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Town Government
July 26, 2006

Here Comes the Story of the Hurricane

Deputy Fire Chief Hurlburt at the end of yesterday's conference. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Everything you ever wanted to know about hurricanes -- and arguably more -- was presented to a group of town workers, firefighters and seniors yesterday at 1 p.m. at Thornton Wilder Hall. There would be a repeat performance at 7 p.m.

Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt, also director of Emergency Management for Hamden, spearheaded the ambitious effort, which brought people from United Illuminating, AT&T, Quinnipiack Valley Health and the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Through power point slides and the spoken and written word, the team got out its message that hurricanes have and continually will hit Connecticut -- and we must be prepared. This state gets one or two a year, they said.

"The fact that we're thinking about it and talking about it" is important, said the mayor's Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, one of six speakers. Mary Rose Duberek of the state DEM&HS commended Clark for "all the [hurricane] planning [he does]. It makes our job easier," she said.

Speaker Larry Mai of United Illuminating said his company monitors weather reports, particularly through Channel 8's Dr. Mel Goldstein, to prepare for possible downed wires. Mai wasn't only talking hurricanes. Ice, snow and heat damage wires, too, he said, pointing out last week's two power outages in parts of hot Hamden.

Hurricane Facts & Dates

According to the DEM&HS, when winds reach 74 mph, a hurricane -- aka a tropical cyclone -- is born. The storm is typically 20-30 miles wide and can extend over 400 miles. Hurricane watches are issued when winds reach 74, or dangerously high water and rough seas are predicted to come ashore in 24 hours or fewer.

Since 1990, 39 tropical storms have affected New England of which 25 were hurricanes. Seven were categorized as either a 2 or 3 (Katrina was a 5). The most common time hurricanes come this way is August and September, although these vengeful storms have been seen in June and October.

New England's most horrific hurricane occurred on Sept. 21, 1938. Winds reached an amazing 186 mph. Parts of interior Connecticut and Massachusetts experienced severe river flooding. Deaths numbered 564, injuries 1,700. Almost 9,000 homes and businesses were ripped apart.

For information on how to prepare homes and shelters for a hurricane or other devastating storm, contact Hurlburt at 407.5880.

Major Hurricanes that Have Impacted the Area

Hurricane of 1635 (August)
Hurricane of 1778 (Oct. 18-19), wind speed 40-75 mph
Hurricane of 1804 (Oct. 9)
Gale of 1815 (Sept. 23)
Hurricane of 1869 (Sept. 8), over 50-mph winds
Hurricane of 1938 (Sept. 21), up to 186-mph winds
Hurricane Carol (September 1954)
Hurricane Donna (September 1960)
Hurricane Gloria (Sept. 28, 1985), over 70-mph winds
Hurricane Bob (August 1991), over 60-mph winds

According to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management, there have been two tropical storms or hurricanes per season a total of 11 times. The most occurred in 1954, when Hurricanes Carol, Edna and Hazel hit the region.

July 22, 2006

There Oughta Be a Law

Kelly McCarthy stands by a tree stump on Augur Street (behind 60 Putnam) that was taken down last fall and was reportedly healthy. Photo/Sharon Bass

Environmental commissioners are whipping up a tree ordinance for Hamden

By Sharon Bass

We have laws to protect children, the elderly and rivers. Now a town commission wants to add trees to the list.

"It's something that's been on my mind for quite a while," said Kelly McCarthy, Clean & Green chair. "The last straw for me was the [three] trees taken down in the pocket park [at Whitney and Putnam]. The reason that was so outrageous is that they were old trees. They were doing no damage to anyone. And to add insult to injury, they [Public Works employees] leave the stumps."

McCarthy's commissioners have just started drafting a public tree law (it would not include those on private property). They hope to present it on Sept. 7 at the first-ever meeting of the minds between Hamden's four environmental commissions: Clean & Green, Energy Use & Climate Change, Natural Resources & Open Space and Recycling & Solid Waste. The proposal would then go to the mayor, town attorney and eventually need approval from the Legislative Council.

Local tree ordinances are not unusual, McCarthy said. "I'm sure the argument is going to be this is ridiculous. But it's not ridiculous. Other towns have them," she said.

Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson confirmed Hamden has no tree ordinance. There is a state law that outlines the process for taking down public trees, he said, but doesn't include much else.

"Do we need a tree law? Probably not," said Jackson. "Can we use one? Probably. Need is absolute necessity. 'Could we use one' brings us to a better place, an improvement of government service. Public trees are for the whole community and there needs to be a better process in taking them down." In the current budget, $12,500 is earmarked for tree maintenance but nothing for tree removal or replacement.

The purpose of the ordinance-in-progress is to "protect, preserve and assure proper maintenance of trees on public streets, right-of-ways and parks," said McCarthy. And to provide guidelines on planting public trees and removing old ones. For example, if the town decides to ax a tree that's buckling someone's sidewalk, a large notice would have to be attached to the tree giving people 10 days to voice their objections to the superintendent of trees.

"A tree does not belong to one person. It's a very foreign idea for Hamden to public notice about anything in a way that is acceptable to the public," said McCarthy. The tree law would also include penalties, the need to get permits to plant and cut down trees, and guidelines for Public Works and utility crews, she said.

"Are they going to help us maintain all these trees? It's a great proposal if they want to help us physically," said Public Works Director John Busca. He said he doesn't have the manpower to follow such a law.

Besides, Busca said his crews do not take down healthy trees, as McCarthy has alleged.

"We don't pull any trees that are healthy. We only take trees down that are not healthy. I love trees myself," he said. The three trees that were recently chopped down, he added, were in bad health.

"They were making a mess for people in the bus stop. The leaves were all the way down. The best thing was done when we cut it," said Busca.

McCarthy countered that the trees were not in such bad shape, and were alive. "I have pictures of them after they were cut down with sap still coming out," she said. "You just can't cut down a tree for no reason.

