Inland Commissioner Bill Tito, an unaffiliated, said he really did have the flu Wednesday. “I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t boycotting nothing. I have the flu,” he said.

But Tito concurred with his colleagues about Sosensky’s removal. “Steve was a great person for that position and very well educated. I was disappointed that he wasn’t reappointed,” he said.

Democrats Robert Gnida, Ralph Riccio and Michael Stone and unaffiliated Kirk Shadle also boycotted Wednesday’s meeting.

Words from the chair

The outpouring of support has helped Sosensky cope with the loss, he said. Still, he said he’ll continue to fight to regain his seat on the commission on which he has spent the last eight years.

“I am very grateful to those commissioners who took that very public action in support of me and my eight years of good and fair work on the commission,” he said. “Those commissioners are brave for taking that bold action and putting themselves in an uncomfortable circumstance. By their actions, these commissioners are telling the mayor and the Planning Department that the refusal to reappoint me is misguided and not in furtherance of the public interest.

“I have received so many heartwarming calls and letters. As an environmental attorney for 21 years, I have served on the commission with dedication and distinction. Over the seven years I have been chairman, me and the other volunteer commissioners labored to complete business and conduct proceedings with order, detail and public participation -- for which the commission received numerous compliments and the public's trust.

“No one has explained, and I have been told no one understands why. According to the mayor, ‘The commission needed a change.’ There is no reason to believe the commission under my chairmanship was anything other than highly functioning and well respected, as I have been told. Surely the mayor wants qualified, experienced and dedicated volunteers to assist in town governance. I am blessed in knowing these commissioners and to have so many townspeople acknowledge my work on behalf of the town.

"I do hope the unique American act of public protest by those commissioners tonight will resonate with the mayor and precipitate a change of mind and my reappointment to the commission.”

May 7, 2008

Day 9: The Vote

Republicans Craig Cesare and Betty Wetmore said no. Photo/Sharon Bass

’08-’09 Budget: $174,939,805
New Mil Rate: 29.42
Tax Increase: 1.1 percent

By Sharon Bass

It took roughly 20 hours over a course of eight meetings for the Legislative Council to carve and sculpt the 2008-09 taxpayers’ tab. After all the number tweaking and occasional argument, last night the 15 elected officials came together in good spirit and good manners. (For blow-by-blow details of the deliberations, click Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7 and Day 8.)

The new $174,939,805 town/school budget was ushered in by the 12 Democrats on the Council. The three Republicans voted against it saying they pledged no tax increase -- and meant it. Although they did vote with their friends to the left for the new mil rate of 29.42 (1.1 percent higher than the current rate of 29.1).

“We campaigned on the issue and it was easily attainable,” said Republican Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “We didn’t give the taxpayers the relief that we promised.”

Wetmore voted Monday night to reduce the pension contribution from $12.5 million to $11 million, which would have achieved the Republicans’ no-tax-hike goal.

Republican Councilman Craig Cesare made the $11 million motion. It failed. But he doesn’t seem bitter.

“I honestly believe the Democrats and Republicans did what they thought was right,” Cesare said after Tuesday’s budget vote. “Everybody worked very hard. It was bipartisan, for the most part. Of the 15 people who sit on the Council, they all love Hamden.”

And such was the sentiment last night. Everyone praised everyone.

“This budget process has been one of the most favorable in 10 years,” said Democratic Finance Chair Curt Leng, who voted for the budget this year unlike in 2006 and 2007 when he opposed it.

He said the Council made a “cooperative effort that resulted in a better document. I’m very pleased with the document in front of us.”

Ditto said Democratic Councilman Jim Leddy. He thanked Leng and other Council “old-timers” for helping “junior councilpeople,” such as him.

“Thank you for the patience you had with us,” said Leddy.

Democratic Councilman Ozzie Brown said he applauded the new budget, especially when compared to “what I’ve been hearing about towns smaller than us” having fiscal problems.

“All things considered, I think we did the best job we could,” said Democratic Councilman Jim Pascarella. “It was the most fiscally sound, prudent job we could do.” He blamed the state for shortchanging Hamden on school aid.

A harbinger?

Cesare warned of depending on one-time revenues for the operating budget. In the ’06-’07 budget (Mayor Henrici’s first), some proceeds from the sale of the Water Pollution Control Authority were used to run the town. In the ’07-’08 budget, $1.3 million was factored in for the sale of three parcels on the Dadio Farm (yet to be realized). In the new money document, nearly a million in revenue is earmarked from the hoped-for sale of the old middle school.

