Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dailies Pick Up On Enfield Scandal

Editor’s Note

Here’s a hint:
It’s Not About The Bushes.


See prior posts below and in archives. Just a few elements of the ongoing criminal investigation are noted in post, “Another Chief State’s Attorney’s Investigation Proceeds ...”

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Complaint Filed Against Mayor

Rival Alleges Tallarita Influenced
Decision Involving Montessori School


By LARRY SMITH
Courant Staff Writer

May 12 2007

ENFIELD -- A rival of Mayor Patrick Tallarita has filed a complaint against the mayor with the chief state's attorney over a town land-use board's decision involving a parking lot of a school run by a group of nuns.

The complaint alleges that Tallarita influenced the decision, causing the Felician Sisters to incur numerous legal fees to fight their case.

Jack Mancuso, a former chairman of the Democratic town committee, said he filed the complaint against Tallarita on April 23 and received a confirmation e-mail but has had no contact since.

Tallarita has vehemently denied influencing any decisions.

It's unclear whether the state is investigating Mancuso's complaint, but a report in the Hartford Business Journal said that an inspector from the chief state's attorney's office has been quietly contacting people in town.

Mark Dupuis, communications director for the chief state's attorney's office, said Tuesday that the policy is to not comment on whether investigations are being conducted.

Tallarita said he has no knowledge of any investigation and only heard of the possibility when he was contacted by members of the media.

I certainly would welcome any investigation by anyone, Tallarita said this week.

Town Attorney Christopher Bromson said he also has not been contacted by the chief state's attorney's office and is unaware of any town employee who has been contacted.

I know of no investigation whatsoever, Bromson said.

The land-use issue is one of two that have been the subject of reports in the Business Journal and a blog written by Andy Thibault, a former Courant journalist who has been writing about the Montessori School and other allegations since September.

One allegation on the blog site is that the Bernie's Enfield store had special discounts for town employees and that Tallarita may have received discounts for appliances because of a tax abatement given to the store.

Milton Rosenberg, chairman and CEO of Bernie's, declined to comment Thursday.

Tallarita said the allegations are baseless. The tax abatement was approved by the town council at the recommendation of town staff, he said.

To imply that a tax break was given to them so I could get a break on appliances is preposterous, said Tallarita, who has been mayor for nearly four years and only met Rosenberg at the grand opening of the store in November 2004.

Scott Kaupin, the Republican minority leader on the town council, said he and other members of the council have heard of the rumors of an investigation for months.

Rumors are rumors, Kaupin said. Nobody's been able to substantiate the rumors.

Another person allegedly contacted by an investigator said Thursday that the only person who has contacted him recently was a reporter from the Hartford Business Journal.

Mancuso said he was driven to file the complaint against the mayor because of what he felt was unfair treatment of the Felician Sisters by Tallarita. He said he wanted to know the motivation for the town's actions.

In September, a Superior Court judge dismissed a planning and zoning commission lawsuit challenging a zoning board ruling that supported the school's right to have the parking lot.

The planning and zoning commission and zoning enforcement officer argued that the school illegally constructed a gravel parking lot in 1992. The Felician Sisters of the Order of St. Francis of Connecticut, who run the school, argued that they had used the area as a parking lot for nearly 50 years - before the special permit regulations were established - and putting down gravel was a matter of maintenance, which they said does not require a permit.

The zoning board of appeals sided with the Felician Sisters, who have run a school on the property since 1944.

In December 2004, the planning and zoning commission issued a cease-and-desist order on the gravel parking lot, giving the school 10 days to get the necessary zoning approval or remove the lot. The sisters and school appealed the decision, and the zoning board of appeals found in their favor. The commission then appealed. The Felician Sisters did not return a phone call for comment Thursday.

Mancuso said he believes that Tallarita influenced the commission's appeal of the zoning board of appeals decision.

But Tallarita said he doesn't have control over the work of the planning and zoning commission or the zoning board of appeals. He has repeatedly said neither he nor the council had any role in the dispute.

I have no involvement with them, only on a civic level, Tallarita said. I have the utmost affection for the Felician Sisters.

Tallarita suggests that Mancuso's complaint was personally and politically motivated. He said that Mancuso is a former rival in the town Democratic Party and that he helped get Mancuso kicked out a few years ago.

I feel the best thing for the Democratic Party was getting rid of him, Tallarita said. I don't find any qualities in Mr. Mancuso.

Contact Larry Smith at lsmith@courant.com.



