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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wallingford ethics panel clarifies councilors’ participation in votes

As published in the Record Journal Thursday April 26, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — The Board of Ethics ruled unanimously Wednesday night that two of three town councilors with various ties to town funded agencies could vote on those organizations’ individual budgets during budget workshops.

The board decided that Republican Councilor John Le-Tourneau and Council Chairman Robert Parisi could vote on budgets for organizations while they are on that organization’s board of directors because they do not receive any personal financial gain from the agencies. The board ruled that Republican Councilor Rosemary Rascati needs to recuse herself in decisions on the budget for an organization that employs her daughter.

The ruling was initiated by the three councilors, who sent letters to the board asking for a review of their affiliations in regard to the town’s code of ethics.

“We wanted to get a definitive answer,” LeTourneau said. He and Rascati were both in attendance. In years past, the councilors have recused themselves from certain votes presuming there could be a conflict of interest, but in talking decided that they should get a judgment from the board.

LeTourneau is on Wallingford Center Inc.’s Board of Directors and said he did not vote on the organization’s budget when it was work shopped last year.

“It troubled me for the whole year, whether I did the right thing by recusing,” LeTourneau said.

From now on, he should feel free to vote on that budget, according to the ethics board, as neither he nor family members receive financial gain from it. The same goes for Parisi, who is on the board of directors of the Spanish Community of Wallingford and the Wallingford Girls’ Softball League. The board asked the two to clearly state their roles with the organizations in budget workshop discussions on them.

Two members of the public, Robert and Debbie Gross, questioned this decision, saying that it seems like a conflict of interest for LeTourneau to help create the Wallingford Center Inc. budget as a director and then turn around and approve it as a town councilor. “Conflict of interest isn’t just dollars, it’s perception of the public on a particular item,” Robert Gross said. “I think there should be an arm’s length.”

Dean Warburton, chairman of the Board of Ethics, said that having LeTourneau state his involvement during a hearing would be transparent enough.

“I think for you to say openly ‘I am a member of the Board of Directors of Wallingford Center Inc.’ — that should clear any concerns,” Warburton said.

Rascati must recuse herself from voting on the individual budget of Wallingford Center Inc. during workshops, the board said, because her daughter, Elizabeth Landow, is the executive director. The town prohibits town councilors from voting on matters that have any possible financial benefit for a relative, and Landow’s salary is part of the town allocation.

Rascati, also a board member of the organization, said she abstained from voting on it last year.

Though it wasn’t part of the ruling, LeTourneau said he continues to abstain from votes on personnel decisions for the Electric Division because his wife works there, he said. Rascati can vote on the town budget in May, even though it would contain Wallingford Center’s budget.

Wallingford council OK’s grant pursuit, hears update on housing authority

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday April 25, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — The Town Council gave staff a unanimous green light to pursue a 2012 Small Cities Community Block Development Grant to fix basement flooding issues in about 75 Wallingford Housing Authority units at its Tuesday night meeting — a session that also featured a status report from both the authority’s chairman and new property manager.

The town is seeking $500,000 from the state in what would be its fourth grant of this kind since 2007, Wallingford Program Planner Don Roe said, presenting the resolution.

Wallingford received money to fix the flooding issue in its $700,000 grant award from 2011, which identified three separate projects, including reroofing and emergency alarm systems in Housing Authority properties. Roe said that after the two other projects intended for the award went out to bid, only about $190,000 was left. Alone, that’s not enough to start the project, according to Roe.

“The balance was to be used for basements. This proposal to seeks to continue with that work,” Roe said.

The requested sum,$500,000, is the largest request the town can make this year, as federal money given to states for these grants has shrunk, Roe said.

Most of the units to be worked on are in the Ulbrich Heights “moderate rental” development, Roe said.

Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein asked if there were ways the general government could benefit from this grant other than the flooding mitigation.

Roe said the grant request needs to show a clear benefit for low- and moderate-income residents. His office looked at a streetscape and trail project in the area of the Senior Center, but discovered that they would have to do a census-like project and find out the income data of each home on a block-by-block basis — a project too labor intensive to pursue at this time.

Fishbein also asked if the project would end water issues for the Housing Authority.

“No, I do not think that each and every water problem will be addressed. I do think that this is an effort to take a major step,” Roe said.

Housing Authority Chairman Michael Misiti said, “I can promise we’re going to make the best of every dollar, with Maria on board.”

Misiti and new property manager Maria DeMarco gave a report to the Town Council earlier in the evening, providing updates on how the transition has been now that De-Marco’s firm, DeMarco Management Corp., took the reins for the Housing Authority units in February.

DeMarco talked about updating the department’s waiting list, telling councilors that by calling people on the list she has managed to purge 60 to 70 names because their situations have changed.

She also reported that about 30 units are open. Fifteen of those are renovated and available now; another 15 need renovation. Efficiencies are the most readily available, with one-bedrooms second.

Councilors seemed pleased with the new manager’s progress.

“I think you’ve all done a great job, it shows, not getting the calls and emails I used to get,” Council Chairman Robert Parisi said.

Misiti told councilors that DeMarco’s firm was on a six month trial that ended in July. He said the Housing Authority will address retaining the firm at its next meeting Thursday.