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Town Government

October 31, 2006

Back Pay in Question

By Sharon Bass

Two unions are crying foul play -- and filing grievances -- alleging the town owes retirees back pay. The town says it’s not legally obligated.

“Under the law, once the employee retires and is no longer in the bargaining unit they’re not entitled to the pay or other benefits unless the contract specifically provides for that,” said Chris Hodgson, a Bridgeport labor attorney who’s been negotiating with AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) and UPSEU (United Public Service Employees Union) on behalf of the town. “These employees retired when they did and took advantage of the more generous health plan. They apparently want it both ways.”

Only current town workers are getting the retroactive salary hikes stipulated in the new labor agreements. Their old contracts expired one to three years ago, and their new ones include pay increases for each year they were without a contract.

Wayne Gilbert of UPSEU, which represents the Public Works local, filed for binding arbitration two weeks ago over the matter. Its contract expired July 1, 2005, and a tentative agreement was reached in June 2006. He said the town owes five or six former Public Works employees back pay.

Larry Dorman of Council 4, AFSCME, said the union filed a municipal prohibitive practice charge against Hamden on behalf of 27 retirees from four bargaining units: Local 2863 (Town Hall and school crossing guards), Local 3042 (Parks & Recreation), Local 818 (supervisors) and Local 1303-052 (engineering).

In addition to back pay for the retirees, the unions are seeking the dollar difference for sick leave, vacation time and pensions to reflect the wage increases.

But Hodgson maintained that AFSCME’s four new contracts, recently ratified by the Legislative Council,  “only apply to active employees unless it specifically states retirees,” which they don’t.

“They’re owed the money. They worked here. They were on the clock,” said Gilbert. “Those retroactive raises they held onto for two, three years was money they owed people who worked here.”

“We believe the town has violated the terms of a negotiated settlement,” said Dorman. “We also believe the town has a moral and financial obligation to live up to those terms, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to achieve what is just and fair.”

Hamden’s Finance Director Mike Betz said he doesn’t know how much would be owed to the retirees, and there is no plan to pay them.

“There’s nothing we can see in the [labor] agreements that acknowledge retirees. There’s no reference to former employees,” he said. “The problem is when you’re not an active employee the information about you is here and there and is a monumental research task. You’re looking for someone who worked two and a half years ago for a month? Where are they?”

However, Betz said, “The decision to pay or not to pay was not based on the number out there. It was based on whether it’s even appropriate.”

Last night, the Council was asked to approve transferring an additional $350,000 for retroactive pay for active employees; $480,000 had earlier been approved. “The sum of the two will take care of three contracts,” Betz said of the Town Hall, Parks & Rec and supervisors locals. The amount owed to the retirees would be significantly less, he said.

Gilbert said four or five of the retired Public Works employees were with Hamden’s Water Pollution Control Authority, and left town employment when it was sold to New Haven and became regional. Those workers were transferred to the new operation.

“They had to retire from Hamden. They got a buyout from the town and the agreement says they will be made whole for any and all losses,” he said.

“We didn’t think it was an issue. We told anyone who was going to retire to go to the mayor or [Personnel Director] Ken Kelley. They were all promised they’d get retroactive pay. I said get it in writing,” said Gilbert.

Mayor Craig Henrici said he didn’t recall speaking to any of the retirees. “I didn’t know this issue existed until two weeks ago. The town is still looking into all aspects of this,” he said.

Dorman said the state Labor Board plans to hold an informal hearing in Hamden on Dec. 1 with a “neutral representative” from the state. “A majority of the 27 workers are longtime employees with at least 20 years of service to the town. They, and all the workers, deserve better than to be treated with such disregard by the town,” he said.

October 26, 2006

So Many Reasons
And So Much Time

Folks line up to speak against the gravel pit. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

P&Z devotes over four more hours to the much-protested mining operation proposed for northern Hamden

By Sharon Bass

When Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Joe McDonagh asked the packed Council Chambers last night if anyone wanted to speak in favor of a gravel-mining operation proposed for upper Whitney Avenue, no one budged.

When he asked if anyone wanted to speak against the plan, which would excavate 254,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel over a two-year period, a sea of hands went up. And a long line formed before the podium.

Neighbors, politicians and environmental activists came forward, armed with facts and figures and expert testimony in the form of letters and documents to back up their claims. They didn’t get a chance to speak at the Oct. 10 hearing about the special permit sought by Wallingford-based Sunwood Development Corp. for the gravel pit. Such a permit is needed because the property is in a residentially zoned area.

They told the commission:

It will create too much noise from heavily loaded trucks going in and out of the 40-acre site at 4246 (rear) and 4280 Whitney Ave.

It will ruin the integrity of the bucolic, residential neighborhood.

It will pollute the air, land and groundwater.

It will create too much traffic on the already congested Whitney Avenue.

It will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

It will draw Canada geese, which would foul the water in the four mining ditches-turned-manmade ponds and seep into the drinking water supply.

It will be a safety hazard for children who could fall into the “ponds” and drown.

It will kill off much of the animal, fish and plant life.

It will put a lot of dust in the air.

It will adversely affect the serene Farmington Canal Rail Trail.