“One of my concerns with this budget is we are selling buildings, selling land,” said Cesare. “I’m fearful of what we’ll be selling next year” to balance the budget.

Democratic Councilwoman Kath Schomaker said she was glad that energy costs got more attention this budget season than in the past. “I will ask the mayor and the department heads to be particularly vigilant,” she said of conserving energy. “I’m also glad we’re giving some good solid support to our new superintendent of schools.” Just $300,000 was lopped off the proposed $77 million school budget.

“It’s really a refreshing change,” Democratic Councilman Matt Fitch said of the public’s demeanor during the budget hearings. Last year he said they came in screaming “the sky is falling.” This year, he said there was less panic.

“Hamden has gone from one of the highest-taxed towns [in New Haven County] to one of the lowest in three years,” said Fitch, Mayor Henrici’s campaign manager and confidante. “We have a lot to be proud of.”

Yes, said Democratic President Al Gorman. “I feel we built the best budget this year. This budget did not borrow from the general fund. No overtime was cut. We funded our obligations. We maintained our library and social services.

“Thanks to the Council for its flights of fantasy, verbose repetition, momentary lapses and humor,” Gorman said. “This budget does serve our community.”

May 5, 2008

Budget Deliberations, Day 8

Odds & Ends

’08-’09 Budget Scorecard

Mayor’s Proposal: $177,302,411
Council’s to date: $174,939,805

By Sharon Bass

At the second-to-last budget deliberation last night, the Legislative Council created a new line item for town employees on the state pension plan (Municipal Employees Retirement Fund). Most workers are on the local pension program but those hired since last year will get their retirement checks from the state.

“The budget should have come to us with this line,” said President Al Gorman.

Finance Director Mike Betz said $170,000 should be put in the MERF account. But upon questioning from councilmembers to back up that figure, he said he didn’t know how many employees are in the MERF plan, the number of town workers in total or the payroll for the town side.

Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson said $170,000 was an “accurate figure,” which translates to $2 million in payroll for the new employees.

Councilman Matt Fitch said, “It seems pretty high.”

“I am absolutely uncomfortable voting on this tonight until we get more information,” said Finance Chair Curt Leng.

“This is the best estimate,” said Gorman.

A motion was made to put $100,000 into the new line account (under miscellaneous revenue) and another 50 grand into the E&C account. It passed.

Pension held steady

Councilman Craig Cesare made his motion to reduce the local pension contribution from $12.5 million  to $11 million (up one million from his original idea). “I think we owe it to the taxpayers to give them a break for one year with no tax increase,” he said. “Eleven million dollars represents a substantial contribution compared to [past] years.”

Leng disagreed. In the '07-'08 budget, $12 million was put in the retirement account.

“It’s fun to have a little Republican-Democratic tussle at the end [of the budget season],” said Leng. “I think [$11 million] is incredibly irresponsible. We worked very, very hard to get the pension fund from zero to $12 million.”

Leng said it was a “bad sign” to Wall Street and the auditors to fund the account with less money. “I feel very passionate about it,” he said.

There was a little talk of increasing the already-voted-on amount of $12.5 million.

Cesare’s motion for $11 million failed, with just he and Councilwoman Betty Wetmore voting in favor.

Tonight at 7, the Council is scheduled to vote on the final  town/school budget.

Police Station Moves Forward

Folks prepare for their turn to opine on the police plan, while cops wait in the back for the Council's verdict. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

The main course on the Legislative Council’s menu Monday was borrowing $1.02 million for the new police headquarters. The money is earmarked for further design work, hiring a construction manager and getting two professional project estimates.

Dozens of cops lined the back wall of the chambers and folks for and against the plan, which will attach the new facility to Memorial Town Hall, filled the seats.

Everyone -- everyone -- prefaced their public statements with how imperative it is to give police a new home. That said, 10 spoke against and nine spoke in favor of the current proposal. After about an hour or so of “it’s a horrible plan,” “it’s one man’s [Mayor Henrici's] political plan,” and “we need to act now,” Bill Burns of the Dunbar Hill Civic Association told it like it was.

“You’re going to spend the money no matter what we say,” he said. “So since you’re going to spend the money make it the best for these guys.”

The vote: 14 yeas and Wetmore abstained.

