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Town Government
January 31, 2007

War of Waives

Illustration for the HDN by Craig Houghton

By Sharon Bass

Bid waivers -- awarding contracts or jobs to outside vendors and consultants without a competitive bid -- seem to be evolving into an election-year issue. The two Council Republicans and a Democrat or two have criticized Mayor Craig Henrici for trying to push through too many no-bid deals. Each proposal has sailed through the legislative body comprised of 13 Dems and two Repubs. Like the one Monday evening for an appraiser and another last July for the Louis Astorino Ice Arena.

Henrici defends the practice and said his predecessor went for no-bid contracts much more often.

“A bid waiver is a perfectly legitimate purchasing tool and the ordinance recognizes there are times you can’t and shouldn’t go out to bid,” said Henrici. “Any criticism is unwarranted and I suggest they [councilmembers Gambardella and Wetmore] read the Council’s own ordinance.” (Click here for a summary of the town’s purchasing ordinance and bid-waiver amendment.)

Furthermore, the mayor said, neither Ron Gambardella nor Betty Wetmore barked when former Mayor Carl Amento asked for bid waivers. During Amento’s last year in office, he asked for 86 of them, Henrici said.

However, comparing the two Democratic mayors’ no-bid requests during their first 13 months in office, Henrici beats Amento by 21, according to records obtained from the Purchasing Office. Between Dec. 15, 1999, and Jan. 18, 2001, Amento asked for 36, while Henrici asked for 57 from Dec. 6, 2005, to Jan. 18, 2007. The council approved all.

Gambardella was first elected in 2003, when Amento began his last of three terms. As a newbie, Gambardella said he followed the lead of the Democrats when it came to bid waivers.

“The Democrats were viciously attacking Amento for bid waivers. My recollection was they were making some valid points at the time. Now it seems whatever this administration does, it’s approved by the current council,” he said. “To me it appears to be hypocrisy. Mayor Amento couldn’t do anything right. Mayor Henrici can’t do anything wrong.”

The at-large councilman said he doesn’t remember how he voted on bid waivers during his first term behind the bench. “I just recall the debate about bid waivers raging and how evil they were and now they’re all of a sudden OK,” Gambardella said. “In my first year, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I trusted the Democrats were doing the right thing. I didn’t understand all the party politics going on behind the scenes. I didn’t know they were personally trying to sabotage Amento. I agreed with the Democrats that bid waivers were a bad policy. And I still think that.”

Gambardella is often the only councilmember to vote against a no-bid contract.

“An Ordinance Establishing Purchasing Procedure for the Purchasing Department”

The town ordinance went into effect Nov. 3, 1974, and was signed by acting Mayor Robert Miller, Council President Pro Tempore David Dodes and Council Clerk Hans Wiedenmann. On Jan. 7, 1993, a bid-waiver amendment was enacted, signed by Mayor Lillian Clayman, Council President Craig Henrici and Council Clerk Evelyn Parise.

The original ordinance says for purchases between $500 and $2,000, the purchasing agent “shall solicit bids or quotations from as many independent qualified sources as practicable, and such quoting or bidding shall be open to any vendor who shall conform to the terms of this ordinance …”

On purchases over $2,000, “the purchasing agent shall invite sealed bids or proposals, giving at least ten (10) day’s [stet] notice thereof by at least one (1) publication in a newspaper having a substantial circulation in the town or area, and shall award the contract or make the purchase from the lowest responsible bidder, subject to the best interest of the Town.”

Competitive bidding can be waived by the purchasing agent, with written approval by the finance director and mayor, under emergency situations; if a service requires “special or unique skills”; or service is needed by the manufacturer of already-purchased equipment.

The 1993 bid-waiver amendment states:

“ … any bid waiver or request for proposal over the sum of Five Thousand ($5000.) must receive the approval of the majority vote of the Legislative Council, present and voting.”

“Copies of all quote waivers, bid waivers and request for proposals under the sum of Five Thousand ($5000.) Dollars shall be sent to the Legislative Council and shall be open for public inspection.”

“The ‘department’ head shall file with the purchasing agent, not later than the next business day, a requisition and a copy of the delivery record, together with a written report of the circumstances of the emergency, and shall file a copy of the report with the Mayor and ‘the Legislative Council.’”

Mayor Betty?

Councilwoman Wetmore. File photo

By Sharon Bass

“Many people have asked me to run for mayor. I’ve kicked it around. I don’t know if I’m willing to gamble my Council seat in such a Democratic town. I really enjoy being on the Council and doing what’s best for the town.” So said at-large Councilwoman Betty Wetmore, now in her fourth term.

She is one of four Republicans town committee Chair Mike Iezzi mentioned when asked whom he may put up to challenge Democratic Mayor Craig Henrici this November.

“I have a large family and I’m really dedicated to them. They’re my greatest accomplishment. It would have to be that I could juggle my family,” said Wetmore. “To do a good job you have to be dedicated to the town. I just have to weigh if I can do both.”

The Wetmores are a Hamden institution, regarded as community-minded, honest, decent folks. Betty’s husband, Paul Wetmore, was fire chief. Her son Paul Jr. was deputy fire chief. Her brother-in-law Duane Wetmore is the longest-serving Hamden volunteer firefighter.

But Betty Wetmore has other stuff to weigh besides family in her decision to run for the top elected office. She is the fulltime marketing director for Harborside Healthcare Arden House, president of the Hamden Chamber of Commerce, member of the Hamden Rotary Club and president and cofounder of the Hamden Senior Wish foundation. The chamber named her citizen of the year in 2006.

“I do think we need a change. We’ve had Democratic control in town for so many years,” she said, mentally tossing around the pros and cons of a mayoral bid. “All the ills plaguing the town are from a Democratic council and mayor -- high taxes and the pension fund and now it’s come to a crisis, where the taxpayers are really sharing a huge burden.”

If she takes on the challenge and becomes the town’s third female mayor, Wetmore said she’d trim from the Board of Education and town budgets and “trim the help desk.”

“I think we dropped the ball, the Republicans, in not bringing out the problems,” she said. She pointed to no-bid contracts, the high school sports fields that still flood and the town ice rink saga. “I would really look into the ambulance situation. I think it’s a wonderful idea if we already had one. But if this is not going to be a profit-making thing I don’t believe we should do it,” said Wetmore, adding, “Our EMS service is tops.”

“You know what the town needs? They need to believe in their town again and that’s what I hope to do,” the councilwoman said.

Wetmore said she’d make a decision in about a month.

January 30, 2007

BOE Chair Stresses Transparency

Michael D’Agostino. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Discussion last night was supposed to be about whether the Board of Education authorizes spending in accordance with the Town Charter. But before the Legislative Council committee meetings kicked off, school officials said they hadn’t gotten needed information from the Board’s attorney to proceed.

Instead, BOE Chair Michael D’Agostino led a Q&A session with the legislative Education Committee about creating more transparency in regards to school spending. Councilmen Curt Leng and John Flanagan left the chambers before he spoke. Both had requested last year’s purchase orders from the school department after learning about questionable 11th-hour expenditures, such as a $6,111 50-inch plasma TV for the superintendent’s conference room.

“I see they didn’t want to hear this,” said D’Agostino standing at the podium. “One thing we want to have is complete transparency with you, with the town, with the mayor’s office.” He said the Board supports Mayor Craig Henrici’s push to move central office staff into Government Center. Contrary to what the administration has claimed, D’Agostino said there is “more than adequate [space] for our needs. That will aid in our transparency. We’re down the hall.”

The strategy is to bring some Hamden children who are in out-of-district special ed programs back to town, once space at central office is cleared out. D’Agostino said $8 million a year -- or 25 percent of the school budget -- goes to special education. He said in the long-term, “there would be significant cost savings” by schooling more students at 60 Putnam Ave., where the special ed STEPS & REACH program is also housed.

Council members were given copies of the newly drafted regulations for school purchase orders, one of the recommendations made by the auditors who just finished combing through the education department’s books. (Click here for an overview of the draft.)

“They’re fairly rigorous reforms,” D’Agostino said. Capital projects and multi-year contracts “always go through town procedures. We’re talking about paper and pens.”

But the Council wanted to talk about TVs and financial accountability.

Councilwoman Kath Schomaker said she was disappointed that neither the town nor the schools are looking at energy-saving measures. “I think it’s just unconscionable to go to the taxpayers without an aggressive energy conservation plan in place,” she said. With United Illuminating’s rates jumping 50 percent this year, she said 30 percent to 40 percent could be shaved off by learning how to conserve.

D’Agostino said he was not impressed with the energy professionals he’s encountered. Schomaker suggested he talk with the Energy Use & Climate Change Commission.

Councilman Ron Gambardella asked if the Board’s new purchasing policy (to be voted on next month) was triggered by Flanagan’s and Leng’s requests. Or if it was just a coincidence.

“It was not a coincidence,” D’Agostino said. “It caused us to look into it. There was nothing we found in money being misspent. There was no malfeasance. What we did have are purchase orders that” didn’t indicate what they were for. The auditors told the Board “to clean up the purchase orders and we took the auditor’s recommendations to heart. We never looked at it with the eye we should have.”

Gambardella asked about the so-called last-minute spending frenzy at the end of the fiscal year (June 30), when it’s either spend it or send it back to the town coffers.

Education Committee Chair Jim Pascarella jumped in with an explanation. “The June spending spree is because money was held for health insurance and some accounts were frozen until the end of the year,” he said. Since the town absorbed the school insurance fund last year, he said there wouldn’t be a spending spree this June.