It will lead to traffic accidents.

It will present health issues.

It will mean downing many trees and replacing just a fraction.

A few gave the commission advice:

Prepare for an appeal if the proposal is turned down.

Buy the open space to keep it from being mined.

And all asked the P&Z to just say no.

Council President Al Gorman said the proposal runs counter to the town's Plan of Conservation and Development, which calls for enhancing neighborhoods. "Please don't cloud that vision," he implored.

“This is a major assault on the countryside,” said Peter Schwartz of Still Hill Road. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment. This is such an insult to the community. Turn this down.”

Betsy Rosenblum reads a letter written on behalf of her neighbors -- Louis and Filomena Bernhart of 4240 Whitney Ave. -- by their daughter. Louis has stage three lung cancer.

“I am a bit bewildered that this process has come so far,” said Fred McCarthy of West Todd Road. “If this is approved, what is next? The noise level is going to be pathetic. There is no way this plan should go through.”

“It’s up to you, P&Z, to stop it,” said John Morrison, vice president of the Spring Glen Civic Association.

“There are so many reasons for me to speak out against this,” said Michelle Brand, whose Brooksvale Avenue home abuts the property in question. “We are not in the middle of nowhere. We are in a residential neighborhood. I ask you to deny this application.”

"It would leave permanent scars on the landscape," said Norman Thetford of Collier Circle and executive director of the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association. Reading from a letter he said, "One of the most attractive features of the trail is the bucolic nature of its surroundings ... with adjacent woods, streams and pastures, and associated wildlife ... The proposed gravel mining operation would completely disrupt this natural environment during both the extraction phase and any reclamation efforts. The site can never be returned to its original condition ... The ponds would also be an attractive nuisance to children, with the attendant risk of drowning.

"I encourage you to deny the Special Permit," Thetford finished the letter.

“We ask you not to approve it,” said Al Dobie of the West Woods Neighborhood Association.

Teddy Kennedy, 12, a St. Rita student, says the mining operation would destroy the natural beauty around his Tuttle Avenue home.

State Rep. Al Adinolfi (R-103rd District) talks about the pits.


During a short break in the four-plus-hour hearing, New Haven attorney Bernie Pellegrino, who’s representing Sunwood, said he expected the large crowd (about 150 folks) and the vociferous opposition.

“Our plans are final and complete. This is a typical process of give and take,” he said. Asked if he thinks his client will prevail, Pellegrino said, “I’m not a betting man. Certainly there are a lot of questions and people have fears, many of which are unjustified.”

Such as?

“Someone’s going to drown in the pond. The impact of pond digging is going to change the thermal makeup of the two brooks,” he said. Both Jepp and Willow brooks traverse the property and drain into the Mill River, which pours into Lake Whitney where the town’s drinking water comes from.

Pellegrino said he's unsure if he would appeal should the P&Z Commission say no.

Twenty-nine of the 40 acres would not be mined, he said. Afterwards, Sunwood would do some planting and offer the land to the town as eternal open space.

The gravel would be excavated as it is sold, Pellegrino said, however it's not yet been spoken for. Eight trucks per hour (16 trips) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. would travel to the site to retrieve the sand and gravel. At the Oct. 10 hearing, it was stated that 15 trucks would go in and out every hour, but that was rescinded last night.
In September 2003, the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission denied Sunwood’s mining application. The developer appealed it to Superior Court. On Jan. 10, 2006, Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman overruled the IWW decision. But P&Z is not bound by that legal decision. Eleven years ago, Ruth Benedict, owner of the land, had proposed mining the property and was turned down.

To be continued Nov. 2 at 7 p.m.

October 25, 2006

Teens Nabbed for Chinese Robbery Attempt

From Capt. Ron Smith:

Two Hamden 15-year-olds were arrested Monday for trying to rob a Chinese restaurant employee during a food delivery. Hamden police responded to the crime-in-action in the rear alley of 655 Newhall St. at around 9 p.m.

Officer William Onofrio saw three kids flee on foot southbound in the alley. He ran after them. The juveniles ducked into 657 Newhall St. Officer Onofrio, along with Detective Colin Kearns and Officer Michael Cirillo, entered the residence and located the three teens hiding in the basement. An investigation revealed that two were involved in the robbery, and they were subsequently arrested. The third was released.  

Both teens were charged with attempted robbery in the second degree and interfering with a police officer. They are due in New Haven Juvenile Court on Nov. 6.

October 24, 2006

Hamden Takes Dadio

Growing tall weeds while awaiting a transformation. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

After a nearly four-year battle with a Texas developer, the town is now the rightful owner of the Dadio Farm. It cut a check yesterday for $4.9 million to seize the Putnam Avenue property via eminent domain. The millions went to New Haven Superior Court. Now it’s a game of wait and see what happens.

It’s likely Texas developer JPI Apartment Development, which wanted to put 284 apartments on the farm, will appeal the court filing on the grounds that the property is worth more. An appeal could tie up the deal for years. Or the developer could strike an out-of-court settlement with Hamden. Whatever, it’s expected the amount will far exceed $5 million, but according to town officials, well worth it.