"This is not just an aesthetic thing. Trees provide shade and cut down on energy costs," said McCarthy, who noted the vast number of tree deaths Hamden has seen with the tornado of 1989 and fatal tree diseases.

July 19, 2006

'I Want to Come in Fresh'

David Berardesca. Courtesy photo

By Sharon Bass

The mayor kept his promise. He said if Brian Badamo, his choice for fire chief, did not make it, he'd go out of town.

Welcome David Berardesca. He's worked at the Wallingford Fire Department for 27 years, the last six as assistant chief. In mid-August, he will become Hamden's new fire head, pending Council approval. Acting Chief Jim Leddy retired last month, but is staying on until replaced.

"It became abundantly clear that some Council members and some firefighters wanted more experience than Brian had," said Henrici. "The [interviewing] panel thought the two top interviewers were Berardesca and Paul Cahill [of the East Haven FD]."

Berardesca, 52, said he learned about the job opening through word of mouth. A week after Mayor Henrici publicly announced Badamo for fire chief last April, the town posted the vacancy. The Town Charter requires doing so before an appointment is made.

"You know how the grapevine is. I had heard that Chief Leddy was going to be retiring. And I heard from firefighters there [in Hamden] that there was going to be a [job] posting," said Berardesca. "So I sent my resume in and just waited. It seems likes it's been a long time, but I don't remember the date."

Last week, Henrici interviewed the 10 people who applied. He made his decision public yesterday.

Berardesca said he realizes the transition won't be easy. Many Hamden fighters wanted one of their own promoted to chief, and say they are disappointed -- though not surprised -- and disgruntled. They say department morale is in the toilet.

"Being chosen from the outside naturally poses challenges. I just want to get past everything that's happened. I want to come in fresh and move forward from some of the issues the department has been facing during this process of selecting a chief," said Berardesca, addressing the last three months of turmoil over the Badamo appointment.

"I'm honored to be the mayor's choice," Berardesca said Monday. "The mayor called me this morning and offered me the position." He said he didn't have to think about it for a second. Who doesn't want to be chief?

"It's a rare occasion to rise to that rank. It's something I aspired to," said Berardesca. "We have a young chief."

That would be Peter Struble, 42. "I think David has the skills to manage in any environment," the Wallingford chief said. "At the end of the day, no matter what environment he walks into, whatever task you give him, he's competent and he'll do the right thing.

"I hate to lose him but I'm incredibly proud that he's going over there to become chief. It's a good choice on their part. He's a good officer, a good administrator and an excellent training officer." Struble said Henrici did not call him for a reference for Berardesca, but said being that the towns are "so close by it's pretty easy to find out about a person and get their background."

Some Berardesca Background

The chief-in-waiting said money had nothing to do with his decision to lead the Hamden fire force. He said he currently earns $84,495. His new salary will be $89,505.

"It's a great community service and you do it for the public," Berardesca said.

One thing that made him an attractive candidate, said Henrici, is his background in ambulance service. The mayor said he wants to start a municipal ambulance. Wallingford has had its own since 1924.

Berardesca, who has run Wallingford's EMS for six years, said he's talked with Henrici about starting a transport here, and told him it takes time.

"There's a lot of planning that goes into it. A lot of discussions with the union. But it's a positive thing to look at," he said. While communities with their own ambulances say there's no money to be made, residents generally appreciate the local service.

Berardesca said he's met some Hamden firefighters at state trainings, but doesn't know any very well. In 2004, he took the fire marshal class with Badamo, currently the acting fire marshal. Berardesca said he also knows Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt and Capt. Bill Fitzmaurice.

"I'm looking forward to working with Clark and Bill," he said. Both men applied for chief.

Along with being a certified fire marshal, Hamden's new chief is an EMT and EMSI (emergency medical services instructor). He does not have a college degree.

Berardesca is a lifelong Wallingford resident and won't be moving to Hamden. The Town Charter does not have a residency requirement for non-elected officials.

"But I know Hamden a little bit. Especially when you're younger, it's the place to shop," he said.

In 1979, he became a professional firefighter/EMT; in 1990, lieutenant; in 1995 captain/shift commander; and in 2000, assistant fire chief. His department has a deputy chief as well. Wallingford has 63 firefighters (one woman) and about 100 volunteers (five women), in contrast to 98 paid fighters in Hamden and about the same number of volunteers.

"But we have 40 square miles compared to your 33," he said. And about 15,000 fewer residents.

In Henrici's appointment letter to the Legislative Council, which he issued yesterday, he wrote that Berardesca would start Aug. 2. But Berardesca said no can do.

"Maybe the mayor misunderstood. That would be a little tough. I haven't even told my personnel department, so I have to go through the process of leaving here," he said. "I have to make sure all my i's are dotted and t's are crossed. Another reason, too, that I can't start till mid-August is I don't want to leave a hole here. I want to make sure I don't leave the chief in a tough spot. I want him to be up to speed with everything I do here.

"I fully expect to find the same level of professionalism in Hamden that we have in Wallingford," he said. "Why do you become a firefighter? Not for the money. Not for the glory. I find if you treat people fairly and have an open-door policy they're going to treat you right and make you look good."

One question the HDN forgot to ask the mayor was whether Badamo would be named the official fire marshal or be given a different post.

72 New Homes

Though the town can't stop a residential development, it is putting restrictions on how it's done

By Sharon Bass

The Gilbert Farm saga came to an abrupt halt in May, when a court ruled in favor of a developer putting up a 72-house subdivision there. Last night, the Planning section of P&Z met only to vote on certain conditions placed on the construction of the new "neighborhood."

Still, some neighbors showed up hoping the deal would somehow fall through. They say putting in that many new homes is a bad idea for many reasons.

"Where do we start? I don't know where to start," said Bill Burns, who lives on Dunbar Hill Road. The farm is at Dunbar and Gilbert Avenue. As Burns would repeat after the meeting to Commissioner Joe McDonagh -- but in a much louder voice -- such a subdivision will wreak havoc on the town.