“We never got answers about who approved things like the big-screen TV,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “Who approved this at the last minute?”

“It bothered me, too,” said D’Agostino.

“But did you approve it? There seems to be this shroud,” Wetmore said.

“There is no shroud,” D’Agostino shot back.

Wetmore asked again who authorized the purchase of the $6,111 TV, but got no answer.

“We are responsible for that spending,” said D’Agostino. “We are going to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The buck stops with us.”

Schomaker asked if other states allow Councils to approve six-month school budgets so projected state and federal revenue can be looked at to determine the second half of the budget.

D’Agostino laughed. He said he would approach the Council with updates as often as is desired.

“But that’s different than allocating [the money],” Schomaker said.

“It was an absolute embarrassment to have that television [purchased],” said Councilman Mike Germano. “We should never have bought it. Things like that are beyond acceptable. I know there is a lot of money you could be saving.” He said he was glad there are new Republicans on the Board. They would be Austin Cesare and Ed Sullivan.

Perhaps the controversial TV purchase has a silver lining, Germano said, by making the BOE more conscientious about how money is being spent.

Councilman Michael Colaiacovo said he expected to see the auditor’s report. D’Agostino said it’s being finalized.

“I’m very much in favor of the move to Center One,” said Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan. “Will the Board of Education pay rent or utilities?”

D’Agostino said he didn’t think there would be much of a difference in the amount of heat and electricity used in the space central office would inhabit, adjacent to the Legislative Council Office on the main floor.

“That space is being used for storage,” argued Callahan.

“It’s being heated,” said D’Agostino.

Cesare piped in. In Milford, where he is a high school teacher, the town and school share space and expenses.

“Thank you, Cesare,” said Callahan. “I hope there will be some cost sharing” at Government Center, too.

After the meeting, Flanagan was called at his home to find out why he left the committee meeting.

“I am not a member of Mr. Pascarella’s committee. I did not ask for any meeting with the Board of Education,” he said, adding that it was Pascarella’s idea to have the informational session.

“Pascarella sent a letter to the Board’s attorney for an opinion about the charter and that’s what the meeting was supposed to be about,” said Flanagan. “I wasn’t going to stick around for a dog and pony show. Anyone who wants to criticize me should come to my face and criticize me because Mr. Pascarella is doing a disservice to the taxpayers of the town in the manner of which he is conducting himself as a councilman. He’s operating as a representative of the Board of Ed -- and no one else.”

Highlights of the proposed “Purchase Order (“PO”) procedures for Hamden Board of Education”

  1. POs in amounts from $500.00 - $1,999.00 require verbal quotation from three (3) vendors. POs that are $1,999 and less require approval by finance director only.
  2. POs in the amounts from $2,000.00 to $49,999.00 require three (3) written quotes. The lowest quote is usually selected. If the lowest quote is not selected, a written explanation is required as to why. Approval of the Superintendent is required for POs in the $2,000 - $49,999 range. In addition, copies of all POs in this range must be sent to the Finance Committee on a monthly basis for informational purposes.
  3. For purchases over $50,000 a formal advertised bid is required. Finance Committee approval is required for amounts between $50,000 and $99,999. Full Board approval is required for all amounts of $100,000.
  4. All POs must have detailed description of each item, for what location the purchase is intended, the requestor’s name, and appropriate back-up [stet] documentation.
  5. If a requested PO (for any amount) would exceed the budget allocation for a particular line item, the PO must be returned to the requestor with a note that states that the requested amount is over-budget {stet], and by what amount. The requestor must provide a written explanation as to why the amount is needed to the Superintendent, with a copy to the Finance Committee.
  6. Each audit year, the Finance Director must report audit status of the previous year to the Finance Committee, in writing, on a monthly basis, beginning with August 1 of the new fiscal year.
  7. A written description of all BOE line item budget transfers approved by the Board must be attached to the BOE meeting minutes at which the transfers were approved.
  8. A spread sheet [stet] showing all BOE transfers and expenditures must be provided to the Legislative Council on a monthly basis, consistent with the Town Charter.

Another No-Bid Moment

By Sharon Bass

The two Council Republicans have criticized the Democratic mayor for a string of no-bid contracts during his 14 months in office. However justification for a new one, presented at Monday’s committee meetings, seemed to somewhat satisfy the minority party’s objections.

“I agree with this bid waiver but we have done only bid waivers with this administration,” said Republican Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “We have not done anything but that. We have done bid waivers for cars.”

“We have to break the cycle,” said the other Council Republican, Ron Gambardella. “We have to convince the administration this is not the way to go.”

“We’re not buying widgets here,” said Councilman and Majority Leader Matt Fitch. “We need to get the right person.”

“We need to trust the administration,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella.

The hoopla was over Hamden Plaza Associates’ dispute with the new assessed property value of $23,245,600 for its 2100 Dixwell Ave. shopping strip. The firm is suing the town, and in an effort to avoid legal and other court fees Mayor Craig Henrici made a request for a bid waiver in favor of Wellspeak, Dugas & Kane to do a professional assessment of the 240,000-square-foot property for 6 grand, hoping the two parties could reach an agreement.

Henrici contended in a letter to councilmembers that the Cheshire firm is expert in appraising shopping centers and time is running out. If the suit goes to trial, Wellspeak would charge $250 an hour to be an expert witness and there would be other court-related costs.

Assistant Town Attorney Mike Kamp said Hamden Plaza’s own appraisal came in at “many millions of dollars below the town’s,” which was conducted by Appraisal Vision at the end of 2005. Hamden Plaza’s is one of 60 suits leveled at the town over the new property assessments. Kamp said two-thirds of the complaints are residential and about one-third of the 60 have been resolved.

“I need a professional,” said Kamp. “In this case there’s such a difference [in appraisals], we had to hire a professional.”

Still, Gambardella wasn’t buying it. “This can’t be the only person who’s competent to do this job.”

“I agree with you,” Councilman Curt Leng said of no-bid requests in general. “But if a request for proposal is issued [which means advertising costs], you’d probably get the same person. You have to understand there are times for bid waivers.”

The appraisal is expected to take four to six weeks. It will then be presented to Hamden Plaza with the hope the lawsuit will be dropped.

January 29, 2007

Henrici Files for 2nd Term

Craig Henrici

Ron Gambardella       Ed Sullivan

Republicans muse a challenge

By Sharon Bass

It’s not an official announcement that he's running for re-election, said Democratic Mayor Craig Henrici, but he has officially filed papers in the Town Clerk’s Office for another two years.

“It’s just the formation of a committee to start the ball rolling,” said Henrici, 53. He’s lined up Elliott Kerzner, the treasurer from his 2005 campaign, and his part-time secretary Marybeth Perry, as deputy treasurer. Councilman Matt Fitch “could be” his campaign manager again, the mayor said.

He said he'd like a second term because “I like the fact that you can make a difference locally. I answer every phone call, every e-mail. It’s gratifying.”

Meanwhile, Republican Town Committee Chair Mike Iezzi said he’s got several contenders in mind -- Board of Education members Austin Cesare and Ed Sullivan and at-large Council members Ron Gambardella and Betty Wetmore.

Henrici withheld comment about possible Republican candidates. In 2005, he was ushered into office with over 80 percent of the vote, reportedly the biggest landslide in town history.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job in 14 months,” the mayor said. “We’ve done a lot. We’ve taken on the financial issues head on. We’ve been honest with taxpayers as far as budgeting. We’ve been honest with town workers with settling their contracts. And we’ve been honest with leveling with them with regards to the abysmal state of the pension fund. We think we’ve turned the corner, so to speak.”

Also, he credits his administration with stopping the mining of gravel in northern Hamden, purchasing the Johnson’s Pond property in Spring Glen to save as open space and is about to close the deal on the Dadio Farm, which was to become apartment city but will be used instead for a new firehouse and other municipal buildings.

“We’re managing money and we’re managing people. I owe a lot of credit to department heads, especially [Finance Director] Mike Betz and [Chief Administrative Officer] Scott Jackson. We have a wonderful working relationship with the Legislative Council,” Henrici said.

Asked about criticism he’s received -- for such things as promising not to drive a town vehicle to set a fiscally responsible example and then asking the Legislative Council at the onset of his term to approve an SUV for him; going back on his campaign promise to end no-bid contracts; and appointing campaign donors and workers to commissions and jobs -- he said, “I don’t go on the [Internet] gossip sites. If someone continually criticizes me, sometimes I read what they write [in the newspapers], sometimes I don’t. I don’t take it personally. Many times I don’t take it seriously.

“We feel our appointments to boards and commissions have been quite excellent, especially the land-use [commissions],” said Henrici. “Honest and experienced people.” He mentioned Deb Sharkey, wife of state Rep. Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden), whom he appointed to Inland Wetlands & Watercourses, former Councilwoman Ann Altman to Planning & Zoning, Elisabeth Youngerman to P&Z and Peter Reynolds, a local dentist, also to P&Z.

A third term? “Not if I can help it,” said Henrici.

A Democratic primary is not expected.

The Opposition

“I feel there are a host of people who would be extremely qualified,” said Iezzi. “I think Betty would be a very viable candidate. She has many years on the Council and people all know she has the best interest of the town.” A message left for Wetmore was not returned.

“It’s pretty well expected he’d be seeking another term for mayor,” Iezzi said. “My point is very clear that the town would fare better with a Republican mayor and I think it’s very important that the people in Hamden recognize that there needs to be a balance of power on the Legislative Council.” There are 13 Democrats and two Republicans on the Council.


