May 31, 2006
As the Council does its business
Story and photos by Sharon Bass
A multi-flavored medley of people and political parties paid the Town Council a little visit last evening. Carrying signs screaming for tax relief in the form of a phase-in, they came to sit. Quietly. Holding high the handwritten signs so their elected officials could see their pleas as decisions were being made on spending the townsfolk's dough.
Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief formed in response to the newly passed 2006-07 budget of $163.6 million -- 25 percent more than this year's. Their hope for a phase-in over a few years of property taxes is extremely unlikely to happen, Mayor Craig Henrici said yesterday afternoon.
"Of course, that's up to the Council," he said. "Phase-ins were more palatable when state statute only required a reval every 10 years." Now they must be done every five.
Mark Sanders, a Democrat from Whitneyville, is a member of Hamden Homeowners. He is also spearheading his neighborhood's drive to form a separate tax district. Other HH members include Kelly McCarthy, a Green who ran a strong but unsuccessful race for the 5th District Council seat last fall; Sarah Morrill, co-chair of the Republic Town Committee, who authors the column "Right On!" for the HDN; Jim Jalowiec, who ran unsuccessfully for the 4th last year as an independent; and Helen Blitzer of Haverford Street, who is very active in the Hamden Jewish community. About a dozen from the group showed up last night.
"It's a town-wide issue, not a political issue," said Morrill. Her sign read: "Taxation Where is the Representation."
"I think it's unconscionable that they would raise taxes," said HH member Tom Dattilo of West Woods Road. "I'm a senior citizen on a fixed income. If we can't pay the taxes we'll have a foreclosure."
Dattilo said the taxes on his home are jumping from $3,900 to $5,200, and carried a sign saying so. "Where is the $1,000 going to come from? The only people who will be able to live in the town will be the teachers, firemen, policemen and the town employees," he said. "The mayor gets elected and the first thing he does is raise taxes."
HH members sat through most of the two-plus-hour committee meetings, quietly and attentively watching their elected officials.
Economic Developer Dale Kroop brought good cheer to the Council's Planning & Development Committee. The Liuzzi cheese manufacturing plant, now at 322 State St. in North Haven, wants to move to Rossotti Drive (off Sherman) in Hamden. The company is buying a 20,000-square-foot "shell of a building" and planning to pour $600,000 into it to create the new factory. The committee was asked to approve a "business incentive agreement" for Liuzzi Real Estate (the company that owns the property).
Councilwoman Carol Noble said Liuzzi will drop $17,000 a year into the town piggybank. She and others praised Kroop.
The people holding signs looked unfazed.
Councilman Mike Germano had a question. "What incentives did North Haven offer them?" Kroop said neither North Haven nor Cheshire (the other town Liuzzi was checking out) offers business incentives in general. The item passed unanimously.
Just outside Council Chambers, Kroop described the incentive package Liuzzi was just awarded. The company will get a partial tax abatement for three years. It will pay full taxes but only 50 percent of new tax increases. The town is giving the cheese outfit five grand. And Liuzzi will get 25 percent of its building permit fee waived. Kroop said it would still have to pay the full permit fees on stuff like air-conditioning, plumbing and electricity.
"At the end of the day, they're going to have to pay full taxes," he said.
Blitzer's sign read: "Stop Tax Abuse of Hamden Homeowners. Phase in Revaluation. Done it Before, Do it NOW. Legislative Council Members. No More Excuses. Homeowners are Suffering. Business must pay fair share of taxes."
An item on the Council's Public Safety Committee agenda called for a $12,500 transfer for gasoline for the police department. Councilwoman Kath Schomaker suggested to Police Chief Jack Kennelly a way to cut down on usage.
She said she often sees police cars idling with no one inside. "Can you explain that?"
Cars need to be on to operate the computers and cameras, said Kennelly. "We don't have a policy regarding idling. When a police officer responds to a domestic, they shut off their cars and lock them," he said.
Councilman Ron Gambaradella made the only mention of the folks holding signs. Questioning some expenditures up for votes, he said he could not ignore what they were saying. For that, HH broke its silence and gave him a round of applause.
A motion for a $100,000 transfer for fire department overtime drew an annoyed comment from Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. She wasn't peeved about the money but rather about something Mayor Craig Henrici wrote to the Council about the item.
Wetmore read the mayor's notation: "Although it pains me to sign this appropriation transfer, your approval of this transfer is respectfully requested." She asked Fire Chief Jim Leddy if he was aware of what Henrici wrote. Leddy said he wasn't.
"You're reading tea leaves," said Councilman Matt Fitch. "You're reading too much into this. It's imaginary."
"It's not imaginary," Wetmore shot back. "It's written right here!" She held up the letter.
She said the mayor was showing his attitude toward the fire department by saying it pained him to have to allocate the money. "I've never seen this before," she said of the mayor's comment. Wetmore is serving her fourth term.
The Public Safety Committee includes Wetmore, Fitch, Bob Westervelt, Michael Colaiacovo, Mike Germano, James Pascarella and Carol Noble. Only Germano voted no to the 100 grand fire transfer.
By Sharon Bass
Less than a year ago, a dozen businesses were located at Farricielli's illegal State Five business park. Now there are seven.
Big deal? It is. It's been a very slow process, trying to legitimize the well-known scofflaw's property. Now with the town's new enforcement officers and the new town planner's fire and determination, there's renewed optimism it will become a well-maintained and legal park -- sooner rather than later.
Because the park doesn't have the required permits to operate or the necessary infrastructure -- sidewalks, curbs, a sewer system -- last October the town slapped cease and desist orders on the companies that lease there. Some have appealed and most haven't left.
"You'd think the cease and desist would be enough. But you have to enforce it," said New Haven attorney Beth Gilson, who is representing the town in the Farricielli ordeal, a cat-and-mouse ordeal that has gone on for about three decades.
"Enforcement is proceeding methodically. I am extremely pleased with our process to date," said Town Planner Leslise Creane. "But we still have a long way to go."
Recycling Services is the only company on the site not appealing the town orders in court. So yesterday, the town brought Recycling to New Haven Superior Court to enforce the order. But the company's lawyer got a two-week continuance, said Creane. The new court date has not yet been set.
"There's no industrial park. It's a rogue park," said Gilson. Recycling, State Five, Cardinal Trucking, Milo Fabrications, Modern Materials, Upscale Welding and the Nextell tower are the remaining seven.
"It's like if you look at a shopping center, you would see it looks like a plan. How tall are the buildings? Where are the sidewalks?" the lawyer said. "State Five has no plan. You can't just divvy up property and start a business."
For years, Joe Farricielli has owed but not paid one penny on millions of dollars in environmental fines to the state and town for operating an illegal landfill and creating a toxic tire dump on the 110-acre parcel at 2895 State St. He has also spent time behind bars for his flagrant lack of compliance. He signed over the park to a business associate who then signed it over to Farricielli's wife, Jean Farricielli. There's strong belief he did this to divorce himself from the income, so it would appear he couldn't afford to pay his fines. Attorney Gilson is pursuing a lawsuit to pierce the so-called corporate veil to show the income has been used for personal family expenses and is therefore available to pay the $3-plus million fines.
Meanwhile, the State Five office, Cardinal Trucking and Milo Fabrications are taking the town to court to appeal their cease and desist orders. And Upscale Welding is in the process of finding a new home, said Creane.