JPI’s Irving, Texas, headquarters referred questions to its public relations firm. A message left at the firm was not returned.

The developer is under contract with the Dadio family to purchase the 11.8 overgrown acres to put up the apartment complex. Virtually no one in town liked the idea, citing too much extra traffic, too many new kids in the school system and too much strain on municipal services. In order for it to be acquired by eminent domain, public use had to be established.

On Sept. 4, the Legislative Council voted 13-2 (John Flanagan abstained; Mike Germano voted nay) to approve bonding to acquire the land for a firehouse, ambulance service and possibly other municipal buildings.

“It’s a strategic piece of land the town could use and we certainly didn’t think Putnam Avenue could handle 284 units,” said Mayor Craig Henrici. In the long run, he said, the selling price would be dwarfed by the long-term costs to the town if it had to accommodate 284 new families.

Last fall, the Planning & Zoning Commission denied JPI’s proposal. The developer appealed the decision in Superior Court. In late spring, a judge ruled the commission had to grant JPI the right to build. So the town offered JPI $4.2 million, of which a little over $2 million would go to the Dadios per its contract with JPI, said Economic Development Director Dale Kroop. But in June, the Texas developer said no to the $4.2M. It’s holding out for more money. So Hamden chose the only route left: eminent domain.

The appraised value of the property was $1.5 million. However, after getting the court-ordered P&Z approval, the farmland’s value jumped to $4.9 million, said Henrici.

Even with the unknowns, Kroop said he’s relieved the farm now belongs to Hamden.

“I was surprised it happened so fast,” the taking by eminent domain, he said. “I’m happy the town took action -- and quick action -- and quit dilly dallying around.”

While Kroop said it was swift, town officials have been trying to acquire the land since February 2003. A Fire Commission subcommittee was then formed to find a location to replace the decrepit firehouse on Circular Avenue and the one attached to Memorial Town Hall, as well as build a new fire headquarters. The committee considered taking the library and some residential and commercial property. But the price tag was prohibitive.

“When they realized they couldn’t focus on all three [because of the cost], I suggested the Dadio Farm. It was the most obvious choice,” said Kroop. It was already under contract with JPI. Many, like Kroop, felt the “public need was more important than an apartment project,” he said. So the battle was waged.

Putting a firehouse and other public buildings on the farm would also boost the revitalization effort of the southern Hamden neighborhood. “The presence of a fire station on this site is an anchor for the Highwood community,” Kroop said.

Click the arrow to hear Kroop conclude the interview.

The town would also like to sell some of the Dadio Farm to the abutting Hamden Industrial Park for private use, which would bring in tax dollars. But since it has been taken by eminent domain, Henrici said it’s unclear if and when that could be done.

October 19, 2006

Heat Relief

Carol Riccio (blonde hair), Pat Burnell and Rose Esposito (seated) of Elderly Outreach. Photo/Sharon Bass

More seniors expected to need fuel assistance this winter

By Sharon Bass

The other day, a 64-year-old woman came to the town to apply for fuel relief. She works part time and gets Social Security. She barely gets by; doesn’t even have enough money to budget for groceries, said Rose Esposito, one of a trio who works in Elderly Outreach.

Because of inflated oil and gas prices (expected to soar again after Election Day), an increase in the monthly Medicare B premium and the record-high local property tax hike this year, Esposito said she expects more seniors will ask for state fuel aid -- and will be making those decisions between food and heat. Last year, she said about 900 Hamdenites 60 and over got fuel help.

 “Homeowners will pay their property taxes first before anything because they’re afraid to lose their home,” said Esposito. She said the 64-year-old woman told her, “I’ll eat peanut butter and bread all month if my bills are too high.”

So far, 62 folks have applied for fuel assistance, said Pat Burnell, another member of the trio. Applications are accepted between Oct. 2 and March 31, 2007. Award money goes directly to the utility service that supplies the heat. No one gets cash, Esposito said.

Income guidelines are not printed on the document that explains the fuel program. “It’s considered prescreening to publish dollar amounts,” said Carol Riccio, who rounds out the threesome. “And everyone has the right to apply.”

Asset limits are given a dollar amount -- $10,000 for homeowners, $7,500 for renters. The document also warns about fraud:

“For your information – The Energy Assistance Program has fraud protection policies. Please be aware that you will be signing papers stating that you have disclosed all household income and assets. Random audits will be done on case files and you will be authorizing them to verify what you have told us by cross-checking your information through State, Local, and Federal computer systems, including the DMV, Social Security, Department of Labor, Child Support Enforcement, Department of Social Services, etc.”

For more information, call 211. For those under 60 wanting fuel assistance, call the Keefe Center at 562.5129.

October 17, 2006

All Systems a No-Go

Town spends nearly 13 grand on GPS units that are collecting dust

By Sharon Bass

The Legislative Council approved buying GPS (global positioning system) modems for 20 town vehicles this past spring. On April 28, they were purchased for $12,900. A couple of months ago, they were installed. Then the mayor pulled the plug.

“No, they’re not activated,” said Public Works Director John Busca, who didn’t want to say why he was told not to turn them on. The global systems were put in 15 of his department’s vehicles and five in Parks & Rec’s.