Austin Cesare, 31, is serving his first term on the BOE. He teaches high school history and government in Milford.

“I’ve been approached by the Republican Party as have several others. Right now what I’m trying to do is get through the budget process for the Board of Ed. After the budget process is finished, I’ll make a decision what my future political plans are,” he said. The school budget goes to the mayor in mid-March.

“I think taxes are a major issue. I’d like the Council to make cuts. I’d like them to also see the Board of Ed budget. I’m urging cuts on the Board of Education side. I’m arguing for a zero percent increase, said Cesare, son of late 2nd District Councilman Frank Cesare and brother of P&Z Commissioner Craig Cesare. Superintendent Alida Begina has proposed a 4.8 percent increase for the ’07-’08 fiscal year.

If elected mayor, Austin Cesare said, “Taxpayers first. That’s the kind of mentality I’d have.” He said he’s opposed to the $50,000-a-year help desk position Henrici established. “It’s an added cost to the town. That person will probably get a pension. I know it’s just one job but that adds up if you do it over and over again [create new positions] and as a result we now have pension problems. I think if department heads did their job, we wouldn’t need a help desk,” he said.

And Cesare said he wants to see party balance in Hamden. “It never serves the taxpayers well having one party in power,” he said.


Ron Gambardella, 51, is in his second term on the Council. He’s a self-employed tax accountant and financial advisor.

“I do know that this is a Democratic town and the mere mention of a Republican automatically puts me at a disadvantage so I need to work to overcome the prejudice toward Republicans. In the Northeast, it’s tough to get a Republican elected,” he said explaining his hesitation to run for mayor this November.

“We would have to determine what’s best for the town. Is it better for me to run for mayor or should I [hold onto] my seat on the Council? That’s the ongoing debate. I am very vocal, as you know. It would be a very interesting campaign,” said Gambardella.

The councilman is an outspoken critic of the town’s labor agreements. “If they [contracts] were more reasonable they wouldn’t have to freeze [jobs] and give guardian services so much overtime. They need to be more realistic,” he said.

He advocates 40-hour workweeks instead of 35, as written in most contracts; offering new employees a private retirement plan (reducing the burden on taxpayers) instead of the town pension, which has been under-funded for years; and making “critical department heads, such as Public Works and Finance,” professional positions not mayoral appointments. “You need continuity from administration to administration,” said Gambardella. Converting those posts would require a charter change.

“I absolutely believe with diversity [on the Council] suggestions from Republicans would be taken more seriously,” he said. For instance, Gambardella said he suggested bonding the pension during the Amento Administration and was ridiculed. Henrici is now pushing for that.


Ed Sullivan, 43, is serving his first term on the BOE. He is a fixed operations manager for Colony Ford in Meriden.

“I haven’t closed out any avenue at this point. I’m still on the Board of Ed and I love it but I’m looking out for the best interest of the town as a whole,” he said. He too pointed to the anorexic pension but unlike Gambardella said he’s not sure if borrowing money is the way to go. Henrici wants to issue $55 million in pension obligation bonds.

“I’d have to get a little more advice from a couple of different avenues. Is bonding the best way? If we’re going to bond it, are we going to change the way it’s done?” said Sullivan.

If mayor, he said he’d try to bring more businesses into Hamden to relieve some of the residential tax burden. “I think you have to look at every aspect of how the town is run. Do we have overlapping in some departments? Do we have enough employees? Is there a way we can combine departments?” Like Cesare, Sullivan said he supports Henrici’s plan to move the school administration into Government Center.

And about the mayor’s campaign promise to develop a municipal ambulance service, Sullivan said, “How much money would that cost? How beneficial to the town would it be? You already have a hiring freeze in place. We looked at one of our highest tax increases in history here. People can’t afford to keep paying. You have to get control of the money and not be spending it frivolously. Did we need that car [SUV]?”

He said he hopes to make a decision “very soon” about whether he’ll make a bid for mayor.

37 Baggies of Pot

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Jan. 24 at approximately 9 p.m., Hamden officer Joshua Cameron observed a motor vehicle violation in the area of Goodrich Street. A motor vehicle stop and investigation were subsequently conducted around Newhall and Read streets in New Haven.

Thirty-seven Baggies containing a total of 20 grams of marijuana with a street value of $370 were confiscated.

Kumal Troutman, 30, of 39 Lexington St., Hamden, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. Troutman was detained at Hamden police headquarters on a $5,000 bond and given a Feb. 7 court date in Meriden.

January 26, 2007

PW Makes Six

By Sharon Bass

Public Works is the latest union to file a grievance for having to work Jan. 2 -- a day President Bush designated for mourning the death of President Gerald Ford. Although town labor contracts give workers the day off if a holiday -- not a mourning day -- is declared by the president, governor or mayor, six local bargaining units have now officially complained that they had to work and are asking to be “made whole” by getting extra pay.

According to Personnel Director Ken Kelley, there will likely be six separate hearings with the state Labor Board on the grievances, which means Hamden taxpayers will have to pay Bridgeport labor attorney Chris Hodgson six times to sit in on each hearing.

“No one has withdrawn” a Jan. 2 complaint, said Kelley.

A town worker yesterday told the HDN "we had to" file a grievance "because it's in our contract." When asked if his contract gives time off for a mourning day, he said he didn't know.

Three of the town's nine locals have not grieved working Jan. 2: civilian emergency dispatchers, fire and engineers. And none of the school unions have either. The dispatchers are unlikely to complain, Kelley said, because they did so in 2003 to get the day after Christmas off -- and lost. President Bush closed some federal offices on Dec. 26, 2003 (a Friday), but did not declare a holiday. While all unions filed grievances for that day -- and all lost -- Kelley said dispatchers chose “tripartite arbitration,” while the others went with the expedited type of arb.

“Tripartite is much more exhaustive and the final decision comes from the state Labor Board,” he said. Whereas the expedited route brings the board to Hamden for a hearing that is not binding.

Kelley expects the first Jan. 2 grievance to be heard in Hamden in March.

January 25, 2007

About that Ambulance

Chief Berardesca. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

By the end of this week (tomorrow), Fire Chief David Berardesca said he plans to submit a “need of service” application to the state to get the wheels moving on creating a municipal ambulance service. Something Mayor Craig Henrici campaigned on and something he’s doggedly pushing.

But it won’t happen overnight, for sure. “We’re still in the beginning stages,” said Berardesca. It will take six to nine months just for the state to decide whether to OK a transport service for Hamden, he said. During that time, hearings are held so the town can explain why it wants its own ambulance operation and also to alert competitors.

“It gives other entities such as AMR and Nelson [an opportunity] to hear this and object to it,” said Berardesca. American Medical Response currently transports Hamdenites to hospitals during emergencies. It would continue to do so even if the state approves a town-run service, but Hamden would be the first responder, cutting into AMR’s business.

Meanwhile, the Fire Department is short 12 fighters and two more are on long-term disability leaves, the chief said. And the mayor instituted a hiring freeze on Jan. 1. Berardesca said those vacancies would have to be filled to kick off an ambulance operation.

“I’m aware that he has vacancies in his department and we’ve come to an understanding that vacancies can’t be filled,” said Henrici. “It’s not the right time.”

When is? “We don’t know yet,” the mayor said. “I understand and agree with the chief’s concern.”

Knows the Biz

Before becoming Hamden’s chief last summer, Berardesca was Wallingford’s assistant fire chief and oversaw that town’s ambulance service, which began in 1924 and became part of the fire department in 1978. “I know how to do this. It’s just the logistics and hurdles,” he said. Such as filling vacancies, going through the state process and finding ways to fund the operation, especially while the town struggles financially.

“We’re being proactive doing this,” he said. For instance, two of the department’s three rescue units are about 10 years old and have clocked 100,000 miles apiece. Instead of replacing them with similar vehicles, Berardesca said a bid is going out for two EMS units, which can double as ambulances. Also, the department already has defibrillators and the new rescue vehicles come with stretchers. However, in order to run two ambulances, which is the plan, another would have to be purchased as a backup.

Twenty firefighters on the Hamden force are paramedics and the other 60 are emergency medical technicians. Paramedics get more advanced training than EMTs and can do stuff like start an IV and administer narcotics. They respond to medical calls and AMR transports those needing hospitalization. Sometimes, the paramedic will go to the hospital as well.

“It’s a duplication of services and more wear and tear on the vehicles,” said Berardesca. Part of the application to the state asks for reimbursement from AMR for paramedic services.

Of the 9,000 calls to the Fire Department in 2006, he said about 7,000 were for medical emergencies. And the call volume goes up every year because people are living longer and there are more vehicles on the road, which means more accidents and injuries.


The need-of-service application asks why an ambulance operation is needed and wanted.

“To provide a better service to the community,” the chief said. “That’s the main reason we want this. We have a good response from AMR now, but this adds to the system.”

Contrary to Henrici’s 2005 campaign literature touting this as a moneymaker, Berardesca said municipal transports are more likely to just break even. It’s not about money, he said, it’s about providing something nice for residents.

“But the service is much more important than any revenue-maker,” said the chief. “If the ambulance can save one life, that in itself is worth its weight in gold.”

If it’s a no-go? “Even if we couldn’t do it, we could transport our own firefighters” who get ill or injured on the job, Berardesca said of making use of the to-be-purchased EMS vehicles.

Crack Bust

Also from Capt. Ron Smith:

On Jan. 19, while traveling southbound on Dixwell Avenue, officer Joshua Cameron observed a motor vehicle pass on the right. As Cameron followed, the driver attempted to elude him. A motor vehicle stop was subsequently conducted in the area of Putnam and Dixwell avenues.