In other legislative news

The Council voted unanimously to take over the troubled Hamden Plains Cemetery, located in the 2nd District. Another 15-0 vote went to the formation of an advisory cemetery committee to oversee the rehab of the resting grounds.

“I don’t think we should be in the cemetery business but after looking around down there, something’s got to be done,” said Wetmore.

“I think it is time we move favorably ahead with this,” said Gorman.

The committee includes all 2nd D rezzies: Rev. E.J. Moss, Councilman and police Lt. Gabe Lupo, former Mayor Barbara DeNicola and former Councilman John Flanagan.

Also, the Council approved the mayor’s appointments for the Inland Wetland & Watercourses Commission. The chair, Steve Sosensky, and soil scientist Mike Conklin were recently denied reappointment by Henrici.

In their place are Michael Montgomery, who previously served on IWW and has a background in environmental and ecological science, and Joan Lakin, a former Planning & Zoning commissioner with a water background.

Also, IWW Commissioner Debra Sharkey was reappointed for a second term.

May 5, 2008

Up or Down?

Councilman Cesare.                 Councilwoman Noble. File photos

Cesare calls for lower pension deposit; Noble calls for higher pension deposit

By Sharon Bass

During the ’07 municipal elections, Republicans ran on a platform of no tax increases. Councilman Craig Cesare (R-at-large) said he has a plan to achieve that goal. He wants to lower the pension contribution in the 2008-09 budget from the current $12 million to about $10 million. “That would mean no tax increase at all,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democrats are talking about increasing the contribution to about $13 million, said Councilwoman Carol Noble (D-at-large). The mayor had proposed $13.5 million in his budget, but the Legislative Council knocked it down to $12 million last week.

The parties will fight it out tonight after the 7 p.m. Council meeting, when they continue budget deliberations. A final vote on the town/school budget is expected Tuesday.

“We handed the taxpayers two consecutive, substantial tax increases and we’re heading for a third, and I just think the citizens need a break for one year, especially the seniors,” said Cesare. Shortly after Henrici gave his budget address in March, Cesare vowed to not raise taxes.

“This is temporary tax relief. This is not the answer to Hamden’s problems. Make no mistake," he said. "This is the only way to offer taxpayers a break for a year.”

Noble argued that the town’s bond rating could be injured by decreasing the retirement account allotment.

“Democratic councilpeople are talking about increasing it to possibly $13 million," she said. "The mayor has told Al [Gorman] and Matt [Fitch] this could possibly affect our bond rating when we go out for the police station and the fire building and animal shelter. We might pay a higher interest.

“We’re a risk when you’re not funding something like your pension obligation," Noble said. "Twelve million dollars could affect it, definitely. Ten million dollars would be a disaster.”

In 2006, the annual payout to retirees was $14.4 million. “I don’t think Craig [Cesare] understands that an amount of money is needed each year, and by going to $10 million we’ll probably come out with a zero contribution to our pension fund and certainly affect our bonding,” said Noble.

“I respectfully disagree with her,” said Cesare. “It’s not going to bankrupt the town. The pension fund is not going to end tomorrow. Yes, I do think it needs to be dealt with but it’s not going to be solved tonight.”

Last year, Mayor Henrici pushed the council to approve $85 million in pension obligation bonds saying it was a must-do. Seeing resistance, he lowered it to $55 million and had financial suits converge in Council Chambers to try to convince the 15 men and women of the alleged urgency. Still, few councilmembers agreed that the town should go so deeply into hock. There was not enough support for the POBs.

In his March '08 budget address, Henrici said he was dropping the idea.

Not only did he drop it, he also didn’t follow through on another recommended tool to beef up the pension fund, dubbed the “Amento Plan” by the town’s auditors. That plan, started by former Mayor Carl Amento, was to increase the contribution by $3 million every year. But Henrici proposed just a $1.5 million hike for the coming fiscal year and the Council voted it down.

May 3, 2008

Travel Loot Gets 1st Vetting

File photo

By Sharon Bass

The Ethics Board received a letter from Mayor Craig Henrici late this week asking for an “advisory opinion” on whether his taking a monthly travel stipend from three budgeted line items constitutes a Town Charter violation. Chair Colin Odell said the matter will be taken up a public meeting sometime this month.

“We would offer an opinion as to whether it was problematic or not. Whether we see it constituting a violation of the Town Charter,” said Odell.

