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Friday, March 2, 2012

Attack on McCully provokes surprise and anger

As published in the Record Journal Thursday March 1, 2012
By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff 
(203) 317-2225 

WALLINGFORD — Several town councilors and the mayor said Wednesday they were surprised by a councilor’s decision to publicly level accusations of misconduct by the director of the Department of Public Works during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat who is planning to run for mayor this year, accused Henry McCully’s staff of cutting down healthy trees and selling the wood and of removing a tree from a town worker’s private property as a favor. McCully denies the accusations.

“I don’t cut people favors,” he said Wednesday.

Economopoulos’ accusations came when McCully appeared before the council Tuesday night to request a budget transfer for tree removal. Council Chairman Robert Parisi, a Republican, said it wasn’t the proper time to make such allegations.

McCully called Economopoulos’ comments “inappropriate and baseless.”

“I don’t want to get involved in politics. ... I want to put my energy into running my department,” he said.

McCully said that while he doesn’t run a perfect operation, he doesn’t deserve to be called
out for misconduct.

“I don’t think it’s a deserved character assassination,”
he said. “I’ve been here 29 years, I’m not hiding anything.”

“It was very inappropriate,” said Republican Councilor John LeTourneau. “Henry came for the transfer. That was the topic, not calling him out on alleged wrongdoings. It’s not the venue to do that. Those questions could have been asked by a phone call, he didn’t need to bring it out.”

Economopoulos said Wednesday that he was giving McCully an opportunity to answer the questions in public, and accuses McCully of lying about the two incidents. He said he plans to present evidence at a future meeting.

“I already know for a fact that wood was taken out of our town parks, and he’s denying that,” Economopoulos said. “I’m getting all my ducks in a row, and I’m going to get it on the agenda and prove that.”

Democratic Councilor John Sullivan said he had no comment on Economopoulos’ actions during the meeting.

Economopoulos has spent several months requesting documents and gathering information about the activity of the Public Works Department. He said it’s part of his mission to make town government more efficient and accountable.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., a Republican, said that he’s willing to listen to Economopoulos, but that the meeting wasn’t the proper channel to make the accusations.

“If he feels that he has information of wrongdoing, we want to know about it,” Dickinson said.

But he admitted that it’s “difficult to respond at a public meeting when you don’t know the issue until it’s voiced.”

“At a meeting like that, there’s no way to be prepared,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson said that the two instances had already been investigated by the town and he didn’t think there had been sufficient information to justify accusing McCully or his staff of any wrongdoing. The tree removal occurred three years ago, McCully said.

Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat, said that
he thought Economopoulos would be best advised to raise the questions at a future council meeting, after an item has been placed on the agenda.

“This is an ongoing thing he’s investigating, and I think he should bring it up at a future point,” he said.

Zandri said that McCully was prepared to discuss the budget transfer but may have not had explanations available.

Parisi said he tries to keep council meetings civil, and in his years on the panel, he hasn’t seen a situation that played out quite the same way.

“We have rules that cover being nice, we may have to review that,” he said.

Parisi said that he was caught off guard by the accusations, and that they were made with no backup.

“Most of the items on the agenda have some backup information,” he said. “To say someone is acting irresponsible should be backed up.”

LeTourneau said the council has the right to ask questions of department heads but it isn’t there to micromanage.

“We’re not their boss,” he said. “The mayor is their boss. A lot is up to the mayor or the Personnel

Money transferred again for tree removal

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday February 29, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff 
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — A budget transfer of $35,000 for tree removal led to more than a half hour of debate during Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting about the activities of the Public Works Department.

Public Works Director Henry McCully appeared before the Town Council for the third time this fiscal year asking for a transfer of money to pay for contracted tree services. McCully said Tropical Storm Irene and the late October snowstorm contributed to the increased need for money.

“These storms have led to increased activity removing trees,” he said. “We have trees that are damaged, or with hanging limbs. We have to go until July 1 of this year, and there’s no money left in the budget.”

McCully had transferred $25,000 to the account twice. McCully said the money was for the whole removal of dead and diseased trees that are considered hazardous. Public works employees use bucket trucks to trim trees and will remove smaller ones, but typically don’t remove larger ones.

“As practice we don’t take down large trees,” he said.

But Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democrat, questioned whether the money was needed, and asked McCully to produce a list of the trees that he wanted to remove.

“I think there could be a different solution than having $35,000 come out of the account for materials and supplies,” he said. “To be responsible councilors, we should have a list of the trees.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said it isn’t practical to require McCully to produce a list to the council.

“I’m not sure that’s providing the service we want to provide to the public,” Dickinson said.

Economopoulos, who has been recently requesting documents about the activity of the Public Works Department, asked McCully about a tree that was removed from Marcus Cooke Memorial Park. Economopoulos said that the tree was healthy. He went on to accuse McCully’s staff of cutting healthy trees and selling the wood.

“You know what I’m implying, that they’re cutting good trees and using them for firewood,” Economopoulos said.

Economopoulos also accused Mc-Cully of removing a tree from a town employee’s private property.

“I’m implying that he’s a town worker, and you cut him a favor,” he said.

McCully denied the charges, and Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi said that council meeting aren’t the right venue to raise such accusations.

The $35,000 was taken from money originally budgeted for salt.

“We haven’t had to purchase a lot of salt,” McCully said. “I think we can get through March safely.”

The transfer was approved by a 8-1 vote with Economopoulos casting the lone dissenting vote.

McCully said that the tree-removal budget has ballooned in the last two fiscal years due to the large amount of snow in early 2011 and the two storms at the year’s end. He expected to ask for only $70,000 for the account going forward.