The holdup, said Craig Henrici, is there’s no plan on how to use them.

“As it sits now, I have not given the order to turn them on. We have to put together a plan and use it uniformly. There’s a bunch of issues. Who’s going to monitor them?” he said. “I think if you’re going to do it for one department you have to do it for every department. You can’t single out one department.”

Henrici said he doesn’t know when or if the global tracking devices will be put to use. Meanwhile, they sleep at the wheel.

“We go ahead and spend money and then once the money is spent there’s no plan in place to derive any benefit from the expenditure,” said Councilman Ron Gambardella. “It’s a recurring theme in the Henrici Administration.”

The reason for the units, Henrici said, is to track mileage and employee whereabouts. “We get calls [from residents] everyday about not just Public Works and Parks & Rec, but the Board of Ed and all town vehicles wondering why they’re here and there,” said the mayor.

“A memo came around [from Henrici] not to turn the system on,” said Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak. “He never spoke another word about them.”

Kozak said before the purchase she, Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson and Busca met several times with Nextel, the GPS provider which also supplies mobile phone service to the town. She said the modems were bought through a state bid.

“I don’t know if they’re considered being turned on by the administration. The system is ready to go in a minute. I think the system is wonderful,” said Kozak. “It’s a good check if there are any problems with drivers out on the road.”

Contrary to Henrici’s reasoning for the GPS purchase, she said, “It was never discussed as a check [on employees’ whereabouts]. One of the least things this does is detect abuse. You could do that. But in our planning sessions for this that was not the main thrust of why we wanted it. We wanted it as a dispatching system. It can see where your location is. For instance, if there was a road that was skipped by the snowplow they can see on the [computer] screen where the next closest truck is and send it right over there.

“I personally think that what we need is a good plan that could be brought before the unions to see what the actual intent of usage is,” she said.

Councilman Mike Germano also mentioned the labor unions. “You have to make sure the system is handled properly with the unions and such. When you implement anything like that, the unions probably have a say in it,” he said.

He’s also anxious to see the GPS put to use. “We voted on them. We spent money on it. I don’t think there should be any excuses,” Germano said.

“Other towns use the GPS systems and it’s something that is inevitable. This is something that should be on our cars. It will allow the town to be more accountable to the residents. It’s also accountability for the Public Works employees to know where everybody is. This becomes more of a benefit to them," he said. "All too often there are rumors spread that they are [in places they shouldn’t be]. You have hard proof where the person was.”

Cops Find Quarter-Pounder Next Door

From Capt. Ron Smith:

A 20-year-old man, who lives four doors from Hamden police headquarters, was arrested last Friday for having over a quarter-pound of marijuana. Greg Welch of 2864 Old Dixwell Ave. had been investigated by the police Street Interdiction Team.

The investigation was led by Lt. Gabe Lupo and investigator Angelo DeLieto. The team received information that Welch would be delivering a large quantity of marijuana. Welch and a 16-year-old boy were found in possession of the drug, which has a street value of $2,500.

Welch was charged with possession of marijuana over 4 ounces, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell, sale of marijuana, conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell and conspiracy to sell marijuana. He was detained on a $50,000 bond and given an Oct. 24 Meriden Superior Court date.

The juvenile was charged with the same violations and was also held on a $50,000 bond with an Oct. 24 court date.

October 13, 2006

A Look into the New Kids' Book Nook

Library director Bob Gualtieri (in back) during yesterday’s open house. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

If you enhance it, they will come.

That's the hope of Albert Harary, president of Friends of the Library. With fellow friends, Library Board members, children's department staff and a smattering of wee-ones, Harary helped usher in the just-renovated preschool library at Miller yesterday.

"We are very proud that we took part in this renovation," he said. "We see the children are enjoying themselves and that makes us very happy. We hope the new section will attract parents to bring their children.” The facelift cost $33,000.

"People have told me that the area is more colorful, books are easier to find and the space is more welcoming," said Nancy McLaughlin, director of the children's library.

Books are no longer stacked willy-nilly, out of order or up high in closed cabinets, because of lack of space. The new shelving has increased book space by 30 percent, said library director Bob Gualtieri.

He applauded the folks who worked over the last three years to see this project come to fruition. They include Friends, which raised money from Hamden businesses, the board and the New Alliance Foundation.

October 11, 2006

Pit Fight: Round I

Photo/Sharon Bass

P&Z holds first public gravel-pit hearing; more to come

By Sharon Bass

Ten-year-old Nicole Ginter has something to say about a proposed mining operation near her Brooksvale Avenue home. She wants Sunwood Development Corp. to leave the land alone.

“I think that there should be no gravel pit because people shouldn’t have to listen to all the mining and stuff that goes on,” the Wintergreen Magnet School student said. “I think it’s really not fair. They’re taking away land.”

She couldn’t have had more company at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting last night, where the first public hearing of the highly controversial gravel-pit plan was heard. About 200 people crammed into Council Chambers, most wearing little yellow buttons with the words “Stop the Pit.” A few wore more than one.