According to Section 18-8 of the charter, line-item transfers must be approved by the Legislative Council. Henrici’s weren’t. Neither was the $587 he received for 10 months last fiscal year -- potentially another charter violation (Section 5-1). But the mayor has only asked the board to opine on the account transfers.

Odell said it’s been three or four years since the board had a case.

“I think it’s the right thing to do because there are questions about the line items being used for [Henrici’s travel] allowance,” said Councilwoman Carol Noble.

Finance Director Mike Betz skimmed from three accounts to come up with the $587 monthly stipend. Two were in Public Works, the other in Finance.

Asked for comment, Councilman Jack Kennelly said, “I think, let the Ethics Board look into it as the mayor indicated, and let them make a decision.”

But Councilman Craig Cesare was dubious about the mayor’s decision to ask for an opinion about his own behavior.

“It’s clear to me that this is a charter violation. I think by bringing it forward themselves, this is an attempt by the administration to downplay the seriousness of this,” he said. “I look forward to the ruling from the Ethics Board. But if this doesn’t answer the question of whether this was a charter violation or not, then this was yet another waste of time.”

Like others on the Council, Cesare said he wants a more thorough investigation by Ethics, which would mean filing an actual complaint.

Odell said that’s fine but not right now.

“People are very welcome to file any complaint they’d want to, but right now we would have to make a decision on what order to move forward in if the identical issue was filed as a complaint,” he said.

Unlike complaints -- which the board deals with privately until/if there’s a finding of probable cause, at which time the matter becomes public -- an advisory opinion is an open process from the get-go, said Odell.

At the upcoming meeting on the mayor's travel allowance, Odell said the procedure will be established on how the board will proceed. “Decisions would be made at subsequent meetings,” he said.

Three affirmative votes are needed to issue an advisory opinion; four for a complaint. The Board has currently just four members with one vacancy and both alternate spots left blank. Odell said he didn’t know when Henrici would fill those vacancies. The mayor doesn't return messages from the HDN.

“It seems quite clear to me that there have been charter violations,” said Cesare, “and the actions taken by the administration seem quite clear what was done. I don’t understand why we have to go through all these hoops. It is Politics 101.”

Republicans Odell and Walter Rochow and Democrats Wayne Spies and Al May sit on Ethics. Odell said the first meeting on the line-item transfers will be held mid-month, but wasn't sure which day.

Shocked Again

Steve Sosensky. File photo

Inland Wetlands chair booted; fellow commissioner booted in March

By Sharon Bass

It was déjà vu for Steve Sosensky. Last week, Mayor Craig Henrici denied the chair another term on Inland Wetlands & Watercourses in the identical manner in which the mayor axed fellow Commissioner Mike Conklin in March.

Like Conklin, Sosensky said he sent a letter to Henrici asking for reappointment (his three-year term was up April 30, 2008). And heard nothing. So Sosensky said he asked to meet with the mayor on April 28, before his term officially expired.

Like Conklin, Sosensky said once nailed down, Henrici told him he was following “the staff’s” wishes by not reappointing him.

And like Conklin, Sosensky said he was shocked.

“I was shocked and disappointed with the mayor and I was disappointed with the town government,” said Sosensky, who served on IWW for seven years and was chair for six. He’s a partner of the New Haven firm Shipman, Sosensky, Randich & Marks, and has been a land-use attorney for 22 years.

“The mayor said that the commission needed a change,” said Sosensky. “He said that he doesn’t go to the [IWW] meetings and had to accept recommendations from the [Planning Department] staff. And they advised him that the commission would be better off with a change.”

Henrici and Town Planner Leslie Creane do not return calls from the HDN.

At the April 28 meeting in the mayor's office, Sosensky said he told Henrici that the staff’s recommendations “were misguided and asked him to reconsider. He said he’d give it some more thought.” Two days later, Sosensky said he heard from the mayor: “He confirmed that he made up his mind and I would not be reappointed.”

In the March 5 HDN story about Conklin, Sosensky had defended his peer. He said: “I was never told why Michael was not reappointed. We do not have a soil scientist on the commission. Mike was a dedicated and enthusiastic commissioner. The commission was dealt a blow by his not being reappointed.”

Politically motivated?

Folks have gone to bat for Sosensky since learning of his demise on the commission. Some e-mailed letters of protest to Henrici this week. One such person is Bill Burns, president of the Dunbar Hill Civic Association.