"The financial impact," he said. "We'd need a new elementary school. I was told we would have to add two more cops and two more firemen. The new middle school is already at capacity." And the extra cars from the proposed three- and four-bedroom homes will make traffic unbearable, said Burns.

"The roads are narrow and it's going to be expensive to the town," said James Sakelarakis of Gilbert Avenue. "They're not filling those beds with senior citizens."

His wife, Mary Sakelarakis, piped in: "These builders, they blow into town and build these cluster developments. They keep haunting us. It seems kind of weird. We thought it was over."

It was over, two years ago, when three town commissions shot down the Gilbert Farm project. So the developer, John Horton of Baker Residential of Pleasantville, N.Y., sued Hamden. On May 19, 2006, New Haven Superior Court ruled in his favor. It said the project application was consistent with the town's subdivision regulations, said Assistant Town Attorney Tim Lee, and the town must approve it "subject to reasonable conditions."

Horton said he is under contract with the Maselli family to buy the land. Ilene Maselli Teta was at last evening's meeting, which was held in a small Government Center conference room, with some having to stand in the hall. Teta refused to comment for this article.

The commission and Horton's attorney Tim Hollister of Hartford spent about a half-hour fine-tuning the P&Z's "reasonable conditions" for the development. They include covering stockpiles of contaminated soil; putting trap hoods on catch basins; planting shade trees; getting a general permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection for disturbing more than one acre of land; performing site remediation according to DEP guidelines; having a licensed waste hauler remove all contaminated soil; and lots more. Hours of operation will be limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. And all work must be completed within five years (July 18, 2011).

Commissioners unanimously voted in the terms. Last week, P&Z granted Horton a special permit, with conditions, to remove 27,000 cubic yards of contaminated dirt. Two weeks ago, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission tabled the application to have more time to review the proposal, although it can't be denied.

McDonagh didn't try to hide his opposition to the Gilbert Farm subdivision. "These developers took a piece of property and they have crammed every single lot onto it," he said. "They took advantage of every minimum. There were extensive hearings about this two years ago."

He said the developer had two choices when turned down in 2004: scale back the project or sue the town. "They made the conscienceless decision," he said.

July 18, 2006

Badamo Said to Bow Out

Brian Badamo. File photo

By Sharon Bass

According to a source in the Hamden Fire Department -- backed by another source -- Acting Fire Marshal Brian Badamo is stepping out of the fire chief race. The announcement is expected this week.

Mayor Craig Henrici just finished interviewing 10 men for the top post, and said last week that Badamo was still a strong contender. "He's right in the game there," Henrici said. The source said he believed the mayor chose someone from the Wallingford FD. Henrici had vowed to hire someone from outside of the Hamden department if Badamo didn't get the job

"We just want someone qualified," the Hamden firefighter said last night. He said he learned "very recently" that Badamo was planning to withdraw his name. He also said he was disappointed the mayor is likely to choose someone from outside the department. "There are a lot of good people right here," he said.

On April 13, Henrici held a press conference naming Badamo his pick for fire chief. He admitted he considered no one else. Badamo had worked on the mayor's campaign last year, and Henrici said he liked what he saw.

Apparently not everyone saw the same thing. The Badamo appointment led to a steady outcry from firefighters, the public and some councilmembers. Many felt Badamo was highly unqualified for the post. Earlier this year, he came in 17 out of 19 on a lieutenant's test. He was also implicated in the abduction of a coworker while on the job. Even for a political appointment, people deemed this one to be over the top.

The Legislative Council has to ratify the mayor's appointment. But Henrici did not send down Badamo's name. It became quite clear the votes weren't there. As the months rolled by, the no votes reportedly far outnumbered the yeses. Councilman Bob Westervelt wrote a letter to the mayor in April, which was distributed to the public, stating why he strongly opposed Badamo for fire chief. Westervelt is a retired fire marshal. Councilman Ron Gambardella and others have publicly said they shared the councilman's view.

A call to Badamo's home yesterday was answered by a voice greeting saying his answering system had not yet been set up.

Meet the New Grant Guy

Chris Marchand in his office on Day 1. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

It's been about five months since Toni Bosley left Hamden Town Hall. She was the grants person, bringing in much, much more money than she was paid. Instead of simply replacing her, the mayor did a little shuffling around and turned her position and another into one.

Chris Marchand was given the newly sculpted job of grants coordinator. He started yesterday. He replaces Bosley and John Post, the Community Development manager who was laid off June 30. Post was just hired on Feb. 15 to replace Scott Jackson, who went to the mayor's office.

The grants job is now under Economic and Community Development, essentially merging the two departments. It used to be with Finance.

"It's not the same position as Toni had," said Marchand.

"He has the temperament. He's an excellent person," said Economic Development Director Dale Kroop, Marchand's new boss. He said Marchand was one of four candidates.

Beforehand, Marchand, 41, worked one day a week as a mayoral assistant on energy initiatives. He also sits on the Energy Use & Climate Change Commission and used to be on the Clean & Green Commission.

"I'm treading lightly on the Earth," he said in describing himself. "I tried to get a solar system in my house, but it was too expensive. I don't use air conditioning at home."

The Hubbard Street man will be paid $48,000 to procure and process grants for stuff like energy conservation, police and fire. He will also monitor the U.S. Housing & Urban Development grants, the piece Post did. That money goes into urban renewal projects, such as the recently rehabbed home at 191 Butler St., which is the town's first lead-safe shelter for people who need to flee their homes because of lead and asbestos contamination.

Marchand moved to Hamden over two years ago from San Jose, Calif., to take a job at the Yale School of Forestry as a grants administrator. He was paid on a grant himself, which ran out last month.

Kroop said the department merger was necessary because the town has been receiving less HUD money every year. At the same time, "the Council wants us to get grants and use less tax funding," he said. "Every year we play this game of chicken, Will we have enough?"

This year HUD dollars were cut 13 percent, said Kroop, from $579,000 to $519,000. Four years ago, the town got $620,000. So he said he asked the mayor for a grant writer. Kroop and Marchand plan to share Post's workload.