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Taxpayer leaders say they've talked to investigator;
they say public works chiseling, not mayor, was subject


By: Alex Wood
Journal Inquirer
May 12, 2007

ENFIELD - Two leaders of the Enfield Taxpayers Association say an investigator from the chief state's attorney's office has talked with them about allegations that refuse collectors working for the town's Public Works Department have been paid for hours they didn't work. But the two - association President John D. Sheridan Jr. and Vice President Scott M. Vining - also said this week that their discussions with the investigator had nothing to do with Mayor Patrick L. Tallarita.

The Hartford Business Journal reported this week that Tallarita was the subject of an investigation by the chief state's attorney's office. The Journal Inquirer has been unable to confirm that.

Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane makes a policy of not confirming or denying reports of investigations. His spokesman, Mark Dupuis, reiterated that policy Friday in response to questions from the JI about the Enfield public works probe.

Kane's policy differs from that of at least one of his predecessors, John M. Bailey, who once testified that his office would confirm investigations.

Vining said weigh slips from the Ellington transfer station show that Enfield trash trucks often stop there between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. He said the transfer station is the last stop on their routes.

Vining said the employees who work on the trash trucks are paid for eight-hour shifts that are supposed to run from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

But Town Manager Matthew W. Coppler said that when the refuse collectors return from their routes, "the supervisory staff has other work for them."

Coppler said he was unaware of any state investigation involving the town.

Vining acknowledged that the refuse collectors sometimes have additional duties after they reach the transfer station. At this time of year, for example, they are picking up yard waste and will make more than one trip to the transfer station in a day, he said.

He has focused on Saturday overtime shifts in weeks with Monday holidays. He said there was such a shift on Feb. 17, the Saturday after the Lincoln's Birthday holiday, and that the employees weren't required to punch out. He said 10 drivers and two laborers were paid a total of $3,221 for that shift, at time and a half.

There was another such shift a week later, Feb. 24, because of the Presidents Day holiday. Vining said he drove by the public works garage at 2 p.m. that day and saw no cars in the parking lot - only one black sport-utility vehicle. He said 12 employees' time cards show that they punched out at 2:15 p.m. that day.

Their supervisor punched out at 2:55 p.m., he added.

But Coppler said he has spoken to the town's employees about Vining's allegations and that they say they were at work when Vining alleges they were absent. He also said he has punched time cards - and that the employees say they punched them.

Coppler acknowledged that employees sometimes are allowed to go home early "under extreme weather conditions," such as intense heat and humidity or cold and rain.

"It's not every day," the town manager said. "I can't tell you what the extent is."

Coppler also said a number of employees come in well before the start of the work day, often on the order of 20 minutes early, to get prepared and start work as soon as their shifts begin.

Although the employees punch in early when they do this, they aren't paid for the extra time, he said.

He added that the town's salaried, supervisory personnel often work hours extra and receive no additional pay.

Sheridan was less detailed in his comments than Vining, saying only that he had talked to Janice Kmetz, a police inspector assigned to the Public Integrity Bureau of the chief state's attorney's office, about the public works issue. He said he feared that giving more detail would impede her investigation.

Sheridan said Kmetz asked him if he was "aware of anything that had happened in the political arena in Enfield." He said he told the investigator he knew nothing other than what he had heard through the "rumor mill."

He said there was no discussion of Tallarita.

"This has nothing to do with Mayor Tallarita," Vining agreed.



PZC chairman says safety agreement ended school case;
DiPace says he's revealing secret pact to combat rumors


By Alex Wood
Journal Inquirer
May 11, 2007

ENFIELD - The Planning and Zoning Commission ended its court appeals over the gravel parking lot in front of the Enfield Montessori School on Route 5 last fall because the school agreed to plant bushes to keep vehicles from driving over the sidewalk, commission Chairman Anthony M. DiPace said Thursday.
DiPace said zoning officials had acted against the school only because of concerns about the safety of the parking lot. He said the concern was that a car driving over the sidewalk to get out of the lot might hit a child walking or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.

"That's all it was ever about," he said.

DiPace said a lawyer representing the school and the Felician Sisters, the Roman Catholic religious order that runs it, insisted that a confidentiality provision be included in the agreement to plant the bushes and end the court appeals.

The chairman made clear that he was breaking his silence on the matter because he and other PZC members are upset about claims, spread via rumors and an Internet blog, that improper considerations motivated the commission's enforcement action against the school.