There were not enough chairs. Some had to stand in the back and in the rotunda. Babies cried. Young children, like Nicole, stood by their parents. Environmental activists attended. For hours, they listened to Sunwood’s consultants try to sell the pit to P&Z. A special permit from the commission is needed because the land is in a residentially zoned area. Then time ran out, and no one from the public got to speak.

Mike Horn, chair of Hamden’s Natural Resources & Open Space Commission, said he was going to make a plea for the town, state and the Regional Water Authority to kick in the money to buy the 40 acres at 4246 (rear) and 4280 Whitney Ave. He’ll have to wait until Oct. 25, when the public hearing will resume, and hope he’ll get a chance then.

This is not the first attempt to mine the land. According to Public Works Director John Busca, who was at the meeting, 11 years ago the owner of the land, Ruth Benedict who now lives in Arizona, tried to do the same thing. She was shot down.

So was Wallingford-based Sunwood. In September 2003, the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission denied its mining application. The developer appealed it to Superior Court. On Jan. 10, 2006, Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman overruled the IWW decision, so that commission has to issue Sunwood a permit.

But P&Z is not bound by that legal decision, New Haven land-use attorney Keith Ainsworth said in an earlier interview yesterday. “They have more discretion than Wetlands,” he said. And there’s no pit without P&Z’s approval.

Ainsworth was retained by the nascent Mount Carmel Environmental Trust, formed to be an intervener in the project. Like the developers, the trust can present testimony and experts to argue its side.

What makes the pit the pits?

Sunwood wants to mine 254,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel over a two-year period. The laundry list of community complaints is long. As Nicole Ginter pointed out, neighbors expect the operation to be noisy and ruin precious land. Many trees will be killed and just a fraction replaced at the end of the day. Residents cite traffic problems with trucks going in and out six days a week. They worry about air pollution from diesel fumes and contaminants getting into the town’s drinking supply. Jepp and Willow brooks run through the land and eventually drain into the Mill River, which pours into Lake Whitney.

“We’re very concerned about drinking water quality,” said Curt Johnson, a senior attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. He also chairs the Hamden land trust, but was wearing his CFE hat Tuesday evening.

The mining application calls for digging four big holes. Sunwood said after the two years, they would become ponds, filling naturally with groundwater. Johnson said that could be a problem.

“It could draw Canada geese. They poop in the water and create bacteria,” he said. “Each bird puts out a pound of poop a day.” And remnants of those pounds of poop would wind up in Lake Whitney.

The Sales Pitch

New Haven lawyer Bernie Pellegrino is representing Sunwood. “We’re not coming in and clear-cutting the whole site,” he said. Of the 40 acres, 29 wouldn’t be touched. He said there would be no blasting. Instead “earth-removal machines” would be used. No gravel crushing at the site. No stockpiling either, he said.

And afterwards, Benedict -- doing business as Juniper Associates in Green Valley, Ariz. -- would be “willing to deed the title to the town, RWA, whatever,” Pellegrino said. If not, a conservation easement would be obtained to keep it open space. And there are those four ponds.

Ainsworth doesn’t consider the excavated pits ponds. “They will fill with water but will have no plant or animal life,” he said. “Quarry pits stay as big pits for decades. The deal is this, once we’ve sucked the value out of the land you can have it.”

Details were lacking last night.

“We’re getting bits and pieces,” said Commissioner Bob Roscoe.

“I know. We are feeding you a lot of information tonight,” said Pellegrino.

But commissioners seemed more troubled by the lack of information. Chair Joe McDonagh asked several times in which direction the trucks would enter and exit the mining site.  “Where are the trucks going? Are they going north? Are they going south?” he asked.

“We don’t know,” said Bruce Hilson, the developer’s traffic engineer.

The state Department of Transportation had suggested that trucks only operate between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. In Sunwood’s proposal, there would be eight trucks (or 16 trips) per hour. But Hilson tweaked that last night. He said up to 15 could go in if the developer adheres to the DOT’s suggestion.

“Every two minutes I’d see a truck,” said Commissioner Ann Altman. “This is one truck twice? Thirty trips?”

“That’s right,” said Hilson.

“If we’re going to double the number of trucks, I don’t know that your traffic study is applicable,” said McDonagh.

During a break, Bob Wiedenmann, owner of Sunwood, said he was surprised at the amount of opposition.

“To be honest, I thought 40 acres of open space would be a no-brainer,” he said. “We’re not building homes.”

Asked how much money he expects to make on the operation, Wiedenmann said he didn’t know. Asked how many trees will be downed, he also said he didn’t know.

“We have every reason to believe we will be victorious both with the P&Z and in court,” said Ainsworth, “because we will be building the record to demonstrate clearly how this application doesn’t meet the threshold requirements in the zoning regs. It’s an enormous operation in a residential community and in no way, shape or form is it of residential use or pertinent to it. It’s clearly industrial use at this scale.”

If P&Z doesn’t grant Sunwood a special permit, it’s expected the developer will appeal in court.

October 4, 2006

First Three Down

Local 2863 president Carol Riccio and AFSCME's Kevin Murphy wait for last night’s verdict. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

Years of interrupted negotiations are now a thing of the past for three town bargaining units. Last night the Legislative Council approved their long-expired contracts, with all parties agreeing they are a pretty decent deal for employees and taxpayers.