July 15, 2006

Henrici's Deciding

Moments after winning the 2005 election, the new mayor and his campaign worker/fire chief pick, Brian Badamo. File photo

The mayor's braced to announce his "this is my final" decision for fire chief; also, some cop news

By Sharon Bass

It's been roughly three months since Mayor Craig Henrici made known his appointment for fire chief. But the opposition to his pick of Acting Fire Marshal Brian Badamo has been so loud -- and it's highly doubtful the Legislative Council would confirm him -- that the mayor has held off asking for approval.

So Henrici picked up the 10 or so résumés for fire chief that have come in over the last couple of months and called each man in. As of yesterday evening, he said he has narrowed it down to four, but wouldn't say which four. The finalists are from inside and outside the Hamden Fire Department, he said.

"They're all very, very impressive," said Henrici, who plans to announce the victor some time next week, and send the name down to the Council for the Aug. 1 committee meetings.

And what about Badamo? "He's right in the game there," said the mayor. "It's become abundantly clear that I'm looking for someone who can lead the department and maybe come up with creative ways to improve morale and effectuate change.

"With the exception of Mr. Cappucci we've completed the interviews," he said. New Haven Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci told the HDN on May 8 that he was sending in his résumé, but the mayor said he never got it and would call the marshal over the weekend to see what's up. Henrici said he conducted the interviews with his Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson and Personnel Director Ken Kelley.

Meanwhile, retired Chief Jim Leddy was given a contract to be acting head.

"I don't think the department has suffered at all," said Henrici. "And finally we're ending this process. I don't expect Leddy to remain too much longer."

Henrici said the municipal ambulance service he promised during his campaign is "very much on the front burner, especially with the people [for fire chief] I've interviewed. The people under consideration had some very insightful ideas. Everybody was calling it a 'transport.'" Hamden has paramedics and offers emergency medical care, but uses AMR for ambulance transport.

Asked if he's still considering Leddy as a consultant to help with the ambulance project, the mayor said, "I've got to talk to him and see what his plans are. I don't know what his plans are. Do we need a consultant? That's what I have to figure out."

A Partial List of the Interviewed:

Retired Hamden Battalion Chief Paul Wetmore Jr.
Hamden Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt
Hamden Fire Capt. Bill Fitzmaurice
Hamden Fire Capt. Mike DiStefano
Hamden Battalion Chief Don LaBanca
Acting Hamden Fire Marshal Brian Badamo
New Haven Fire Capt. Bill Gould

Also, at July 11's Police Commission meeting the following sergeants for the patrol division were made: patrolmen Franklin Riehl, 41, 19-year veteran of the HPD; David Ng, 37, 11-year vet; and Michael Sigmon, 33, eight-year vet; and Detective John Sullivan, 35, 11-year veteran.

According to Lt. Tim Wydra, his brother, Chief Tom Wydra, has assigned beats to his deputy chiefs. Bo Kicak is in charge of the patrol division, Bill Onofrio, detective, and John Cappiello, administration. Both Kicak and Cappiello were recently promoted to deputy. And there are more promotions to go, as the HPD becomes a younger and possibly more dynamic force.

July 12, 2006

Just Made

Deputy Chief Bo Kicak stands with Police Commissioner Marty Ruff moments after Kicak was promoted. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

After waiting three hours while police commissioners interviewed three cops for a deputy chief position, it came as little surprise that Lt. Bo Kicak was the chosen one.

Whether it was because he was the top scorer on the test and deemed the best all-around candidate, or that he dropped a lawsuit against former Police Chiefs Jack Kennelly and Bob Nolan in exchange for the promotion, there had been a lot of mumbling in Town Hall and on the Internet that Kicak would get the job.

"I don't think that affected [the decision] at all," Commissioner Marty Ruff said of Kicak withdrawing the lawsuit. He did so without prejudice, meaning it can be revived.

Asked why he voted for Kicak, Ruff said, "It might have been just perhaps … his career has shown more of a blend of patrol and investigative command skills. They all had outstanding resumes. You couldn't go wrong with any one of them."

Lts. Frank McDermott and Ron Smith also went for the promotion last night.

This was Kicak's second crack at deputy chief. He competed for it last November, but it went to Tom Wydra. Wydra was then made chief last week, taking over for Kennelly, who retired in June after just six months at the helm. Deputy Chief Stephen Cahill also retired last month, but then applied for chief.

The only "original" member of Hamden's top brass is Deputy Chief Bill Onofrio. Mayor Craig Henrici appointed John Cappiello deputy chief last week. The force has three deputies, of which two are union jobs. Wydra has yet to announce how he'll assign his deputies.

"I'm looking forward to working with the new chief," said Kicak, 44, a 19-year veteran of the HPD.

Like Ruff, he said the lawsuit was completely unrelated to his promotion.

"My dropping the suit had nothing to do with the promotion. I dropped the lawsuit with no intention of bringing it back," Kicak said.

His buddy Paul Jacques, a former 2nd District councilman, waited with the dozen or two cops in the Government Center basement last night while the commission reviewed applications and talked with the candidates.

"I was here to support my friend and I'm really, really happy for him tonight," said Jacques.

Kicak and crew went to TGI Friday's to celebrate.

Busca's Boat Comes In

By Sharon Bass

Public Works Director John Busca swore the town would get paid for grounds work his crew did at the former Duchess site at 2425 Dixwell. The private parcel is owned by Harry Kruger, 92, who said he wasn't told about any bill and he wasn't gonna pay.

Well, he did. A check for $114.84 from Kruger was just deposited into the town coffers. Busca came through.

"It seemed like all the detractors said I wasn't going to get paid. The Krugers are honorable people," he said. The reason he had asked his men to pretty up the private lot was because it was on the upcoming Memorial Day Parade route.

Busca said he doesn't want to do these private gigs anymore. There's enough public work to do. But on June 8, he said he was forced into the private sector again.

