Fairfield Board of Finance: Contract practices are inconsistent with charter
FAIRFIELD — A heated meeting of the Board of Finance revealed a need to review the town’s policies on contracts and emergency purchases.
At a special meeting Monday night to go over finances related to the Public Works pile, it became clear that there’s been a lack of consistency in following the Town Charter.
The fill pile is the subject of an ongoing criminal case that has led to the arrests of two town employees and Julian Enterprise’s co-owner.
Joseph Michelangelo, who served as the town’s public works director since 2012, is accused of conspiring with Scott Bartlett, the town’s superintendent of public works and Jason Julian to allow the company to dump truck loads of contaminated waste into the pile.
Julian then resold some of the contaminated soil as clean fill for construction projects in the town. After testing 60 sites at parks, fields and playgrounds, the town identified eight areas that need to be cleaned up.
Removing the materials, including arsenic and asbestos, is expected to cost the town millions.
The Board of Finance discussed the details of various contracts the controversy has incurred, including those with Julian Enterprises, communications consultant Chris Gidez and licensed environmental professional Tighe & Bond. In each of these processes, First Selectman Mike Tetreau and the Purchasing Department executed contracts unilaterally.
Per the Town Charter, any contract greater than $10,000 and lasting longer than one month requires Board of Selectmen approval. According to town Chief Fiscal Officer Bob Mayer, however, this procedure has not been followed for decades, with few non-lease contracts going through the Board of Selectmen since 1975.
Numerous Board of Finance members expressed a desire to clarify this policy and delineate which contracts do and do not require Board of Selectmen approval.
There were also questions about the requirements for emergency purchases, under which Gidez and Tighe & Bond’s contracts were both completed. According to a 2011 Board of Finance ordinance, emergency purchases that require immediate attention can occur without public bid.
The document, however, states that “emergencies” are defined as instances in which the purchase is required to abide by federal or state laws, a standard met by neither Gidez’s nor Tighe & Bond’s contract.
Again, Mayer said, the exact letter of this law has not been followed by the town for many years. He cited numerous examples of no-bid emeregency purchases that had no legal elements, such as the November 2018 flood at Main Library and an oil spill at the fire department.
The Board agreed that the ordinance should be altered to reflect a broader scope of emergencies. They disagreed, however, about what would fall under that new definition.
While most acquiesced that Tighe & Bond’s services were warranted given the urgent need to test and clean up Fairfield’s contaminated soil, there was a division over the use of Gidez’s consulting services.
Gidez’s employment has been a subject of contention between both officials and the public, with Selectman Chris Tymniak and others saying it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money, while Tetreau said Gidez performed much-needed services to keep residents informed during an uncertain time.
Gidez was paid a total of $19,600 over three months to draft communications, review media coverage and maintain a special webpage.
Republican Board of Finance members Christopher DeWitt and James Walsh were both vocal that the consultant was an inappropriate application of the emergency purchase policy, while Democrats Elizabeth Zezima, Sheila Marmion and John Mitola disagreed, saying it was warranted given the intensity of the situation.
Things got heated when Walsh suggested that Gidez’s work was in service of political intent by Tetreau to “go after the people who had made the initial complains” such as Republican RTM candidate Dana Kery, citing a draft presentation by Gidez that suggested the town “through surrogates, call out those who irresponsibly raised public fears.”
Tetreau objected to this accusation, saying he did no such thing and that this was just one of many suggestions in Gidez’s draft that was rejected. He heatedly asked the Chair to shut down speculative and personal attacks, which he said were in violation of Robert’s Rules of Order.
“He’s making a careless, reckless speculation that is uncalled for and is not worthy of this board, sir, not worthy of this Board!” Tetreau exclaimed.
The Board of Finance will next meet for their Capital Planning Workshop on Oct. 29.