The supervisors, Town Hall and Parks & Rec labor agreements, covering 150 employees, were voted in nearly unanimously. Councilman Ron Gambardella was the only no vote. The contracts had all expired in 2004. Those for police, fire, engineers and Public Works are still in the works.

“We weren’t looking for a homerun,” Councilman Matt Fitch said of the end result.

“We would have liked to negotiate lower wages, but it is a tradeoff with the health care,” said Personnel Director Ken Kelley. “I thought it was good for the employee and the town. The town doesn’t have much money.”

The new agreements include retroactive pay hikes of 2.5 percent for 2004, 3 percent for 2005 and 3 percent for 2006. The workday for most employees goes from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with an hour off for lunch.

Health care was the toughest nut to crack in negotiations. The annual cost to the town is $22 million for school and town workers, Kelley said. “There’s going to be a savings to the town [with the new contract] but it’s hard to quantify.”

Hamden’s health agent of record Lew Panzo explained the new plan, which doesn’t expire until 2009 even though the labor agreement ends in 2007.

“It’s pretty much in line with the industry now,” he said. Co-pays for doctor visits and other outpatient care were raised from either nothing or $5 (depending on the plan) to $10. Inpatient hospital co-pays went from zero to $200. And the employee premium contribution rose 1 percent.

Council members asked how much savings would be realized under the new terms, but neither Panzo nor Kelley could answer. It depends on which of three plans employees choose, they said. In the old contract there were two choices, neither of which were HMOs. An HMO was added, which Panzo said is the cheapest for the town and employee. The other two are indemnity policies, which allow patients to go out of network for health care. HMOs do not allow that practice. All plans are managed by Anthem. Hamden is self-insured.

"Eyes Wide Open"

Town Hall Local 2863 of AFSCME president Carol Riccio was relieved that the process was over -- at least until January when negotiations begin again. “It was a give and take. We went in with our eyes wide open because we knew the shape the town was in,” she said.

Riccio said 2863’s labor agreement was 99 percent complete last fall and then get bumped by the heated mayoral primary and the much tamer general election. “It was election season and everything stopped,” she said.

Councilman Ron Gambardella argued that salary increases “need to respond to productivity increase.” He said the workweek should be upped to 40 hours. As for the new health benefits, he said, “The management of the town aren’t listening. We simply cannot afford this.”

“If you go to 40 hours you cannot guarantee increased productivity,” said Councilman John Flanagan. “We are the fiscal authority. We are not here to negotiate the contracts. Everyone’s going away a little dissatisfied and that’s a sign of [successful negotiations]. I think the contracts are fair.”

“Contracts are a compromise,” said Councilwoman Carol Noble. “I believe the increases in salary are reasonable. I am sorry the union workers had to wait so long.”

Councilman Mike Germano also voiced approval. “I applaud the administration and all the efforts of the unions,” he said. Countering Gambardella, Germano said town employees “are productive.”

While Councilwoman Kath Schomaker (shoo-maker) said she “appreciated all the great work,” she called attention to the overtime provisions. “I think the public has the right to question those clauses. And a lot of our employees don’t live in this town. I’m from a part of the country where you had to live in the municipality,” she said.

Gambardella looked disgusted. “I sat here and listened to probably a unanimous vote. I’m the only dissenting vote. What I heard is there’s nothing that can be done about increasing productivity,” he said. “Now we’re applauding the administration.

“I must be completely out of my mind,” the at-large councilman continued, eliciting a roomful of laughter. “That’s the only explanation for what I see here.”

Flanagan said he agreed with Gambardella’s assessment of his mental state.

Right before the vote, President Al Gorman thanked the administration for “getting us the contracts. We must vote on what we have now. They are not public slaves and deserve [decent pay].”

In other Council biz last night, a motion to strip the mayor’s authority to move funds from one capital project to another other passed 10-2. The Council is once again in charge. (During the Amento Administration, an ordinance amendment was made to give the mayor the authority, for the sake of expediency.)

Councilman Curt Leng spoke against the motion saying it was too restrictive and would delay needed money transfers. He suggested giving the mayor $10,000 to play with.

Gambardella agreed. “It seems like a reasonable limit,” he said.

“The $10,000 will allow a little bit of flexibility and still give the Council a ton of control,” said Leng. “The previous administration abused the provision in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Gorman corrected Leng. “Allegedly abused,” he said.

Councilman Mike Germano disagreed. “$10,000 is a lot of money. The whole point is not to give the administration any flexibility,” he said.

“It’s the way the Council used to operate,” said Flanagan. “I think we have to get control back of the fiscal authority.”

Councilwoman Carol Noble was on the same page. “Let’s stick with the strictness of the ordinance,” she said. “And, remember, you are the fiscal authority of every dollar” that is spent.

School Lawn Care Provokes Much Ado

Flanagan thinks alone. File photo

Union pledges to “vigorously” fight private contracting

By Sharon Bass

John Flanagan doth protest.

“It’s a piece of garbage,” the 2nd District councilman furiously said last night of a contract between the town and a private contractor for snow removal and grounds keeping for school properties. Two employees currently take care of all schools except the high school, which has its own custodian who tends the land. But now with the new middle school, up to two more bodies are needed.