"We don't want to do it, but if the people don't go by our rules we have to charge them. We just did another one," he said. "Torrello [Funeral Home] called up, they were having three funerals that weekend and there was a lot of garbage back there."

"Back there" is a house on Dix Street owned by the Torrellos, according to Busca. He said he didn't know why they couldn't take care of their own junk, but because of the funerals he did the job. This time the bill was a little steeper -- $228. Paid in full, according to the PW director.

"From now on I'm going to have Planning take care of [these] problems," he said. "And I'm going to do my part and go up to houses and knock on doors and tell them we only pick up [bulk trash] twice a year." October and April.

July 11, 2006

$$ Report Card Just In

Betz & Henrici. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Mayor Craig Henrici and three of his municipal male underlings went to lower Manhattan recently to chat with the folks at Standard & Poor's about Hamden's health. The outcome was good. Not great. But better. And some of what the credit-rating agency based its opinion on occurred during the Amento Administration.

"It means this administration is addressing the town's financial problems and we're doing exactly what we said in the campaign," Henrici said yesterday, after issuing a press release about S&P's conclusions.

Last Friday, the agency upped the town's fiscal outlook from stable to positive "reflecting the recent and projected continued improvement in the town's general fund positions," according to a report issued by S&P.

However, Moody's Investor Services retained Hamden's A2 bond rating from last year and the year before. B is the lowest and AAA the highest.

"'A' means slightly above average," said Finance Director Mike Betz. "We tend to be on the downside of good." Betz, Economic Development Director Dale Kroop and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson all went downtown with the mayor.

The significance of the stable-to-positive upgrade, said Betz, is the town can now get a lower interest rate on the bonds it sells because they're more in demand. These bonds -- for stuff like new school construction, sidewalk repair and the Farmington Canal -- go out to investors across the country, who base their purchasing decisions on the agency's review. The next town bond sale is scheduled for this Wednesday.

Betz said S&P studied Hamden's audit reports; the history of the budgets, declaring an improvement from '04-'05 to '05-'06 (both budgets made during former Mayor Carl Amento's tenure); and data such as per capita income, other consensus info and state facts.

"Plus they look at our management practices, our economic practices," said Betz. "They look at the team" -- Henrici, Betz, Kroop and Jackson. For instance, the finance director said, S&P was impressed that his office is now fully staffed.

In spring 2005, the Legislative Council voted to freeze some key Town Hall jobs until Jan. 1, 2006 (when many hoped Henrici would replace Amento), including an accountant and budget coordinator for finance.

"Our liquidity has improved," said Henrici. "We're paying attention to the pension problem." In the new budget, $9 million was allocated for the pension fund, up $3 million from the year before. That number has been steadily climbing since 2002 when $905,852 was put in the retirement account; in 2003, $1 million; and 2004, $3 million.

Henrici would not say whether he'll propose a heftier pension contribution next year. He said the $10.3 million from the sale of the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority also contributed to the "positive outlook," even though $6.7 million went to paying off overdue sewer bills.

"We're a better credit risk today than we were last year," said Betz. "It's probably some of the best news the town has had."

July 6, 2006

 Very Warm & Very Fuzzy

Wydra signs his police chief oath. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

A blend of pure joy and collective relief could be felt in every inch of the dreadfully stuffy Council Chambers last night. Tom Wydra was made police chief at the tender age of 35. Already in his short lifetime, he has accomplished more than many ever will. That's not just because Chief Wydra climbed to the top quickly and skillfully. It's more on account of his remarkable maturity and the amount of respect he gives and receives.

The chambers was packed last night with cops, police commissioners current and past and Wydra's family, who came to watch the town's eighth chief -- their fellow co-worker, son, husband, friend -- face the Legislative Council. There was virtually no doubt he'd get the vote (and all of them, as he did) and received a thunderous standing ovation after Council members said yes over and over and over and over.

More than one councilperson thanked Mayor Craig Henrici for sending them an "excellent" appointment. A very welcomed respite from the last three months of conflicting and often bitter feelings over the mayor's pick for fire chief.

"I'm very appreciative to the mayor for sending us an appointment we can resoundingly endorse," said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker.

"I want to thank the administration for getting this to us smoothly," said Councilman Bob Westervelt. Henrici publicly announced his appointment of Wydra just last Friday.

"He worked his way up through the ranks," said Councilman Michael Colaiacovo.

"The resume speaks for itself. I think this is an excellent selection," said Councilman Mike Germano. "I urge all my colleagues to vote for this -- but I don't think I have to."

The oft-mentioned piece of Wydra's resume is his training with the FBI National Academy. A 14-year veteran of the Hamden force, he was chosen out of nine applicants to lead 107 men and women. And there wasn't a soul who spoke last night who didn't agree with the mayor's and just-retired Police Chief Jack Kennelly's choice.

"One thing he will really bring to the table is an understanding of the union," said Council regular and Town Hall employee Don Werner. Wydra was president of the police union for six years.

"I am excited at the prospect of this opportunity for a bright articulate young leader to manage the police department," said Police Commissioner Meg Nowacki.

Fellow Commissioner Marty Ruff followed. "I was on the commission when Tom and Tim were hired," he said of Wydra and his four-minute-older identical twin bro, Hamden Police Lt. Tim Wydra.

"I am here to tell you that this commission is wholeheartedly in support of Wydra," Ruff said.

Next came Deputy Chief Bill Onofrio. He was one of the nine who applied for chief.

"If I had to lose to anyone, I'm certainly pleased to lose it to Tom," he said. The 30-year police veteran also mentioned that his son joined the force a year and a half ago and feels good that Wydra will lead him.

The back wall of the Chambers resembled a police lineup. People stood single file listening to the overflowing accolades about the man who was to become chief.

As folks welcomed Wydra, they said goodbye to Kennelly. Councilman Ron Gambardella told a tale of the retired chief teaching him about stun guns. Apparently, the councilman got stunned by the gun and said he learned all he needed.

This prompted one of several cracks from Councilman John Flanagan. "Now we understand," he quipped, inferring Gambardella's state of mind is a little off because of the stun.