Investigation led to the search of the motor vehicle. Police located 21 zip-lock bags of crack cocaine and another small quantity of crack. The street value is estimated at over $300. Calvin Streater, 23, of 207 Goodrich St., was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Streater was detained at police headquarters on a $50,000 bond and given a Feb. 2 court date.

January 22, 2007

Quality Weed Seized

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Jan. 15, the police Street Interdiction Team received information about a marijuana trafficking operation in town. The investigation led police to the execution of a search and seizure warrant at 31 Plaza Terrace, Apt. 17, Hamden.

There, police recovered over 13 ounces of high-grade marijuana with a street value of roughly $3,250. Police also seized drug paraphernalia and $2,000.

Javier Mendizabal, 24, of the above address was arrested and charged with possession of more than 4 ounces of marijuana, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia. Mendizabal was released on a written promise to appear and given a Feb. 6 court date.

January 19, 2007


What they ran from.

Town employees run outside for safety; mayor leads the pack

By Sharon Bass

When the fire alarm at Government Center went off at 12:30 p.m. yesterday, Mayor Craig Henrici made a beeline for his car.

“I left. I was not going down with the ship,” he said hours later, safely back in his municipal quarters. “People thought I was abandoning the ship, but that might have been the case to the untrained eye. Really, I was establishing an evacuation route -- getting into my car and getting out of the driveway.”

And Henrici didn’t run away because he was scared. “No, it was lunchtime,” he said. He got a bowl of “homemade” turkey rice soup at Whitney Donut.

So, what happened? Reportedly, a Finance Department employee burned his or her popcorn in the microwave in the third-floor kitchenette and the room smoked up, a little. The fire alarm went off and everyone who wasn’t already out to lunch had to evacuate the building.

The mayor said he didn’t know how long it took firefighters to respond because he was at Whitney Donut. But those who stood by Town Hall reported it took a few minutes for three fighters to arrive and employees were let back in about 10 minutes later.

Here are some of their stories.

“I didn’t know what to think,” recalled Jeanine Aceto, a Fire Department secretary. “I just remember being taught when you hear [a fire alarm] going, get out.” She said the incident was “not a big deal.”

Perhaps not for Aceto, but that wasn’t the case for the poor women down in the Town Clerk’s Office -- once they emerged from fire-alarm denial, that is.

Town Clerk Morrison. File photo

“We figured it was a fire drill. So we kind of ignored it,” said Town Clerk Vera Morrison. “But then we all got our coats on like good, little people. We locked up the office and locked up the vault and we headed outside like everybody else did.”

If there had been a real fire, the town could have lost Tax Assessor Jim Clynes. While most report the alarm is very loud, from Clynes’ office it’s  “barely detectable.” An employee alerted him and  “we left immediately.” No one in his department knew why the alarm went off, but nobody was afraid, he claimed.

“I sat in my car where it was warm,” said Clynes. He said it was his first fire-alarm experience in his 19 years at Hamden Town Hall, save drills. He said he didn’t know the nature of the fire alarm and didn’t ask.

Risk Manager Art Giulietti. File photo

“I heard the fire alarm and someone says, ‘What was it?’ And I said, ‘The fire alarm,’” said Risk Manager Art Giulietti, who works in Finance. “We’ve all got to get out of here. Everyone used the stairs.” On his out, eyewitness Giulietti said he stopped into the kitchenette to check out the scene.

“Most of the smoke was inside the microwave. There was a very, very light fog. You could see clearly through the room. There was a light haze. That’s it,” he reported.

But just in case it had been an actual fire, Giulietti said the department took its hardcopy list of employees outside. “That’s part of our emergency plan so you know you’ve evacuated everyone,” he said, adding that Finance was the only department to shield its employee list during the smoke out.

“I know some people left their keys, left their coats. I mean, you’re supposed to get out as quickly as possible,” said Giulietti when asked if he took anything else with him.

Mayor Henrici. File photo

There were no human or even serious microwave injuries. Word is the microwave is doing well. At the end of the workday, Henrici said the place still smelled like burnt popcorn.

A message left for Fire Chief David Berardesca was not returned.

January 18, 2007

Finance First

By Sharon Bass

Mayor Craig Henrici seems determined to start the ball rolling -- and rolling as fast as it can -- to move the education department into Government Center. It could save tax dollars by merging certain functions -- and bring clearer transparency to a department that has raised a lot of eyebrows over the years.

His first target is the school finance office. He said he hopes to see Director Tom Pesce and crowd moved in by February. However, Pesce didn’t sound too on-board yesterday.

“We’ve got to look at the space of the facility itself before we move. We need to see how many square feet are available,” Pesce said. “I’m going to have to talk to [the mayor] about it.” Asked to elaborate on the move, he said he’d call the HDN back in “a little while,” but didn’t, and also didn’t return a second message left for him yesterday.

But Henrici said he’s got Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez on his team. “He said he was not against [the move]. He’s excited about it,” the mayor said. “I want to get finance in there first because much of the concern between the town and Board of Ed has to do with finances. So we’re hoping we can work better under a common roof.”

“I do whatever the Board of Education tells me to do,” said Hernandez, who didn’t want to comment on sharing digs with the town side.

In response to Pesce’s concern about where his office would be sited in Government Center, Henrici said that’s all worked out. “We have a blueprint of the building and have identified where the vacant offices are. For the most part they’re next to the Council office,” he said.

After the school finance office moves in, Henrici said plans will be drawn to bring the rest of the education department to Government Center.

Suburban Seed

Illustration for the HDN by Craig Houghton

By Sharon Bass

Looks like Hamden is getting her own farmers market. A $50,000 state grant just arrived to develop a space for it on Meadowbrook, which is in the midst of being transformed into Town Center Park.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Councilman Matt Fitch, who chairs the town park committee. He said farmers “from all over Connecticut” are welcome.

However, local farmers would get first dibs on market spots, said grants coordinator Chris Marchand. He didn’t know how many active farms are left in town, but has heard there might be a half-dozen. Marchand said he’s excited about having a fresh fruit and veggie market.

So is Liz Hindinger, whose family farm on Dunbar Hill Road was established in 1893. “It’s a great way to introduce people in the community to us. I think it’s a great opportunity,” she said. “It would be silly for us not to go. It’s right in Hamden. Hey, any way to make money is good for us. We do well in Fair Haven.”

Hindinger sells her edible wares at City Seed, a farmers market in Fair Haven. She also has a retail shop at the farm, but said it doesn’t draw “everybody in Hamden,” especially from the southern parts, so she really values the outdoor markets.

Apparently, not every farmer does. Arthur Vignola, who runs a farm on Paradise Avenue, said he didn’t want anything to do with any farmers market -- in Hamden or anywhere else.

“I wouldn’t be interested in it. I’ve got my customers come here every year. I do the picking with other senior citizens. I wouldn’t be interested,” said Vignola.

When he learned of the $50,000 grant for someone to design the market space, his voice grew louder.

“About the grant, they oughta spend their money more wisely. No wonder the taxes are so out of hand,” Vignola said.

Marchand said a designer is necessary because “the park itself is going to have an overall design so the big issue is how does the farmers market fit into that design.” Stuff like parking and whether there should be a graveled path for the farmers also needs to be mapped out, he said.

Another City Seed

Marchand said City Seed is a model for Hamden’s market. Besides produce, meat, cheese and flowers would be sold. He figured it would operate one or two days a week depending on what the community wants and availability of farmers. The town is currently negotiating a contract with a designer, he said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the town to be involved in an important growing trend, the ability to buy local healthy produce to support the economy and help the farmers,” said Marchand.

‘I See a Red Flag Right There’

FIRST focuses on the town's bottom line

By Sharon Bass

A new committee charged with finding non-tax revenue for the town met for the first time last night. Ideas were thrown around. Energy was high. There was lots of talk about the flaws of town government. And ways Hamden could save money as well as bring it in.

But perhaps the most notable part of the two-plus-hour meeting was the reaction of FIRST (Finance, Income & Revenue Search Team) resident member, Peter Tredwell. He is one of two residents on the 10-person committee of otherwise elected and town officials. With the other resident member being town employee Don Werner, who's a regular at Council meetings, Tredwell was the only town-government virgin in the room. He’s always worked for the private sector.

And more than once he’d exclaim he couldn’t believe his ears.

“I didn’t come in here with any expectations,” Tredwell said after the meeting. He works for ESPN. “But I’ve worked in the TV business for 10 years and I would describe TV as a very results-oriented business. Everything is performance based, like holiday bonuses and raises. And to hear that for town employees nothing is based on performance?”

Here’s what else Tredwell heard in Government Center’s third-floor conference room.

“Our job here is rather simple,” began FIRST Chair Curt Leng, also a councilman. He asked each member for five “firm recommendations” to generate non-tax money for the Legislative Council to review during the upcoming budget season.

“I think we should cut the [Elderly Services] bus service to New Haven,” said Werner, an Elderly Services bus driver. “It takes away from people in Hamden.” He said the buses get just 4 miles to the gallon and there are three buses going all day. Riders pay one buck for roundtrip fare.

“I see a red flag right there,” said member Gretchen Callahan, also a councilwoman. “One dollar no matter how far one goes?” She said riders going into New Haven, for instance, should pay more.

“You don’t want to do that,” warned Werner. “The seniors are already overtaxed.”

“Not all of them,” Callahan shot back.

