A look back at some of the top stories of 2013
As Trumbull prepares for a new year, a look back at 2013 shows what grabbed the attention of Trumbullites these past 12 months.
Based on website hits and reader response, the stories that captured the most attention were sometimes unusual — like a bull on the loose in Tashua or an unprecedented blizzard. The other big stories were on topics that had an impact on daily life in town, like the local election and businesses opening or closing. Most recently, reader interest was piqued by a story that made news well beyond the borders of Trumbull — the Rent production at Trumbull High.
This is a list of just a few of the memorable stories of 2013.
Business, old and new
Not long after 2013 began, Porricelli’s Market closed its doors in Trumbull Center. The owners cited an increase in competition and economic hardships as the reason for the close. The space remains unoccupied and many hope a new market will open there in the near future.
Who would think that a small diner going out of business could cause such outcry? When Marie’s Sandwich Shop announced it would close in March, because of economic issues, Trumbullites of all ages mourned it as another great loss to Trumbull Center. Around the same time, Mackenzie’s Pharmacy was transforming into a CVS, though the same staff stayed on board to work at the renamed pharmacy.
The major changes led to a larger conversation about the center’s future. First Selectman Timothy Herbst assured residents that the owners of Trumbull Center were in the midst of a major redevelopment.
“While these plans are in the preliminary phase, Trumbull residents should be encouraged by the fact that the owners of Trumbull Center are investing millions of dollars in this redevelopment,” Herbst said at the time. “This investment is intended to attract the best possible tenants to come to Trumbull Center. We are beginning to see the fruits of this investment.”
Just this month, Marie’s reopened, under new ownership, which was welcome news for many in Trumbull.
Marie’s wasn’t the only business opening to get a lot of attention. The opening of Parker Steak & Scotch in Trumbull Center in August garnered a lot of attention. On Route 111, the opening of a Chip’s was exciting news for many, as well as the opening of Prime 111, a steak restaurant.
Residents were also interested to hear about the impending opening of a trampoline park, across the street from the Trumbull-Lakewood YMCA. The new business is set to open in February or March.
The town won’t soon forget the record-breaking blizzard that became known as Nemo. The storm dumped 34 inches of snow on Trumbull, closing schools for three days and making some streets impassable for a time. Cleanup lasted six days.
Public Works employees worked around the clock. Some areas of town were so covered that construction payloaders had to be brought in to haul plow trucks out of snowbanks.
While Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, the effects of the storm had lasting repercussions, particularly when it came to management of Stern Village. The Village’s former executive director, Harry Wise, was criticized for his management during Sandy, when power and heat were out for residents. Some residents rallied behind Wise and other members of the Trumbull Housing Authority who resigned or were replaced.
By mid-February the Trumbull Housing Authority hired Harriet Polansky as interim director. While some criticized Polansky’s appointment at first, she has received overwhelming support from residents who say she has made many positive changes at the Village.
Snow removal at school buildings after Nemo was reportedly part of an ethics complaint that made news in 2013. The complaint, filed by auditor James Henderson, was later revealed to involve town facilities manager Al Barbarotta and school staff and officials. The Ethics Commission later dismissed the complaint.
The first selectman said at the time that he was aware that Henderson’s investigation was initiated as the town was processing snow removal costs while applying for FEMA reimbursement. Herbst said concerns arose as officials processed costs from major storms in 2011 and 2013. Under Barbarotta’s management, Herbst said, the town incurred a $972,000 cost in removing snow at nine schools during storms in 2011 and 2013, which exceeded the costs of plowing the entire town, the first selectman said.
Barbarotta criticized the complaint as a personal attack on him by Herbst, which Herbst denied.
An auditor’s report released after the complaint was dismissed was reportedly the basis of the complaint. The report was criticized by some officials, including members of the Board of Education who said it contained “half-truths” and “inaccuracies.” The report criticized the Board of Education’s financial practices and alleged potential conflicts of interest.
“To be distracted by half-truths, innuendoes and slurs does not make it easy to do the job,” former Board of Education Chairman Stephen Wright said in October. “We should at least be consulted and get a fair say in a report like this.”
The debates, back and forths, letters, and stories leading up to Election Day 2013 all gained the attention of readers.
The result of the 2013 election was an overwhelming victory for Trumbull Republicans. First Selectman Herbst, was re-elected for a third term with roughly 70% of the vote. Fellow Republican candidates also rode that wave of support, winning nearly every race, including 17 seats on the 21-member Town Council.
Democratic candidates, including Martha Jankovic-Mark, who challenged Herbst, said they were proud of their clean campaigning. Herbst said the election numbers showed that residents were happy with the direction in which Trumbull was heading.
The year ended with a story that captured attention in town and beyond. The initial cancellation of Trumbull High School’s planned production of Rent: The School Edition right before Thanksgiving break led to a great deal of reader response and Web hits. The Trumbull High Thespian Society and parents organized an effort to change Principal Marc Guarino’s mind. The principal reportedly said his concerns stemmed from controversial and sensitive material in the play.
The cancellation of the play gained attention of media throughout the state and, eventually, the country. It was covered by outlets like the New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR.
“It’s been a shock to all of us, I think,” Thespian President Larissa Mark said of all the attention. “The most amazing thing is how far it has stretched across the country — we’ve heard from people up in Maine and in Chicago, all in support.”
The media attention and criticism of Trumbull High administration became what First Selectman Timothy Herbst referred to as a “black eye on the community.” Herbst began to work with the administration to find a resolution.
Guarino, who did not respond directly to any requests for comment, eventually allowed the production to go forward in late March, saying he will be able to put educational opportunities together to address topics in Rent.