The Council had just approved $614,927 in benefits for 16 retirees, most from police and fire. Councilman Matt Fitch said Wydra faces a tough job with the current contract negotiations. Certain retirement benefits are being phased out of the new labor contracts, which is the primary reason for the high number of recent retirees, a total of about two dozen in public safety.

"This is probably your biggest night and the best night you may ever have," said Council Prez Al Gorman.

Which led to Flanagan's next zinger: "Especially here," he said.

"He's not the most experienced but he is highly qualified," the councilman said of Wydra.

Councilwoman Carol Noble called his resume "wonderful and lengthy."

After the unanimous vote and the lengthy applause, people sat back down and the man of the evening spoke a few soft words into the mic. "I do appreciate all the kind words. It's just overwhelming the kind words that were said tonight," said Wydra.

Outside hot, muggy Memorial Town Hall, Wydra and his entourage mingled for a bit. "I need to thank Mayor Henrici and the Council for the appointment. It comes with a great deal of pride that I accept this position," he said.

Desperately seeking a truly objective voice to comment on the new Chief Wydra, the HDN spotted just the person.

"I'm so proud of him!" said his mother, Susan Wydra. "I'm overwhelmed!"

The Rink Job That Won't

The Council is asked to OK a no-bid contract and construction for the Astorino Ice Arena

By Sharon Bass

After years of blunders and pregnant pauses and $600,000 thrown away on architects for the town ice rink rehab, the Legislative Council was asked last night to approve a bid waiver for $102,805 to get the job done by September. It was an emergency. If approval was not given, the project would definitely not be ready in time.

So Council members had questions. Lots of them. Some wanted to know why the project was not bid out. If the chosen contractor -- who had worked on Mayor Henrici's mother's Ives Street house -- was qualified to oversee the project. If the one hundred grand and change would suffice, or could the contractor come back begging for more. How the loot is divvied up to fix and upgrade the Louis Astorino Ice Arena at 595 Mix Ave.

The recipient of the no-bid is Steve Cavanaugh of Biltmore Construction on West Todd Street. He will get 14 percent of the $100K, 4 percent higher than Kozak originally stated. The rest of the money -- from a $2.9 million state grant earmarked for the rink in 1999 -- is to go to subcontractors and supplies. Public Works employees are also working on the rink.

Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak issued bid invites on April 27, 2005, and again on Sept. 26, 2005, and said she got not one bite.

In a June 30, 2006, letter Henrici sent to the Council urging support of the bid waiver, he wrote: "One of the top priorities of my administration is to complete projects, and the glacial progress of work at the rink made this prime example of a project in desperate need of rejuvenation … In March of 2006, Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak informed me of an emergency situation developing at the rink that would threaten the ability of the rink to re-open [sic] in September." Henrici was an all-star hockey player at Hamden High.

"We have taken this project on to try to take it forward," Kozak told the Council. "Henrici wants to end the project. I'm trying to get across to you the passion we have to finish this rink. I'm not being a martyr."

She said Cavanaugh would supervise phase two of the three-step rink renovation. This phase includes finishing the roof; adding lighting; upgrading electricity; installing toilets, partitions and handicap rails per ADA regs; painting and other stuff.

"If this contract doesn't get signed tonight it's going to be another 10- to 12-week delay," Kozak said. "Every place we were able to use state bids [for supplies] we used state bids."

"You're comfortable with the bidding?" said Councilman Matt Fitch.

Yes, Kozak replied. "I don't mind telling you when I first met Mr. Cavanaugh I thought he was cocky," she said. "But he's not. I have found everyone has a high opinion of him."

Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan said she knows Cavanaugh and likes him, too.

Councilman Ron Gambardella asked how much the contractor has been paid. Kozak told him $9,000. Early last month, Henrici said Cavanaugh was paid $30,000. Copies of the town check to and invoices from Cavanaugh show a payment of only nine grand even.

Gambardella also asked if the Council should have approved the payment. Kozak said contracts under $50,000 don't require it.

Next he asked about Cavanaugh's experience. The purchasing agent said the contractor has not done a municipal job before "but he knows the rink very well. He appears to know a lot about the bathroom facilities," she said.

"How did you find him?" Gambardella asked.

"He knew the mayor," Kozak said. "He was recommended to me." Initially, Kozak had said she picked his name out of the phonebook.

"Wow, what a nightmare this has been," said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker (pronounced shoo-mayker). "Will Public Works get overtime" for the rink work?

"I can't answer that," said Kozak.

This big guy (Zamboni) now parked on the ice-less rink is to get its own room. File photo

Schomaker asked what phase three entailed. Kozak said the addition of two rooms inside the arena, one a girls' locker room, the other for a Zamboni. The rooms won't be done by September but the rink can open without them, she said.

Councilman Bob Westervelt wanted to know if the contract included penalties if the job's not done on time.

Kozak said no. "You're seeing a passion for a project I've never seen before," she said, adding that 25 percent of the payment is being held until phase two completion. "All the mayor wants to do is get the rink open."

"You hired a general contractor? A building manager? What?" said Councilman John Flanagan. "I have a problem with the way this was handled."

"We hired someone to pick up the pieces," said Kozak.

He asked how much of the $2.9 million grant is left. She said $831,000, not counting the $102K. "It's the project that keeps coming back to bite us," Flanagan said.

The Council approved the bid waiver and the phase two construction. Councilman Flanagan, Gambardella and Mike Colaiacovo were the dissenting votes.

July 4, 2006

Mayoral Reasoning

Acting Fire Chief Leddy, Mayor Henrici and Deputy Chief Hurlburt. File photos

Henrici explains why he chose Leddy over Hurlburt

By Sharon Bass

While Mayor Craig Henrici hems and haws over asking the Legislative Council to vote on his highly unpopular appointment for fire chief -- Brian Badamo -- he has angered many in the department by making just-retired Chief Jim Leddy the acting fire head, with a 90-day contract.