“It may not be a hardship on them paying another $1,” said Werner, “but the public relations …”

FIRST member Dale Kroop, also the town’s economic development director, asked how many people use the bus to go to New Haven. Werner said one woman goes three times a week for dialysis and there are others who go to the VA.

Leng interjected. “Especially since we have the media here, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re here to cut services,” he said.

Committee members nodded their heads in agreement.

Next on Werner’s list was to reinstate the school’s activity fee for sports and other extracurricular programs.

Mike Germano, also a councilman, wholeheartedly agreed. “I don’t care. Let them put advertising all over the sports fields. Put advertising on my forehead,” he said.

Leng said $75,000 was collected in 2005-06 in activity fees, and at least that amount of money could be made through selling ads for the sports fields. Germano said it would make kids feel good seeing those advertisements, just like in the professional leagues.

“We could make a fortune! A fortune every year and the kids would love it,” he said.

And Werner pushed his pet idea to merge all maintenance into one department. “It will instill better accountability,” he said.

“I agree with that. There is absolutely no accountability with town employees,” said Kroop.

Werner suggested having an employee evaluation system “that wouldn’t hurt their pay but maybe hurt their chances for promotion.”

Tredwell said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Can’t they be fired? I’ve never heard of this,” he said. In the private business world, employees who don’t perform well get fired or demoted. He was told town workers are unionized and protected from being fired and in most cases demoted. No matter what.

Kroop agreed raises should be based on merit instead of according to labor agreements.

“The town should be run like a business. It is a business,” said Germano.

“There is a structure problem in this town,” said Kroop. Having the mayor appoint nearly every department head is a bad idea, he said, because there’s not much job security. A new mayor comes in and can -- and often does -- wipe out many heads. Wresting that power from the mayor would require a charter revision. A group of three councilmembers is currently deciding whether the 1984 charter should be amended.

Kroop said some department heads and rank and file workers take advantage of the system.

“Charter revision is a scary endeavor because you open up a can of worms,” said Leng.

“It’s nothing against religion, but my pet peeve is too many churches and nonprofits don’t pay property taxes,” said Kroop. And he said the town cannot afford to keep the old middle school, the Keefe Center and the Newhall Community Center. One or two of those buildings should be sold, he said.

“Do you know how much money you’re going to pour into the old Michael J. Whalen?” he said.

“And if we sold a building we wouldn’t have to deal with POBs [Pension Obligation Bonds],” said Leng. The mayor wants to borrow $55 million for the town’s rather emaciated retirement account and much of the Council is opposed, saying it’s too risky to invest the taxpayers’ money.

Callahan voiced issues she has with the way Parks & Rec pays local sports groups. She said there’s some inequality in the amounts that are dispensed.

“We give checks to all the sports organizations, whether they need it or not,” said Callahan, who chairs the legislative Recreation & Culture Committee.

“Why do we pay them?” said Germano. “All the sports get a subsidy?”

“If they don’t get that check there’s an incredible [amount of] lobbying that goes on,” said Leng. Some get about 10,000 tax dollars a year from the town, he said.

The original purpose of the subsidy was to help new community sports programs get started, but for some reason the checks keep getting cut years later, said Leng. Also, the organizations use the school fields and concession stands for free, he said.

And Callahan had a few words to say about the ice-rink concession stand, which is run by a private company the town hired. “It’s hardly every open when I’m there,” she said. “There’s no accountability there.” The company is supposed to return a small percentage of sales to the town but Callahan said, “I don’t know if it’s done right.”

“The town of Hamden gives more to its residents than any other town,” she said.

“That’s why our taxes are so high,” said Kroop.

Another Callahan suggestion: department heads should be asked how they could cut 5 percent from their budgets. “I’ve heard from different departments there are places to cut,” she said. Also, she suggested the town actually collect the fines issued for zoning, anti-blight and property maintenance violations. Leng said not one dollar was collected last year.

More city bus shelters are needed in southern Hamden, said Germano, which gave him an another advertising idea. He said he talked to a bigwig at Clear Channel about building Hamden a bus shelter for free in return for Clear Channel ads all over it.

Germano said residents who have e-mail accounts should get all town notices, even their tax bills, via e-mail to save on postage. Leng said postage cost $119,000 last year.

Last it was Tredwell’s turn to suggest. He said he liked Germano’s advertising ideas. “Nothing is sacred anymore,” said the resident committee member from the private side. “Some people are bothered by that but what’s your choice? Do you want to pay more taxes?”

January 17, 2007

Loyal Opposition

The mayor appeals to his council last night. Photo/Sharon Bass

Henrici tries to convince the Council pension bonds are the way to go

By Sharon Bass

It was the third attempt to push the mayor’s plan to borrow millions to feed the chronically underfed retirement account. Difference this time around is the mayor spoke directly to the Legislative Council, instead of the corporate financial folks who tried to sell the idea of pension obligation bonds at the two previous sales shows.

Despite the lower key atmosphere last night and the refreshing use of layman's terms, council members sounded as skeptical as ever to risk borrowing money at the taxpayer's expense. They agreed this would be the most important decision they would make this session.

To sum up, the town’s pension account is 29 percent full. Or has $82.7 million. The un-funded liability rings in at $196 million, according to actuaries. About $15 million a year is sent to retirees. This fiscal year $12 million was put into the fund. Next year $16 million will be needed. The mil rate is sure to rise.

So Craig Henrici wants to borrow $55 million, down $30 million from his original suggestion, to fatten up the account. The borrowed money, called pension obligation bonds, would be invested with the hope of a minimum 8 percent return. It’s that hope and the other unknowns of gambling with tax money that has most of the Council squirming.

The mayor said it’s the only viable option. Council members countered that if enough money is put into the account -- which hasn’t been done in maybe nine years -- POBs would not be needed.

“It’s time for a new plan,” Henrici said to the Council. Ten years ago, 100 workers supported 80 retirees. Now, 100 support 108. The actuary’s recommended contribution (ARC) for the pension fund has tripled since 1996.

“Even with the most optimistic calculations, it will take us another three years of accelerated payments to start increasing the size of our pension fund,” he said. “ …adding an additional $9 million for pension fund contributions over the next three years … would have a devastating effect on the mil rate … we must all heed that the fund has lost $51.5 million in value since 2000. The specter of a pay-as-you-go pension does not loom over the heads of our children. It looms over ours.”

Henrici said since 1985, hundreds of communities have gone the POB route.

Councilman John Flanagan asked him to name three towns where the bonds were successful.

“West Haven,” the mayor said. “If West Haven can do it, we can do it.”

“This isn’t a hockey game, with all due respect,” Flanagan said. “I want to talk to the finance directors of those towns.”

“I wonder if that’s why West Haven had such a high tax increase this year,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore.

Said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker, “I understand the logic of this proposal. I’d ask the mayor what is the downside?” Besides the investments tanking.

“I think they’ll [Hamden residents] be upset because of mistakes made in the past,” Henrici said. “You’re not going to see a bridge or anything [from the borrowed $55 million]. But I think this is a fiscally sound thing to do.”


Once a town issues POBs, the state mandates that it pays 100 percent of the ARC every year. There is no choice. Hamden has under-funded the account for years, which is how it got into this mess. If the proposed POB plan went exactly as planned -- realizing at least 8 percent interest on investments -- in 30 years there would be a multi-million dollar profit to the town. While the ARC would decrease, very slightly at first, the town’s annual debt service payment would rise because there would be an additional debt payment on the POBs.

According to a chart the town administration put together, under the current plan of adding $3 million more a year, the pension contributions would be $12 million for 2007-08; $15 million for 2008-09; and $18 million for 2009-10. Debt service payments would respectively be $13.3 million; $12.6 million; and $12.3 million. And the projected mil rates would be 29.26; 30.35; and 31.37.

The chart also breaks out the same info if $55 million in POBs was added to the pension pot, factoring in an 8 percent return. In 2007-08, the pension contributions would be $13.4 million; 2008-09, $13.9 million; and 2009-10, $14.6 million. Debt service is calculated at about $11.4 million; $12.4 million and $13.5 million.

Finance Director Mike Betz said the figures are based on a 1 percent rise in the grand list each year, which is a typical increase. All told, in three years the town would save roughly $2 million by issuing $55 million in POBs. But there are those ifs.

“Instead of paying an additional $4 million in [POB] debt service, put that money into the retirement fund,” said Wetmore. “We’re borrowing money we’ve already borrowed. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“You guys are the fiscal authority of the town,” said Henrici. “If you want to raise the mil rate by three points, God bless you. I won’t endorse it. I’ll sign it but I won’t endorse it.”

Councilman Mike Germano responded to Wetmore’s idea. “We’d have to rely on people at this table to authorize enough money to fund every year,” he said. Then ruffled a few feathers. “The people who put us in this situation are still here,” he said looking around the Council bench. Matt Fitch shot something back that was inaudible to the audience.

But if the town is going to do the POBs, Germano felt it should be for $85 million. Still, he voiced serious doubt. “The auditors said the town doesn’t need to [issue] pension obligation bonds. I got nervous when the auditors tell me we don’t have to take this risk,” he said.

The more the town bonds the less money it has to borrow for new buildings, renovations and infrastructure improvements, under the charter. If borrowing is needed above the charter-prescibed amount, a people's referendum would be held to decide. With $55 million in POBs, Henrici said over the next four to five years $75 million could be borrowed.

“It’s going to put a strain on the school system, the Hamden Fire Department and Police Department,” said Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan. “What’s the mil rate going to be?”

“It’s up to you guys,” said the mayor.

Before the meeting started, Council members were asked where they stood on the POBs.