Modern Materials is allowed to stay put because of a prior agreement with the town, said Gilson. She said Modern presented evidence to the Zoning Board of Appeals that "established a preexisting right to use the site for sand from the early 1990s." However the Nextell tower, which is unstaffed, is the only one with the proper permits.
The town's goal, both women agreed, is to enforce the zoning laws, not necessarily to kick out the businesses. "It's not up to us who owns the property," said Creane.
There's also a chance the property will change hands. Economic Development Director Dale Kroop said there's interest.
"There are many interested buyers. It's up to us to find a deal that will incorporate all of the properties," he said of the park, tire pond and dump. Kroop said he could not disclose the names of the inquirers.
In 1999, the focus was on the tire pond and landfill. Once plans were in place to cap them, the town turned its attention to the industrial park.
May 26, 2006
By Sharon Bass
A reader e-mailed photos to the HDN yesterday of a Public Works truck parked on the former Duchess site at 2425 Dixwell, and two employees tending the grounds. That's private property. The workers are public property, so to speak. And the reader was perturbed.
Asking not to be named, the reader wrote: "I noticed a Public Works truck sitting in the Duchess parking lot. There were two workers, one with a weed whacker and the other on a large lawnmower mowing the grass. I thought at first they were only going to mow the strip between the sidewalk and the curb but instead they mowed the whole lawn, trimmed around all the bushes and then cleaned up all the litter on the property. Could this be another reason our taxes are so high, that we have to hire more Public Works employees to take care of private property? Why is Public Works doing that? Who else's property do they take care of?"
According to Public Works Director John Busca, the property owner, Harry Kruger, 92, agreed to reimburse the town for the labor. However, Kruger said he wasn't told he'd have to pay for it and doesn't plan to.
With the Memorial Day parade coming up next Monday -- which will march past 2425 Dixwell -- Busca said he wanted the property to look nice. Since the chain eatery moved out in March, the grounds have not been kept up.
"We're having a parade. This was done as a courtesy to him and us," said Busca. "He's a lovely man. He's quite a veteran. And he's not feeling well. I am in the process of sending Mr. Kruger a bill." He said he hasn't yet calculated the tab.
"John said he was going to take care of it himself," countered Kruger. "I'm not OK with paying for it. They wanted to dress it up for the parade. I'm physically disabled at the present time." Kruger, a World War II vet who was born during World War I, said he's lived on Dunn Road for over 50 years.
Busca said this marked the first time -- since he took over the department last December -- that his men worked on private property. He said he would "definitely do it again. If people are going to be reimbursing the town, why not? I'm not doing it for nothing."
Kruger said he's had a hell of a time with the property and doesn't need more aggravation. He said Duchess didn't pay rent for a year and a half and so he took the company to court "to get these guys out of there." The lease expired last September.
"They agreed to leave if we didn't sue them," said Kruger. "They left the property making the public believe they lost their lease. They were the guilty ones, not I. Because of these people [Duchess management] I had a heart attack. I had a quadruple bypass.
"There are nasty people on the planet and you have to learn how to live with them," he said.
And if he gets a bill from Busca, he swears he's not paying it.
May 24, 2006
But Henrici says he's sticking with Badamo
By Sharon Bass
New Haven Fire Capt. Bill Gould just applied for Hamden's top fire post. The 39-year-old, who's lived in Hamden all his life, makes candidate No. 6.
However, Mayor Craig Henrici said he still plans to send his highly controversial and unpopular appointment for fire chief -- Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo -- to the Legislative Council for approval, although it "probably" won't be in June. Henrici said he doesn't know when he'll do it.
Currently, the Council appears to be split nearly in half over Badamo, 32, who has no supervisory experience and failed to make lieutenant last year. He was also implicated in the abduction of a fellow firefighter. Those supporting Badamo worked with him on Henrici's campaign last year. While the vote is held up, the mayor's political operatives are working behind the scene trying to sway the minds of councilmembers who are firmly against the appointment.
Gould has been on the New Haven force for 19 years and supervises eight to nine men, he said. He started out as a Hamden volunteer for Company 8 after graduating from Hamden High in 1984.
Similar to many others in the fire biz, Gould comes from a family of firefighters. Both his father and grandfather were on the New Haven force as is his wife.
"It's not a shut door so that's why I put my hat in the ring. It would be a great continuation of my career," said Gould. "I thought it would be an interesting career move if it ever came to be. At least to experience the whole process.
"This is no way against Brian [Badamo]. But there's people who have retired who have gone through the ranks in Hamden who are well suited to do the job, like Paul Wetmore and Mike Ambriscoe. But obviously it's highly political. To me, Paul Wetmore would be a great choice. The obvious choice. There's also Billy Fitzmaurice, Mike DiStefano. Even Clarky Hurlburt."
Hamden Capts. Fitzmaurice and DiStefano, Deputy Fire Chief Hurlburt and an unnamed candidate from out of town have all applied for the post. Earlier this month, New Haven Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci said he intended to throw his resume in, too.
Gould, who lives on Walter Lane with his wife and three young children, said he's good buddies with quite a few Hamden firefighters and admires the force.
"They have an excellent department there. It's a young department," he said. "They keep up with their training. They're real aggressive with their fire duty. And they have an outstanding department and union leadership."
May 23, 2006
By Betsy Driebeek
If you've been driving around the Mt. Carmel area over the last few weeks, you may have come across Larry Geshman. He is Hamden's lone hydrant maintainer and has been at it for about 27 years.
Springtime is busy for Geshman as he assesses the hydrants after the icy winters. He does about 20 hydrants a day -- greasing the fittings, turning the hydrants on to see if they work well and giving them a fresh coat of yellow paint. Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt said there are about 1,000 hydrants in town.
In the winter, Geshman pumps the water out of them to make sure they don't freeze. When it pours from the sky, he's also on the job. Some hydrants require attention when overrun by rainwater.
The hydrant maintainer said people are curious when they see him. He said one lady stopped to say, "Hamden and West Haven hydrants are better maintained than New Haven's."
Keep your eyes open. Geshman checks all thousand and will be coming to your neighborhood soon -- if he hasn't already.
May 19, 2006
Story and photos by Sharon Bass
There were no contests last night at the 53-minute local Democratic convention, held in the Miller Senior Center. State Rep. Brendan Sharkey (88th House District) was nominated for a fourth term, and Rep. Peter Villano (91st District) was chosen for a seventh performance up in Hartford.
Democratic Registrar of Voters Peggy Rae got the collective nod for a fifth term, and Sal Diglio was more than encouraged by his peers to kick off his 24th year as probate judge.
The votes for all were unanimous.
Andrew Wormser nominated Sharkey. He called him progressive and pragmatic.
"Brendan is a very good listener. He realizes the value of preserving our environment," said Marjorie Clark, who seconded the nomination. "He is the lifeline to our capitol." She said she got to know Sharkey when they worked together on the Howard Dean for president campaign.
"Towns like Hamden really have to use our clout in Hartford," said Sharkey accepting the nomination. "Despite the fact that Hamden is one of the most Democratic towns in the state, we aren't heard the way we should be" for state funding. He pointed to his support for the gay union and stem cell research laws that passed last session.
"I thank you for your confidence," said Sharkey, who chairs the Program Review & Investigations Committee and is on the Commerce and Finance, Revenue & Bonding committees.
Richard Morton called Villano "a good friend of ours and a good friend of Hamden's," when nominating him. "In Hartford, he works to increase the level of funding to Hamden" for schools, infrastructure improvements and bonding.
