Flatto changes mind, agrees to appear before Metro panel
Updated 2:52 pm, Monday, August 15, 2011
After initially indicating he would not appear before a Representative Town Meeting subcommittee probing cost overruns at the Fairfield Metro Railroad Station, former First Selectman Kenneth Flatto said Monday he's changed his mind.
At a meeting Friday evening, subcommittee Chairman David Becker said Flatto, who resigned from the town's top job in May to take an administrative post with the state, at first indicated a willingness to appear before the RTM panel, but then backed off on legal advice. The subcommittee is helping to compile answers to more than 60 questions posed by elected officials when it was revealed this spring that construction of the town's third train station could be between $2 million and $6 million over budget.
Becker told the committee that even though Flatto apparently felt he could not appear before for the panel to be questioned, he would consider answering questions submitted in writing.
On Monday, Flatto appeared to switch his position again, and said he would contact Becker to let him know he would attend Wednesday's subcommittee meeting. He said he deliberated "back and forth." but ultimately decided to attend so he could answer questions and "clear the air."
Flatto also provided the subcommittee with a copy of a five-page synopsis on the project's history that he had given to the Board of Finance's audit subcommittee.
"I think there are some benefits to having Mr. Flatto in," RTM member Michael Herley said Friday after Becker said he had declined to appear. "I understand he's a private citizen and he's getting advice from counsel not to be here."
But another committee member, Patti Dyer, said when she was first asked to be a member of the panel, she thought, "I would not want to see Ken Flatto ... He has his version, which he's shared with us. I don't believe his input would be productive."
Becker said he could email Flatto and ask him to reconsider. "I just feel the amount of effort and time expended to get him here would not be worth it," Dyer responded.
However, Dyer said she thought it would be good idea to submit questions in writing.
The subcommittee on Friday did get to question town Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart, who earlier in the day attended a meeting of the Board of Finance's Audit Subcommittee, which is also reviewing the finances of the Fairfield Metro project.
Barnhart again talked about his role in acting as a liaison between the town and the state on the project, and described the weekly reports he gave to Flatto about the construction. He also handed out a sheet listing some of the variances between estimated costs and the actual costs for items like sanitary sewer lines, rock excavation and treatment of contaminated water at the former industrial site where the depot is being built.
Some of those cost differences, Barnhart said, occurred because there is no way to know definitely how much contaminated soil is on a site until work begins. Others occurred because plans were read incorrectly -- for instance, bids came in for 435 linear feet of sanitary sewer lines, when 1,223 linear feet were needed.
"Hindsight is 20/20," Barnhart said. He said having an independent review of the cost estimates originally provided by the design team might have uncovered some of the errors. "It's certainly one option you have, I don't know if it's standard operating procedure," he said.
"How are we so far off in so many different areas?" Becker said. "It just seems like a lot of things going wrong."
After about two hours questioning Barnhart, Dyer said she thought that he had been on the hot seat long enough. "We can sit here and grill you all night," she said, "the end result is on Aug. 24 there'll be a dolllar figure we'll be asked to vote on regardless of any of that. I'm not sure where this is taking us at this point beside just satisfying certain people's curiosity. We need to move forward. "
The subcommittee then turned toward the questions that have been submitted by officials about the project, which Herley had organized into categories. The panel members decided that some questions, such as those asking for emails to and from Flatto about the project, would not necessarily be available prior to the expected RTM vote at the end of the month.
Dyer also asked that a new list of questions submitted by RTM member Kathryn Braun be consolidated. The questions ranged from wanting to know when Barnhart was hired by the town and whether he felt qualified to serve as project manager to whether there was any dirty water discharged into Ash Creek.
Some of them, Dyer said, were not questions, but appear to be "someone building a case." For example, the list states Conservation Director Thomas Steinke, who was removed from environmental oversight on the project by Flatto, "has 30-plus years experience studying this site; wrote a long history of contamination for the wetlands hearing; worked on the upstream adjacent development of movie theaters a few years earlier."
"They are a little too pointed to one person," committee member Hal Schwartz agreed.
"I'm not comfortable putting in arguments or narratives," Dyer said. "If there's a question, great, but a lot of these aren't questions."
The RTM subcommittee will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Sullivan-Independence Hall.