”No comment until I hear everything,” said Berita Rowe-Lewis.

“I’m pleased we’re having the discussion,” said Matt Fitch. ‘The parameters of the discussion are no longer arguing about whether we have a [pension fund] problem. It’s how to solve the problem. He said he got a “preview” of the mayor’s speech earlier in the day. “It’s not going to save any money in the short term,” the councilman said. “It’s not something that’s going to help or hurt this year’s budget.”

Wetmore had said, “I do not feel we should bond the pension. I think it’s way too risky. We need to bite the bullet and fund the [pension] budget the right way and not borrow money.”

And Flanagan said he promised Betz he’d listen. “I tend to be against it. They’re so risky that they’re not tax-exempt and [POBs] have been unsuccessful around the country.” He cited San Diego and New Jersey as places the POBs have not worked out.

Patty Riccitelli, supervisor of the Finance Department and president of the supervisors local, said she fully supports bonding the fund. She said she felt comfortable with the town’s new financial adviser, Wachovia Securities. “Wachovia, they’ve been rated one of the top financial institutions in the country. I just think it’s the right time,” she said.

Town employees retire at an average age of 46.1, she said. And 50.4 percent of those covered by the retirement account are collecting pensions, Riccitelli said. As the representative for seven town unions and a member of the Pension Board, she said all unions are in favor of borrowing money to beef up the fund.

After the meeting, Henrici said he was encouraged. “We don’t have too many avenues and there are no homeruns here, just hard decisions,” he said. Then he and the Council went into executive session. On his way out, Curt Leng said with $55 million of borrowing, the mil rate would drop just one-10th of a point in the first year; one-third the second; and less than one-half a point in the third.

“Bonding the pension and borrowing $55 million in my opinion is the wrong choice for Hamden. With the slow and steady approach [without borrowing], we begin to decrease our pension obligation in just three years,” he said.

Councilman Ron Gambardella, a financial expert who has done much research on POBs, remains the sole supporter of the mayor's plan.

Carjacked in Hamden

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Jan. 16 at approximately 3:45 a.m., Hamden police responded to a report of a carjacking around Shepard and Goodrich streets. Upon arrival, officers met with the victim, Germano Kimbro. Kimbro said he was parked on Shepard Street, dropping off two female friends, when two men -- described as black males wearing dark clothing -- entered his vehicle through a rear passenger door.

According to Kimbro, one of the men pointed a handgun at his head and ordered him out of the vehicle. Kimbro said one of the subjects began hitting him in the head with the gun. The gun then discharged, and Kimbro said he was able to drive away from the scene. However, one of the subjects remained inside his vehicle, until Kimbro said he exited Shepard near Huntington Street. 

Kimbro was transported to the Hospital of Saint Raphael's by ambulance. He suffered a gunshot wound to the left arm and a head injury. He was treated and released.

The Hamden Police Department is investigating the incident.

January 11, 2007

Kelley Gets a Fifth

Personnel Director Ken Kelley. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

The police union filed a grievance Tuesday saying cops weren't adequately compensated for working Jan. 2, which President Bush declared as a day of mourning for the late President Gerald Ford, said Personnel Director Ken Kelley. The library, Town Hall, supervisors and Parks & Rec locals --all of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- filed the same complaint late last week.

Kelley vowed to deny every one of them.

Labor contracts have provisions that give employees a day off when the president, governor or mayor call a holiday. But Jan. 2 was just a mourning day. State and most if not all municipal offices were open Jan. 2. Since Hamden town employees worked that day, they’re asking to “be made whole,” or paid their holiday rate. Kelley said the state labor board will likely hear the grievances next month.

Police filed another grievance Jan. 9 on behalf of “several cops” who were not allowed to take the civil service test for captain, because they were still in their six-month probationary period after being promoted to lieutenant, said Kelley. “You can’t grieve civil service stuff,” he said. “I’m going to deny it and I don’t even think the state will hear it.”

Fire and Public Works are now the only town unions that have not grieved working on the day of mourning, he said.

January 10, 2007

Sobriety Checks a Success

From Capt. Ron Smith:

The Hamden Police Department conducted several sobriety checkpoints over the holiday season at various locations. The goal was to spread public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, along with making the streets of Hamden and surrounding communities safer by arresting those who were driving while intoxicated.

The checkpoints were deemed successful as nearly 1,000 motor vehicles were stopped over the 11-day operation. During this time period, there were no accidents that resulted in a fatality or serious physical injury, which police believe was a direct result of the enforcement action.

The holiday statistics:

8 arrests for driving under the influence
11 arrests for failure to wear a seat belt
28 arrests for various motor vehicle charges
10 criminal arrests

Furthermore, over 100 written warnings were issued for motor vehicle violations.
January 5, 2007

Unions Want Extra Pay for Jan. 2

By Sharon Bass

Four local bargaining units just filed grievances with the town because employees had to work Jan. 2 -- a day President Bush designated as a national day of mourning, but not a holiday,  in honor of recently departed President Gerald Ford. The unions are asking for holiday pay or to “be made whole,” said Personnel Director Ken Kelley, who expects more complaints to come in.

“I expect police, fire and everyone else to file,” he said. “They’re saying that there’s language in their contract that says if the president in the United States, or the governor or mayor declares a holiday by proclamation they get the day off. The unions are also complaining that when Reagan died they got the day off.”

Bush gave federal employees Jan. 2 off, but the state and likely all municipal governments were open. When Bush called June 5, 2004, a mourning day for the late President Ronald Reagan, Gov. Rowland declared it a state holiday. However, Gov. Rell simply asked for a moment of silence Tuesday.

The first grievance hit Kelley’s desk yesterday. It was from the library local. Today the supervisors’, Town Hall and Parks & Rec unions followed suit, he said. They are all members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Larry Dorman of Council 4 AFSCME said a precedent was set when Rowland called a holiday after Reagan died. The dispute will likely go to a state arbitrator, for which the town will have to pay legal fees. Kelley said he didn’t know what the tab could run.

“I think the unions know I’m going to deny them and that we’re going to arbitrate them,” he said. He figured a hearing will be held in February or March and a decision made a couple of weeks later.

The town also has a precedent. On the day after Christmas 2003, Bush closed federal offices and gave employees a paid day off. But like other towns, Hamden was open. “The unions all grieved it. We denied it and we won -- all of them,” said Kelley.

“The unions have a legal right to grieve anything. I would be surprised if these have any merit,” said Mayor Craig Henrici. “It seems a little foolish. I think there’s better ways to spend your time.”

Judy Gott, executive director of the South Central Regional Council of Governments, said she contacted Gov. Rell before Jan. 2 and was told it would not be a state holiday. Gott said she was unsure if any municipalities were closed Tuesday, and suggested contacting individual ones to find out.

Calls were randomly made to Bethel, Danbury, East Haven, Lyme, Madison, Middletown and New Haven. All were open Jan. 2 and their employees were paid regular time.

Top o’ Keefe

Chris Marchand poses by the free solar panels. Photo/David Barboza

By Sharon Bass

Thanks to over 200 Hamdenites who have signed up for alternative energy, the Keefe Community Center is now a little greener. Solar panels were recently installed on its roof. An $80,000 value the town got for zippo.

Under the SmartPower 20% by 2010 Clean Energy Campaign, every time 100 residents choose an alternative energy source, Hamden gets a 2 kilowatt solar array for free. Keefe got 4 kilowatts worth of panels. So far 270 townies have gone the clean energy route. Another 30 signups will bring in another array. Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

“We’re going to look at [putting arrays on] the libraries, the schools, the firehouses, as more and more residents sign up,” said Chris Marchand, Hamden's grants administrator and a member of the Energy Use & Climate Change Commission. The purpose is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2010.

The commission got a $5,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund for promotional campaigns to get folks to dish out an extra $6 to $9 a month, on top of their regular United Illuminating bills, to partly or completely use solar, hydro or wind power in lieu of power that comes from burning coal, Marchand said.

“UI goes out to the open market to purchase clean energy. You don’t know where it’s coming from,” said Marchand. “[But] it’s definitely monitored and legit.”

Organizations that reach Hamden rezzies are eligible for a piece of the grant money. Miller Library is the first to get some of the dough. The commission gave the library $1,000 to purchase books and videos on energy conservation and greenhouse gas awareness, he said. Also, a display will be set up by the library’s entrance with signup forms for the clean energy program.

With UI’s impending 50 percent rate hike, paying even a few additional bucks may not sound too inviting. But Marchand said in the long run, it’s worth it.

“In light of the recent increase in UI’s cost, it makes more and more sense to look at alternative energy sources. It will eventually bring the cost down,” he said. When enough people sign up for clean energy, “it becomes more cost-effective than coal-burning.”

To sign up online, click here.

Bedroom Pot Raid

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Jan. 3, the Street Interdiction Team observed suspicious activity occurring in a parking lot in the Mount Carmel area. Further investigation revealed that Lawrence Gamm was delivering marijuana to Steven Henshaw.

The investigation led to a search of Gamm's bedroom, located at 217 Magee Drive in Hamden, where police recovered 15 grams of marijuana. The street value is $300. Gamm and Henshaw were arrested.

Gamm, 20, was charged with possession of marijuana, was released on a written promise to appear and given a Jan. 12 court date.