"At a time when your administration is under fire for having the wrong people in the wrong positions it seem to me that someone of Mr. Sosensky high standards and qualifications is a person your administration would want to keep ..." Burns wrote. (Click here to read his entire letter.)

IWW Commissioner Bob Gnida also sent the mayor a letter. (Click here to read it.)

In it he wrote: "We will also be wondering who is going to be the next one not reappointed.  We will also be wondering if we are acting appropriately, and doing a good enough job, to merit reappointment."

“I’m shocked and I’m extremely disappointed,” said Gnida, a senior gear inspector at Sikorsky, during a phone interview. Henrici appointed him to the commission in June 2006. Next June, Gnida will need the mayor’s approval for another term.

“I think it’s politically motivated. I think that maybe Steven stepped on some toes with somebody who’s friends with the mayor,” said Gnida.

He also said Sosensky’s published comments about Conklin “definitely could have gotten the mayor upset.”

“I think he’s a good director for the meetings. His leadership qualities are great. He’s very eloquent. He’s trained in law and environmental issues. He’s going to sorely be missed,” Gnida said of Sosensky.

Sosensky was asked if he thinks his comments might have influenced the mayor’s decision. “Who knows?” he said. “I believe the public appreciated my hard work and the work of the commission in doing the town’s work. I expected to serve for years in the light of that.”

But Sosensky said he’s not giving up. Just waiting until after the 2009 mayoral election, when Hamden is likely to have a new chief executive officer.

“I feel like the luckiest person in town because I have received numerous telephone calls and letters about the situation from individuals, neighborhood associations expressing their unhappiness with the mayor’s decision,” Sosensky said. “And I want to thank everyone who has taken an interest in the matter and reached out to me and the mayor on my behalf. Hamden has truly the best townspeople in the state of Connecticut.”

From Burns to Henrici

May 1st 2008
The Honorable Craig Henrici, Mayor
Hamden Government Center
2750 Dixwell Avenue
Hamden, CT 06518

Dear Craig,

It has come to my attention that your will not be renewing Mr. Steven C. Sosensky to his post on the Inland, Wetlands and Watercourses Commission for the Town of Hamden effective May 1st 2008.  I request that you reconsider your decision regarding Mr. Sosensky’s reappointment.
I have had the good fortune to interact with Mr. Sosensky in his capacity as Chairman of the Inland, Wetlands and Watercourses Commission on two different maters as President of the Dunbar Hill Civic Association.  In both instances I found him to be of the highest integrity and to be extremely diligent in the maters put before him.
He has served this town, pro bono, with distinction and honor for many years.  At a time when your administration is under fire for having the wrong people in the wrong positions it seem to me that someone of Mr. Sosensky high standards and qualifications is a person your administration would want to keep and point to as an example of the highest quality public servant the Town of Hamden has to offer.
William F. Burns, President
Dunbar Hill Civic Association

From Gnida to Henrici (e-mailed May 3)

To the Honorable Mayor of the Town of Hamden

Mr. Henrici,
       I am honored to have been appointed by you to the Town's Inland Wetland Commission (IWC) just about two years ago.  I have enjoyed doing my my duty as a commissioner for the last two years.  I am proud of this town, and the people that represent it, from the mayor, the fire and police force, all the administrators, and volunteers.  I have lived here 22 years and now finally have some time to give back to my community, and love doing it.
       I understand that Steven Sosensky may not be reappointed to the IWC.  As an active member, and a citizen, I do not understand why.  He loves this town, the citizens, and the natural resources this town is blessed with.  He has a degree of knowledge, expertise, and understanding about the scope and purpose of the IWC that no other commissioner has.  I respect Steve a great deal, and I think the entire commission feels the same.
       If you are considering not reappointing Steve to the IWC, I personally feel it will cause stress and unhappiness among myself and my fellow commissioners.  He has done a fantastic job guiding us through these long agendas, I wonder who you might have in mind to do this job as well as Steve has.  He also goes to most of the sight inspections, which is many times a dirty, strenuous undertaking.  He manages the time at the IWC meetings and site inspections better than anyone else can that is on the commission.
       I hope you will take the time to think about how Steve's work, serving on the IWC, is an extremely valuable asset to the Town of Hamden.  All of our spare time is precious to us.  As mayor, you know better than anyone.  You undoubtedly give up much of your spare time gratis, as we all do on Hamden's various commissions.  Steve does so with enthusiasm, and with a sense of what is good for the Town of Hamden.  He is thorough, which the chairman of this most important commission must be.  If a new chairman is elected, and not thorough, the town could very well be liable for bad decisions forged by this commission.  
       I think I can speak for the entire commission in saying that we will all be unhappy if Steve does not get reappointed.  That doesn't make long hours of volunteer work for the Town any easier if we are always contemplating why Steve was removed from the commission.  We will also be wondering who is going to be the next one not reappointed.  We will also be wondering if we are acting appropriately, and doing a good enough job, to merit reappointment.
       I hope and pray that you approve Steve Sosensky as a Hamden Inland Commissioner for another full term.