Fire Commissioner Gerry Migliaro said Villano is like "E.F. Hutton of the state Legislature. When Peter talks, they listen."
"We need a governor," Villano addressed the group. "Everything we do is knocked down. She has vetoed a lot of good laws and good budgets," he said of Republican Gov. Jodi Rell.
"I know she has good numbers [according to surveys], but I think that's diminishing." He said people are seeing that Rell "doesn't deal well with issues," and scandals within her administration are now coming to light.
It's been 20 years since Connecticut had a Democratic governor. "We're keeping our fingers crossed that maybe we'll get a Democrat," Villano said. He co-chairs the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee and sits on the Human Services Committee and Select Committee on Aging.
Rae was up next. John Morrison called her "one of the most dedicated elected officials we've had in the town of Hamden. The best thing we can do tonight is vote her in for a fifth term."
Villano cast the second nomination. "You always get her with a smile," he said. "The bottom line is Peggy Rae is a party treasure, and we should keep her working for us as long as we can."
Rae thanked Councilman John Flanagan (who was in the room) for helping her get elected the first time.
Tony Mentone wholeheartedly nominated Diglio. "He has had no scandals or abuses, unlike those down the hall," he said of the local Republican convention that was simultaneously going on at the senior center. "He has helped countless Hamden residents."
"A loyal Democrat, Sal has given his full support to all candidates," said Anne Ramsey.
Diglio, who helped start the New Haven Regional Children's Probate Court for abused and neglected children, said he had two words for the folks who voted for him -- which was everyone: humility and honor.
The Republicans nominated retired Fire Chief Tim Sullivan to challenge Sharkey, and no one for the 91st or for probate judge. Tony Esposito had no challengers for another term as Republican registrar of voters.
"We're still looking for potential candidates for the 91st," said Austin Cesare, a member of the Board of Education.
Side note: BOE Chair Michael D'Agostino was previously selected to represent Hamden on state Central Committee for the 11th Senate District (Martin Looney's). It's been four years since the town had a presence on the committee. A deal was brokered earlier this year between Democratic Town Chair Joe McDonagh and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. If DeStefano could help Hamden get a Central seat, McDonagh would support his gubernatorial bid.
The town has started to peek into the ambulance biz
By Sharon Bass
One of Mayor Craig Henrici's campaign promises was to create the town's first ambulance service. And, hopefully, it would be a moneymaker.
While Fire Chief Jim Leddy has just started looking into it, one thing seems pretty clear: the service probably won't be a moneymaker. With some smart planning and a shot of good luck, it could break even.
But Leddy said the worth of a municipally run ambulance is not the cash potential, but the community-good potential. Towns that run their own report high satisfaction among residents. They like that it's local and see familiar faces.
"We can't look at it as a revenue source, maybe the administration is," said Leddy. Hamden, like virtually all communities, has paramedics who handle medical emergencies. But since the town doesn't have an ambulance, it relies on an outside company to transport patients.
Leddy said a municipal ambulance service would be faster because "it's right in town and offers better service all around. The response back to me was very positive from the residents."
Also, fire departments report that most of their calls are for medical emergencies, not for fires. And many firefighters are also paramedics. In Hamden last year, Leddy said of the roughly 10,000 calls that came in, about 6,000 were for transports to a hospital and not fire related.
"I think if people think they're going to run it as a profit -- I don't think so," said Dan O'Brien, vice president of American Medical Response, the ambulance outfit Hamden uses. "If it's such a windfall why don't other communities do it? When towns start to think about this they tend to overestimate the revenue and underestimate the expense."
Of course, AMR has something to lose if Hamden starts its own service. In Greater New Haven, AMR also does New Haven, West Haven, East Haven, North Haven, Milford, Orange and Woodbridge.
O'Brien said 60 percent of Hamden's calls are paid by Medicare (federal dollars) and Medicaid (state and federal money). Ten percent are uncompensated, "which means you're not going to see a red cent," he said. And 30 percent have private insurance or pay out of pocket.
While AMR charges $440 for a basic life-support ambulance trip, it often gets less. O'Brien said Medicare reimburses 80 percent of $376.40 (Medicare and Medicaid have their own rate schedules) and $6.05 a mile. The patient is responsible for the other 20 percent. Medicaid pays $173 per trip and a little over $2 a mile, and the patient is not charged.
"This comes up every few years in municipalities across the state," said O'Brien. "But when they look at the costs to provide the services and what the potential revenues are …"
Wallingford & Branford
Wallingford has had a municipal ambulance service since 1924. In 1978, it became part of the fire department. Chief Peter Struble said the town handles about 50 percent of the hospital transports and Hunter's in Meriden does the other half.
The town of 46,000 owns three ambulances. One is staffed 24/7. The others are used as necessary, Struble said. Last year, there were 2,400 transports to hospitals, and another 500 ambulance calls for motor vehicle accidents and other incidents where no hospitalization was needed.
There are 22 paramedics and eight EMTs who run the service, the chief said. And there's a town ambulance committee that oversees the operation.
"We don't look at it as paying for itself or not paying for itself," said Struble. "This was set up to provide a service to the town of Wallingford. The intent was never to make money or pay for itself."
Collection rate is about 72 percent; the national average is 70 percent. Ambulance revenue goes into Wallingford's general fund, not to the fire department. In 2004-'05, it cost $804,673 to run the ambulances, and revenue was $852,727, said Struble.
"I believe the fire department should be in the emergency medical business. Wallingford's experience has been an excellent experience. It's the highest level of service you can get," said Struble.
Ditto in Branford.
"We do pride ourselves in the fact that because we are a municipal service, that we offer a little better service than a commercial service," said Branford Fire Chief Jack Ahern. "A little more in terms of compassion. They [paramedics] work in the town, some live in the town. It works very well."
The shoreline community of 30,000 has three ambulances and 22 paramedic/firefighters, he said. In '04-'05, revenue was $1 million and it cost over $1 million to operate. Ahern said he's not sure of the exact figure.
"It doesn't pay for itself," he said. But like his Wallingford counterpart, he said people like the local service. Branford got into the ambulance biz in the 1940s, which merged with the fire department in 1993.
"Fires are going down across the country but calls for service are going up because of medical emergencies. I think what you have to look at in Hamden is that they're sending paramedics out to these calls so why shouldn't they do the whole nine yards and transport them too and get that revenue for the town?" Ahern said.
Branford recently purchased a new ambulance for $129,000 -- unloaded. The medical equipment will run another $8,000 to $10,000. Hamden already has defibrillators, which cost about $20,000 apiece.
East Haven, Too?
For the last year and a half, East Haven Fire Chief Doug Jackson said he's been contemplating an ambulance service.
"It's a concept that we're looking at. Taking a long, hard look at it. Looking at numbers," he said. "My primary objective is definitely not to produce revenue. AMR covers a lot of towns and the response times are not as good as we like. We're on scenes waiting sometimes. We can provide a little more personal service."
Jackson said even if he gets one going, the town would still use AMR for mass casualties "because they have a large pool of personnel and equipment."
As Jackson and Leddy are finding out, it's a complicated task. State licenses are needed. There is a hefty initial outlay for personnel and equipment. The service needs to be properly organized and administered.
"I have some reservations about it," said Jackson. "It's another whole business basically. There's a lot of ramifications. We are involved in a lot of things right now. We do more medical calls than fires, like everyone else. And we do a lot of community things."