Critics say the better and more economical choice would have been Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt. But Henrici said since Hurlburt has applied for the top fire post, he didn't want to muddy the decision-making process by having him serve in the interim.

Although the mayor said he's still gunning for Assistant Fire Marshal Badamo, he will begin late this week or early next week interviewing the seven candidates who submitted resumes. Henrici has also vowed to go outside the department if he can't get Badamo in.

"Clark is a person I'm going to be interviewing, and I don't want there to be a leg up or down. I want it to be an even-playing field," Henrici said yesterday. "He's getting paid a lot of money being deputy fire chief. If he's hurt, I'm sorry. But sometimes you just gotta do your job."

Hurlburt said it's not about the money. In fact, he said every time he's stepped in as acting chief he has never asked for the pay differential between his and the chief's salary -- something the town allows.

"I never put in for that. I'm content with what I make," he said of his $83,389 annual pay.

Common Practice

Appointing a deputy to serve as interim chief when the boss retires -- and then making him chief -- is common practice in most towns, including Hamden.

When Fire Chief John Tramontano retired, his deputy Paul Wetmore Sr. became acting chief and was then appointed chief. Wetmore named Tim Sullivan his deputy, and when Wetmore retired Sullivan was named acting chief and then became chief. Ed Badamo (Brian's father) became Sullivan's deputy chief, and when Sullivan retired, Badamo was made acting chief. But in this case, Badamo stepped aside and former Mayor Carl Amento appointed Leddy.

Hurlburt said the mayor had not spoken to him about choosing Leddy for the interim, or about his standing in the chief race, or really about anything.

"Basically, I think [Henrici] tries to convey everything through Jim [Leddy]," said Hurlburt. "I'm more than content to allow my resume to speak for itself."

When asked why he didn't appoint Hurlburt in the interim in order to save tax dollars, the mayor said, "How would that save money?" Hurlburt would have done both jobs for one paycheck.

Henrici said Leddy is being paid his same salary of $89,500, and won't collect his pension while he's on the town clock. He said he didn't know the amount of Leddy's pension, but that his time spent as acting chief will not go toward it when he leaves the department for good. Leddy did not return a message left at his home last Friday.

He will leave under the terms of the pension contract that expired June 30, said Henrici. A clause allowing firefighters to cash in up to four years of unused vacation and sick time also died last Friday at midnight, but Leddy will be able to collect his.

Fire union president Lt. Gary Merwede said the deal seems OK. "As far as I know [Leddy] is not going to get any benefits above and beyond those that union members now enjoy. My understanding is he won't get additional pension time during his interim service," he said. Although the chief and deputy are not union members, their benefits are parallel.

Henrici told the HDN last Friday that Leddy's contract was only for 30 days. He said the reason it was written for 90 days is because of Amento and the Council.

"When Carl was mayor, I guess he had interim department heads forever because he couldn't get his appointments through," Henrici said. The Council thus passed a resolution, initiated by Councilman Curt Leng, to limit the length of interim appointments to 90 days, said Henrici.

"When I asked [Personnel Director] Ken Kelley to write the memorandum for Chief Leddy he put down 90 days, but our intention is to do it much faster than that," the mayor said.

"I don't want to go war with these people. I have no animosity toward anyone," said Hurlburt. "I enjoy my job and I think I do it well. It's not about the money at all."

According to Amento, Leddy had urged him to appoint Brian Badamo deputy chief last year, but the former mayor said he couldn't do it because of Badamo's glaring lack of qualifications, and made Hurlburt instead. Leddy then withdrew his support for Amento during last fall's mayoral race, and gave it to Henrici. Both Leddy and Badamo worked on Henrici's bid for mayor.

The Seven

Hamden Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt
New Haven Fire Capt. Bill Gould
New Haven Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci
Hamden Capt. Bill Fitzmaurice
Hamden Capt. Mike DiStefano
Two unknown candidates from out of town

Oh, yeah, there's an eighth: Franz Douskey, a college professor and "freelance pallbearer" who lives on Ives Street.

July 1, 2006
Retired, But Staying

To some folks' chagrin, Fire Chief Leddy will continue to helm the department for now

By Sharon Bass

At about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt said he was about to leave for the day when his boss asked me to stick around. Hurlburt said Chief Jim Leddy handed him a notice. It said Leddy would be interim chief for 90 days, although he officially retired yesterday.

"From a personal note, it's an insult," said Hurlburt.

The insult, the deputy chief said, is that Mayor Craig Henrici would not appoint him acting chief until a new head comes on. Instead, Henrici hauled Leddy out of retirement before he even stepped in.

When the mayor appointed Tom Wydra police chief Friday morning, and said Wydra's name would be presented for Legislative Council approval next Wednesday, he was asked why the same efficiency was not taken with his choice of Brian Badamo for fire chief. Henrici held an April press conference announcing the assistant marshal as his numero uno pick, but has yet to send his name down.

"Because I want to make sure it passes," Henrici said. Despite heavy lobbying for Badamo by a few supporters, common thought is the majority of Council members would vote against him. They and others in and outside the fire department feel he is not qualified for the top post. The 32-year-old failed to make lieutenant this year, coming in 17 out of 19 applicants on the test. He has never held a supervisory position. And he was linked to an abduction of a fellow firefighter.

Henrici said yesterday he will begin to interview others for fire chief -- something he's been reluctant to do. He's received about a half-dozen resumes since the job was posted April 20, a week after his announcement of Badamo. But unless "somebody makes me want to change my mind, I'm going to stick with Brian," he said.

Meanwhile, the mayor said Leddy would stay for "another month on an interim basis. We're rehiring him and his pension deferred. We're not double dipping."

Hurlburt said he's sure the notice said 90 days (such notices went to all the firehouses yesterday). Plus, the mayor has the option to extend it another 90.

Besides feeling dejected, Hurlburt said it's a waste of tax dollars to pay Leddy when Hurlburt can do the job on an acting basis. He's done it many times before. It is unknown how much Leddy will be paid. A message left for him last night was not returned.