Henshaw, 21, of 67 Nolan Road, Hamden, was charged with possession of marijuana. He was released on a written promise to appear and given a Jan. 17 court date.
January 4, 2007

Council Cordiality Kicks off the New Year

File photo

By Sharon Bass

Last night was the Legislative Council’s first meeting of 2007. And pretty much nothing of note happened -- except a little noise around a no-bid contract. Absent were Councilmen Al Gorman and Jim Pascarella. Their 13 peers, including John Flanagan, treated each other respectfully. In fact, the 2nd District councilman even announced that for the first time he agreed on something with at-large Ron Gambardella -- someone he’s often at odds with.

What a night.

Councilwoman Carol Noble ran the show for President Gorman, in her typical no-nonsense, swift manner.

Yes, what a night of cordiality and consensus.

Except for that little bid-waiver item. In a letter dated Dec. 29, 2006, Mayor Craig Henrici asked the Council to award the Michaud Company $6,500 to perform a second appraisal of the property in northern Hamden that could have become a gravel pit. Since the town is seeking to purchase the 40-acre wooded and picturesque land to keep it open space, two appraisals are required in order to get a state grant. The asking price is $1.25 million, but Henrici said he hopes to get the property at 4280 Whitney Ave. for less. In addition to state funding, the Regional Water Authority and town will likely pitch in.

“Negotiations [with RWA] have gone very well,” Henrici said late last month. He and Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak justified the bid waiver noting New Haven-based Michaud has “more than” satisfactorily performed work for the town before.

During the Council discussion, Mike Germano asked the mayor’s chief aide Scott Jackson how much the first appraisal cost. Jackson didn’t know.

“I don’t know what the other number is,” said Councilman Curt Leng, “but I don’t think this is out of the ballpark.”

Betty Wetmore expressed concern. “Is this a time issue?” the councilwoman asked.

Yes, said Jackson. The appraisal must be done in five weeks.

“This is a timely purchase,” said Noble.

The no-bid item passed with Gambardella, Flanagan and Berita Rowe-Lewis voting against it.

Guns, Drugs Ring in 2007

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Jan. 2, the Street Interdiction Team conducted a surveillance around Dix and Whiting streets. Police have received numerous complaints from residents there regarding narcotic transactions during the late evening hours.

As part of the investigation, police stopped a vehicle operated by Lamar Watson of New Haven. Upon searching the vehicle, two loaded semi-automatic handguns tucked into the rear seat were discovered. The handguns were easily accessible to the passenger in the vehicle, Henry Horton of Hamden. The serial number on one gun was obliterated.

Police arrested Watson and Horton, 27, of 98 Dix St., 1st floor. Horton was charged with criminal possession of a firearm, having weapons in a motor vehicle, altering/removing a serial number from a firearm, carrying a pistol without a permit, conspiracy to carry weapons in a motor vehicle and conspiracy to alter/remove a serial number from a firearm. Horton was detained at police headquarters on a $100,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on Jan. 16.

Also on Jan. 2, the Street Interdiction Team, while on routine patrol, observed a narcotics transaction in the Butler Street area. Officers saw what appeared to be a hand-to-hand exchange of drugs. They stopped Brian Phillips as he rode away from the transaction on a bicycle. A small amount of crack cocaine was recovered.

Phillips, 42, of 324 Goodrich St., Apt. 4, Hamden, was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics. He was released on a written promise to appear and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on Jan. 16.
January 3, 2007
The Biggest Bread Winners

Government Center last fall. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

The list of Hamden town employees’ earnings for 2006 has just been released. Of the top 50, 30 work for the Fire Department, 19 for Police and one for Public Works. All are men (huge surprise). All but one earned six digits. And all achieved their high pay by either working overtime (lots of overtime in many cases) or extra duty or from retirement payouts. The sole Public Works employee made the list via retroactive pay.

A few more notes. The amount actually earned (first dollar figure after each employee’s name) is for the 2006 calendar year. The amount in parentheses is the employee’s budgeted salary for the 2005-06 fiscal year (July 1-June 30). So the listing is not an exact science, but very, very close if not right on. Both dollar figures represent 12 months of employment. It should also be noted that the Fire and Police departments are shy 11 employees apiece, requiring overtime to compensate.

John O’Dea, Fire Captain, $143,477 ($69,117)
Gary Couture, Fire Captain, $142,953 ($69,117)
Bill Onofrio, Deputy Police Chief, $134,953 ($83,545)
Ron Smith, Police Captain, $129,188 ($72,243) [since promoted]
David Proulx, Fire Lieutenant, $127,099 ($65,805)
Ronald Desroches, Fire Captain, $124,993 ($69,117)
John Sullivan, Police Investigator, $124,801 ($66,333)
John Testa, Police Sergeant, $122,932 ($67,275)
Robert Surprise, Fire Battalion Chief, $121,784 ($74,859)
Jim Leddy, Fire Chief, $120,011 ($89,505) [retired]
Seth Patrick, Firefighter, $119,836 ($60,101)
Dennis Baker, Fire Lieutenant, $118,092 ($65,805)
Brian Tierney, Fire Lieutenant, $117,636 ($65,805)
Bill Sikorsky, Police Sergeant, $117,592 ($67,275)
Brian Dolan, Firefighter, $116,668 ($60,101)
Robert Madigosky, Fire Lieutenant, $115,696 ($65,805)
Frank McDermott, Police Lieutenant, $115,690 ($72,243)
John Spencer, Fire Battalion Chief, $115,017 ($74,859)
David Strawhince, Fire Battalion Chief, $113,647 ($74,859)
Tim Wydra, Police Lieutenant, $113,483 ($72,243)
Michael McNeil, Police Sergeant, $113,210 ($67,275)
Jaime Bonet, Firefighter, $113,054 ($60,101)
Kurt Vogt, Firefighter, $112,882 ($60,101)
Richard Otlowski, Fire Lieutenant, $111,826 ($65,805)
Brian Badamo, Deputy Fire Marshal, $111,313 ($69,177) [since promoted]
John Grasso, Firefighter, $110,714 ($60,101)
Tom Wydra, Deputy Police Chief, $110,692 ($83,545) [since promoted]
Tim O’Flynn, Fire Lieutenant, $110,504 ($65,805)
Charles Lubowicki, Firefighter, $109,571 ($60,101)
Donald LaBanca, Fire Captain, $109,188 ($69,117) [since promoted]
Julio Lopes, Firefighter, $108,228 ($60,101)
Michael DiStefano, Fire Captain, $107,793 ($69,117)
Kevin Samperi, Police Sergeant, $107,734 ($67,275)
Bo Kicak, Police Lieutenant, $107,299 ($72,243) [since promoted]
Michael Sigmon, Police Officer, $105,837 ($60,958)
Joseph Kenn Anderson, Firefighter, $105,029 ($60,101)
Brian Bird, Firefighter, $104,126 ($60,101)
Stephen DeGrand, Police Officer, $103,476 ($60,958)
Dennis Putnam, Police Officer, $103,239 ($60,958)
Donald Remillard, Police Investigator, $102,600 ($66,333)
Don Buechele, Fire Superintendent, $102,240 ($75,719)
David Rhone, Public Works Superintendent, $102,231 ($59,071) [retro pay]
Brent Zuscin, Police Investigator, $102,138 ($66,333)
Bernard Amatrudo, Fire Captain, $102,125 ($69,117)
David Beaton, Firefighter, $102,112 ($60,101)
Mark Barletta, Fire Marshal, $101,658 ($75,809) [retired]
David Ng, Police Officer, $101,419 ($60,958)
Robert Maturo, Police Captain, $101,409 ($78,694) [retired]
John Cappiello, Police Lieutenant, $100,523 ($72,243) [since promoted]
Greg Bannon, Firefighter, $99,813 ($60,101)

January 2 , 2007

The Last Hire

Town Hall freeze kicks off after mayor made good on promise

By Sharon Bass

On Dec. 29, Keith Theriault -- brother-in-law of town agent of record Lew Panzo -- was given an entry-level position in Public Works. Then Mayor Craig Henrici pulled the plug. For an undetermined length of time, he’s freezing all hiring and “nonessential” spending.

With Hamden short a combined 22 firefighters and cops -- as well as other vacancies throughout Town Hall -- Henrici was asked why he authorized Theriault’s employment.

“It was a commitment I made some time ago and the position is needed in the department,” the mayor said. Theriault is one of 28 maintainers. His salary is $34,815.

“It’s like a laborer,” said Public Works Director John Busca. “They do all the grunt work. The shoveling, raking the leaves, etc.” Theriault’s wife, Christine Theriault, works for Hamden’s Probate Court. Busca said his department is now down just one employee.

According to civil service test results and interviews conducted by Busca and three of the department’s supervisors, Keith Theriault ranked third, said Busca. The top two were hired late last fall and at the end of November Richard Bretko, a heavy equipment operator, retired. “A wonderful 42-year employee,” said Busca. Someone was promoted to Bretko’s position and Theriault was hired last Friday.

Interestingly, in a June 27, 2005, campaign press release, Henrici criticized then-Mayor Carl Amento for proposing to cut public safety positions and increase his personal staff as well as strip the volunteer fire companies of their funding -- something Henrici recently considered doing. Amento had two assistants during his last term; Henrici has four.

In part the release reads: “The 2005-2006 budget that the Mayor submitted to the Council for approval this year was so poorly conceived that it was dead on arrival. It failed to fund mandated expenditures and contractual obligations. Amento proposed reducing police officer staffing to 1974 levels, and reducing fire personnel by ten officers. He even proposed stripping funds for police vehicles, bulletproof vests, and contractual rental for volunteer fire stations. While he proposed slashing public safety officer positions beyond bare bones, he sought to increase his personal staff by adding two full-time and two parttime
positions in the Mayor’s office. Fortunately, the Council had its priorities in order and restored funds to public safety and other essential items.”