The claim is that the PZC action was part of a campaign of harassment against the Felicians and the school undertaken as part of a land grab. Politically connected developers supposedly were seeking either a right of way across the Felicians' land to property behind it or to buy land from the order for development, according to those accounts.

But two key members of the order - Sister Mary Laureann Alexandrowicz, the provincial minister, and Sister Francine Mary Sousa, the Montessori School's principal - said this week that no one had approached them about buying land or a right of way.

Sister Alexandrowicz added, however: "We've heard some very strong rumors that they were interested in our property."

She declined to say whom she meant by "they."

Sister Alexandrowicz denied that the planting of the bushes had anything to do with the PZC's court appeals.

She said she had talked the matter over with Mayor Patrick Tallarita, and they agreed that bushes would make the property look better. She added that Tallarita offered the services of his sons to help plant the bushes.

Sister Alexandrowicz said there was never any "business agreement" over the plantings.

But Tallarita said he had been under the impression that there was an agreement between the religious order and the PZC.

The mayor agreed, however, that he offered to help do the work of planting the bushes.

"I said, 'If you need help doing that, I will go over with my boys, and we'll help you put them in,'" he recalled.

Neither the lawyer who represented the PZC in the court appeal, Matthew J. Willis of Glastonbury, nor the lawyer who represented the Felicians in the case, Kenneth R. Slater Jr. of Hartford, would comment on whether there was an agreement over the bushes.

DiPace said the town had been asking the Montessori School for several years to file a site plan for its parking lot. He said the school's response was: "We're working on it."

He said the school eventually changed its stance, saying it didn't need approval for the lot.

He said Zoning Enforcement Officer Wayne Bickley then asked what he should do.

"I said, 'Look at it, and if there's a violation, issue a cease-and-desist order,'" DiPace recalled.

Bickley did issue such orders in 2003 and 2004, telling the school to stop using the parking lot on grounds that it was built without PZC approval.

But the school appealed Bickley's second order to the Zoning Board of Appeals in February 2005. More than a dozen people affiliated with the school told the ZBA that the grassy area in front of the school had been used for parking before the zoning regulations took effect.

Based on that evidence, the ZBA overturned Bickley's order.

The PZC appealed to Superior Court. But Judge Richard M. Rittenband in September upheld the ZBA's decision.

DiPace said the agreement over the bushes was made during the appeal period that followed Rittenband's decision. "The agreement was this would be done, and there would be no appeal," he said.

State law creates no right to a further appeal from a Superior Court judge's ruling in a zoning appeal. But the losing party can ask to appeal, and the Appellate Court will hear the case if two of its judges vote to do so.

DiPace criticized the school's insistence that its agreement with the PZC be confidential.

"Why don't they want us to talk about it?" he asked. "I think because there were false claims."

He made clear that he and other PZC members are upset about the charges being made against them.

"I spoke to several of the commission members," he said. "They said, 'Enough is enough.'"

DiPace also said he wasn't concerned about the consequences of violating the confidentiality agreement.

"What are they going to do? Rip them back out?" he said of the bushes.

4 comments:

Connecticut Man 1 said...

I lkie the fact that bloggers can grab onto an issue that doesn't get covered in the news, like you did with this one, and keep plugging away at it until someone in the SCLM finally notices.

Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds as if there's no shortage on arrogrance and ignorance when it comes to some of Enfield's testosterone-filled "politicians". Sounds like one of those "good ol'boys" social clubs that doesn't allow women.

Bravo to the nuns. Clearly they're the best, brightest, and classiest group in that town.

Anonymous said...

DiPace misses the point with his comments about bushes. The question is: Why did it take DiPace over ten years to figure out that the Montessori parking lot was illegal and complain about it? The thing is right out on Route 5 and clearly visible. Anyone driving by during a school day would see it used as a parking lot.

Also, why has it taken DiPace years to mention the safety concerns? He's gotta be playing the CYA game.

This must be why there are so many blighted properties in Thompsonville; the zoning department's got a ten year backlog.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how to go about reporting two instances where an Enfield town truck complete with town workers worked all day at my neighbor's property. I called to enquire about it the first time I saw it because I knew it was illegal. when I questioned the woman who answered the phone at the DPW she tried to say it was because of snow damage. When I asked her more she stared yelling at me. I was very upset. The owners of the property are related semi directly to a Councilman. I got upset when it happened again but did not bother to call. I was a little scared because this is a relatively powerful family in town. I have pictures...tho not great ones. it was after the October storm. Suggestions.