Councilwoman Betty Wetmore, whose family members have worked for the Hamden fire department, said she's appalled at the mayor's action. She also questioned whether Henrici can give Leddy a 90-day contract without Council approval.

"I'm very disappointed that he did not have enough faith in Clark until he found someone to fill the chief's job," said Wetmore. "And it should have come before the Council. I don't understand how he can do this contract and give the chief this job without it coming before the Council."

Hurlburt said he's served as interim chief during Leddy's absence at least a half-dozen times, for several weeks at a clip. Last summer he did so when Leddy had gallbladder surgery. "It was OK then," said Hurlburt. But not now.

Another unknown is whether Leddy will get to retain the benefits in the labor contract that expired Friday. In the new contract, retirement benefits have been watered down, which is the major reason 23 firefighters and cops have just retired.

"They're extending the benefits for one person. The union is up in arms over it," said Hurlburt. "That's why everybody has retired, not to lose pension benefits."

Fire union president Gary Merwede would not comment for this story.

'A Young Fresh Face'

Wydra being sworn in as deputy chief on Feb. 15, 2005. File Photo

Tom Wydra braced to take over the HPD

By Sharon Bass

If the Legislative Council confirms his appointment next Wednesday as the town's eighth police chief, Tom Wydra will have his work cut out for him. One of his first tasks will be to replace the 13 officers who retired yesterday. He'll have promotions to make, people to hire, a new gig to learn, but …

The 35-year-old said he feels equipped to take it all on and is ready to rock 'n' roll.

"I'm thrilled and I'm certainly humbled. It's a big position. It carries a lot of responsibility," said Wydra. "But I'm confident in my ability and I'm confident in the personnel we have."

A 14-year veteran of the 107-member Hamden blue force, Wydra is one of Mayor Craig Henrici's most popular appointments to date. The mayor said he interviewed nine men. And Deputy Chief Wydra stood out.

"We discussed each of the candidates and we thought he conducted himself very well," said Henrici. "It's a young fresh face in the department. We know he's respected by his peers." The mayor said he didn't make the decision by himself. He brought in Personnel Director Ken Kelley and Assistant Town Attorney Mike Kamp for the interviews, and said he consulted with the Police Commission. Also, just-retired Chief Jack Kennelly recommended Wydra.

"I think Tommy is a very bright and articulate police officer," said Kennelly. "I know his direction for the department is going to be very positive." He called Wydra "task-oriented, communicative with rank and file and dedicated to the job."

Wydra is expected to have an easy time getting Council approval. The Democrats will likely give him thumbs up, and at least one of the two Republicans thinks he's a good choice.

"I'm very, very happy for Tom Wydra. He's a nice man. I think he'll put his heart into it," said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore.

About Tom

Wydra grew up in Milford with his identical twin (who's four minutes older), Tim Wydra, a Hamden police lieutenant. The elder twin said being a cop was not on his childhood radar, but it was on Tim's.

"Tim wanted to be a cop all his life, and I didn't take to the profession until later on in my young adult years," said Tom, who lives in North Haven. After high school, he majored in business at Sacred Heart University while Tim studied law enforcement. That's when Tom got turned on. And has stayed turned on.

"It's different every single day. It might sound like a cliché but you absolutely have the opportunity to help people every day," he said. His wife's grandfather Hugh Mulhern was Hamden police chief from 1967-1974.

Wydra did the street crime unit for four years, was on the statewide auto theft task force and served as union president for six years. "It exposed me to everything that's done in the administrative aspect of our profession: discipline, internal affairs, the budget, the labor agreement. Those are all areas the chief deals with every day," he said.

In 2000, Wydra was promoted to sergeant; in 2002 to lieutenant; and last year to deputy chief, for which he scored first out of 13 candidates on the test.

Then last fall, he attended the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. "The national academy is the premier law-enforcement management training school in the country," he said. "They pride themselves on their students becoming chiefs around the world." Wydra said it was an intensive, three-month program.

Asked about his vision for the department, he said he'd rather withhold comment until he meets with Council members July 5. "I think I owe it to them to speak to them first," said the father of a boy, 5, and a girl, 1.

Once confirmed, Wydra said he plans to fill his vacated deputy seat within a few weeks. There will actually be two deputy chief vacancies. (Hamden has three deputies, of which two are union posts.) Bill Onofrio holds one of the union slots, Wydra the other, and Stephen Cahill, who retired in May, was the non-union deputy. The mayor appoints the non-union and the Police Commission selects the union posts.

In addition, there will be sergeants and captains to make and new patrol officers to bring on. The early retirement exodus on both the police and fire forces this year is in large part due to the new union contracts, which have been stripped of some retirement benefits. Most notably, the four-year buyout of sick and vacation time.

"It's an exciting time. The department is going to have a lot of new leaders," said Tim Wydra. "I'm very happy for him. I think it's phenomenal for the department. I think we have a great, young new leader now."

Tom's brother continued.

"He's a very fair person. He was always a good kid who got along with everybody," said Tim.

How about sibling rivalry? "None at all. Never has been," he said. "There were nights when [Tom] was promoted and at the same meeting I wasn't. I was still disappointed but I was very happy for him."

Lt. Bo Kicak applied for chief and deputy chief. "I'm looking forward to working with the new chief and I'm still waiting for the mayor to name the next appointment," he said. "Now it's time to go forward. I've always worked well with Tommy."

Cahill went for chief, too. He was ready to come out of his nascent retirement for the opportunity.

"I knew it was an uphill battle. I knew I was qualified. I would have felt like I missed something if I didn't go for it," he said. "I'm glad I applied. Things work out for a reason. And I want to wish Tommy all the luck -- he'll need it.

"I'm going to move on. I've got a couple of offers out there and I'm going to start meeting with people next week," he said.

Just before midnight yesterday, Kennelly was talking with the HDN on the phone. That hour marked the end of his long career.

"Thirty-five years is a long time to be a police officer. It's very difficult to let go of something you loved doing your entire life," he said.


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