And Flanagan very strongly felt -- and expressed -- that the bodies be that of town employees. He said going outside violates union agreement.

While the rest of his legislative peers and Board of Ed members, administrators and one of their attorneys went into executive session to discuss the contract, Flanagan picketed. “They’re attempting to justify the unjustifiable,” he said. Besides giving him no proof that using a private firm would be cheaper than hiring one or two more staffers, he said the whole thing stunk of union busting.

“They don’t want to negotiate with the union for more employees,” he said. “It’s union busting.”

Town employee and Council regular Don Werner agreed. “What a blatant attempt at union busting,” he said. “I think you need to get creative in how you solve this rather than bust a union.”

And Bill Duffy, president of Local 431, the school union for custodians and maintenance workers, promised to file a grievance with the BOE today should the Council approve the $83,000-plus contract with J.T. Furrey of Hamden. It did, 10-2 (Flanagan and 7th District Councilman Mike Colaiacovo voted against it.)

“It makes no fiscal sense,” said Duffy. “The union’s going to fight this vigorously.”

“We’re going to get hammered so badly in an unfair labor practice,” said Flanagan. “This is terrible.” He said if Hamden gets just one snowstorm this winter, the Furrey bill will be $95,000. On the other hand, having town employees do the grounds work “even with overtime, I don’t see more than $40,000 or $50,000.”

According to 431’s labor contract, outsourcing is only allowable if it’s cheaper than getting the job done in house and if it’s not to eliminate overtime, said Duffy.

“On the grass, they’re in the ballpark, but on the snow, not even close,” he said of the actual cost versus the contracted one.

During the Education Committee meeting, which preceded the full Council session last night, Colaiacovo had suggested tabling the item because “I was under the impression [the school and union] negotiated over the summer.” His motion failed 2-2.

When the Council reassembled after the executive session, President Al Gorman asked if there had been formal discussions about the Furrey contract.

Duffy said no. “We’ve been willing to negotiate. We made a proposal to the board two weeks ago and got no response,” he said.

BOE Chair Michael D’Agostino disagreed. “We have been discussing this issue with the union for a little over a year,” he said but conceded there have been no formal talks. “We intend to have discussions with the union.”

Colaiacovo asked D’Agostino for a more detailed itemization showing how outsourcing would save the town money.

“We provided you with more detailed information in executive session,” D’Agostino said, “and there’s demonstrably a cost savings.”

“Will that be returned to the town?” Colaiacovo asked.

“Are we going to cut you a check?” said D’Agostino.

“There is no excuse for an executive session to conceal information,” said Flanagan, still fuming.

10 Yes Votes

Councilman Curt Leng praised the agreement. “What are we getting with this? We’re getting cleaner schools, better maintenance and it saves money. I think it’s a good plan,” he said.

“I’d like to commend the Board of Education for trying to save the town money,” said at-large Councilman Ron Gambardella. “It gets the work done in a timely, efficient manner. It seems to be the right thing to do. Possibly the [town] administration” will follow suit.

“This is a joke,” said Duffy, who was not invited into the executive session. He said Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez has been telling him for a year that the administration would talk to the union about outsourcing grounds keeping. But Duffy said there were no talks.

In a letter dated Sept. 28, 2006, Hernandez wrote to Duffy: “Please consider this letter to be formal notice pursuant to Article 4, Section (d) of the Local 431 Collective Bargaining Agreement, that the Hamden Board of Education is exercising its right to subcontract mowing/landscaping services and snow plowing … I am willing to meet with you at your convenience in order to discuss any concerns you may have.”

In August, J.T. Furrey was cited and fined by OSHA for “for six alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards” in the North Haven trench cave-in that trapped a worker.

3 Hamdenites Busted

From Capt. Ron Smith:

The Hamden police Street Interdiction Team continues to make more drug arrests. On Oct. 2, the team conducted an investigation into the sale of marijuana after ascertaining that Christopher Migliozzi was in possession of a large quantity of marijuana. Police seized approximately 10 ounces with an estimated street value of $4,000. They also seized $1,800.

The following Hamden residents were arrested:

Christopher Migliozzi, 26, of 79 Alstrum St. Migliozzi was charged with possession of more than 4 ounces of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. He was released on a written promise to appear and given an Oct. 18 Meriden court date.

Meredith Migliozzi, 22, of 79 Alstrum St. Migliozzi was charged with possession of marijuana and released on a written promise to appear and an Oct. 18 court date.

William Miller, 24, of 61 Pine St. Miller was charged with possession of marijuana and released on a written promise to appear and an Oct. 18 court date.

October 3, 2006

A Matter of Degree

Branch manager Maureen Armstrong. Photo/Sharon Bass

Whitneyville library files union complaint about the “new” branch manager

By Sharon Bass

When Maureen McKeon Armstrong was appointed temporary branch manager of the Whitneyville Library a few years ago, it was to be for five months. Then it was extended five more months. Then another five, until this Aug. 28 when she was given the top job on a permanent basis.