Robert Gnida
Tel 203-248-4650
20 Norton Ave
Email  bsgnida@earthlink.net

May 1, 2008

Budget Deliberations, Day 7

Mayor Gets Car Allowance
Schools Get $300K Chop
Kennelly Tries to Give Riccitelli a Raise
Leng Tries to Give Jackson a Raise

’08-’09 Budget Scorecard

Mayor’s Proposal: $177,302,411
Council’s to date: TBA, later today

By Sharon Bass

Well, Mayor Craig Henrici won’t have to fill out those pesky mileage logs come July 1. Last night, on a 6-5-2 vote, the Council gave the mayor a $250 monthly business-travel allowance. No questions asked.

The discussion was quick and heated. Some councilmembers favored giving Henrici a used car from the fleet instead of cash because of revelations that the mayor was paying himself a $587 monthly stipend without charter-mandated Council approval.

But Councilman Matt Fitch found the idea of putting the mayor in a used car unthinkable. He said the mayor has been very tolerant of the criticism he’s been getting. “I do support the idea of an allowance opposed to a town car,” he said.

“I disagree,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. “I mean we beat this thing to death. He got a car allowance no one knew about. I’ve totally lost trust. What’s so hard about putting him in a town car?”

Fitch told Colaiacovo that he was “acting” like he did when Colaiacovo wanted to put some of the animal control officer’s salary in a separate account because of the current investigation into the dog dumping at the transfer station.

The public inside Council Chambers moaned at Fitch's accusation.

There was a sudden crescendo of anger between the two councilmen and then the vote was taken. Voting for the $250 allowance were Fitch, Carol Noble, Ozzie Brown, Gretchen Callahan, Kath Schomaker and Al Gorman. Voting nay were Colaiacovo, John DeRosa, Gabe Lupo, Craig Cesare and Jim Pascarella. Jack Kennelly and Curt Leng abstained. Jim Leddy and Betty Wetmore were absent.

School money

The Council can play with just one thing in the school budget: the bottom line. This year, the Board of Education asked for $77,736,335. Education Committee Chair Pascarella proposed a $275,000 cut. Kennelly raised him $25,000. Only Pascarella and Callahan opposed the $300,000 reduction.

School Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz said she was more or less expecting it. “I was hoping for $250,000. It will be hard but I think we can do it without directly impacting kids,” she said after the vote.

Assistant Superintendent Portia Bonner will be leaving at the end of the school year, which gives Rabinowitz a place to cut. She said she’s thinking of hiring a “part-time, retired administrator” in place of Bonner.

Riccitelli rage

Tuesday councilmembers tabled the controversial raise/job upgrade for Finance employee Pat Riccitelli. They wanted to see the stipulated agreement for the upgrade. Her current salary is $63,773 and title is “data control supervisor.” In the mayor’s budget, Riccitelli is listed as “operations manager” for $73,161.

Noble particularly voiced harsh critical words about the raise, and last night got into a little tussle with Kennelly.

At Tuesday’s budget deliberations, Kennelly said he didn’t care what Riccitelli’s title is. The salary, he said, was too high.

Last night when the item came off the table, he motioned to approve the upgrade but with a smaller pay hike, about $4,000. Kennelly maintained that since the council had tabled this item last year and didn’t act on it within 60 days, it automatically went into effect.

“They went through all the proper procedures. We shouldn’t second guess the administration,” he said.

Fitch disagreed. He said the job upgrade, a stipulated labor agreement, did not go into effect. The 60-day rule is only for commission appointments. Also, the Council learned last night that the agreement requires its approval, which it hasn’t gotten.

Kennelly’s motion failed.