May 16, 2006
Board members speak out
By Sharon Bass
Fewer than 24 hours after the Legislative Council wiped out the library director's salary, the Library Board held an emergency meeting. While the Council voted 8-6 to yank Bob Gualtieri's pay, his board is not about to let him go.
"You can't run a library without a library director," said board member Evelyn Hatkin. "Can you run a fire department without a chief? Can you run a police department without a chief? You can't run a library without a chief."
At last Friday's board meeting, Hatkin and the others talked about what they could do to get back the funding for director Gualtieri's $69,380 job. It was agreed that board Chair Lester Hankin would seek help from Mayor Craig Henrici.
The Council got a report last Thursday morning -- the day they voted on the budget -- that the property-tax revenue for fiscal year '06-'07 had been overestimated by about $500,000. So Council Democrats caucused before the budget meeting that evening to make cuts. And Gualtieri got the ax.
Neither the library director nor the board knew it was coming.
"I was amazed. I was astounded," Hankin said, upon learning that Gualtieri's salary was eliminated from the budget. "He's a very good librarian, I can tell you. He does a lot of work." Hankin, who's served on the board about seven years, said he plans to set up a meeting with Henrici about Gualtieri.
"The library board definitely supports Bob and as far as I gather, the staff supports him,"
"The Board is hoping the Legislative Council will reconsider their vote," she added. "That's what we're hoping."
The Council is expected to take up the matter at the end of the month.
A message left last night at Henrici's home was not returned by deadline.
May 15, 2006
By Sharon Bass
A sixth resume for the top fire job hit Mayor Craig Henrici's desk last week. It was from Franz Douskey, a college professor and "freelance pallbearer" residing on Ives Street.
He said he applied for the $90,000-a-year position "because the standards were so low. This is a job everyone can handle. I mean it's a ceremonial position. All you have to do is stand at the reviewing stand, where dignitaries stand as a parade goes by, and raise your right arm."
Henrici has handpicked Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo for fire chief -- an appointment many in and outside the fire department have publicly criticized.
Douskey said he's 84 but apparently feels fit enough to lead a firefighting force of 100 men and three women.
Here is the cover letter he submitted with his resume:
"May 8, 2006
To Whom It May Concern:
I am applying for the position of Fire Chief for the town of Hamden. True, I don't have any training, experience or qualifications; however, that could be viewed as a plus. Consider the fact that I don't have years of obsolete training and experience to overcome. Also, I think that the Hamden Fire Chief is mostly a ceremonial position. You get a nice red SUV and you can park anywhere. I think the only real thing you have to remember is to not park the fire engines too close to a fire. I think we lost one or two engines a few years ago this way.
Regarding any expertise and qualifications, I am certain that I can score at least 19 out of 19 on a lieutenant's exam, which is very close to the score received by the leading candidate. I think you get actual points if you spell lieutenant correctly, so my score might end up being higher than 19 out of 19.
Of course, I haven't abducted anyone, but if that is one of the job requirements, I am willing to give it a try. Please advise.
I enclose my resume, which clearly shows that I am unfettered by the confines of experience, qualifications and expertise.
Also, I am certain that I can obtain letters of reference from Joseph McDonagh, who has something to do with one of the political parties in Hamden. And I think [Councilman] Matthew Fitch would write a letter of support. After all, I taught him much of what he knows about politics, as well as diners.
Anxiously awaiting your phone call, I remain
Asked if Douskey's resume would be considered, the mayor said, "No comment."
May 13, 2006
By Sharon Bass
Though the Legislative Council killed the library director's salary Thursday night, it didn't necessarily kill him. Bob Gualtieri is not going anywhere very fast.
"The Council went well beyond its legal authority," said Councilman John Flanagan.
Gualtieri's salary line has been whitened out, but it's up to the Library Board to actually fire him. Plus, thought is the Council will likely vote on the item again. According to the Town Charter, the board hires and fires and the Council creates and dissolves positions.
The reason given for the slash Thursday evening -- when the budget was voted on -- was the last-second revelation that property-tax revenue had been overestimated by about a half-million dollars, and more budget cuts had to be made.
A message left for Gualtieri was not returned.
Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis, who made the official motion to eliminate the director's $69,380 salary, said it was her idea. She said it wasn't personal. It could have been anyone.
"I thought it was a feasible idea to cut some money," she said. "It was a position I looked at. No particular reason why. It was my choosing. The library could be well served with the person second in command." Rowe-Lewis said $28,000 of the $69,380 goes into the library's overtime account, and the rest is returned to the general fund. She said she got a couple of messages yesterday from Library Board members while she was at work.
Rowe-Lewis' motion passed 8-6. Councilman John Flangan was one of the six. And he said it was personal.
"I think there are some people who had difficulties with Gualitieri. But I think it was handled entirely wrong [Thursday] night. I think they should have had a meeting with the library board," he said.
"It was little boys [certain councilmen] playing a game. I think there were some people who looked at this as an opportunity to get rid of somebody they don't like," said Flanagan. He added that he's "quite sure this will wind up in litigation if we don't reverse what was done [Thursday] night. Especially since it was an 8-6 vote."
"This issue is going to be brought back to the table by the end of this month," said Councilwoman Carol Noble, one of the eight. "They [councilpeople] just did it and walked out [Thursday] night. Now they will have time to spend the weekend thinking about their actions. Maybe next week they'll think what to do."
The Council can change anything in the budget up until June 30, when the fiscal year ends.
"But you try not to do anything drastic because it impacts on the mil rate," said Noble. "So if we are to put the job back in, we would have to find the money." She agreed that adding or subtracting $69K would not alter the new 27.95 mil rate.
Like Flanagan, Noble said the vote to end Gualtieri's salary was personal -- not the random act Rowe-Lewis described.
"I'm afraid I was listening to a couple of constituents who said he wasn't doing a good job," said Noble. "I have constituents who are upset because they lost their Sunday hours. And I had to tell them that the director was having difficulty getting people to work on Sundays."
And the councilwoman said reports about Gualtieri's work performance from the Council's Recreation & Culture Committee -- which she, Flanagan and Rowe-Lewis sit on -- have been negative
"They don't feel like he does his job. That he sits around and does nothing," Noble said.
When the Council reduced the library's overtime hours last month -- effectively ending Sunday hours -- a large sign was placed in front of Miller Library blaming the Council. Noble said Gualtieri was asked to remove it but he wouldn't. There was also a notice on the library's Web site saying the same thing, which has since been removed.
Some give Gualtieri a good review. Yesterday, a library staff member called Noble. "She was very upset that he was removed from his position. She felt he does his job quite well and follows process and procedure. How could this happen," she said.
Noble said axing the library director was not her first choice.
"We were looking for money [Thursday night]," said Noble. "We were only looking for $500,000. Mine and John Flanagan's suggestion was to take it from the Board of Ed. I would like to know why Curt [Leng] continually defends the Board of Ed. Only 12 percent of Hamden residents send their kids to school. Now you have to deal with 88 percent more people."
May 12, 2006
After much last-minute finagling, the Council axes the library director and passes a $163.6 million budget
By Sharon Bass
Learning at the 11th hour that $600,000 had to be shaved from the budget, the Town Council made some rapid cuts last night before voting on the 2006-07 budget.
