Fairfield continues to rent from Julian amid criminal case
FAIRFIELD — As two public works officials face criminal charges for allegedly conspiring with Julian Enterprises, the town is still doing business with the company.
While the Board of Selectmen stalls on a decision over whether to renew a 10-year, $1,066,614 lease with Julian for the Board of Education building at 418 Meadow St., the town is maintaining a month-to-month lease on the property, paying Julian $8,117 in each installment.
In lease negotiations, the town is working with Julian attorney Tom Cotter, the same lawyer representing Julian in its civil case against the town.
After the selectmen punted a decision on the lease at their June 19 meeting, the Representative Town Meeting voted on June 24 to approve the contract pending the board’s approval. The issue is now back with the selectmen, who discussed it in a private executive session on July 10, but took no further action.
After this week’s news of the arrests of Director of Public Works Joseph Michelangelo, Superintendent of Public Works Scott Bartlett and Julian co-owner Jason Julian, Tetreau said the selectmen are not prepared to discuss the lease further.
“Given everything going on with Julian, I don’t see the Board of Selectmen being willing to take up a discussion about a lease with Julian at this time,” Tetreau said.
At Wednesday’s BOS meeting, Selectmen Chris Tymniak and Ed Bateson both expressed strong feelings that they should find an alternate location rather than renew a lease with Julian.
“I expect the Board of Education to search hard for another facility,” Tymniak said.
Bateson said he has already reached out to several Board of Education members requesting they do so. According to Board Chair Christine Vitale, they plan to look into other locations.
“Given the most recent developments, the board and school administration thought it best to regroup and consider what other options may be available,” Vitale said.
Until then, the town will continue to pay rent to Julian monthly amid the pending legal action involving the town.
These arrests are the latest in a lengthy criminal investigation into misconduct on at the fill pile on Richard White way. The town is also locked in a civil suit with Julian that went into arbitration in July to resolve allegations of breach of contract and defamation.
When the BOE building’s lease came up for renewal in June, town officials found themselves caught in a difficult bind as they strove to reconcile the needs of the education board with a desire to distance themselves from Julian amid criminal and civil investigations.
The BOE has occupied the Meadow Street space, which it uses for storage and carpentry, since 2002. At that time, it was under different ownership. Upon hearing the news that Julian purchased the property, the town initially looked into finding another space.
However, officials say they were unable to find another suitable space that met their needs. Having spent almost $100,000 in improvements to the space, it had been difficult to financially justify an expensive move.
At the June 19 public BOS meeting, Bateson and Tymniak both expressed concerns with doing business with Julian during civil arbitration with the company.
“If I told the average taxpayer that (Julian is) suing me and I’m signing a lease with them tomorrow, I think the reaction would be, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Bateson said.
Tymniak expressed similar concerns, especially with the fact the lease was being negotiated by Cotter, the same attorney representing Julian in their litigation with the town. Town Attorney Stanton Lesser confirmed Cotter is the lawyer involved.
Lesser, Tetreau and BOE Facilities Director Angelus Papageorge all said they understood and appreciated these concerns, but that the needs of the education board needed to be considered first.
“I certainly understand the emotion in what you’re saying, and I think that’s everyone’s emotion,” Tetreau said to his fellow selectmen. “We’d like to disentangle ourselves entirely, but right now this is the only option.”
At the June 24 RTM meeting, Republican Minority Leader Pamela Iacono pressed Tetreau when he said he felt positively about the lease agreement.
“If you felt (good) going into the fill pile, and now you feel that way going into the lease pile, I’m extremely uncomfortable maintaining a business relationship with somebody that we’re currently in the midst of suing and countersuing,” Iacono said.
Iacono, along with nine other RTM members, abstained from voting as the group approved the lease with 25 votes.
In addition to the ongoing lease, the town has a history of working with Julian Enterprises. Beyond the fill pile removal, the town has employed Julian for other public works projects.
Julian had a snowplowing contract with the town from 2012 to 2017, mostly for plowing school parking lots. In early 2013, Julian also did work associated with the dredging of the South Benson Marina channel.