Noble motioned to keep the salary the same and change the job title back. Kennelly argued that the title can’t be reversed.

And Noble raised her voice. “This was put in here without our authority!” she said to Kennelly, who sits next to her. “In fact, the Finance director should be reporting to us!”

Noble’s motion passed.


In a highly uncharacteristic move, Leng advocated giving Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson a raise. The finance chair rarely if ever sees an opportunity to cut that he doesn’t seize.

Though Jackson did not ask for more money, said Leng, or even want the motion brought up, Leng said Jackson was someone who really deserved a raise.

The CAO currently earns $66,950. The same amount is in the mayor’s ’08-’09 proposal. Leng suggested $70,000.

“Sorry,” said Fitch. “I wasn’t expecting this.” And asked for a caucus.

When they came out, Leng withdrew his motion. Instead, the Council approved putting $30,000 in its E&C account for raises for department heads and other nonunion employees.

Fitch said a committee of councilmembers and town administrators would decide who got raises based on job performance.

“It’s the most equitable way to deal with it,” said Leng. “Not just throw out 2 percent [raises].”

Kennelly didn’t like it. “I don’t see how this is a fair and equitable way,” he said. “A committee doesn’t have a scintilla of what that department head does.”

Pascarella said it is “nearly impossible” for the Council to determine who deserves a raise because of “personalities and politics.”

The $30,000 motion passed with just Lupo and Kennelly in opposition.

The final vote on the budget is scheduled for May 6. Meeting begins at 6:30 p.m., Memorial Town Hall.

AG Asked For a 'Wiley' Opinion


By Sharon Bass

The state wants Hamden rezzie Wiley to go to North Haven. To the animal shelter. For seven days. If no one claims him, his new owner Gabrielle Scirocco can then “legally” adopt the 2-year-old pup, said Maureen Griffin, supervisor of the Connecticut Animal Control Division.

Griffin said that’s the law. And though the state can’t confiscate Wiley, it can put pressure on local animal control to do so. She said she sent a request Wednesday to Attorney General Dick Blumenthal for clarification on the canine impoundment statute. Griffin said his response will guide her in getting Wiley to the shelter. (The HDN and Blumenthal played a little phone tag yesterday.)

“What else do they want?” said Scirocco of the state’s position. “In seven days this dog would have been traumatized. I am so livid you can’t even imagine.”

Scirocco has been put through the ringer since she took custody of Wiley April 25. Even though she’s had him vaccinated and examined by a vet and has registered him with the town -- making her, at least locally, the dog’s legal owner -- the state maintains she’s in the wrong. Scirocco runs Hot Diggity Dog, a Whitney Avenue groomer.

Police Chief Tom Wydra disagrees with the state’s interpretation of the impoundment law that says animal control officers “may” seize roaming dogs. May, not must. He said discretion can be used.

“We’re operating within the confines of the law,” said Wydra. “And we believe we have interpreted the impoundment statute in the spirit of how it is written. It allows great discretion. I don’t see it as a problem. This is a unique situation because we believe we know of this dog’s activity since it was a puppy and we don’t believe there was ever a legitimate owner.”

But Griffin offered a different interpretation of the dog law. “The ‘may’ is if the animal control officer can’t catch an animal so he’s not breaking the law,” she said.

Asked what he’d do if the state puts an ultimatum on Hamden to take Wiley to the shelter, Wydra said, “That would create further dialog between us and the state.”


“I would recommend that people follow the law and impound the dog,” said Griffin. “That way nobody can legally challenge Gabrielle. And I don’t think it’s going to traumatize the dog, either.

“The state’s position is the dog should be turned over to local animal control and should be taken to the shelter and advertised. And held for seven days past the date of advertising,” she said. “At the end of the time period, if Gabrielle wants to adopt the dog, that’s fine.”

Wydra said Scirocco already legally owns Wiley, but Griffin said it’s not for sure -- although highly likely -- that the mixed husky was a stray. So he could have an owner.

“It is not only to protect the person who has custody of the stray dog, but protects the owner, if there is an owner,” said Griffin. “We’re not going to seize the dog and nobody ever said we were. And that’s why we’re not happy about how this has unfolded. People are making erroneous statements and some are doing it on purpose. I do think there are ulterior motives and personality conflicts.”

Dog lovers and lawyers have come to Scirocco’s aid in this dog tale. One of her clients who’s a lawyer offered his help as have others, she said.