The ouchiest cut was library director Bob Gualtieri. His job will end June 30. The reason for the slashes -- $100,000 was taken from the Board of Education; $200,000 from debt service; $50,000 from workers' comp; etc. -- was a revenue oversight.
This year's budget makers did not take into consideration that low-income elderly and disabled Hamdenites get a property-tax reduction under the state's circuit breaker program, and erroneously figured in their taxes at the regular rate. Town Assessor Jim Clynes discovered the mistake yesterday morning, said Council President Al Gorman.
So was the theme of this budget season.
In early April, the town realized that Gov. Rell's car-tax elimination proposal was going nowhere. But the $11.7 million Hamden expected to get from the state in lieu of car taxes was already factored into the budget. And because the mil rate would drop due to the property revaluation, less would be collected on cars than the state would have sent -- leaving the town with a $3.7 million hole.
As councilmembers echoed at budget deliberations this spring, it's been hell. Taxes will skyrocket for most homeowners. And some might not be able to foot their bills.
"This is going to be the year where the straw broke the camel's back," said Councilman John Flanagan.
Few spoke favorably of the '06-'07 budget they were about to vote on last night.
"I can't tell you how disappointed I am in this," said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. "I would like to say we cut millions of dollars but we didn't. The mayor did with his revised budget [post-car-tax flop].
"I think we over-inflated our revenue. I think we fooled ourselves all along," she said.
Wetmore voted against the $163,632,938 budget -- up $10.6 million from last year. She also voted against the new tax rate of 27.95. One mil in Hamden is now worth about $4 million. The current mil rate is 43.24, but was destined to plummet after last fall's revaluation which jacked home values up an average of 89 percent. Next fiscal year's tax bills are guaranteed to jump quite significantly, even with the lower mil rate.
Councilwoman Carol Noble voted for the budget and tax rate but said she wasn't thrilled with either.
"I think another cut to the Board of Education could have been made. It's the taxes we have to be concerned about," she said. "It's the senior citizens. It's the young families. I know I'm a retired teacher. But there are some times when you have to do tough love and say no."
Flanagan couldn't agree more.
"This is insanity," he said. "We're further cannibalizing the town side. I think another $2 million from the school budget could be cut. We're going into debt service [to make reductions]. Going back again and again. The well is running dry on the town side."
Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis made the motion to strike Gualtieri's $69,380 job and put that money back into the library's overtime account. The Council had earlier cut that account, effectively closing Miller Library on Sundays.
Flanagan and Wetmore both voiced discontent with the proposal. "Just because you don't like someone doesn't mean you cut their job," said Flanagan. The measure passed 9-4 with one abstention (Councilman Ron Gambardella was absent).
"I'm sorry for some of the snap decisions we made, such as what just happened," said Wetmore. "I am not proud of what we came up with."
"I'm ashamed of this budget," said Flanagan. "I'm going to vote no."
Councilman Curt Leng said he was poised to vote in favor of the new budget. Until yesterday, when the $600,000 boo-boo was unearthed.
"This Council cut over a million from the budget. But we didn't cut enough," he said. "The tax rate is too high. Next year's going to be worse."
Still, some felt they'd done a good job.
"This is honest. It balances," said Councilman Matt Fitch. "We are paying the bills we have to pay. I think this is the very best budget we could present tonight."
Yes, said Councilman Mike Germano.
"We're finally cleaning up our act. I'm proud we put $9 million in the pension fund instead of $6 million or $3 million," he said. "We worked a month and a half. We went line by line and cut everything we could."
"Obviously this is a budget that pleases no one, but we have to pass a budget," said Council Prez Al Gorman. "I hope we can pass the budget tonight."
Rowe implored her colleagues to "take the responsibility [of approving the budget]. We worked hard."
It passed 11-3. Flanagan, Wetmore and Leng opposed.
Residents against the $163.6 million bill have 21 days to submit a petition to the town to take the budget to referendum.
In the end, 16 town departments got cut. And the BOE got roughly a 7 percent increase over last year, or $3.5 million more.
At the onset of last evening's meeting, Council regulars Don Werner and Meg Nowacki spoke.
"I think the mayor gave you a bare-bones budget," said Werner of Mix Avenue. "It's going to take us a long time to catch up with deficit funds. So I know there's going to be a lot of angst when you present the mil rate."
Nowacki, a police commissioner, scolded the legislative body. She said some of the behavior during the last three weeks of budget deliberations was unacceptable. She also said the school budget is too high.
"I think the Board of Education can sustain a larger cut in their request," Nowacki said. "Everyone needs to learn how to be more stringent."
A woman from Gaylord Mountain Road nervously walked to the podium, carrying the blue budget book.
"These are very difficult times. I want the education money going to the children, not to high salaries and extra perks," she said. "I'm told everything is contractual [administrators' salaries and raises] and their hands are tied. I've been saying this for 35 years. When do the contracts end?
"Every administration says it's the past administration's fault. There are limits. This is sort of like an eminent domain thing, because people have to leave their homes if they can't pay their taxes.
"I want you to think about what this budget is going to do to everyone."
Town plans to make it easier to reach the veterans' monument
By Sharon Bass
Getting to the Veterans' Memorial Monument is not easy. For people who are disabled, it's a major struggle if not an impossible one. Because of the middle school construction, folks have to park on Dixwell Avenue and walk up the grassy incline to reach it.
But that's all supposed to be resolved, said Councilman Curt Leng, who chairs the School Building Committee. He just doesn't know when.
There's $100,000 in the middle school building budget to "enhance" the monument, said Leng. The money is earmarked for design and construction. Plans call for a walkway to the monument, a curb cut -- so people who use wheelchairs can get onto the existing sidewalk to get to the walkway -- exterior lighting and landscaping. There will also be a handicapped-parking area in the bus loop, which runs right behind the monument. When buses are in the loop, parking won't be allowed. Parking will also be prohibited on Dixwell Avenue once the monument improvements are done, said Leng.
"Not everybody's going to be happy [with the design], but I still think it's a very nice centerpiece memorial for the town. My grandfather is on there," he said. He was Andrew Balzano, a World War II vet.
"We need to have a meeting and work out the details," said Council Prez and SBC member Al Gorman. He said there'd also be an informal meeting with veterans about the accessibility design.
"I don't want it to be constructed without veteran input," said Leng. "I would like the public to see it. But the town administration may not go along with that."
Tai Soo Kim, the architectural firm that designed the middle school, will update a conceptual drawing that was done two years ago for the monument. Leng said the update should cost nothing. "The last one was done for free. They've been very helpful," he said.
Gorman said the reason the work wasn't done before -- for instance, making the curb cut when the new sidewalk was laid -- is there was no plan in place.
"It was a little more than just say, 'Let's do it.' We had to check it out and make sure we could actually do it. The problem has been solved and the handicapped veterans will be able to get close to the monument," he said.
May 10, 2005
By Sharon Bass
The '06-'07 school tab was set at $70.8 million last night. With a 14-1 vote, the Legislative Council approved the amount, which is about $1 million less than the Board of Education and mayor requested.
Councilman John Flanagan was the lone dissenter.
"For the first time in my 11 years on the Council, I will be voting against this budget," he said. He called the school administration a "giant Pacman" that gobbles up money.
"There's never been a cut," he continued. "I've watched other departments destroyed. I've watched people laid off. I'd like to see this come down another million dollars to $69.9 million. The taxpayers have never screamed the way they are doing this year. They're facing revaluation.
