Enfield Mayor Tallarita's
"I Got A Deal At Bernie's"
Were Offers Of Gifts Or Gratuities
Tied To Official Acts?
Questions Surround System
Of Special Deals For Certain Customers
By ANDY THIBAULT and JIM BREWER
The Cool Justice Report
Nov. 5, 2006
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Enfield Mayor Patrick Tallarita is presiding over a special system with Bernie's appliances in which town employees and others can buy discounted goods, the top executive with the giant retailer confirmed. Tallarita has also bragged to visitors about a "good deal" he received from Bernie's, according to several sources who have seen new, high-end appliances in the mayor's renovated kitchen.
These findings are the result of a month-long investigation by The Cool Justice Report including interviews with dozens of sources, many of whom have known the mayor for years and / or have visited his house.
Bernie's President and owner Milton Rosenberg -- son of the founder -- told us the store has "private sales" for town of Enfield employees.
"I just can't keep track of all these sales, but we have them," Rosenberg said. "We [also] do some for the Fire Department maybe."
We stopped in Enfield Bernie's recently and asked about private sales for town employees.
A sales associate said, "Sure, you want me to put you on the list?"
We tried unsuccessfully to talk to Tallarita about any deals with Bernie's for selected customers in Enfield. We wanted to ask him, among other things, whether he accepted or rejected any such deals and whether he knew of anyone else who accepted or rejected any such deals. We also wanted to ask him whether he might be concerned about any possible appearances of impropriety or potential violations of state and federal laws.
In contrast, several other council members were easily accessible and took our calls.
When he's not being mayor -- or sometimes when he is -- Tallarita, a Democrat, is also director of facilities operations for the state Department of Labor and treasurer for the congressional campaign of Joe Courtney.
In his spare time, Tallarita can also tend to the family development business. Projects in that enterprise include the Yale Court subdivision behind the Enfield Montessori School.
The Courtney - Rob Simmons race has set fund-raising records, surpassing the $3.57 million total the opponents raised in 2004. Courtney had raised about $1.8 million and Simmons about $2.5 million through September of this year for the current race in the second congressional district.
The Tallarita controversy could impact Courtney in the final hours of a very tight race. Courtney's selection of Tallarita as a top lieutenant brings into question the quality of the candidate's vetting process.
At one point, Tallarita considered himself a possible contender for Congress. He decided against a congressional bid for the 2004, citing family commitments and a need to focus on his responsibilities as mayor, The Journal Inquirer reported.
"He's a guy who has too much talent for Enfield," fellow Councilman Patrick Crowley, a close Tallarita ally, told The JI. "He's a great leader."
Tallarita's state job pays about $99,000 annually. Part of his job is to formulate goals and objectives. He also selects and supervises service contractors. To get this job, Tallarita apparently had to demonstrate considerable knowledge of relevant agency policies and procedures. He was required to have two years experience in a managerial capacity in leasing, acquisition or management of property. [See job description below.]
The Enfield mayor also has a role in selecting landlords and repair vendors for local labor department offices. We understand he took an active role in discussions with top labor department officials over what offices should be kept open or closed.
Before joining the labor department, Tallarita was an employee of the state Departments of Consumer Protection and Public Works.
As a council member and mayor, Tallarita votes on local matters including whether to give certain businesses tax breaks. The town of Enfield has authorized about 20 tax abatements since 1979, according to the Journal Inquirer. These abatements have ranged in length from three to seven years. Companies granted tax abatements include Enfield Federal Savings & Loan, The Martin-Brower Co., The Connecticut Wood Group, Sterling Machine Co., Camerota Truck Parts, Bernie's appliance chain, Hallmark, and Lego Systems Inc.
If Northeast President Rosenberg's comments are any indication, Bernie's appliances was very appreciative of the break.
After the Enfield Town Council granted Bernie's a tax abatement, the store offered a special deal for selected customers. Sources said these customers included town employees, contractors and town officials.
