Trum­bull board de­ci­sion sparks par­ti­san ac­cu­sa­tions

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Don­ald Eng

TRUM­BULL — The Plan­ning and Zon­ing Com­mis­sion’s ap­proval of reg­u­la­tions to ac­com­mo­date a se­nior hous­ing pro­posal may not be the last word on the mat­ter.

For­mer First Select­man Timothy Herbst, who rep­re­sents three con­do­minium own­ers who ob­ject to the project, said he had “a big prob­lem” with the vote and that his clients are con­sid­er­ing le­gal ac­tion.

“My clients have due process rights,” Herbst said the day af­ter the P& Z ren­dered its de­ci­sion. “There are se­ri­ous pro­ce­dural de­fects that have been caused by town of­fi­cials.”

On Wed­nes­day, the com­mis­sion voted 4- 1 to change reg­u­la­tions that pro­hib­ited a mixed se­nior hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in the for­mer Unit­edHealth build­ing at 48 Mon­roe Turn­pike.

The de­vel­op­ment, which has not been for­mally pro­posed, is ex­pected to in­clude about 150 age- re­stricted apart­ments, plus as­sisted liv­ing and mem­ory care units.

The own­ers rep­re­sented by Herbst live across the street from the for­mer Unit­edHealth build­ing.

Chief among the pro­ce­dural flaws Herbst al­leged is a claimed con­flict of in­ter­est re­gard­ing Plan­ning and Zon­ing Com­mis­sion Chair­man Fred Gar­rity, who was one of the four com­mis­sion­ers to vote in fa­vor of the changes.

The con­flict claim first came to light at the end of an oth­er­wise rou­tine post­ing by First Select­man Vicki Te­soro on the town web­site Dec. 31.

“My of­fice has re­cently re­ceived cor­re­spon­dence from the Chair­man of the Trum­bull Repub­li­can Town Com­mit­tee ( TRTC), re­gard­ing some­thing they per­ceive to be a con­flict of in­ter­est in con­nec­tion with this ap­pli­ca­tion,” Te­soro wrote in the con­clu­sion to an up­date on the 48 Mon­roe Turn­pike ap­pli­ca­tion. “There is no merit to this claim. None­the­less, I have re­ferred this TRTC email to our Town At­tor­neys for review.”

Joseph Pifko, the RTC chair­man, in a Dec. 28 email to Te­soro, had ques­tioned whether an un­named mem­ber of the Plan­ning and Zon­ing Com­mis­sion had a con­flict of in­ter­est in the case.

“On mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, I have been told that a mem­ber of the Plan­ning and Zon­ing Com­mis­sion who sat and heard the ap­pli­ca­tion for the zone change and text amend­ment for the prop­erty at 48 Mon­roe Turn­pike has ei­ther pre­vi­ously or cur­rently been em­ployed by or re­ceived com­pen­sa­tion from your hus­band‘ s com­pany,” Pifko wrote. “Given your pub­lic sup­port for the ap­pli­ca­tion … I be­lieve it is im­per­a­tive that if this is true, pub­lic dis­clo­sure should be made and the in­di­vid­ual should re­cuse them­self. This should hap­pen be­fore the Jan. 2, 2019, vote on this ap­pli­ca­tion.”

At Tues­day’s 2 P& Z meet­ing, Gar­rity pub­licly ad­dressed Pifko’s email and iden­ti­fied him­self as the com­mis­sioner in ques­tion.

Gar­rity’s com­pany, FTG Strate­gic Part­ners, spe­cial­izes in la­bor and em­ployee re­la­tions. In early 2017, Gar­rity said, he had a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion with Tom Te­soro, a vice pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources at Stan­dard Mo­tor Prod­ucts Inc., about sex­ual ha­rass­ment pre­ven­tion train­ing. Gar­rity later pro­duced a train­ing video for SMP. He said the work took about 20 days over the course of sev­eral months.

“This was not a se­cret,” he said. “I was quite proud of it. I posted about it on my Face­book and LinkedIn pages.”

When he be­came aware of Pifko’ com­plaints, Gar­rity said he en­gaged at­tor­ney Wil­liam Bloss of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder for a le­gal opin­ion on whether the con­sult­ing work amounted to a con­flict.

“The an­swer is clearly no,” Gar­rity said.

The P& Z is an elected body in Trum­bull which op­er­ates in­de­pen­dently of the first select­man, Gar­rity said.

“The first select­man, much less her hus­band, has no role in this,” he said. “There is no con­flict real or pos­si­ble. None at all.”

Fol­low­ing his state­ment Wed­nes­day, Gar­rity, a Demo­crat, asked the other com­mis­sion­ers, Democrats Tony D’Aquila and Dan Hel­frich, and Repub­li­cans An­thony Chory and Larry LaConte, if they had any ques­tions or com­ments. When they had none, the com­mis­sion moved on with its agenda.

For his part, Pifko com­mented that, “I ap­pre­ci­ate the clar­i­fi­ca­tion of what ap­peared to be a pos­si­ble ethics con­flict.”

On Thurs­day morn­ing, the day af­ter the com­mis­sion ap­proved the reg­u­la­tory changes, Gar­rity ex­pressed his be­lief that Pifko’s email was part of a smear cam­paign.

“Sadly, it was clearly, 100 per­cent po­lit­i­cal,” he said. “To have the new chair­man of the party lob­bing an un­founded, base­less and com­pletely in­ac­cu­rate ac­cu­sa­tion is noth­ing but po­lit­i­cal.”

Gar­rity also noted that Pifko’s email, and a se­ries of anony­mous mail­ers and phone calls op­pos­ing the de­vel­op­ment and urg­ing res­i­dents to call Te­soro’s of­fice to voice their op­posi- tion, came at about the same time Herbst got in­volved in the process.

Herbst is a mem­ber of the RTC as are both his par­ents. His fa­ther Michael Herbst is listed as the party’s vice chair­man.

“The for­mer first select­man speaks against this se­nior hous­ing de­vel­op­ment and then all of a sud­den there are po­lit­i­cal at­tacks and un­founded ethics ac­cu­sa­tions by the RTC chair­man try­ing to muddy the wa­ters? That’s a pretty big co­in­ci­dence,” Gar­rity said.

Herbst, who has de­nied be­ing be­hind the mail­ers, said he first be­came aware of Pifko’s email when he re­ceived a copy of it. Herbst was one of three at­tor­neys to be cc’d on the email. The other two are Joel Green, rep­re­sent­ing an­other group op­pos­ing the de­vel­op­ment, and John Knuff, who rep­re­sents the 48 Mon­roe Tpke. group.

“Dur­ing the pub­lic hear­ing, I asked a gen­eral ques­tion if any mem­ber of the com­mis­sion had a real or per­ceived con­flict, that that dis­clo­sure be made on the record,” Herbst said. “So no­body said any­thing, and there­after I didn’t think any­thing of it.”

Pifko’s email, which was sent and replied to af­ter the pub­lic por­tion of the hear­ing closed, is an im­por­tant part of the ad­min­is­tra­tive record, Herbst said.

“I was both­ered by the fact that At­tor­ney Green and I did not have a chance to ex­plore the po­ten­tial con­flict,” he said. “These ques­tions might have led us to a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion and re­quired us to ask for a re­cusal.”

Gar­rity said Herbst’s claims do not con­sti­tute a con­flict of in­ter­est on any level.

“To claim a con­flict be­cause Vicki is the first select­man, and I did some work for the com­pany that her hus­band works at, is so far reach­ing, it doesn’t even come close,” he said.

Hearst Connecticut Me­dia file pho­tos

Tim Herbst

Fred Gar­rity

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