Within no time, the staff filed a union grievance. Armstrong doesn’t have a college degree and the position had called for a master’s in library science. What the 35-year-old woman has is experience. But that didn’t cut it. Until the job description was changed.

This spring, library director Bob Gualitieri urged the Library Board to accept a revised job description so Armstrong would qualify. At first, the board rejected it. Then with some reluctance went along with it. Some in the library system, who asked to remain anonymous, feel Gualitieri bent over backwards for Armstrong because her father, the late James McKeon, chaired the board until his death in June 2002 -- and had hired Gualitieri.

“Since the matter is an act of grievance I can’t make any comment about it,” said Gualitieri. He said he hired Armstrong in “accordance with civil service rules and procedures.”

Council 4 of AFSCME has the library local. Larry Dorman, the public affairs coordinator, declined comment because he said he has not yet seen the grievance.

For the three years Armstrong, a 14-year veteran of the Hamden library system, “temporarily” ran the place the branch manager post went un-funded. She was paid a shift differential to bring her salary in line with the added responsibilities. “Nobody wanted the job. None of the people who qualified wanted it,” she said.

And according to Councilman Matt Fitch, the patrons wanted Armstrong.

“The neighborhood very much wanted her to remain in the position,” he said. “It was the best of all worlds for us [Legislative Council] because it made the neighbors happy while leaving a position un-funded, which was the only way Armstrong could remain in the position. We funded it this year because the Library Board changed the job description and job title. After we filled it, the union was upset that the Library Board changed the job description.”

“This place was dead”

“I came in here blind, deaf and dumb. I never ran a building. I hadn’t read [book] reviews or ordered a book,” said Armstrong, who is paid just under $40,000 a year. “It was total baptism by fire. I taught myself how to order books and [listened to] what the community wants.”

Since she’s been at the helm, she said the branch has come alive. “This place was dead when I got here [three years ago]. There was nobody here. It had no personality,” Armstrong said. “And I just sort of went to work. I wasn’t going to sit here and twiddle my thumbs.”

Her first target was the children’s area. Armstrong started a weekly story time, which she said draws about 40 parents and little kiddos every Tuesday. She appealed to the Friends of the Library for money to buy a rug, puppets and toys. “They really went to bat for me,” she said.

Meanwhile, her temporary, un-funded position became an issue for the board, the library staff and the Legislative Council. As Fitch said, the neighborhood wanted her to stay but she didn’t have the necessary college degree.

“So in between all the politics, I came to work every day,” said Armstrong. “I made friends with the community.”

Under the recently revised job description for branch manager, the minimum qualifications read: “The skills and knowledge required would be acquired with a Masters Degree in Library Science and two years of professional library experience; or an Associates Degree in Library Science and four (4) years of para-professional library experience or any equivalent combination of library experience and training.”

Armstrong fit the bill and the Whitneyville library staff was reportedly miffed.

“They [co-workers] tell me it’s not personal filing the [union] complaint,” she said. “These are the same people who threw me a wedding shower and a baby shower. After three years of dealing with this, I said whatever happens, happens. Que será, será.”

October 2, 2006

More Hamden Pot Busts

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Sept. 27, the Hamden police Selective Enforcement Team conducted an investigation into complaints of suspicious activity in the area of West Easton Street and Warner Street. Officers observed a male, later identified as Lamar McCullough, hiding behind a bush. When they approached McCullough, he placed a bag under the bush and fled on foot. He was apprehended on Elizabeth Street in New Haven. Hamden police recovered 25 bags of marijuana in connection with this investigation. The street value is estimated at $500.

Lamar McCullough, 22, of 66 Warner St., Hamden, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell, interfering with a police officer and simple trespass. McCullough was detained at police headquarters on a $25,000 bond. 

The next day, the police interdiction team executed a search and seizure warrant at 18 Charlson Lane in Hamden. Officers had received information that marijuana was going to be delivered to the address. They observed a vehicle, occupied by four individuals, arrive at the residence. Upon approaching one of the occupants, who had exited the vehicle, he threw a box to ground. The box contained 1.5 ounces of marijuana, with a street value of $800. Police also found drug paraphernalia and liquor.

The following individuals were arrested:

David Rangel, 19, of 68 Morris St., Hamden. Rangel was charged with possession of marijuana and conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell. He was detained on a $10,000 bond and given an Oct. 10 court date.

Annemarie Duquette, 59, of 18 Charlson Lane, Hamden. Duquette was charged with six counts of reckless endangerment and six counts of risk of injury to a minor. She was released on a written promise to appear and given an Oct. 10 court date.

A 17-year-old female. She was charged with possession of marijuana and conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell. She was detained on a $5,000 bond and given an Oct. 10 court date.

A 17-year-old male. He was charged with possession of marijuana and conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to sell. He was detained on a $10,000 bond and given an Oct. 10 court date.

A 17-year-old male. He was charged with possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell and tampering with evidence. He was detained on a $10,000 bond and given an Oct. 10 court date.

A 17-year-old female. She was charged with possession of marijuana and released on a written promise to appear with an Oct. 10 court date.

A 16-year-old male. He was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. and released on a written promise to appear with an Oct. 10 court date.


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