"I'm tired of hearing the threats that [school administrators] will cut athletics and books," Flanagan said. "Parents, don't call me. I can give you nine numbers to call," referring to the BOE members.
The 2nd District councilman's colleagues sang a very different tune.
"I see that it's a reasonable budget," said Councilman Ron Gambardella. "I looked for padding but didn't find any. I am pro education and I know how difficult it was putting this budget together. And I want to commend the Board."
Councilman Mike Germano agreed. "We have painstakingly gone through this budget. I hope all my councilmembers approve this budget," he said.
It's difficult to determine how much was actually cut from Superintendent Alida Begina's proposed budget of $89.5 million -- which the BOE reduced to $86.2 million -- because the town is taking over the school's health care fund for the first time. Mayor Craig Henrici carved out $14.3 million to cover the school's medical costs, estimated to be $17 million next fiscal year. (The $2.7 million gap is to be filled with employee co-pays and monthly premiums.) So the mayor's $71.8 million proposed school budget was roughly the same as the BOE's.
School administrators said it's going to be tough to cut a million bucks.
"We'll look at everything," said school Finance Director Tom Pesce. "We do recognize the town is faced with some difficult decisions."
He said administrators will make a list of suggested areas to cut "that will have the minimal impact to the programs."
BOE Chair Michael D'Agostino said he thinks the new nursing director position -- which has not been filled -- should go. "And there might be some consolidations that can be made," he said. "We'll get out our pencils and do what we can to preserve teachers, textbooks and aides."
The BOE budget was $80.8 million last year (which included the health care account); $76 million in '04-'05; $74 million in '03-'04; $71.4 million in '02-'03; $68.3 million in '01-'02; $65.3 million in '00-'01; $62.4 million in '99-'00; $60.5 million in '98-'99; $57.9 million in '97-'98; and $53.9 million 10 years ago.
The combined school/town budget will get a final vote this Thursday at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers. The mil rate will then be set. The meeting is open to public comment.
(Editor's note: One way the town could save money is by CUTTING THE HEAT IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS. Even with all windows wide open, people have been suffocating to death in there the last couple of nights.)
By Betsy Driebeek
Alphabet Academy and its neighbors met for the third and final time before the Planning & Zoning Commission last night, over an application to expand the Benham Street day care center. The application was denied.
Project architect Gary deWolf reminded the commission that the public hearing had been continued because Town Engineer Al Savarese was away on vacation and otherwise not available to hear both sides of the issue.
Savarese is also the acting traffic engineer for the town and his opinion was needed on the proposed parking lot and driveway for the expansion. deWolf said he revised the plan based on comments Savarese made, specifically about the designated drop-off and pick-up area which has since been eliminated.
"What concerns me is the afternoon, parents picking up children, neighbors coming home. There will be congestion and you're going to have chaos," said Commissioner Anne Altman. "You'll have to disentangle children; parents will have to talk to teachers. It's a totally implausible scheme that this will work without a traffic jam."
"The town engineer had no issues with the parking lot, driveway or egress onto [adjoining] Megin Drive," said deWolf. Chair Joe McDonagh confirmed that Savarese had sent a letter to P&Z stating that the revised plans have addressed his concerns.
"Savarese is a great town engineer but I don't believe he has any training in traffic engineering," Altman said.
Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops read his written opinion. "The proposed parking lot is a welcome addition for the current student population but with the increased number of students it is not adequate." He said his department could not recommend the application.
Wayne Wallberg of Richard Drive reminded the commissioners that 42 households signed a petition against the day-care expansion. "If you are here to protect the local residents I think you just need to look at the number of people who have problems with this," he said.
Near the end of the public hearing, Amy Small, owner and director of Alphabet Academy, said she was going to initiate new protocols at drop-off time that would expedite the process. She also cited the town's Plan of Conservation and Development -- a 170-page plan for Hamden growth. She said it calls for bringing families into town, but has nothing to say about accommodating their children for daycare. Alphabet is one of a handful of daycares in town that accept children under the age of three.
"The fire and police departments, the health department, wetlands, traffic and engineering have all approved our plan," Small said.
The commission unanimously denied the application. "This is too intensive and too expanded a use for the neighborhood," McDonagh said. "The current [drop-off/pick-up] situation is awful. An increase of nearly 50 percent [of children] negates any value to those [parking] changes being made."
Upon leaving, Small said she hadn't thought of submitting a request for fewer students, as was suggested by Commissioner Peter Pappas. She said she never thought her request would be denied.
"I had the approval from every other department and it's unfortunate that Ms. Altman thinks the town engineer is not a good traffic engineer," she said.
By Betsy Driebeek
The Hamden Commission on Disability Rights and Opportunities was hot Monday night, cooking up ways to get its message out to people that the commission exists and wants to help.
Although the group has been functioning since 1992, members say there are still too many people who don't know about it and might benefit.
So they brainstormed ways to get attention.
They talked about putting on and getting involved in public events. For instance, it was discovered Monday evening that the commission has a banner in storage. So they decided to march for the first time in the Memorial Day parade, and distribute their mission statement along the way.
The commission also agreed to procure an information table at Hamden High's Human Relations Club's 15th Annual Prejudice Reduction conference on May 23, at Quinnipiac University. And members talked enthusiastically about having a monthly column appear in the HDN about disability issues specific to the town.
The disability commission is charged with several tasks. It works to resolve complaints from people with disabilities; it studies and investigates local issues that impact the disabled community; and monitors town programs for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance.
For more information or help, please call Bob Gualtieri at 287.2686. The commission meets the second Monday of the month at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room, second floor of the Miller Library. The public is welcome.
May 9, 2006
By Sharon Bass
When 9th District Councilman Bob Westervelt got an apartment last December in the 8th, he said he was told it wasn't a problem. He could continue serving the 9th District since he still owns a home there. He said he splits his time between the two residences.
"[Councilman] Matt [Fitch] said it was fine. Not a problem," Westervelt said of a conversation the two had about it late last year.
However, Fitch said that's not what he told Westervelt at the time. "I said I wasn't sure," he said.
Anyway, all was quiet on the residency front.
Until a couple of weeks ago, when Westervelt publicly came out against the mayor's highly criticized appointment of Brian Badamo for fire chief. And suddenly the 9th District councilman's address became a big deal, both he and Fitch agreed. Particularly among Badamo supporters.
"There was no problem until then," said Westervelt.
"That's right," said Fitch.
Still, Westervelt said Fitch recently approached him about his residency. "He said if I was going to step down, Mike D'Andrea would take my place," he said. Fitch said he did suggest D'Andrea, who replaced former Councilman Henry Candido in 2003 when he quit the post. D'Andrea worked with Fitch on Henrici's mayoral campaign last year.
However, Democratic Town Committee Chair Joe McDonagh said if Westervelt had to resign, the committee would nominate someone whom the Council would vote on.
"It's not a political issue right now," said McDonagh. "It's a charter issue. It becomes a political issue if the decision is he needs to resign. The ball has not been hit into my court yet."
Council Prez Al Gorman said the ball's not going anywhere.
"I don't think it's in the Council's jurisdiction," he said. "How do you define residency? If he pays taxes and owns property [in the 9th]. It's up to Mr. Westervelt to do the right thing. He does represent the district."
By next month Westervelt, a former Hamden fire marshal, said he will leave his Mix Avenue apartment and secure a second residence in the 9th, while he works out some personal difficulties.