"The whole council got a special thank you," a town official familiar with various offers told us. "One deal was cost plus 10 percent.
"When you're a public official," the source commented, "you have to decline that."
Indeed, state and federal laws prevent public officials from accepting gifts or gratuities that are tied to official acts.
Town council member Scott Kaupin, a Republican, said he heard about a coupon, letter or invitation from Bernie's, and that "some actually went through with it."
"That's an ethics violation -- no quid pro quo for any tax abatement," Kaupin said. "I brought it to the [former] town manager [Scott Shanley] and he was unable to substantiate it. I don't remember seeing or getting a coupon -- I never got any offer from Bernie's."
Kaupin went on to say he bought an air conditioner from Bernie's and paid full price.
Council members Doug Maxellon and Red Edgar, both Democrats, told us they were unaware of any special deals.
Shanley, who was fired in a power play by the current town council after serving Enfield for 10 years, now works as town manager in Manchester.
"I'm not doubting Scott Kaupin," Shanley told us, "but that [special deal inquiry] doesn't ring a bell. I don't recall that."
Shanley said he was very happy to be in Manchester now, adding, "I wish the community [of Enfield] well."
Tallarita is a busy guy who likes to have meetings at his house. And why not? By all accounts, it's a great place. Sometimes he even shows movies on a big screen. Whether it's a Democratic Party caucus, an interview with a town manager candidate or just a gathering of pals, anybody who is somebody is there.
We tried to each Tallarita at his job and at his house for about a week.
State Labor Department staff said Tallarita was not in Tuesday and Wednesday. Tallarita did not respond to a message left with staff or voice mail on Wednesday and Thursday. Staff said he was at work on Thursday.
On Friday, staff said Tallarita was on another line. His office then transferred our call to a labor department lawyer.
Tallariata did not return calls to his house over the weekend. On Saturday we left him a message saying we were running a story about special deals from Bernie's for selected Enfield customers, and that we had spoken with Rosenberg. On Sunday, after we left another message, a woman at the Tallarita residence said, "We don't know what you are doing or who you are." She then advised Thibault not to call again.
Enfield police officer Doug Montas followed up with a call to Thibault, advising that Jeannette Tallarita had made a formal complaint. Jeannette Tallarita, a nurse, is Patrick Tallarita's wife and a partner in Ridgewood Homes of Connecticut LLC, developer of the Yale Court subdivision behind the Enfield Montessori School.
"If you call again, you will be arrested," Montas told Thibault.
Threat of arrest also followed our attempts to question Tallarita's political ally, Planning & Zoning Chairman Anthony DiPace, in this ongoing series of stories. In addition, police routinely show up when we go to town hall to view or pick up public records. On one occasion, four police cruisers stopped Brewer and detained him for about 30 minutes.
Sources told us Patrick Tallarita routinely boasts of the fine appliances he got from Bernie's for his house.
"It's all top of the line stuff from Bernie's," one visitor said. "He [Tallarita] said it was from Bernie's â€¦ When you go into his house, it's obvious who took advantage of it."
Some of the various appliances have been described as a commercial quality stove and oven, a high-end dishwasher and a wine cooler refrigerator. What kind of a deal was it? Maybe Tallarita was proud to say he found the new store in town to be a great place to shop. Terms of the transactions for these goods were not immediately available.
"It's stainless steel, top of the line," another visitor said. "He [Tallarita] bragged about a good deal at Bernie's. He's narcissistic."
Yet another visitor said Tallarita remarked, "I got a deal at Bernie's."
We asked Rosenberg of Bernie's: "Did your company sell appliances to Mayor Patrick Tallarita at or below cost?"
Rosenberg responded, "I can't comment on that ... I am having trouble hearing you."
Then, he hung up the phone.
Search prior posts including
How To Make Two Lots Out Of Zero Lots, October archives,
Greed & Power The Enfield Way, September archives.
Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. He also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, www.andythibault.com and Blog, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Jim Brewer, a former civil rights litigator, is a photojournalist and a contributing writer for The Justice Journal and Inquiring News. Brewer served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, commanding a military police unit at a nuclear weapons site in Germany, and as a prosecutor in New Jersey. Both writers are members of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Law &Justice In Everyday Life by Andy Thibault at Amazon.com
BERNIE'S COMPANY HISTORY
In the beginning...
Bernie's was founded by Bernard "Bernie" Rosenberg, in 1947. An enterprising gas station owner, Bernie, had many friends in the community and after the war, realized the opportunity to help people purchase their first television set. Initially, he sold televisions and radios from his gas station and as customer demand increased, Bernie opened his first showroom, Bernie's TV and Appliance, in Bloomfield, Connecticut in 1953.
Bernie, with the help of his son Milton and other family members, continued to grow and expand the business. Bernie's is now New England's largest family-owned Audio, Video, TV, Appliance and Bedding retailer. Bernie's son Milton Rosenberg, the current President, now owns the company.
Continued dedication to Customer Satisfaction, combined with broad selection, competitive pricing, incomparable service (including 7-Day a week normal delivery) and an alert, enthusiastic and professional sales force are the philosophies that created Bernie Rosenberg's success. Quite simply, Bernie's success revolves around taking care of customers in extraordinary ways and the pride that each and every Bernie's associate derives from this.
Today, Milton continues to carry out his father's legacy through his commitment to leading the business based on the values of Caring, Quality and Integrity. Although low pricing is part of the Bernie's approach, the broader focus is on service to ensure customer satisfaction in order to develop a strong repeat business. Bernie's demonstrates this commitment to customer satisfaction with a long-standing excellent rating from the Better Business Bureau. The company's delivery capacity includes up to 400 daily deliveries with 75 installations in over 250 communities, 362-days a year, 7-days a week throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Director of Facilities Operations
State Labor Department
PURPOSE OF CLASS: In a state agency this class is accountable for directing staff in the management, operation and/or maintenance programs of state buildings and grounds (including leased buildings under department jurisdiction).
SUPERVISION RECEIVED: Receives administrative direction from an administrative official of higher grade.
SUPERVISION EXERCISED: Directs lower level staff as assigned.
EXAMPLES OF DUTIES: Directs staff and operations in the areas of building services and contract compliance; formulates goals and objectives; develops or assists in development of related policy; interprets and administers pertinent laws; evaluates staff; assists in preparation of section budget; maintains contacts with individuals both within and outside of section who might impact on program activities; prepares reports, correspondence and procedural manuals; administers a quality control and compliance program; prepares and reviews plans and specifications for building renovations and/or alterations; selects and supervises service contractors; may direct staff and operations of trade shops and grounds sections; may develop and maintain a preventive maintenance program; performs related duties as required.
MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE, SKILL AND ABILITY: Considerable knowledge of relevant agency policies and procedures; considerable knowledge of relevant state and federal laws, statutes and regulations; considerable knowledge of state of the art building operations and maintenance procedures and techniques; considerable knowledge of trades including building, custodial and grounds; considerable knowledge of energy conservation methods and techniques; knowledge of and ability to apply management principles and techniques; knowledge of tenant agency requirements; considerable interpersonal skills; considerable oral and written communication skills; skill in prevention of deterioration, obsolescence and destruction of buildings and operating equipment; considerable ability to prepare plans, specifications and cost estimates for equipment, services and repairs.
EXPERIENCE AND TRAINING: General Experience: Two (2) years' experience in a managerial capacity in leasing, acquisition or management of property.
Managerial capacity is defined as full time managerial responsibility for major programs. Incumbents will have supervisory responsibilities but the emphasis should be on management activities: planning, organizing, directing and controlling resources of a major subdivision at an agency or organization.
SPECIAL REQUIREMENT: Incumbents in this class may be required to travel. This cancels the existing title of and specification for the class of Public Works Director of Facilities Operations in the same Salary Group MP 65 approved effective June 19, 1992.