“I’m shaking, I’m so pissed off,” said Scirocco. “I have a bunch of people and lawyers who want to help me. The responsibility of an animal control officer is to protect a community. But they couldn’t protect the community because they couldn’t catch the dog. So I’m doing both jobs, protecting the community and rehabilitating the dog. I got him to walk on a leash in a half-hour.”

Scirocco said she advertised Wiley in the local daily this week. But it's highly unlikely that one small ad would draw all the attention Wiley has gotten from the media since last Saturday. And no one's stepped forward to claim him.

“Why can’t I advertise it on my own? If someone’s going to claim it they can claim just as easy with me as they can with [the shelter],” said Scirocco. “And all that would have been done is an ad would have been in the paper. I did 10 times more than the shelter would have done. They have no time to work with the dogs.”

Much ado about nuttin’

Griffin said the situation has been “a whole lot of hoopla about not much.” Yet the town of Hamden has made peace with Wiley and Scirocco after an initial dispute. The state is not letting it go.

Griffin said her department has been unfairly attacked for its stance.

“I don’t understand this attitude that everything we do is wrong. We go by the law. If people don’t like the law, let them change it,” she said. “I was told this dog was the friendliest of all of them [the wild pack Wiley used to run with by the transfer station] so that could indicate that he had an owner.”

Asked why no one has tried to claim him, Griffin said, “A lot of people drive by the [North Haven] animal shelter and take a look [at the outdoor runs for the dogs], and if they don’t see their dog, they don’t go in. Some people wait until they see the dog advertised. A lot of people think their dogs wandered off into the woods when it knows it’s going to die.”

Who Will Buy?

By Sharon Bass

The idea to sell the old middle school wasn’t news to councilmembers after all. They had OK’d a request for proposal earlier this year for developers interested in either leasing or buying the old building, said Economic Development Director Dale Kroop.

At Tuesday’s budget meeting, Finance Director Mike Betz said nearly $1 million was included in a revenue line item for the sale. Some councilmembers said they knew nothing about it and also asked why the selling price was so low. Vision Appraisal has the former Newhall Street school appraised at $10.4 million.

But Kroop said the town is not asking for $1 million. He said he didn’t know what the price tag would be and, yes, there are interested parties.

“You cannot set a price based on normal real-estate standards,” he said. “Looking at Vision Appraisal doesn’t tell you the whole story.”

He said it will take $10 million to $20 million to get the neglected building up to code.  “It will cost considerably more than its value to rehab it,” said Kroop. The old Newhall Community Center is included in the package deal, bringing the total square footage to 162,000.

Initially, the town tried to lease the school to various tenants, such as a cooking school. It paid Regional Growth Partnership $39,000 to conduct a reuse study of the building. RGP held several public meetings to get neighbors’ wish lists for the property and gave recommendations to the Council last summer.

“We were having a very difficult time leasing it and getting the police substation in there,” said Kroop. “So the administration made a decision, based on the fact that it’s going to cost a lot of money to renovate the building, to see what kind of interest there would be from the development community.”

In addition to the hefty price to rehab the property, Kroop said it costs about $250,000 a year for heat, electricity and maintenance.

“We have a lot of great ideas [from the community] but who has the money to do that?” said Kroop. At the RGP meetings, residents asked for stuff like continuing education classes, a swimming pool, condominiums with rooftop gardens, community space and a theater program in the old auditorium.

Now that the town might sell the building, Kroop was asked if the $39,000 study was a waste of money.

“No,” he said, “because we got a chance to see what the overall cost implications were for the wish list that was generated. If you didn’t have the study and just put it out there the neighborhood would say what about what the community wants? The amount of money spent was worth it.”

Also, he said he hopes the ideas in the RGP study would be considered.

“We said in the RFP, to the extent possible interested parties should and may take into account the study attached to the extent that they could achieve as many of the goals in the study as possible,” said Kroop. But the buyer can scrap it all.

Four of the developers who responded to the RFP took a “mandatory walkthrough” of the school earlier this year, said Kroop. “We wanted people to take it seriously and wanted to see who’s looking at the property,” he said.

Not all four submitted a proposal. Kroop wouldn’t say how many did and if they want to buy or lease.

If sold, he said the Middle School Reuse Steering Committee would meet with the developer. “Ultimately the town makes the decision, obviously,” said Kroop.


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