By Sharon Bass
The other day New Haven Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci (in photo above) got a phone call. A call like none he'd ever received.
"It was from an interested party in Hamden asking me to put in an application for the [fire chief] job," said Cappucci, 44. "The person wouldn't identify himself. I didn't recognize the voice." The caller said he belonged to one of Hamden's political parties, but Cappucci didn't want to disclose which one.
He said he's sending his resume to Mayor Craig Henrici this week.
"Why not? I've got nothing to lose," said Cappucci, who joined the New Haven fire force in 1984. "I think it would be an honor to lead the men and women of the Hamden Fire Department."
His father-in-law is Rev. Owen Sanderson, the chaplain for Hamden's guardian services. Cappucci said he called Sanderson after the mysterious phone call.
"I said, 'Do you know anything about this?' And he laughed. He said he didn't know anything about it," said Cappucci, who lives in Wallingford.
Like other out-of-towners who are eyeing the top fire job, Cappucci said he thought he'd have to move to Hamden to be chief -- something he's hesitant to do. But he wouldn't have to, according to the Town Charter. And the mayor.
"There's no residency requirement for any position except elected positions," said Mayor Craig Henrici. In fact, he said, just a small number of Hamden firefighters live in town.
Henrici said he's gotten five resumes, including Badamo's. Deputy Chief Clark Hurlburt, Capts. Bill Fitzmaurice and Mike DiStefano and someone from another fire department have applied. Henrici did not respond when asked if anyone besides Badamo would be considered.
Unlike the other applicants who have college degrees and rose through the ranks, Cappucci's background is more similar to Badamo's. Both men have just high school diplomas and went from being a firefighter to the marshal's office.
Another New Haven firefighter said he too was very recently encouraged to go for the job. And Battalion Chief John King knows who's doing the calling. They're members of the Hamden Fire Department asking him to throw in his resume.
King, 50, of West Woods Road said he's on the fence. While being chief sounds tempting, he said staying with New Haven is also tempting. After 28 years on the force, he said he's comfortable and the longer he stays the beefier his pension will be. And there are other factors King is tossing around in his head.
"In my day-to-day activities, I don't have to deal with politics. That would be a new adventure," said King, who has a bachelor's in arson investigation from the University of New Haven and is the rescue manager for the Connecticut Urban Search & Rescue team.
"To be the chief of a department I never worked for was never a goal I wanted to obtain," he said. "Then all of a sudden you find there's a job opening in the town you reside in that you qualify for."
And it's tempting.
May 8, 2006
By Sharon Bass
There's no place like home. Especially when you're getting old.
A few years ago, a group of New Haven-area seniors asked their Hamden peers what kind of community and social services they need to help them age at home. The responses varied, but a resounding 85 percent made one thing very clear: they want to stay put for as long as possible. Hopefully, forever.
The folks who conducted the informal survey have since organized into an effort called Aging At Home, targeting mid-income Hamden seniors who live in condominiums for its pilot project.
AAH has set up shop in Elderly Services at the Miller Library complex. While it's not a town program, AAH gets in-kind municipal support such as office space, staff time and use of phones, copiers and other office equipment. It seeks to organize hospice nurses, doctors, business people, lawyers, professors and others to provide services.
Late last week, AAH came knocking at the mayor's door. Rev. Edward Dobihal, founder of the Connecticut Hospice and an AAH board member, AAH consultant Judith Shea and Elderly Services Director Carol Ireland asked Henrici for his support.
"We say jokingly if you want to die at home, you'd better stay at home," said Dobihal, also the religious director at Yale-New Haven Hospital. "We decided we didn't want to move out of our homes into assisted living."
Ireland told Henrici there isn't enough community support for a good chunk of folks 65 and over. "Most of our services focus on lower-income people to stay in their homes," she said. "This program will work with people of higher means who have some ability to pay for the services."
AAH is not free. One has to pay a membership fee in order to get services, like rides to doctor appointments, housecleaning and recreational and educational programs, said Shea.
"What can the town do for you?" the mayor asked.
"Certainly we want your endorsement and recognition of us," said Shea. "We might ask you for some kind of proclamation. Opening doors would be helpful."
"I really believe if we can do this in Hamden, we will have a model," the reverend said.
"It's a great idea," said Henrici. "I'll help in any way I can. Just tell me where you want me and when, and I'll be there."
Shea said there have been similar successful projects in New York, Chicago and Minnesota.
In AAH's latest annual report, it says: " … we will reach out to the Chamber of Commerce, specific businesses that serve the elderly, the Mayor and Town Council members, religious organizations, service organizations like the Rotary and others. We see this as a program that will enrich the community as it keeps active seniors contributing to civic life."
AAH has yet to be classified as a nonprofit by the state (it needs a 501C3), so the Interfaith Cooperative Ministries in New Haven is taking care of the money.
May 5, 2006
But will they matter?
By Sharon Bass
Fire Capt. Don Labanca said he's seriously considering jumping into the fire chief applicant pool. He would make number six. Deputy Chief Clark Hurlburt, Capts. Bill Fitzmaurice and Mike DiStefano, someone from another fire department and the mayor's hand-chosen pick, Deputy Fire Marshal Brian Badamo, are all in the running.
Or are they?
"I'm reading the resumes," Mayor Henrici said yesterday.
He said he just received one from a firefighter outside of Hamden. Asked if anyone but Badamo would be considered, Henrici said, "No comment."
"I've heard scuttlebutt in the firehouse [about others applying for chief]. If you get eight or a dozen people, that wouldn't surprise me," said Labanca, 51.
He said it's been particularly tense in the department since the mayor appointed Badamo (the Legislative Council has to approve it). Fire Chief Jim Leddy is reportedly retiring on June 30. Many feel Badamo lacks the qualifications and maturity for the job, and point to the fact that he couldn't make lieutenant last year yet this year he's posed for the chief's seat. And he was involved in the abduction of a fellow fighter.
"It's a strain. We're a close-knit bunch of folks and it's really affecting the men and women, and that really bothers me. I wish this was over," said Labanca, who's been on the force 28 years and is a North Branford fire commissioner. "You want someone doing the chief job who's risen through the ranks. Who knows what it's like to command a fire scene. I just wish the mayor would look closely at that qualification."
The captain said his only reservation about going for the promotion is that he's under the impression he'd have to move to Hamden (he lives in North Branford). However, the Town Charter does not mention a residency requirement for the fire chief.
"I've lived out here for 20 years. My son is going into his senior year at high school," said Labanca, explaining his reluctance to uproot his family. He said he'd probably give the mayor his resume late next week.
About a dozen or more firefighters are expected to retire this year because the new union contracts -- to go into effect July 1 -- will most likely have scaled-back retirement benefits. Labanca said that's even more of a reason to have a seasoned person on top.
"We've got a young department and we're going to need some people running the department who have been around," he said.
"I remember when I was interviewed for the job in 1978, Chief [V. Paul] Leddy said to me, 'Well, Don, where do you see yourself eventually in the department?' And I said, 'I see myself sitting in your chair.' It's an interesting job. It's certainly a rewarding job."
May 4, 2006
The Hamden fire captains join at least two others vying for chief
By Sharon Bass
Once they heard last Friday about the job posting for the town's highly contentious top fire seat, Capts. Bill Fitzmaurice and Mike DiStefano shot their resumes over to the mayor. Few inside the fire department were aware of the April 20 job notice until a union official spotted it eight days later inside Government Center, the captains said.