Henrici said last Friday he has made no other commitments to put new people on the town payroll. Within the next few months, “we will look at the state of the operating budget and look at each [job] request on its merits,” he said.

Furthermore, the mayor said he and Finance Director Mike Betz will review “all purchase orders. Nonessential items will not be approved.”

News Briefs

Porn shop A-OK; Henrici “likely” to run again; Volunteer fire companies get paid

By Sharon Bass

Porn Shop A-OK

On the same day the HDN ran a story about Video Liquidators changing hands and being in violation of zoning regs and behind in its taxes, Tax Collector Barbara Tito said the company made good on its back taxes.

The porn shop at 2259 State St. hadn’t paid its real or personal property taxes that were due last July. On Dec. 20, it cleared up both, said Tito. Video forked over $3,194 for its real estate bill and $1,209 for personal property. The other half of its real taxes is now due.

Also, the store is not in violation of zoning regs, said Town Planner Leslie Creane. In 1999, the town amended its adult entertainment regulation, which prohibits a porn shop at that State Street location. But because Video Liquidators opened in 1992, Creane said they’re grandfathered in.

“We have not had any complaints” about the shop, she added.

Henrici ‘Likely’ to Run Again

Mayor Craig Henrici campaigned on a three-item platform last year: start a help desk (done), introduce a wireless, municipal Internet service (in the works) and kick off a town ambulance service (on the back burner).

“It’s hard to accomplish everything you want in two years,” he said. While he said he’d make a formal announcement at the end of January about whether he’s going for a second term this November, Henrici said it’s likely.

“We want to maintain our present fiscal progress. I’m going to do everything I can to at least keep the mil rate level,” he said. One idea is to borrow up to $85 million for the long-underfed pension fund, which could reduce the 2006-07 budget. However, the Legislative Council has voiced strong opposition to bonding the pension.

Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson said the so-called Wi-Fi, wireless Internet service, should debut this spring in a “limited capacity to show it can be done.” A new communications tower has been ordered, he said, and will be installed behind the Government Center parking lot. It will replace the tower on top of the old town garage on Dixwell Avenue, which is slated to be razed.

The cost of the new tower and a small storage building is $389,000. Jackson said the wireless service is intended for residents and visitors, not for town employees.

Volunteer Fire Companies Get Paid

After decades of receiving annual town contributions to help offset rent and utilities, Hamden’s three volunteer fire companies were asked to submit financial data to be put under the mayoral microscope while funding was withheld since last July.

Reportedly, they all cut the mustard. Craig Henrici said checks have been mailed out to the Mix District (budgeted this fiscal year for $21,175), Mt. Carmel (just under $20,910) and Dunbar Hill ($22,116) firehouses. Payments are made monthly.

But Henrici said that doesn't mean he’ll approve funding for the private fire companies in the 2007-08 budget. He’s started a new policy. Every year, their operating expenses and revenues will be reviewed by the Finance Department to determine eligibility.

“The volunteers provide an important service to our town,” the mayor said.

Outlook for 2007

By Dale Kroop

The year 2006 was a year where we saw many of the old eyesores of Hamden begin to gain new life. Home Depot began its first full year at the formerly abandoned and contaminated Rickles site. The vacant Pathmark Plaza was rehabilitated and the old Juvenile Warehouse was torn down and replaced with a thriving and beautiful LA Fitness. These and many sites throughout the Town were transformed from 10-20 years of blight into properties that now produce tax revenue and jobs for the people of Hamden. We also saw new projects and ideas emerge as we move on to 2007.

Dixwell Avenue Growth Continues

The most visible project that should see the light of day in Highwood is the long awaited Highwood Square project. This $8 million project will result in 20,000 S.F. of commercial space and 28 affordable artist housing units. This project will breathe life in the long vacant, former Johnson property and several contiguous parcels that you all recognize as vacant for much of the last 15 years.

Further north you will see the continued development of the corner of Mather Street. Paradise Village Market although construction slow to begin showed a significant amount of site work this fall and most of the interior lead and asbestos work completed, in addition to new skylights and a new roof. It is anticipated that the project will be completed in later 2007. The other corner of Mather should be the location of a new important development that should be announced in 2007. The former Lenard Pipe site was recently sold to a housing developer for a condominium project where preliminary work has already begun. The Hamden Post Office will see a newly improved and badly needed significant upgrade and expansion, making it easier and safer to go there.

The Pathmark Plaza is now all leased with Cherry Hill Package Store most recently opening added to Price Rite, Expressions and several other stores. Next up will be Parkway Dental and a new Japanese restaurant, which will open later in the winter.

Finally two very long vacant properties sold in the last 30 days. First the old Fluid Control Building at 100 Skiff Street was purchased by Berkshire Development. It will be demolished this winter to make way for a new 85,000 S.F. Shopping Center, which will be comprised of quality specialty shops. Approvals are anticipated in the summer of 2007 with a project completion date in 2008. The old CAMCO Fittings site (behind Tommy Ks) was sold to a local developer for a proposed office building.

Manufacturing Growth

In 2006, food production led the way in manufacturing tax base growth and job creation. Liuzzi Cheese completed their 25,000 cheese factory on Rossotto Drive. International Provisions completed their latest expansion, a new roasted nut and popcorn factory in the Hamden Business Park. A significant amount of contractor space was completed and is currently under construction. In 2007, the trend will continue with the expected expansion of International Distribution along with several new manufacturing expansion projects on the soon to be acquired Dadio Farm. In the State Street area, Porcelen SPECRAIL is considering a 25,000 S.F. expansion at its Welton Street plant next to the John Carusone Field.

The Hamden Middle School re-use analysis will continue into the late winter with a final report to the Legislative Council expected in the spring. There are many exciting ideas that have come out of the process. We are now expanding the scope of work of the Regional Growth Partnership to include the Highwood/Newhall neighborhood analysis, which will consider the future vision for the neighborhood.

Rocky Top Campus

The exciting opening of the new $25+ million sports arena being completed by Quinnipiac University is anticipated to have a major positive impact on the business community. Visitors from around the region will not only attend games but will take advantage of what Hamden has to offer in dining, accommodations and shopping. The TD BankNorth Athletic Center opens for play in January of 2007.

The Clarion Hotel has reopened in 2006 moving from its former Howard Johnson identity with major renovations and expansion including new, high quality visitor and business accommodations that should be well utilized in 2007, particularly from events at the new Athletic Center.

Real estate and business activity in the Town will only get more active in 2007. We will work on Brownfield development and see other significant redevelopment activity such as construction of Phase III of the Farmington Canal Line, the initial utility work (winter of 2007) for the long awaited Westwoods Road re-alignment project, new office and medical space growth, and many neighborhood projects that are an outgrowth of the significant development that has been completed.

We will continue to create a voice for many important employers through our Business Cluster Initiative, we will create a Film Ready Community to take advantage of the new Film Tax Credit in CT and we will revamp our zoning regulations to control sprawl into the residential community and fulfill the taxpayers’ vision for their community.

There is a lot of work to be done and we look forward to an exciting year in 2007.

Dale Kroop is the director of Economic and Community Development for the town of Hamden. He can be reached at 287.7030 or twn.hmdn.edc@snet.net.

December 30, 2007

Firefighter of the Year Arrested for DUI

By Sharon Bass

On Dec. 28 at 2 a.m., Donald Buechele, 52, superintendent of alarms for the Hamden Fire Department, was arrested by state police for DUI while driving a town vehicle off-duty in North Haven. Fire Chief David Berardesca said Buechele has been put on paid administrative leave as the department conducts an internal investigation.

According to the state police report, Buechele “crashed his vehicle on Rt. 15. Upon my investigation I conducted the SFST’s [standard field sobriety testing] on the accused. The accused was arrested upon the results of the SFST’s for DUI.” He was also charged with failure to drive in the established lane.

The report also states Buechele -- who was nominated by Berardesca and Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt to be the 2006 career firefighter of the year -- “crossed the entire highway and struck the metal beam guardrail located in the grassy median,” exhibited signs of being under the influence of alcohol and was taken into custody. Buechele was released on a $500 non-surety bond and has a Jan. 12 court date in Meriden.

Berardesca estimated the damage to the front, left corner of the red Ford pickup (license plate 79 HN) at $3,500-$4,000. He said it was taken to the town garage on Shepard Avenue but needs bodywork, which the garage doesn’t do. So he said town risk manager Art Giulietti will get quotes next week from body shops. It was a one-car accident and no one was injured.

“I take this as a very serious situation,” Berardesca said. “It wouldn’t matter who it is, everyone is treated the same.”

He said when Mayor Craig Henrici was informed of the arrest, he told the chief to handle it.

Depending on the outcome of the internal investigation, Berardesca said discipline could range from suspension to demotion to dismissal. “But I don’t foresee that happening,” he said of dismissal.

Why? “It’s a tough one to answer because we haven’t done the investigation yet. This has nothing to do with his popularity,” said Berardesca. He said he will discuss the incident next week with Town Attorney Sue Gruen and Personnel Director Ken Kelley.

Despite the arrest and improper use of a town vehicle, Berardesca said he stands by his nomination of Buechele for firefighter of the year. The Hamden Elks will honor him and other firefighters and cops at a dinner early next year.

“We came up with [Buechele] because of his work ethics. His job performance is excellent. His attendance is almost perfect,” Berardesca said. “He’s just an excellent employee.”

Buechele, who lives in Hamden, did not return a message seeking comment.


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