Deputy Chief Clark Hurlburt also applied for the job earlier this week. Mayor Craig Henrici said he has gotten three resumes so far.
"Nobody knew about it until the union reps posted the job opening in the stations," said the 44-year-old Fitzmaurice. "Normally, that's not how it's done." Normally, town vacancies are sent to the fire department and stations the day the town releases them.
Meanwhile, Henrici has tapped Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo for fire chief. His appointment has led to a flood of dissent from within and outside the Hamden Fire Department, with many saying Badamo is highly unqualified for the post.
A week after Henrici publicly appointed Badamo to replace retiring Chief Jim Leddy -- pending Council approval -- the position was posted outside the Personnel Department but not distributed to the firehouses. The Town Charter requires all vacancies to be announced before filled, even mayoral appointments like fire chief.
About the Captains
DiStefano, 43, joined the Hamden force in 1987, six months after Fitzmaurice did. Both men are also paramedics. DiStefano is the hazardous materials technician and leads the "haz-mat" team. He's also an EMS and WMD instructor in Hamden and other towns.
"I think I can help the department. I have leadership experience and I think I'm well respected by most of the department," said DiStefano. "I think I can provide a positive influence in the department. The guys know I'd be pretty honest with everything."
Fitzmaurice, 44, started out in the ambulance business. Before coming to Hamden, he was the paramedic supervisor for a private company based in Waterbury.
"I always wanted to be a firefighter. It was just a childhood dream of mine," he said. Fitzmaurice said he earned an associate's degree in fire science and administration from Waterbury State Technical College.
Though both men are vying for the lead position, they said they hope others from the department apply as well.
"I think there are a lot of qualified people out there. Whoever gets the job, it's going to be a difficult position to be in it, I think, because of everything that's surrounding it," said Fitzmaurice. He said because of the Badamo controversy some are reluctant to apply.
"Even I had reservations. I try not to get involved in these controversies. This has an effect on the guys. We're in the limelight and there's a controversy within the ranks. Hopefully, it will be rectified quickly and we can move on," Fitzmaurice said.
"It's been tough," said DiStefano. "The morale is down because of it. There's a lot of senior people in the department who are very angry over it -- not even being looked at. It's a little disheartening.
"It's almost like being tossed aside. It's like everything you worked for has no value. The mayor doesn't even look at you. You're nothing.
"The majority of the people give 110 percent every day," DiStefano continued. "Ever since I saw the first episode of 'Emergency,' I said that's what I'm going to do."
Fitzmaurice said he hopes the resumes are looked at objectively and politics can be shoved aside.
"I hope it's a fair and honest process. I hope they look at everyone who applies," he said.
May 2, 2006
By Sharon Bass
On April 13, Mayor Henrici held a press conference to announce his appointment of Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo for fire chief.
On April 20, Personnel Director Ken Kelley posted a job opening for fire chief outside his Government Center office.
Henrici said Kelley had called him to say he was going to do so. "I said 'fine.'"
There really wasn't a choice, though. The Town Charter requires it.
Chapter XVII, Personnel, Section 17-1: General Provisions: " … Public notice shall be given for all openings in Town positions, including Mayoral appointments, prior to the filling of such positions …"
Henrici said yesterday that he didn't violate the charter because he hasn't actually filled the job. The Legislative Council has to vote on his appointment to make it official.
The mayor also said he didn't find it odd that the job was posted a week after he publicly appointed Badamo -- an appointment that has led to the most furious debate among councilmembers and residents since Henrici took office last November. In an earlier interview, the mayor said he didn't consider anyone but Badamo for chief. Many claim Badamo, 32, lacks the qualifications and experience needed for the top fire job, and that appropriate candidates were overlooked.
Since last Friday, Henrici said he's received three resumes for the chief's job -- all from Hamden firefighters.
One of those resumes belongs to Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt. He said the April 20 job notice was not sent to the firehouses until several days ago. Until then, he said, he didn't know that the chief's job was posted. He said job openings are "always" sent to fire headquarters on the day Kelley posts them. Then the fire secretary disburses the notices to the stations, usually on the same day. Hurlburt said he didn't know why they were delayed this time.
Another thing that struck Hurlburt about the job notice is how skimpy it is, he said. Unlike others, it doesn't include a list of qualifications or job duties.
It simply says:"The Position of Fire Chief for the Town of Hamden will become vacant as of June 30, 2006. Interested parties may submit resumes to the Mayor's Office."
Kelley did not return a message seeking comment.
By Sharon Bass
Town employee/union activist Don Werner had something to say last night about letting the school department hire outside firms to cut the grass and shovel the snow.
"I think this is a veiled union-busting move," he told the Legislative Council. The request was on the evening's agenda.
Werner was adamant. He suggested if the town wants to save money, it should divide Public Works into three departments: one for town and school buildings; another for green stuff, like tree and grass care and stump grinding; and a "traditional" public works department to maintain roads.
"I agree with Mr. Werner," said Councilman John Flanagan. "We're setting ourselves up to violate the union contract. I'm against this. The real reason [for this proposal] is they're trying to back the union in a corner."
The 2nd District rep said he doesn't trust the Board of Education to handle the contract or the money. Other councilpeople agreed. And their understanding was if a contract is worth under $50,000, they don't get to review it. Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak said the mayor has to approve all contracts regardless of amount.
Defending the proposal, Councilman Jim Pascarella said the contracts would each exceed $50,000. He said it costs over $200,000 a year for snow and grass treatment.
"The proposal is for the Board of Education to see if it's financially feasible to contract the work out. To say no, we don't even want you to investigate saving money … They're asking us to allow them to do the legwork.
"There's a 90 percent chance that this won't happen because it's not feasible. We're not signing any contracts. It's a no-brainer," said Pascarella.
Councilman Ron Gambardella agreed. "I'd like to applaud the Board of Education. I'm not anti-union. I'm not pro-employee. I'm here to do the right thing for the town," he said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."
The measure is supposed to save money by using outside workers instead of hiring additional school employees, which the BOE said will be needed for the new middle school. Reportedly, no one would lose their jobs or overtime hours if a contractor is hired.
Councilwoman Carol Noble wanted to know if a cost comparison between contractors and employees was done. School Finance Director Tom Pesce and facilities director Mark Albanese were asked to step up to the podium. They said no comparisons were made.
Noble told them she had asked the school department for information backing up their request to outsource the grass and snow work, but nothing was ever sent to her. "It would be nice to have something to go on to see if it's in the best interest of the town," she said, clearly irritated. "You could have come to us with some numbers."
Then Noble produced written bids the school received last year for the two services. She said she recently got the documents from the Purchasing Department, which were never shared with the Council. Kozak said the BOE had asked her to get the bids. "The unions weren't ready for it a year ago," she said.
"It was my understanding that this was discussed with the unions and they said it wouldn't have an impact" on them, said Councilman Curt Leng.
"I didn't have any discussions with the union about this," said Pesce. "Mr. [Assistant Superintendent Hamlet] Hernandez had a discussion."
Raising his voice, Flanagan said, "The Board of Education is notorious for not coming back to us" with information on things like bids and contracts. He suggested that the school's business manager "pick up the phone and get three quotes tomorrow."
President Al Gorman said he was glad the BOE is looking to cut costs "but I'm going to suggest we do not vote on this tonight." Like Noble, he wants to see the cost comparison.
The item was tabled.
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